2010 record: 11-2, 7-1 (T-1st Big Ten)
2010 bowl: 21-19 loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl
2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 7th/8th
Coach: Bret Bielema, sixth year; 49-16 overall, 27-13 conference
Offensive coordinator: Paul Chryst, seventh year
2010 offensive rankings: fifth, scoring offense (41.5 ppg); 21st, total offense (445.2 ypg); 12th, rushing offense (245.7 ypg); 75th, passing offense (199.5 ypg)
Defensive coordinator: Chris Ash, second year
2010 defensive rankings: 25th, scoring defense (20.5 ppg); 20th, total defense (321.8 ypg); 26th, rushing defense (127.9 ypg); 26th, passing defense (193.9 ypg)
Returning offensive starters: 4
Returning defensive starters: 6
Location: Madison, Wis.
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium (FieldTurf; 80,321)
Last league title: 2010
2011 schedule: [view]
2011 roster: [view]
2010 statistics: [view]
Snapshot: Given the permanent departures of head coach Jim Tressel and starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, as well as three other offensive starters suspended for the first five games, it has been widely thought the Badgers would be the favorite to win the Leaders (chuckle) division of the reshaped and divided Big Ten. After Wisconsin added Russell Wilson a month ago? National title thoughts began dancing in the heads of those in around Madison.
While we’re not quite ready to make such a leap, it would be indefensible and downright wrong to downplay what the addition of the former North Carolina State and All-ACC quarterback could mean for the Badgers’ 2011 fortunes. Prior to Wilson’s arrival, uncertainty was the theme at the position, as head coach Bret Bielema appeared to have little quality options available in replacing Scott Tolzien under center. Adding Wilson to the roster and putting him atop the depth chart all of a sudden gives the Badgers a significant upgrade at a position that was otherwise very suspect and questionable, which is actually being kind.
And it’s not like Wilson needs to be prolific, either. No, with arguably the best one-two running back tandem in the country — James White and Montee Ball combined to rush for almost 2,100 yards and a staggering 32 rushing touchdowns last year — Wilson can be not only the game manager at the position Wisconsin needs, but he also possesses the ability, based on his extensive starting experience, to make plays on his own in the passing game as well. On top of that, more than half of a starting defense that finished top 25 nationally returns.
Add it all up, and mix in the troubles in Columbus, and the Badgers are primed for a serious run at an appearance in the inaugural conference championship game and, quite possibly, make some noise and be in the discussion on the national stage. As Auburn learned last year, one player at the most critical position on a football field can mean the difference between a fair-to-middling season and one that ends with you hoisting the crystal in January.
Make-or-break game: Oct. 29 at Ohio State
Certainly the conference games in October against Nebraska and at Michigan State will be important, but the Badgers first and foremost need to take care of business in their own division if they want to get where they think they can go this season. And while the Buckeyes have been swamped with a series of off-field issues that will bleed over onto the field thanks to the suspensions and key defection, they are still a talented team and will likely be the lone team standing between the Badgers and a trip to Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Field in early December. The fact that it will be played in Columbus will make it that much more difficult for Wisconsin. This is the kind of test, though, that the national players many already consider them to be need to pass.
Heisman hopefuls: White and Ball
I was really tempted to place Wilson in this spot, but common sense prevailed as it goes without saying that the two-headed ground-game wrecking crew will be the focal point of the offense yet again. White actually led the Badgers in rushing last season, but Ball was first in touchdowns. Each averaged over six yards per carry — White 6.7, Ball 6.1. Arguably the biggest obstacle to either truly contending for the Heisman is the presence of each other; they will likely split carries once again this season, watering down their total number of carries and thus keeping their production down as compared to where it would be if they were the lone workhorse.
Postseason projection: Rose Bowl