PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: Running back Montee Ball #28 of the Wisconsin Badgers leaps over John Boyett #20 of the Oregon Ducks in the third quarter at the 98th Rose Bowl Game on January 2, 2012 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
In 2011, the Wisconsin Badgers had the setup of a lifetime. With a fancy new Quarterback who could both throw a beautiful deep ball AND run all over the place, an Offensive Line that was able to roll over opponents, and a RB who would have a record-breaking season, they were poised to be something special. Many of our writers, including myself, predicted that the Badgers would be BCS Bowling against an SEC power in the Championship Game. I mean, what would stand in their way, right?
Well, two Hail Marys later and we were left to wonder as a conference what could have been. This is not to say that Wisconsin did not have other close calls, but you have to ask yourself if the window of opportunity has been closed. And if it has, who is to blame and how do the Badgers get back to the point where they can be fighting not just for a Rose Bowl berth, but for the National Title (you know, at least until they can get into a 4 Team Playoff with multiple losses).
So that's what I am trying to answer today. This week we talked a lot about DOB, BB, Time Management, Fancy Play Calling when it's not necessary, New Coordinators, and Roster Attrition. So I just basically wanted to throw all of that into the cauldron, see what we come up with and make the Entirely Way Too Early Case for Wisconsin, or EWTECfW.
Why 2012 Looks Good
I know that many of you will point out that I am generally on record saying I do not believe in this Wisconsin team. That does not mean I don't think it's completely out of the realm of possibility that Wisconsin exceeds even last year's expectations and goes out and does something special. After all, wouldn't it be great to see a B1G team do something no one expects on the National Stage before we go the way of the Playoff? If you answered no to that question, I kindly ask that you hit your head against your desk for a moment. I'll wait... ... ... Okay, we back? Good.
Seriously, though. Looking at the way the schedule pans out for the Badgers, this might be a good year to make another run at the BCS Championship Game while it is still indeed the BCS Championship Game. This all starts with the schedule. Wisconsin continues to schedule no-name opponents and the non-con headliner is a matchup in Corvallis with the Oregon State Beavers who definitely went 3-9 in the weak Pac-12 last year. Adding to that, Wisconsin travels to Nebraska, Purdue, Indiana, and Penn State getting both Ohio State and Michigan State at home. I do not think it is a stretch to say that if they get past Nebraska on the road, the schedule looks doable from there. While I believe Penn State will be a much better team than most people think, I do not see them being strong enough to knock off Wisconsin this year.
I think this offense takes a step back and even if Danny O'Brien gets some supercharged precision donning Badger Reds over the atrocities at Maryland, who is to say this team has the WR to throw too? With that said, because there is always a counter to my own statements, why does that have to matter? I do not believe Wisconsin will be as efficient this year on the offensive side of the ball, but I also do not believe they will be Nebraska 2009 worthless either. This should be a nice balanced team that relies on the Running Game to set up Abrederis and Pedersen to get some easy catches deep and over the middle. I will touch on this in a moment, but I think new OC Matt Canada might be good for the Badgers. While he will continue to use a Pro-style offense, I think that some of his time in the MAC will give him a little more creative license to attack defenses in the B1G with a different set of personnel. We will see.
And while I am no expert on the Wisconsin Badgers, I do think the defense will improve markedly this year. This was always going to be the thorn in the Badgers side and it showed at times. This was a defense that was great in some spots, but was prone to mental errors in pressure situations. Was it coaching? Depth? Youth? I am voting for a mix of all three, but the Badgers have some talent in the LB core returning, and I just don't see the defense regressing at all. Now, I could be completely off base here, but this is my painfully underresearched article where I say Wisconsin could be National Champ, so there.
We already had the Smartest Guys in the Room, and I know that the Badger blogs have spoke ad nauseum about the new coordinators and coaches that needed to be added so I don't have a lot to add to the discussion there. What I will say is that while I am not a huge fan of Biels, it's hard to find faults in the guy and his staff. Paul Chryst was a great coordinator. I think he will be a good head coach as well, and that is an important thing to point out. One of the things I often look for in a coach is his ability to become something better. Head Coaches who go out and find coordinators that are trending up or who are willing to bring in something that could exceed a person's own skillset show that the Coach as CEO gets it.
I know next to nothing about Canada except that he was part of the beauty that was Thursday Night MACtion last year. He used the personnel he had to create a Spread Offense that worked in his conference. I have zero doubt that with more talent and better coaching to rely on, he will be another great coordinator at Wisconsin. There will probably be hiccups along the way, but the continuity with Bielema, his defensive staff, and really the fact that there are two coaches who are in charge of, "Quality Control" I have no doubt that things should be okay on this front. Until Bielema proves otherwise, his 60-19 record stands as pretty damn good. I am not one to question that success. The table is set for something good to happen.
So What? Wisconsin is going to win the National Championship?
Last year we got all excited about Wisconsin. They had that, "look" of a title team. A fancy QB, a beast of a RB, good OL, great coaches (Offensive Line and Offensive Coordinator specifically), and a chip on their shoulder. Then things just kept going wrong at inopportune times. Despite all that, they still finished the season with a B1G championship. Right now, Wisconsin is a good team bordering on great and a Rose Bowl win would help secure Wisconsin in the upper echelon of College Football. Do I really think this team is setup to win a National Championship? Well, I don't know if I would bet the house on that. Still, when I started looking through this 2012 campaign, the schedule, team, and really the landscape as a whole does not look like it will be as far fetched as one might think. Get past Nebraska, seal the deal vs. Michigan State and take it to the Buckeyes, and the surprise of 2012 will be the Badgers. Of course, only time will tell.