2012 Wisconsin Preview - The Next Level
Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis
Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis
Posted Jul 3, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin Badgers

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Bret Bielema
7th year: 60-19
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 21, Def. 19, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best Wisconsin Players
1. RB Montee Ball, Sr.
2. OT Ricky Wagner, Sr.
3. LB Chris Borland, Jr.
4. C Travis Frederick, Jr.
5. LB Mike Taylor, Sr.
6. WR/KR Jared Abbrederis, Jr.
7. S Shelton Johnson, Sr.
8. TE Jacob Pedersen, Jr.
9. RB James White, Jr.
10. CB Devin Smith, Sr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 Northern Iowa
Sep. 8 at Oregon State
Sep. 15 Utah State
Sep. 22 UTEP
Sep. 29 at Nebraska
Oct. 6 Illinois
Oct. 13 at Purdue
Oct. 20 Minnesota
Oct. 27 Michigan State
Nov. 10 at Indiana
Nov. 17 Ohio State
Nov. 24 at Penn State
Wisconsin, it's time to learn from recent college football history.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Nebraska was an intimidating, tough and dominant force under Tom Osborne. Year after year after year the Huskers were in the hunt for the Big 8 title and on the fringe of being in the national championship mix, and year after year after year they fell short of the big prize and often got exposed in a bowl game.

Starting with the epic 1984 Orange Bowl loss to Miami up until the equally classic loss to Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl, Nebraska went 2-9 in bowl games including a stretch of seven straight losses. As successful as the Big Red Machine might have been, it couldn't get over the hump. Finally, the program basically said enough was enough. It had to get faster. It had to get more talented. It had to go get better players. And it did.

The Huskers might have sold out a little bit to get where they needed to go – Lawrence Phillips and Christian Peter, anyone? – but with a little bit of tweaking and refocusing they turned into something special losing just three games from 1993 to the middle of 1998.

Sound a wee bit familiar?

Wisconsin has been close, but it's time to make a few changes to finally become a true national title threat.

The Badgers have been excellent since Nebraska graduate Barry Alvarez came up with one of the greatest building jobs in college football history in the early 1990s. Bret Bielema has taken things to a whole other level over the last two seasons and would've played LSU for the national title had the secondary not given up two big bombs to Michigan State and Ohio State. However, they were outplayed and outwitted by an inferior TCU team in the 2011 Rose Bowl and got their doors blown off by Oregon in a wild and wacky 2012 game. While losing big bowls is hardly fun, Bucky had the puck on the stick in both games with a chance to win each one.

Wisconsin might feel like it's really, really close to being national title good, but the success could be a part of the problem. The last two years might be blinding the Badgers into believing they're on the right track, but like Nebraska in the late 1980s they have to make a few changes and can't get too hung up on blowouts over a slew of mediocre teams.

First and foremost, the idea of recruiting to a type has to be replaced by recruiting more talent. Bielema hasn't gone after a slew of the four-and-five star types, and while that hasn't mattered on the stat sheet, very soon Ohio State is going to be a mega-problem after so many big classes. Michigan – from the other division – has ramped up its recruiting to a higher level under Brady Hoke, and it's going to be a powerhouse to get through to win a Big Ten title.

Wisconsin can keep being very competitive and very good, but it's going to have to be better in the near future just to win the Leaders, much less win the national title.

With UW's track record of sending big blockers off to the NFL, there's no excuse at this point to not get any five-star offensive lineman it wants. There's no excuse to not be in the mix for any elite running back prospect – what back wouldn't want to put up a bazillion yards and be a featured superstar? It's time to ramp up the recruiting and it's time to fight Urban Meyer, Hoke, the SEC, and anyone interesting in winning a national title for the top players.

It's already starting to happen a little bit. Bielema was able to beat out Auburn for Russell Wilson last year, and he was able to get free agent quarterback Danny O'Brien from Maryland when it seemed like a mortal lock that he would've been off to Penn State.

O'Brien isn't going to be Wilson, but he should be able to lead an offense that will once again be dominant. Montee Ball headlines a loaded backfield that will once again rumble behind a huge and talented offensive line, while the passing game has just enough good parts to get by.

The defense might be the best in the Bielema era, and it might not even be close. Chris Borland and Mike Taylor form a killer linebacking duo, but they might not have to clean up too many messes with a terrific rotation at tackle. The secondary that was a rock last season – outside of two very, very big breakdowns – is loaded and should be even better with the return of top corner Devin Smith.

As is, the Badgers should be able to get by for one more year with Ohio State still ramping things up and with the rest of the Big Ten outside of Michigan looking a bit soft. But it's time to start thinking bigger. It's time to start thinking about improving to stay on the top of the mountain. It's time to start thinking about taking the next step forward to winning the national championship.

What to watch for on offense: Danny O'Brien and the passing game. No one's asking him to replace Wilson after one of the greatest seasons by any quarterback in college football history, but it would be nice if he came close. The running game will be as good as ever, and maybe even better with so much running back talent returning and with a line full of NFL prospect, but the Badgers were special last season because Wilson was able to make the passing game shine, too. The problem is that leading receiver Nick Toon is gone, and while Jared Abbrederis is a good target, he might not be a No. 1. And then there's the question mark about O'Brien, who has to still earn the job and make it his. Joel Stave and Joe Brennan didn't exactly set the world on fire this offseason, but O'Brien will still have to audition for the part.

What to watch for on defense: A special back seven. When the world last saw the Badgers, Oregon was hitting home run after home run while making the Bucky linebackers look like they were running in mud. There's no question, though, that Chris Borland and Mike Taylor are phenomenal linebackers and they should be on the All-America short list. Once again they'll be helped by a secondary that was statistically great last season and should be even stronger with the return of talented corner Devin Smith from a foot injury. The safety tandem of Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward is fantastic and Marcus Cromartie could be an all-star on the other side of Smith.

The team will be far better if … there's a pass rush. The tackles are great, the linebackers are better, and the secondary is loaded. However, the Badgers don't have a J.J. Watt or O'Brien Schofield who'll be a sure thing to get to the quarterback on a regular basis. Brendan Kelly has the potential to be a disruptive force and David Gilbert is an athlete who looked great before getting hurt. There aren't a lot of top passing teams on the slate, but it would be a plus to get more pressure against mobile quarterbacks Taylor Martinez of Nebraska, Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois and MarQueis Gray of Minnesota early on.

The schedule: It's Wisconsin, so the non-conference schedule is light and breezy. It's not the Badgers' fault that Oregon State stinks now, but when the game was scheduled the road trip looked like a landmine. Utah State isn't the Utah State of last year and UTEP and Northern Iowa will have offenses, but they shouldn't be a problem.

There's no Michigan on the Legends slate, but the Badgers can't seem to get Michigan State out of their hair and they have to go to Nebraska to open up the Big Ten season. The Leaders schedule isn't bad with the huge showdown against Ohio State in Madison and getting Illinois at home. After going to Lincoln, the Big Ten road games are to Purdue, Indiana and Penn State. That's not bad.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Montee Ball. Really, how did he not win the Heisman? Yeah, yeah, yeah, Robert Griffin III was dynamic and thrilling, but take a slight step back and grasp the numbers Ball came up with. 1,923 rushing yards, 33 touchdowns, six receiving touchdowns, 6.3 yards per carry. The nice part this year is that he doesn't have to carry nearly as much of the workload. James White is a more-than-capable No. 2 back, and Melvin Gordon looks like the next Badger rushing star. Of course, it's Ball who'll be the signature back in the attack with a little bit of good weight added on while keeping his phenomenal quickness.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Mike Taylor or Junior LB Chris Borland. It's hard to have one without the other as the duo spent last year hitting everything in sight. Taylor led the team with 150 tackles while providing good leadership and steady play from the weakside. Borland cranked out 143 tackles and is more of the all-around playmaker in the middle with the burst and drive to make things happen behind the line. Borland is the better of the two, but it's not by much.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Danny O'Brien. Wilson threw for 33 touchdowns and four interceptions while leading the Badgers to the Big Ten title and a berth in the Rose Bowl – no pressure, Danny. There's no questioning O'Brien's size or his talent, but he wasn't able to mesh well with the new coaching staff at Maryland and had to press a bit too much. He won't have to force anything with the Badgers – the running game will take care of most of the work – but he has to be great if they're going to repeat.

The season will be a success if … the Badgers go to a third straight Rose Bowl. There's no excuse to not at least win the Leaders with Ohio State not eligible for the Big Ten title, Penn State a major mess, and no one else in the division better than Bucky. It would be a complete and utter disaster to not play for the championship, and with the bar set so high, getting by Michigan, Nebraska or Michigan State and getting to Pasadena will be a must. Anything less for a team this good will be a step back.

Key game: Nov. 24 at Penn State. Ohio State and Illinois have to come to Camp Randall. The only other team in the Leaders that should have a reasonable shot at knocking off the Badgers is a Penn State team that might be looking to get back some measure of respect after getting obliterated 45-7 last year in Madison. Of course, Penn State might not be Penn State considering what happens over the next several months in the aftermath of the controversy, but it's the regular season finale and emotions will be running hot.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: Opponents 29 in 850 plays, losing 10 – Wisconsin nine in 937 plays, losing five.
- 3rd Down Conversions: Wisconsin 93-of-170 (55%) – Opponents 73-of-191 (38%)
- Rushing TDs: Wisconsin 48 – Opponents 17
- 2012 Wisconsin Preview | 2012 Wisconsin Offense
- 2012 Wisconsin Defense | 2012 Wisconsin Depth Chart