[Bumped. We're afraid, very afraid, of the 2010 Badgers. They have the most returning starters in the Big Ten next to Iowa, after all. - Graham]
This offseason has been tumultuous for college football fans. Conferences have been expanded, rivalries threatened, and sanctions dropped from the B-29 affectionately called the NCAA.
Still, the fact remains. There is a ton of hype about the Big Ten for the first time in a while. All four ranked teams won bowl games...against other ranked teams. This is highly commendable. It also allowed the Big Ten to record a winning record in bowl games for the first time in a while (shame on you unranked schools).
So, without further ado: A look at the personnel and positions of the Wisconsin Badgers...
DBs: The safety position took a hit this offseason, as Chris Maragos graduated and Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter were railroaded out of school for the popular "violation of team rules". Yeah... The defensive backs (aside from Jay Valai, the best safety in the Badger defensive backfield) are decent. Not great, but decent. Maragos and Valai were usually in good tackling position when the other team's wide receivers escaped the Badger CBs, but I remember cursing at Devin Smith no less than three times after he let a receiver get a couple miles upfield on him.
The linebacking corps should be solid. Culmer St. Jean returns, as does returning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Chris Borland. Mike Taylor is recovering from his ACL injury, but Nick Sorenson played decently in limited appearances and could see the field more often this year. The defensive line is worrisome, as Jeff Stehle and O'Brien Schofield both graduated, but J.J. Watt returns. However, as proved by the immortal Brandon Graham, one good or even great defensive lineman does not make a defensive line great.
Offensively, the Badgers return a solid receiving corp with Nick Toon, David Gilreath, and Lance Kendricks. Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson face a make-or-break season. The offensive backfield features the pleasant surprise of Scott Tolzien, and a great power back in John Clay. The offensive line could be great, Gabe Carimi is already in some discussions as the top tackle in the conference and John Moffitt anchors the left guard spot. Josh Oglesby is solid, but he must improve drastically. An injury may torpedo any hopes of Oglesby being an NFL draft selection unless he puts together an amazing 2010 (and it won't be easy to notice, given how well stats and offensive linemen go together). Right Guard and Center are toss-ups between Bill Nagy, Peter Konz, Travis Frederick, and Jake Bscherer, but whoever gets the spot must perform.
As far as Special Teams go, Philip Welch has to improve over last year. He struggled in nonconference action, missing two field goals in the season opener against Northern Illinois, another miss the next week against Fresno State (although he hit the longest field goal in Wisconsin history, 57 yards), two crucial misses against Ohio State, a devastating miss against Iowa, and a missed PAT and FG against Hawaii to close out the regular season. Welch is a very mixed bag, which can be negative or positive. Brad Nortman improved, and is a solid punter. As for David Gilreath... The highlight of his career came against Northwestern, where he returned a punt for a 68 yard touchdown. On the other hand, Gilreath frequently ran into his own blockers...
As a whole, Wisconsin is solid. Perhaps not undefeated caliber, but solid. A favorable nonconference schedule, with one team that looks liek it could eke out a winning record (Arizona State) and solid performances in the Big Ten could send this team to Orlando. Or Pasadena (I'm dreaming, I know).
I would like to see someone else try their hand at something like this. I chose Wisconsin, but if anyone wishes me to do another Big Ten squad, I will gladly do so (and I *will* keep my bias right here in my left coat pocket...)