2009 CFN Wisconsin Preview
Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi & RB John Clay
Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi & RB John Clay
Posted May 5, 2009

After a wildly disappointing 2008 season, Wisconsin will look to turn things around in a hurry with John Clay running behind Gabe Carimi and another big Badger line. Is the talent level there to get in the Big Ten title hunt? Check out the CFN 2009 Preview of the Wisconsin Badgers.

Wisconsin Badgers

Preview 2009

By Pete Fiutak  

- 2009 CFN Wisconsin Preview | 2009 Wisconsin Offense
- 2009 Wisconsin Defense
| 2009 Wisconsin Depth Chart
- 2008 UW Preview | 2007 UW Preview
| 2006 CFN UW Preview 

Alright, Wisconsin, what is it? Are you a power program that belongs among the big boys, and was last season just a horrible aberration, or are you growing into the stereotype of being slow, stodgy, and lacking in creativity, like the 42-13 Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State might suggest?

Wisconsin was good enough and experienced enough to have been in the mix for the Big Ten title last season, but it failed (go ahead and use the word choke if you prefer) in three key games (Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State) and got its doors blown off against Penn State, Iowa and Florida State when it should’ve been far more competitive.

Head coach: Bret Bielema
4th year: 28-11
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 20, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Badger Players
1. RB John Clay, Soph.
2. TE Garrett Graham, Sr.
3. LB Jaevery McFadden, Sr.
4. RB Zach Brown, Jr.
5. WR/KR David Gilreath, Jr.
6. DE O’Brien Schofield, Sr.
7. LB Culmer St. Jean, Jr.
8. OT Gabe Carimi, Jr.
9. S Jay Valai, Jr.
10. PK Philip Welch, Soph.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record:

9/5 Northern Illinois
9/12 Fresno State
9/19 Wofford
9/26 Michigan State
10/3 at Minnesota
10/10 at Ohio State
10/17 Iowa
10/31 Purdue
11/7 at Indiana
11/14 Michigan
11/21 at Northwestern
12/5 at Hawaii

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 11-1
2008 Record:
8/30 Akron W 38-17
9/6 Marshall W 51-14
9/13 at Fresno St W 13-10
9/27 at Michigan L 27-25
10/4 Ohio State L 20-17
10/11 Penn State L 48-7
10/ 18 at Iowa L 38-16
10/ 25 Illinois W 27-17
11/ 1 at Michigan St L 25-24
11/ 8 at Indiana W 55-20
11/ 15 Minnesota W 35-32
11/ 22 Cal Poly W 36-35 OT
Champs Sports Bowl
Dec. 27 Florida St L 42-13

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 different.

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.

The 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.

Key game: 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 Defense
| 2009 Wisconsin Depth Chart
- 2008 UW Preview | 2007 UW Preview
| 2006 CFN UW Preview