College Football Preview: No. 7 Wisconsin
(Neon Tommy will be previewing the 2011 College Football Season throughout the summer. You can find links to each of our Top 25 previews here. Today, we preview the team ranked 7th, the Wisconsin Badgers.)
Bret Bielema (49-16, 6th year as the head coach of the Badgers)
Wisconsin’s 2010 Season:
11-2 (7-1), Lost to TCU in the Rose Bowl 21-19.
-- Five returning starters
-- Impact Players: QB Russell Wilson, RB James White, RB Montee Ball, TE Jake Byrne
At season’s end, a few things were clear about the fifth-ranked scoring offense in the country. First, a 1-2 punch at running back--James White and Montee Ball--would be the foundation of the 2011 Wisconsin offense. The Duo of White and Ball combined for 2000-plus yards in 2010.
Second, Bret Bielema would need to groom sophomore quarterback Jon Budmayr into an efficient replacement for an underrated Scott Tolzien who threw for 16 touchdowns and nearly 2,300 yards last season.
Well, the grooming ended when QB Russell Wilson chose to transfer to Wisconsin after being released from his scholarship at NC State. In 2010, Wilson threw for 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns.
With Wilson running the offense, the Badgers will be dynamic. When defenses force numbers in the box to stop the duo of White and Ball, Wilson can dissect man coverage with veteran tight end Jake Byrne and receiver Nick Toon.
The offensive line must replace both left tackle and left guard, but retooling the line is something Bielema has not had an issue with in years past.
-- Six returning starters
-- Impact Players: CB Antonio Fenelus and FS Aaron Henry
Watt left school early to enter the NFL Draft, but the defensive line is still a deep and veteran bunch with a solid first and second team. Patrick Butrym, Jordan Kahout and Louis Nzegwu lead a D-line stout in stopping the run. However, the front four might have troubles in finding a consistent pass rush.
The back seven must replace four starters--two at linebacker and two in the secondary. Fenelus and Henry lead the secondary. They’ll need to outperform their 2010 campaign if the front seven can’t find ways to pressure the quarterback.
The best part of Wisconsin’s defense might just be their run game. With White and Ball controlling the pace of the game with 13-plus play drives, the defense will have plenty of time to stay fresh and prepare for each subsequent drive.
This is key with the 2011 Badger defense due to a likely inconsistent pass-rush. If the Wisconsin D-lineman stay rested with substitutions and long offensive drives, their motors should keep churning.
Areas of Concern:
In addition, the Nebraska game kicks off a brutal October for the Badgers. They’ll play Nebraska and Indiana at home ending October with two matchups on the road against Michigan State and Ohio State.
The Wisconsin Badgers have the talent and veteran savvy to win the Leaders Division of the Big Ten and play in the inaugural Big Ten Title Game in Indianapolis. They’ll start the season with six home games that will help develop the areas of concern the Badgers are facing.
If Russell Wilson can make a seamless transition, and the defense can continue their exceptional turnover margin, there could be a special season in store for the folks in Madison.