It’s not that Badgers weren’t good enough to hang around against the big
boys, the Ohio State game proved that, it’s that they didn’t play up to
their talent level. The program had a bad season from the coaching staff
on down, and now it’ll be vital for a bounce-back season or else there
might be major changes made at a place that now expects success.
The perception is that Wisconsin is a try-hard program that gets by with
mediocre talents who brute their way through games rather than rely on
skill. While they’re known for their too-beefy offensive lines that pave
the way for talented backs who run a bazillion times a game, the reality
is that the Badgers have had as much talent as anyone else over the
years. The past success wasn’t a fluke and it hadn’t come just because
everyone was trying really hard.
Wisconsin has had 44 players
drafted over the last ten years (by comparison, Florida has had 49
players drafted over the same span and Oklahoma has had 42) and has been
one of the most competitive and successful Big Ten teams when it comes
to facing the SEC. So why did it take a few missed extra points to
survive against Cal Poly just to get bowl eligible? Why was it so hard
to put away a dying Minnesota team?
There are a few ways to look
at what happened. The team fought its way through a rough year to win
four of its last five games to get to a bowl, when it could’ve easily
have quit after a brutal four-game losing streak to kick off Big Ten
play. There’s also no telling what could’ve happened had the Badgers not
choked (yes, I’ll use the word) away the loss to the Wolverines and if
they had come up with the late stop to hold off Terrelle Pryor and the
Buckeyes. The quarterback play was too awful to have beaten Penn State,
and the tackling was stunningly poor to have made a difference in the
Iowa loss, but had UW won the two games it gave away, and had it come up
with a stop on a huge pass play to lead to a late field goal loss to
Michigan State, it would’ve been 10-2 with a ton of positive momentum
heading into either a New Year’s Day pasting of a bad South Carolina
team or a sure-loss to Georgia. Either way, things would’ve been wildly
And then there’s the flip side. Wisconsin should’ve
lost to Cal Poly, came achingly close to blowing it against Fresno
State, and needed everything in the bag to get by Minnesota. If two of
those games had gone the other way, the Badgers might be looking for a
replacement for head coach Bret Bielema.
This year’s team has a
chance to make amends. It’s not as talented as last year’s squad, but
there are nice pieces to build around including a strong running game
(duh … it’s Wisconsin), a terrific-looking linebacking corps, a
secondary that could be sneaky-good with a little bit of time, and one
of the best kicking games in America.
The formula of pounding the
ball, playing decent defense, and winning the special teams battles
should work once again, but Wisconsin will only shine again if it
doesn’t make the dumb late mistakes. Getting blown out is one thing, but
winning all the close games and being the stronger team in minute 59
will be a must.
No one will be talking much about Wisconsin this
preseason, but in a down year for the Big Ten, and with the way the
program tends to do its best when the spotlight isn’t on, and if it gets
a few big breaks, it could get back on track and be the power team it
should’ve become last year.
What to watch for on offense:
The quarterback situation … again. For yet another year, there’s going
to be a summer of controversy surrounding the starting quarterback job.
While Dustin Sherer might be the safe choice, considering he started
over the second half of last year and is a solid senior, redshirt
freshman Curt Phillips could be the guy who makes everyone wonder why
the issue was even up for discussion. Phillips will likely make more
mistakes if he’s the No. 1, but he has the mobility to make the
quarterback spot plus this year, rather than make it a caretaker’s job.
What to watch for on defense: The defensive
tackles. The back seven will be solid and the pass rush will be hit or
miss, but the Badgers can’t do much this year if the tackles aren’t
great. There aren’t any big names, with Dan Moore and Jeff Stehle
seniors who haven’t set the world on fire so far as backups, but the
coaching staff likes the rotation and there’s talk that the interior
could quietly grow into a plus as the season wears on.
team will be far better if … the quarterbacks don’t stink. The
quarterback play wasn’t necessarily awful throughout all of last season,
but it was inconsistent and generally ineffective. Allan Evridge and
Dustin Sherer were awful in the four-game losing streak with eight of
the 11 interceptions thrown on the year coming against Michigan, Ohio
State, Penn State and Iowa, and it’s not a stretch to suggest a
mid-level quarterback would’ve pulled out the first two of those games.
Now Evridge, who unfairly took the brunt of the blame for the bad year,
is gone and Sherer has to show he can make plays to keep the attack
moving. If not, the Curt Phillips era will begin.
The Schedule: If Wisconsin gets solid
quarterbacking and plays up to its capabilities on both sides of the
ball, a double-digit win season is possible. However, there will likely
be a bad loss somewhere on the board. The non-conference schedule is
squishy-soft even with games against Fresno State and Hawaii (in Hawaii)
from the WAC. If the Badgers can beat Michigan State in the conference
opener and can pull off the upset against Ohio State in Columbus in
mid-October, the Big Ten title is theirs for the taking with no Penn
State and no Illinois (who has improved) to deal with. Considering most
of the Big Ten teams go straight through the season and end early,
there's a huge luxury of a week off in October. After the October 17th
game against Iowa, there's only one more game against a bowl team from
last year (Northwestern) before facing Hawaii.
Best Offensive Player:
Sophomore RB John Clay. He has all the makings of college football’s
next superstar. He’s 6-2, 247 pounds, has sprinter’s speed and plays
through the little injuries. He hasn’t been a workhorse yet, at least
not in the typical Wisconsin 35-carry sort of way, but he’ll have games
when he carries the team on his back.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Jaevery McFadden. The team’s
leading tackler last season, McFadden made 84 tackles despite being out
of position in the middle. Now he’ll move to the weakside where he’ll
have more room to roam and the change could mean a monster season. He
has the athleticism to get into the backfield on a regular basis and the
range to chase down everyone and everything that moves.
Key player to a successful season:
Sophomore OT Josh Oglesby. The starting quarterback, whoever that is on
a weekly basis, is the key to the season, but he’ll need to be upright.
The decision on who starts might be based on the tackle play,
considering Phillips is a runner and can buy himself more time than
Sherer can. The pass protection has been miserable over the last few
seasons, but Gabe Carimi should be coming into his own at left tackle
and Oglesby has all the potential to be a star on the right. One of the
nation’s top recruits a few years ago, Oglesby has to play up to his
talent level to solidify a good line that has the potential to be great
if injuries aren’t an issue.
The season will be a success if
... it’s a double-digit win campaign. A loss at Ohio State is expected,
but it’s not a mortal lock considering the massive personnel changes the
Buckeyes will have to deal with. That’s it as far as the games Wisconsin
can’t win. Outside of OSU, the two toughest games are against Michigan
State and Iowa, and they’re at home. There are too many problems with
the Badgers to win the Big Ten title, and there will be a gaffe along
the way against someone like Minnesota or Northwestern (both games on
the road), but nine regular-season wins and a bowl victory isn’t too
much to demand.
September 26th vs. Michigan State. MSU is where Wisconsin was
a few years ago, taking on the role as the Big Ten’s rising star. This
is UW’s chance to change that and make a huge statement with a win over
a good team in the conference opener. Considering the following game
will be at Minnesota, who’ll be far better and will be in its new
ballpark, followed up by the trip to Columbus, beating the Spartans
might be a must to avoid another early slide into irrelevance.
2008 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: Wisconsin 28 (lost 19) – Opponents 20 (lost 10)
Wisconsin 1st quarter scoring: 58 – Wisconsin 4th
quarter scoring: 104
- Fourth down conversions: Wisconsin 7-of-11
(64%) – Opponents 4-of-13 (31%)
2009 CFN Wisconsin Preview |
2009 Wisconsin Offense
2009 Wisconsin Depth
2008 UW Preview |
2007 UW Preview |
2006 CFN UW Preview