Ball on the Oregon 25-yard line, two seconds on the clock, Russell Wilson tries to spike the ball, but time runs out and the Badgers lose a heartbreaker in Pasadena 45-38. That’s the picture in the heads of Bret Bielema, Montee Ball, and Badger fans everywhere.
But that was then. A new season is upon us and the Badgers are once again the favorites to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship game. With Brady Hoke settling in at Michigan and Urban Meyer looming at Ohio State (Even if they are ineligible to play in the postseason), it will be a fantastic season for the rising Big Ten.
Now, I never like to interrupt baseball season with preseason football, but I’ll make an exception just this once. Let’s get it started! Here’s what the Badgers will look like when they take the field to On Wisconsin in just eighteen days.
New faces: QB Danny O’Brien (Transfer from Maryland), FB Sherard Cadogan, WR Jeff Duckworth, RT Rob Havenstein, RG Robert Burge, and LG Ryan Groy, K Kyle French
Old faces: RB Montee Ball, RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, LT Ricky Wagner, LG Travis Frederick (Moving to Center)
Key Losses: G Kevin Zietler, C Peter Konz, WR Nick Toon, FB Bradie Ewing, K Philip Welch
With Russell Wilson already making an impact in the NFL, Bret Bielema hands the keys to Danny O’Brien, another transfer quarterback from the ACC. O’Brien is coming off a tough Sophomore campaign as he threw for 1,648 yards, seven touchdowns, and ten interceptions last season with Maryland. Bielema hopes there’s more of the 2010 O’Brien to come, as that season he threw for twenty-two touchdowns and only eight interceptions. With the weapons O’Brien has at his disposal, it’s easy to see why he will love suiting up at Camp Randall this fall.
Joining O’Brien in the backfield will be Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball. Ball made headlines last year by rushing for 1,923 yards and accumulating 39 total touchdowns (tying Barry Sanders for the most total touchdowns in a single season). Unfortunately, he also created some buzz this offseason when he was a victim of assault and left with a concussion and bruised jaw. Concussions can linger, but Ball says he should be ok come the season opener against Northern Iowa on September 1st. Joining Ball in the backfield will be James White, who will be able to pick up some slack if Ball does feel any effects of the concussion. White averaged 5.1 yards per carry last year as a Sophomore.
The always-fantastic Wisconsin offensive line is going through some remodeling this upcoming season. The Badgers lost three out of five from their terrific offensive line last year, which played a big role in one of the most dynamic offenses I’ve ever seen in Madison. This season, LT Ricky Wagner returns to protect the blind side, while LG Travis Frederick moves to Center in an attempt to replace second round pick Peter Konz. New starters Sophomore RT Rob Havenstein, Senior RG Robert Burge, and Junior LG Ryan Groy step into starting roles.
If the offensive line gets assembled and functioning properly I see another fantastic year for the Badgers offensively. Montee Ball is a Heisman Candidate, WR Jared Abbrederis is ready to break out, and a Danny O’Brien looks to impress the fans in his new home.
New faces: DE Brendan Kelly, OLB A.J. Fenton, FS Dezmen Southward, P Drew Mayer
Old faces: DE David Gilbert, DT Ethan Hemer, DT Beau Allen, MLB Chris Borland, OLB Mike Taylor, CB Marcus Cromarite, CB Devin Smith, SS Shelton Johnson
Key Losses: DE Louis Nzegwu, OLB Mike Taylor, CB Antonio Fenelus, FS Aaron Henry, P Brad Nortman
The Badgers return seven starters to a unit that gave up an average of nineteen points per game in 2011. Although the defense was not highlighted, it will certainly have to step up this year because of the major losses on the offensive side of the ball.
On the D-line, the Badgers posted twenty-five sacks in 2011, good for fourth in the Big Ten. Dave Doeren’s defense will be without Louis Nzegwu who led the team in sacks with 4.5, but return the rest of the D-line, which accounted for ten sacks last year. Containing and putting pressure on the quarterback will be critical as Taylor Martinez, Braxton Miller, Nathan Scheelhaase, and possibly Denard Robinson will be lining up opposite the Badger defense this season.
In the linebacking core, the Badgers return MLB Chris Borland who led the team in solo tackles (64), tackles for loss (19), and forced fumbles (5) last season. He will have to make up for the loss of leading tackler Mike Taylor. Also stepping into a bigger role will be OLB A.J. Fenton, who is the projected starter this year after playing in 12 games last season for the Badgers. In addition to the defensive linemen, this linebacking core plays a critical role in forcing mobile Big Ten quarterbacks to throw over the top if they are to create big plays on offense.
The secondary returns two of the four starters from last year after recording sixteen interceptions, good for second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s eighteen. Cornerbacks Devin Smith and Paniel Jean will obtain a bigger role as Smith returns from injury and Jean attains starting status after playing in all fourteen games last season.
I leave you with this year’s schedule. The Badgers open up play at Camp Randall on September first against the Panthers of Northern Iowa:
9/1 vs. Northern Iowa
9/8 @ Oregon State
9/15 vs. Utah State
9/22 vs UTEP
9/29 @ Nebraska
10/6 vs Illinois
10/13 @ Purdue
10/20 vs. Minnesota
10/27 vs. Michigan State
11/10 @ Indiana
11/17 vs. Ohio State
11/24 @ Penn State
12/1 Big-10 Championship Game (Indianapolis, Ind.)