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2007 Wisconsin Preview

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 13, 2007


Is this the year Wisconsin goes from being an underappreciated powerhouse (with more wins since 2004 than any Big Ten team) to a true national title contender? With 18 starters returning from a 12-1 squad, and a loaded no-name defense helped by LB Jonathan Casillas, this could be a corner-turning season in Madison.

Wisconsin Badgers

Preview 2007

By Pete Fiutak

- 2007 UW Offense Preview | 2007 UW Defense Preview
-
2007 UW Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Wisconsin Preview 

No matter what, if you’re a Big Ten team and go 12-1 with a win over the SEC West champion in a New Year’s Day bowl, you had a wildly successful season, and don’t have to make any excuses. However, the jury is still out on just how good last year’s Badger team was, after blowing through a lousy schedule, not playing Ohio State, and doing next to nothing on offense in the win over Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl. Now the team has to finally get everyone’s respect.   

With 31 wins in three years and a 22-4 record in the last two, you’d think Wisconsin would be considered a superpower. Not quite.

Head coach: Bret Bielema
2nd year: 12-1
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 22, Def. 23, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best Badger Players
1. RB P.J. Hill, Soph.
2. CB Jack Ikeguonu, Jr.
3. TE Travis Beckum, Jr.
4. P Ken DeBauche, Sr.
5. LB Jonathan Casillas, Jr.
6. OG Kraig Urbik, Jr.
7. DE Matt Shaughnessy, Jr.
8. C Marcus Coleman, Sr.
9. OT Eric VandenHeuvel, Jr.
10. DT Nick Hayden, Sr.

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
11-1

Sept. 1

Washington State

Sept. 8

at UNLV

Sept. 15

The Citadel

Sept. 22

Iowa

Sept. 29

Michigan State

Oct. 6

at Illinois

Oct. 13

at Penn State

Oct. 20

Northern Illinois

Oct. 27

Indiana

Nov. 3

at Ohio State

Nov. 10

Michigan

Nov. 17

at Minnesota

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 9-3

2006 Record:
12-1
Preview 2006 predicted wins

9/2 at Bo. Green W 35-14
9/9 Western Illinois W 34-10
9/16 San Diego State W 14-0
9/23 at Michigan L 27-13
9/30 at Indiana W 52-17
10/7 Northwestern W 41-9
10/14 Minnesota W 48-12
10/21 at Purdue W 24-3
10/28 Illinois W 30-24
11/4 Penn State W 13-3
11/11 at Iowa W 24-21
11/18 Buffalo W 35-3
1/1 Capital One Bowl
Arkansas W 17-14

This isn’t a flashy team, there aren’t a slew of household names on defense, and there’s still a hint of overall skepticism after playing bad non-conference slate after bad non-conference slate. The only way the national perception can change is with a few wins over the big names, and a Big Ten title. 

Bret Bielema proved to be a great successor to Barry Alvarez, and has a loaded team that should be one of the favorites for the conference title and a sleeper for the BCS Championship Game. Even the big personnel losses (OT Joe Thomas, QB John Stocco, LB Mark Zalewski, and both starting safeties) shouldn’t be too painful with good replacements ready to step in. RB P.J. Hill should be a lock for 1,500 yards behind a great offensive line, the defensive front seven should be dominant, and the kicking game might be the best in the nation.

This has been one of the nation’s most talented teams over the last several years (few programs have had more players drafted over the last ten years), and the schedule, while tougher than 2006, is certainly manageable for an elite team. There’s no reason the program can’t take things to yet another level and get to its first Rose Bowl since the 1999 season. Of course, that’s only if Wisconsin truly is the real deal.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. The receiving corps has the talent to make the passing game shine, but there might be more running than Badger fans have seen since Brooks Bollinger was running the occasional option. Senior Tyler Donovan and Kansas State transfer Allan Evridge will battle to replace Stocco. Each can run extremely well, and each is a competent passer. The winner of the job will be the X factor in the Big Ten race.

What to watch for on defense: One of the nation’s best cornerback tandems. Allen Langford is solid, while speedy, big-hitting Jack Ikegwuonu is something special. The front four is loaded with a combination of size, quickness, experience and talent, and it should be better at generating pressure than it has over the last few years. That’ll only make the secondary even better.

The team will be far better if … the offensive line plays up to its reputation. It wasn’t bad last season, and having a superior talent like Thomas gave it a go-to guy to work behind, but the line gave up way too many sacks and struggled against the three really good defensive fronts (Michigan, Penn State and Arkansas) it faced. A big line this good has to be able to impose its will on anyone.   

The Schedule: It’s far tougher than last season, but it’s not a killer until late. There’s a real live non-conference game to worry about, as the Badgers start the year with Washington State before breathers against UNLV and Citadel. Four of the first five games are at home before a big landmine at Illinois the week before the trip to Penn State. Closing out at Ohio State, home vs. Michigan, and at Minnesota will likely make-or-break Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl dreams.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore RB P.J. Hill.  It’s never fair or logical to compare a young player to the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, but in ramming his way to 1,569 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2006, Hill did a believable impression of a young Ron Dayne.  At somewhere north of 240 pounds, he’s big and powerful, but also surprisingly nimble and quick for a big back.     

Best Defensive Player: Junior CB Jack Ikegwuonu.  While still somewhat young and raw, Ikegwuonu has all the ingredients of an elite defensive back and could wind up a first-day NFL Draft choice two years from now.  A true lockdown corner who’s only going to get better with more experience, he’s a 6-1, 200-pound greyhound who’s not afraid to fill the lanes and support in run defense.     

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Tyler Donovan. Everything is in place for a run at the Big Ten title, as long as there’s steady quarterback play. Whether it’s Donovan or Allan Evridge, the QB doesn’t have to be an All-Big Ten star, but he does have to limit mistakes, connect on third-down passes, and occasionally use the tremendous receiving corps on big plays to open things up for Hill and the ground game.

The season will be a success if ... UW is in Pasadena in early January. There’s too much experience to shoot for anything less. The schedule might be just tough enough to ruin any dreams of going unbeaten, but if the team is the real deal many believe it’ll be, it needs to be in the hunt for the Rose Bowl going into November when the games against Ohio State and Michigan arrive.

Key game: Oct. 13 at Penn State. The Badgers have come close to owning the Nittany Lions, winning five of the last seven match-ups. For each team, this game will be key to Big Ten championship hopes, and for Wisconsin, it might be the one obstacle to a 9-0 start and inclusion in national title talk.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- First half scoring: Wisconsin 216; Opponents 86
- Kickoff return average: Wisconsin 15 yards; Opponents 20.7 yards
- Time of possession: Wisconsin 33:26; Opponents 26:34

  

Related Stories
2007 Wisconsin Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 13, 2007
2007 Wisconsin Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 13, 2007
2007 Wisconsin Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 13, 2007








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