So...my team is up. This is strange, because - while I love college football and have come into some decent knowledge over the past few years - I still need a refresher for most teams... outside Wisconsin. All these previous previews have come from an outsider perspective (for good or bad), but that all changes now. It's weird (though I guess I'm glad Wisconsin comes at the end of the run, because it means 2011 BIG TEN CHAMPS Y'ALL).
So I propose this: I'm going to write this preview without any outside help. Usually, I use CFBStats to a large extent, as well as ESPN and Wikipedia to a certain bit. I'm going to rely on my memory and see how far that gets me, and y'all can judge me afterward (I might post a CORRECTIONS section at the end, but we'll see. I'm a bit drunk right now. What can I say, I have to get into the Wisconsin spirit).
2008 NEVER HAPPENED (Wisconsin Performance 2005-2011)
Figure 1: Wisconsin Yearly FBS Rank (2005-2011)
Figure 2: Wisconsin Yearly Adj Off, Def Rank (2005-2011)
Figure 3: Wisconsin Yearly Win % and Luck (2005-2011)
Seriously, fvck that year (2008). I still can't believe we lost to Michigan, but at least we paid it back (with interest) in 2010. I can only hope the same applies in 2013 with Ohio State.
Also, while it's clear that Russell Wilson took us to another level (and I will cheer very hard for him in his NFL career), I want to sing a song of appreciation for Scott Tolzein. I feel like he gets forgotten just because he was the stereotypical "Wisconsin QB." Ya know what? He was a "Wisconsin QB," but he was a very good "Wisconsin QB." You don't win 21 games in 2 years without solid QB play, and Scott Tolzein provided that for us.
And getting up on the soapbox here: my math lies here. As do most numbers (I think FO has Wisconsin's defense as better in 2011 v 2010). I don't give a crap what the numbers say, Wisconsin had no pass rush in 2011 and that really showed in their losses. He certainly would've provided some pressure to keep Kirk Cousins from morphing into the QB cyborg he did against us. 2010 Wisconsin probably would have won the Rose Bowl in 2011, and that makes me so sad that I had to witness two straight defeats in Pasadena. GAH. They say it's better to be lucky than good. Well, we've been pretty good, but I don't think we've been that lucky. Going off on a slight tangent here, my most depressing losses witnessed (all sports):
1) 1998 Minnesota Vikings - loss in OT vs Atlanta Falcons (NFC Championship)
3) 2011 Wisconsin Badgers - loss vs Michigan State (2011 regular season)
4) 2009 Minnesota Vikings - loss in OT vs New Orleans Saints (NFC Championship)
5) 2012 Wisconsin Badgers - loss vs Syracuse Orange (Sweet Sixteen)
6) 2011 Wisconsin Badgers - loss vs Oregon Ducks (Rose Bowl)
When do I get mine, God? WHEN?
NOTE: You may wonder why the Oregon loss is so far down. Well, I never expected to win that game, and while it was close throughout, ultimately they lost. 2009 Vikings vs Saints, in contrast... I expected the Vikings to lose that game. I expected them to lose right up until ~30 seconds to go, when I thought, "Ya know, I think they got this. My favorite team is going to the Super Bowl." Then everything went to Hell.
Missed Opportunities (Wisconsin 2011 Season)
Lost Rose Bowl vs Oregon (38-45)
I have no idea how Wisconsin lost 3 games in 2011. I mean, I watched all the games, so I know how it happened, play-by-play, but really: this was a really good team, and they had no reason to ever lose a game (Well, kind of. More on that later). The offense was transcendent, the defense was possibly over-rated (but still good), and the special teams were special (in both meanings, but average out to something about... average).
But... Jesus. THIS TEAM SHOULD NOT HAVE LOST A GAME, GAH. I'm sorry, I'm going through some hard stuff in reminding me of stuff here. Okay, whatever: we'll go through reality, and then what should have happened.
REALITY: Wisconsin lost to Michigan State, Ohio State, and Oregon.
The Michigan State loss: Heart-breaking, but acceptable. It was on the road, Michigan State was certainly a good team, and it came on a Hail Mary (tough to endure, but not really reproducible*)
*Or it might be repeated weekly. Your mileage may vary.
The Ohio State loss: Un-acceptable: Ohio State probably wasn't as bad as they were considered in 2011 but still: not acceptable. This loss would have deservedly kept Wisconsin out of the BCS Championship even if they won at Michigan State. And had they won against OSU: I think they would have had a good argument to show up in New Orleans. If only...
The Oregon loss: I thought we would lose, and we lost. It was pretty harsh how it occurred, but it wasn't different than anything I expected. Still... 25 yds to go in one pass is not a hard prospect to imagine for Russell Wilson and Co. And losing on an attempted spike... not ideal.
FANTASY: We were better than Michigan State (yes, it was true. I don't apologize). We were better than Ohio State (crickets in response). In that case, we're not in the Rose Bowl against Oregon (who honestly had a good personnel advantage against us, NIKE ZIP SPEED), we're in the BCS Championship against LSU.
In that case, it's a good argument. LSU was better than Wisconsin in 2011, I'm not going to argue that. The BCS Championship left a poor taste for LSU, but they were really, really good throughout the year. But... their QB Jefferson was not that great. At all. And I think Wisconsin could help contain that a bit. Never mind that. Again, I was a bit tipsy when I wrote that. We would have lost, though it probably would have been entertaining. I have confidence in our 2011 offense (IT WAS AWESOME) even in a match-up against a great LSU defense. Our special teams would have been lit on fire though. (LSU 36 - Wisc 28 for a final score, according to my numbers).
Optimistically Ignoring the Effect of Chryst (Wisconsin 2012 Preview and Projections)
Avg Opp Rank: 61.9 (Avg Non-Con: 88.2, Avg Conf: 48.5)
Final Record: 12-0 (8-0), Avg MOV: 18.9 pts, Bowl Prediction: Rose Bowl
First things first: we are lucky that we're in the Big Ten East. Ohio State doesn't matter, Penn State has its own difficulties, and Purdue... HAHAHAHAHAHA. Sorry, Boilermakers: you won't make it to Indianapolis unless you drive there yourself to watch someone else play. Fortunately, it's not that far for y'all, so travel expenses are cheap.
Second things second: Wisconsin isn't going into Indianapolis 12-0. We have to replace an AWESOME QB (who has probably built up our expectations far beyond what is reasonable), some receiving options, and two of our really quite nice ST options, kicker Philip Welch and punter Brad Nortman (2011 Oscar Winner for Best Supporting Actor*). I know the above says 12-0, but we're losing a game in there somewhere.
*Michigan State fans all collectively screamed in anger right now
Good things (I guess?): Our non-con is ridiculously easy. Seriously, we should not enter conference play anything less than 4-0, and an easy 4-0 at that. Northern Iowa, Oregon State, Utah State, and UTEP. That's it (as you can see above: the average projected rank is ~90 out of 124 teams) Oregon State should be our toughest test, but (and I know this may be contrary to accepted wisdom): OREGON STATE SUCKS. 2011 Oregon State lost to an FCS team, and they've been regressing over the last couple years. Yes, I will grant that last year was a down year for them, and props to them for always taking on a hard schedule (something I wish the Badgers would attempt to copy) and succeeding for the most part but Wisconsin should still roll. If we don't: prepare for me ranting in early September and sulking for the rest of the year.
Conference Schedule: Nebraska might be a tough start (MAYBE). I guess it's hard for me to be too pessimistic about this game because:
a) Nebraska hasn't been NEBRASKA for several years now.
b) 48-17 leaves a lot of wiggle room, even if it's at home.
But I'm obviously biased and when we get blown out 66-0, I'll take my licks and I'll ask for more. Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota offer a nice reprieve in the following weeks, at any rate. Heck, the toughest tests the next three games are Michigan State (at home), Indiana (HA!), and Ohio State (at home). That's really nice, and I think that we take Michigan State easily (biased, I know). Penn State (away) ends the season, but Penn State has a coaching change to deal with, we crushed them in 2011, and they still have Matt McGloin (woo...).
Plus, personnel wise? MONTEE FRICKING BALL. I was trying to talk myself into James White (~5.3 YPC, ~800 yds in 2011, a good back in his own right, but probably not Montee Ball) last winter because seriously: why wouldn't Ball go pro? (answer: NFL scouts are stupid) Now I get both? Matt Canada is probably having wet dreams every night until September begins. Apparently, they're looking into use James White as a slot WR option to get both Ball and White on the field at the same time, which gives me all sorts of warm feelings inside. So yes: the running game is probably going to be fine.
The OL loses Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz. Tough losses, to be sure. But we return starters in Travis Frederick and Ryan Groy, and Groy got some valuable experience against Illinois (and Michigan State, I believe) last year when Konz went down. Besides that: this is still Wisconsin. We churn out offensive lineman like hazardous toys in a Chinese factory. Losing Bob Bolstad to Pitt hurts, but until I see some actual regression, I'm going to assume the best (what can I say, I'm an optimist).
As far as receiving options, I guess I'm not as worried as most people are. Yes, we lose Nick Toon, a solid big option with NFL talent. But I guess I thought he was a tad over-hyped because of his genes. The 2010 Michigan State game was a good example where I think he could fall short of his potential. Contrast that to the wonderful Jared Abbredaris (~950 yds, 9 TD's in 2011) who was constantly over-looked by opponents, and made them pay for it. He also made a really nice PR option (I believe he led the nation last year, or was at least Top 3). It remains to be seen how he'll function as a number one receiver in 2011, but really: I thought he was essentially our number one last year. He certainly performed like it. Jacob Pedersen continues a tradition of top tier Wisconsin TE's, and I'm hoping that Jeff Duckworth can build off a good finish to 2011 [LINKY].
Defensively? I honestly think we'll be better. We really can't get much worse as far as a pass rush goes, and we return our two best players in Mike Taylor and Chris Borland. We return David Gilbert from injury, who would've been really nice to have last year. We lose Antonio Fenelus and Aaron Henry, but apparently Shelton Johnson is supposed to be the second coming of Christ in safety form to hear Bret Beilema say it (I'll believe it when I see it), and Marcus Cromartie got some good experience last year so hopefully he's able to maintain the level of play we've managed over the last few years. I know this is blasphemous when considering the usual history of Wisconsin, but our defense has been in the "bend and don't break, let the offense put them in a hole" category for a few years now. As long as we get SOME pressure on the QB, I think this approach will work just fine.
Yep, that's about all... oh, did I forget something? Fine, fine... the QB issue. Russell Wilson was magic in signal caller form (my friends after the UNLV game last year: GUYS WE HAVE A BLACK QB. WE'RE WISCONSIN AND WE HAVE A BLACK QB), and Danny O'Brien is certainly no Russell Wilson, even ignoring the wheels Wilson provided. Of course, they're worse situations for a new QB to be thrown into. A pro-style offense, massive O-Line, with the Big Ten's leading receiver and a Heisman finalist at RB? Hostile work environment, indeed. We've taken less heralded QB's and done very well with them (Scott Tolzein waves hello!).
Of course, we've also taken less heralded QB's and done very poorly with them (Allen Everidge and Dustin Sherer wave hello. Go away guys, no one likes you), and as nice of a 2010 campaign Danny O'Brien had, 2011 was obviously not the greatest. Hence, why he's here now. Yeah, Randy Edsall may be some cause of that (SIDE NOTE: Edsall should start up a pest extermination business. All he does is walk into your home and offer a scholarship to all the rodents and insects. Everything leaves within the month), but I think there's only so far you can use that excuse before saying "uh, well, he still kind of sucked."
However, we took a good QB in Russell Wilson and made him a NCAA Record Holder and a Heisman hopeful. Even if O'Brien is just "slightly above average," we should be able to take that and make him "good." So color me cautiously optimistic (at least until he throws 4 INT's in a home loss to Ohio State).
Best case for Wisconsin: As I said, we should easily come into the conference season at 4-0. After that, there's only four games I'm going to even entertain the possibility of losing Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State. Since this is a best case scenario, I'm assuming that we'll go undefeated at home, which is well within reason. Last game we lost in Camp Randall was in 2009 against Iowa. I really don't think we'll go undefeated, so between Penn State and Nebraska, I think I'd have to go with Nebraska as a more likely upset. The 2011 game was close up until Taylor Martinez decided to try his hand at "throwing" the ball. Penn State just got crushed, and a coaching change doesn't help matters. That's an 11-1 (7-1) record with a berth in the Big Ten Championship, then ideally the Rose Bowl.
Worst case for Wisconsin: Montee Ball gets hurt and we all walk through the season dead-eyed and dead inside. In more concrete terms, it means that we still go 4-0 in the non-con (seriously Badgers, schedule up), but struggle more in conference. At worst, I think we'd go 1-3 in those four toss-ups listed above, with the most likely win coming vs Michigan State (... sorry, Camp Randall is a tough environment, and y'all do lose a lot on offense). That would be 9-3 (5-3) for a record and watching the Big Ten Championship from home. I really hope this doesn't happen, and I would be pretty angry at anything less than 10 wins at the end of the season (including bowls, probably the Outback in this case, but let's not leave it that late).
All in all, I'm hoping for the best in 2012, but I'm wondering if us Badger fans have let our success go to our heads. Yes, 10+ wins the last three years, but... when we made the Rose Bowl in 2010, it was surreal, and I made damn sure I got tickets (and had a wonderful 36 hour straight road trip with my friends to Pasadena). It seemed like a once in a decade occurrence (because... it was), and I was just glad that I was in school to experience that.
But now that we've gone there for two straight years, I'm almost expecting to go back there. At the very least, I think we should be in line for a BCS Bowl. 2008 wasn't that long ago though, and even 2009 had some disappointments. I can only hope that the actual team shows more focus than I do (WOO GO BADGERS) and keep these dreams afloat.
Glossary and Explanation of Terms!
For a more in-depth explanation of everything see my primer here. I've also included a direct link to my 2011 Rankings [LINKY] for those that really want to see the nitty gritty details. Otherwise, the below should serve as a quick reference.
For the purposes of this section, I will refer to Average State University (ASU). ASU scores 25 pts/game on offense, gives up 25 pts/game on defense, and has an Adj Off, Def of 1.00 and 1.00, respectively.
Adj Off - a measure of a team's scoring offense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Off of 2.00 would be expected to score 50 pts on ASU. A team with an Adj Off of 0.50 would be expected to score 12-13 pts on ASU.
Adj Def - a measure of a team's scoring defense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Def of 2.00 would be expected to give up 50 pts to ASU. A team with and Adj Def of 0.50 would be expected to hold ASU to 12-13 pts.
Adj Eff - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjEff = AdjOff/(AdjOff + AdjDef). A perfect rating would be 1.00, a perfectly bad rating would be 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.50. This rating tends to reward teams with good defenses more than good offenses.
Adj Marg - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjMarg = AdjOff - AdjDef. A good rating would be > 0.00, a bad rating would be < 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.00. This rating tends to reward teams with good offenses more than good defenses.
(NOTE: While I list both Adj Eff and Adj Marg as measures of overall team strength, the "official" rankings are Adj Marg, as I find it tends (usually) to be a slightly better predictor of game results than Adj Eff.)
Opp Rat - the average rating of a team's opponents, as determined by Adj Marg. A relatively difficult schedule will have OppRat > 0.00, a relatively easy schedule will have OppRat < 0.00, a perfectly average schedule will have OppRat = 0.00.
Luck - the difference between a team's expected winning percentage (based on schedule and expected scores) and their actual winning percentage. Luck > 0.00 indicates that a team won more games than they were expected, Luck < 0.00 means that a team won less games than they were expected.
Projected Scores - these are based on a team's Adj Off, Def and their opponent's Adj Off, Def. I won't bore you with the math or reasoning, but suffice to say that expected scores align uniformly with the Adj Marg rankings. The expected score differential is proportional to the Adj Marg differential.