2011 Record: 11-3 (6-2 in Big Ten)
Head Coach: Bret Bielema (60-19 at Wisconsin, 33-15 in B1G)
Four Year Win Trend: 9.75 wins and 3.5 losses overall; 5.25 wins and 2.75 losses in conference
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Rose Bowl: lost to Oregon 45-38
Out of Conference: 9/1 Northern Iowa, 9/8 at Oregon St, 9/15 vs Utah St, 9/22 vs UTEP
Revenge: 10/27 vs Michigan State (won one, lost one in 2011), 11/17 vs Ohio St
Swing Games: 9/29 at Nebraska, 10/13 at Purdue
Stats to Cheer: +1.14 turnover margin in 2011 (1st in B1G); converted 54.71% of third downs (1st in B1G); scored on 94.67% of red zone trips (1st in B1G)
Stat to Fear: Russell Wilson is in the NFL
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters: (Offense: 5; Defense: 6; Specialists: 0)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Mike Taylor (150 tackles, 2 INT), LB Chris Borland (143 tackles, 19 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT), S Shelton Johnson (54 tackles, 4 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Montee Ball (1923 yds rush, 33 TD), RB James White (713 yds rush, 6 TD), WR Jared Abbrederis (55 rec, 8 TD), TE Jacob Pedersen (30 rec, 8 TD), C Travis Frederick, OT Ricky Wagner
Inside Scoop with Madtown Badgers:
CFBZ: Wisconsin has a lot of new coaches on staff this season. Which new coach do you think will have the biggest impact on the season?
Madtown Badgers: I think that’s a very easy answer actually and it’s new wide receivers coach Zach Azzani. He’s got a very young group of receivers led by only one starter with real experience in Jared Abbrederis. He’s got the chance to mold this unit to his liking quickly and it appears the work was already underway in spring practice as the likes of Isiah Williams and Chase Hammond got good looks.
What do you see as Wisconsin biggest weakness going into the 2012 season?
Madtown Badgers: I hate to beat a dead horse here, but it’s the wide receivers position. Outside of the previously mentioned Abbrederis the only returning player with much experience is Jeff Duckworth with 15 receptions. Beyond them there’s only a total of 4 career catches from the rest of the group. They do have a lot of potential but they are also the area that if not consistent could spell trouble for this team.
Outside of the RB position, what will be Wisconsin’s biggest strength this season?
Madtown Badgers: Oh come on, way to eliminate the easy answer… Geez. But in all seriousness the linebackers might be the biggest strength on this team INCLUDING the running backs. Starters Chris Borland and Mike Taylor are potential all-American’s and whoever wins the starting spot at the other LB position (Ethan Armstrong and A.J. Fenton most likely candidates) form one of the best units in the Big Ten, probably behind only Michigan State. The depth behind them is simply impressive. Each position is legitimately three deep and the staff is going to have a lot of fun figuring out who comes in on dime situations for this team.
What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Madtown Badgers: I think the Badgers finish 12-1 this season (including the B1G Championship game). The schedule isn’t the hardest out there and the biggest games on the calendar are at home minus the Nebraska game. I think the Badgers are a better team than Nebraska and if they do win that game look for them to have a legit shot at running the table the rest of the way. Michigan State is at home and honestly it’s not a good place for the Spartans, just as East Lansing sucks for the Badgers. Ohio State may be the only hurdle we don’t clear, but it depends a lot on the shoulders and arm of Braxton Miller. I expect Bucky to exact revenge though and it could be a rematch with Michigan State or a matchup with Michigan in the B1G Championship game.
This season can only be a success if we have double digit wins and make the Big Ten Championship game at the very least. Honestly, from top to bottom this is a very, VERY talented football team, it’s just not as experienced as it’s counterpart last season. I’d say a true sign of success and progress at the top end is getting to and winning the rose bowl.
Bret Bielema has turned Wisconsin into the team to beat in the Big Ten. The last three years has seen the Badgers post double-digit wins every year and the last two years have seen the Badgers make the Rose Bowl. The next logical step for the Badgers is winning the Rose Bowl but with Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer coming into the league, will they get that chance?
Last year’s Wisconsin team was aided greatly by the addition of Russell Wilson. When you step back and look and his statistics, they are pretty amazing. In only one year in the offense, Wilson completed 72.8% of his passes (third in Nation), threw for 3175 yards (second in B1G) and connected on 33 TDs (eighth in Nation) and only threw 4 INTs (first in Nation for QBs over 300 attempts). Who replaces Wilson will be huge for the Badgers. Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien is the man most think will win the job but right now it is wide open. The person that wins the job will have huge shoes to fill. The good news is that Wisconsin is loaded at running back. The Badgers have Montee Ball and James White returning and that is enough to strike fear into defensive coordinators throughout the B1G. In addition to Wilson, the Badgers also need to replace Nick Toon and Bradie Ewing on offense. Outside of the RBs, WR Jared Abbrederis and TE Jacob Pedersen there are some definite question marks about this Badgers squad.
As Andrew mentioned in the Q&A, expect the Badgers to be very good in the middle of their defense as they have one of the best linebacking units in the country. All eyes will be on the secondary, which must replace both Anontio Fenelus and Aaron Henry. The Badgers will replace them with upperclassmen but it remains to be seen if they can fill the roles that those two provided for the defense. Overall, I would expect the Badgers defense to be about the same as it was last year or slightly better.
It looks like it’s going to be a three team race in the Big Ten between Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin with Nebraska looming in the rear view riding and dying with Taylor Martinez. The difference between a Rose Bowl berth and a non-BCS bowl game will be the quarterback position and how efficient Russell Wilson’s replacement plays. Wisconsin’s schedule does set up favorably as they have a non-existent out of conference schedule, they don’t play Michigan and they get Michigan State and Ohio State at home. Wisconsin will return to the Big Ten championship game this year but it remains to be seen if they have enough to win the conference.
2012 Prediction: 10-2
Top 25 Countdown
#14 Kansas State
#16 Virginia Tech
#17 Boise State
#19 Ohio State
#23 Oklahoma State
Previous 2012 Previews: