I want to start out our final closing arguments by apologizing for the, uh, slight delay in publication of this article. Since graduating from law school I've discovered that one of the best things about being done is attending alumni events, and the things that happen after alumni events. Even if that means I'm then writing a football article on too little sleep and too much beer.
Ahem. Anyway, do y'all know what today is? No, seriously. COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS BACK TODAY! (Don't forget to sign up for the Obligatory Predictions Competition. Glory awaits!) Enjoy these next three days, because after this weekend you'll realize that while college football is indeed back we're actually in the middle of the shitty part of the season where most of our favorite teams play cupcake games. If you root for anyone other than Indiana and Minnesota (sorry guys) expect to see your team put up at least several dominating performances... and not much else that's interesting. Let's not kid ourselves, as fun as this season is going to be in the B1G, it really doesn't get going until we get into the conference games.
But what a season it's going to be. This, this season will be why we created a championship game. Sure, the conventional wisdom is that Wisconsin will be meeting a team from the Mitten state in the CCG, and I don't think that's wrong. Yet, there is so much room this season for an underdog team to stun a favorite and make a trip to Indianapolis.
Of course, the flip side of this excitement is the acknowledgement that there is no clear favorite to this year's B1G season. Much as it hurts to admit as a representative of the defending champions, Wisconsin is not going to mow through the league like they did last year. Bucky is good, but if the goal is a third straight trip to Pasadena, it's going to be a fight.
Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I come to you today with a difficult task on my hands. I must somehow find a way to convince you that, despite the loss of one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in recent memory (and newly named starter for the Seattle Seahawks), a slew of veteran line players, and one of the only consistent deep receiving threats on the 2011 roster, Wisconsin will find itself back in the Rose Bowl looking for the win that eluded them these past two seasons.
I must find a way to convince you that despite the formidable powers rising in the mitten state, casting a shadow over my beloved land of cheese, the plucky Badgers are good enough to dominate what has become one of the strongest conferences top-to-bottom in college football.
But of course Bucky has a hell of a mountain to climb when it comes to repeating the magic of last season. Despite the way it all ended, it was a fun ride. The Badgers were truly dominant. The Badgers' lowest scoring game in 2011 - against Illinois - was a 28-17 victory. Even when held down by a very competent defense, they still managed four touchdowns. Last year, their average margin of victory in the conference was 34.3 points. They welcomed Nebraska to the B1G by beating them by more than four touchdowns. They rolled over Indiana and Purdue. They put a THIRTY-EIGHT point margin of victory on Penn State. And while it's true they had two soul crushing losses that derailed any national title talk (not that they would have been selected over the oh-so-exciting matchup of SEC vs. SEC in any case) those victories both came after last second desperation plays that just happened to work. Hail Mary's that were answered.
So, can Wisconsin really do it again? Can they mow through the 2012 schedule like a knife through warm cheese curds?
Kip Moore - Reckless (Still Growin' Up) (via jttrouba)
This is the part where I say - don't give up on Wisconsin. Maybe we aren't quite as pedigreed as our slightly eastern conference brethren in Michigan and Ohio State. Maybe it's true that this year is going to be an uphill battle. But the Badgers can do this. Yes, we lost Russell Wilson. Yes, we lost Paul Chryst. Yes, we lost Nick Toon.
Though Dany O'Brien might not quite be Wilson, in fact he perhaps bears more resemblance to Scott Tolzien, he's not a guy you should sleep on. Going all the way through camp, O'Brien had just a single interception. One. After hundreds of throws. Sure, practice isn't exactly the same as game conditions, but O'Brien's demonstrated accuracy at this point has me encouraged.
I really don't even need to talk about the running game. It's stacked. Behind the obvious in Montee Ball, we've also got James White, Melvin Gordon, two quality fullbacks in Sherard Cadogan and Derek Watt, as well as an intriguing freshman in Vonte Jackson. While Jackson is planning on redshirting, word out of camp is that he might see some action on special teams this year if necessary.
The receiving corps is diminished. And we've got a new offensive coordinator and new receivers coach. But I'm not terribly worried. If O'Brien is accurate, if the line holds enough to give him time to throw, and if the running backs do what they do best, then hopefully the people we've got left receiving will be more than enough. Besides, having no clear star just means we'll get more breakout names.
As to those lines... well. It's true that the Badgers lost a lot. Particularly on offensive line. But it's also true that we raise them big up in Wisconisn, and Bucky has never seemed to lack for dairy fed giants to hold the line. The Badgers have a decent amount of depth at guard, but the tackle position is a little bit concerning. While Ricky Wagner brings a veteran presence and Rob Havenstein is solid (in more ways than one), there's just not a whole lot of depth behind the two of them. If either get seriously injured... well, I'll just be hoping that O'Brien has spontaneously developed Russell Wilson like scrambling ability.
As to the defense, I'm perhaps the most excited about seeing whether they can perform up to the task. The entire front seven is back. And we've got Devin Smith back from injury, teaming up with Marcus Cromartie, Sheldon Johnson, and Dezman Southward in the secondary. The bottom line with the defense is the big play. The Hail Mary. The absurd runs that Oregon put up on us in the Rose Bowl. If Wisconsin can get better at stopping that, then the defense will be just fine.
Let's not minimize the stakes here. Wisconsin has a lot riding on this season. This season is about more than just a conference title. More than an opportunity to avenge recent Rose Bowl futility. This year is about Wisconsin showing that they belong in the top tier of the B1G. That the Badgers should be included in the level that was once reserved only for Michigan and Ohio State. That Wisconsin can reload from year-to-year and present a formidable presence in the conference. That a nine win season should qualify as a mild disappointment. This year is about Wisconsin showing that, they aren't just that little kid program with occasional flashes of greatness. That Wisconsin has grown up.
This is where we prove that we belong. That when you talk about the B1G you talk about the Badgers. That those kids lining up on high school fields across the country have dreams of taking the field at Camp Randall in addition to the Big House and the Shoe. Bucky is more than just a flash in the pan. Bucky is here to stay, and y'all best get used to it.
IV. The Verdict
So. That leaves us with the end. Can Wisconsin do it? I think they can. The Badgers don't play Michigan this year in the regular season, and the only two intimidating games are Michigan State and Ohio State. But this year we get those games at home. And the Badgers are absurdly dominant at home. As in, we haven't lost a game at Camp Randall SINCE 2009. So. I have Bucky meeting Michigan in the CCG and punching another ticket to California. Most of the rest of the staff is similarly optimistic on Wisconsin's chances of making an appearance in Indy again, but we're divided on whether or not they emerge victorious over the mitten representative.
B. Staff Picks
OTE Average: 10-2 (6-2)
Jon: 9-3 (5-3, Loss to NEB, MSU, PSU) (Loses CCG to Michigan)
Ted: 10-2 (6-2, Loss to NEB, OSU) (Wins CCG over Michigan)
Jesse: 10-2 (6-2, Loss to NEB, MSU) (Wins CCG over MSU)
MSULaxer27: 10-2 (6-2, loss to NEB, OSU) (Loses CCG to MSU)
Jeff: 10-2 (6-2, loss to NEB, PSU) (Loses CCG to Michigan)
Mike: 11-1 (7-1, loss to NEB) (Loses CCG to Michigan)
Randall: 10-2 (6-2, loss to NEB, MSU) (Loses CCG to MSU)
Jeremy: 11-1 (7-1, loss to NEB) (Loses CCG to Michigan)
Brian: 11-1 (7-1, loss to NEB) (Wins CCG over Michigan)
Hilary: 11-1 (7-1, loss to OSU) (Wins CCG over Michigan)
Chad: 10-2 (6-2, loss to Purdue, OSU) (Loses CCG to MSU)
Graham: 11-1 (7-1, loss to MSU)