B1G 2012 // Wisconsin Cocktail Party Preview

Will Bucky Plant their flag in Indianapolis again this year?

TWELFTH IN A SERIES: THE WISCONSIN COCKTAIL PARTY PREVIEW


It's time for our final* cocktail party preview for our B1G 2012 series, and that is two time defending champion Wisconsin. The Badgers, despite some issues facing them, which we'll get to, still seem to be the Belle of the Ball as we enter 2012. They are coming off back to back 11 win seasons, have won more games than any other B1G team over the last three years, and the 2012 schedule sets up quite nicely for them.

After the jump, we'll look at the good and the bad of Wisconsin, and give you enough info to converse about Badger football. So if you find yourself in Madison, or talking to a Badger alum, and football comes up, you'll be able to reference this preview right here. It should be able to give you enough info to be able to talk intelligently juuuuuust long enough until you can find an opening to steer the conversation into something far less controversial.

Like Wisconsin politics, for example.

Just don't pop your collar when doing so, brah.

*Or is it? Hmmmmmm......

On Last Season

The good news is...

Wisconsin went 11-3, won the Leaders Division and the inaugural B1G Championship game in Indianapolis, and were rewarded with their second straight trip to Pasadena. They were the first back to back B1G representative at the Rose Bowl since Michigan in 2003-04, and three seasons of 10+ wins make them the winningest team in the conference over that period. When they won, they won big and were every bit the juggernaut predicted, with an average margin of victory of about 3,207 points. RB Montee Ball and QB Russell Wilson put up numbers that were at times mind boggling, the Badgers were 13th in the country in points allowed, they were clearly the best team in the conference for most of the year, and they retained Paul Bunyan's Axe for the 88th consecutive year (at least it seems that way to Minnesota fans).

The bad news is...

For all of those achievements, 2011 feels like a disappointment. Wisconsin's 2 regular season losses were eminently winnable games that they let slip away literally at the last second, and the Badgers lost their second straight Rose Bowl. When Russell Wilson transferred to Madison, many people thought Wisconsin was a legitimate National Championship-caliber team, and but for two passes, they would've been playing for it all. They'll still be the favorite in the Leaders Division 2012, but it feels like the ceiling isn't as high for Bucky going into this season as it was going into last season, and a great opportunity was missed.

On the offensive side of the ball:

The good news is...

Wisconsin has the best running game in the conference, and there is nothing to indicate that will change this year. Montee Ball is back, and will be on the short list for Heisman finalists. If he founders, Wisconsin has a back almost every bit as good in James White, it's just that few people outside of Madison has heard of him. Bret Bielema also landed another QB transfer coup, this time in the form of Danny O'Brien from Maryland. Last year, all they were lacking was proven quarterback play. Hello, Russell Wilson. This year, same thing...maybe. O'Brien isn't the dual threat Wilson was, but he is a definite upgrade over what was on the roster. Jared Abbrederis, who had 51 catches, 933 yards and 8 TD's, also returns and will be a key part of the passing offense again.

The bad news is...

He's the only real receiving threat left on the roster after Nick Toon graduated, and they only have five returning starters on offense. For all the hype that Danny O'Brien has generated in his transfer to Madison, his numbers weren't all that impressive in 2011. He had more interceptions than TD's, and Maryland was 2-10. He is not the run/pass dual threat that Wilson was, and with the loss of some key offensive linemen, it will be interesting to see how O'Brien pans out. Add to that the loss of almost every offensive coach due to offensive coordinator Paul Chryst being hired to run the Pitt program and him taking them with, and there are a lot of questions surrounding the offense this year.

On the defensive side of the ball:

The good news is...

Devin Smith, Mike Taylor, and Chris Borland return, and you could argue that they were the heart of a very good defensive unit last year. Taylor and Borland might be the best LB tandem in the conference, and how well they perform will go a long way in determining how the this unit performs overall. If 2011 is any indication, that means they'll be stellar. As Adam Rittenberg points out, Taylor and Borland combined for 293 tackles and 8 forced fumbles last year.

The bad news is...

They might be getting a lot more tackles this year because the defensive line is unproven. There will be two new starters, and a secondary that gave up some huge, untimely plays last year and got shredded by Oregon is also looking for two new starters. That said, Wisconsin seems to always have guys step up and play well, but it looks like that will be doubly important this year.

On the special teams side of the ball:

The good news is...

The aforementioned Jared Abbrederis is one of the best punt returners in the conference, and he has the ability to change the momentum of a game not only as a receiver but also as a punt returner. Wisconsin also made 73% of their field goals last year, and overall they had a respectable special teams game.

The bad news is...

They only attempted 11 field goals all last season, and both last season's kicker and punter are gone. Last year Wisconsin attempted so few kicks because their offense was so good, but my guess is they'll be attempting more field goals this year, and they don't have a proven kicker on the roster. It could spell the difference between winning a game and losing a game.

On the schedule:

The good news is...

They have a very manageable non-conference schedule, with Oregon State the only real test, and Bucky is much better team than the Beavers on paper. They won't play Michigan or Iowa, they have a very manageable conference schedule after the opener, and they get Michigan State and Ohio State at home. With Ohio State ineligible for the post season, Penn State still trying to make their way back from the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky fallout, and Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana just not perceived to be as good as Wisconsin, the path to Indianapolis is wide open.

The bad news is...

Nebraska kicks off the conference schedule, the game is in Lincoln, and the Badgers gave Bo Pelini one of his most embarrassing losses as a head coach last year. I don't think Pelini will let the Blackshirts forget that, and that will be a telling game for the Badgers out of the gate. Whether or not they return to Indianapolis will be determined in their last four games, as three of them are Michigan State, Ohio State, and at Penn State.

If you're talking to a Wisconsin fan:

Do mention...

The current dominance over Minnesota in college football's most played rivalry, Paul Bunyan's axe. The Badgers have won 8 in a row, most in lopsided fashion, and 9 of the last 10.

Don't mention...

Time management. They lost two Rose Bowls in a row at the last minute, and a trip to the National Championship game was lost over two last second Hail Mary Passes in East Lansing and Columbus.

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