Team: Wisconsin Badgers
Head Coach: Bret Bielema (7th year at Wisconsin)
2011 Record: 11-3 (6-2 Conference)
Overall Head Coaching Record: 60-19
The 2012 and Russell Wilson-less Wisconsin Badgers take on four average to below-average teams to start the season and complete their nonconference schedule. The Badgers face Northern Iowa, Oregon State (away), Utah State and UTEP. Some may think the September 8 matchup in Corvallis vs. the Oregon State Beavers may be cause for concern, but I certainly am not projecting a team who lost to Sacramento State in 2011 to give the Badgers their first loss of the year. Even without Wilson at the helm in 2012, projected starting QB (and Maryland transfer) Danny O’Brien would need to screw things up big time for Wisconsin to drop one of their first four games of the season.
Iowa Hawkeye alum and current Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema has to be extremely appreciative of the powers in charge of constructing Wisconsin’s 2012 conference schedule. The three B1G teams the Badgers do not have to face this year are Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern; all are above average, competitive teams in the conference. Additionally, Wisconsin is fortunate enough to take on, arguably, the two best teams in the B1G at home, Michigan State and Ohio State. The combination of this, a weak nonconference schedule, and the fact that Wisconsin is only one of four teams in the Leaders Division eligible for postseason play makes the Badgers a hot bet in Vegas to become B1G champions.
As I’ve written for about the 50th time, I firmly believe Russell Wilson was the primary cause for Wisconsin’s 2011 success. Danny O’Brien is not Russell Wilson. Danny O’Brien will not provide the same leadership skills, immediate demand for respect, and level of play that Wilson provided a year ago. This will undoubtedly take a toll this season for the Badgers. As a result, I project a 10-2 overall record and a 6-2 conference record for Wisconsin. As I said earlier this week when previewing Nebraska, I see Coach Bo Pelini stealing one on September 29 in Lincoln and giving the Badgers an 0-1 B1G record to start conference play. Additionally, I see Wisconsin losing to our very own Buckeyes (surprise, surprise) on November 17 at home in Madison. We all know Coach Urban Meyer did not take kindly to big, bad Bielema’s accusations of NCAA recruiting violations, and I just do not see Coach Meyer losing this one. With only four Leaders Division members eligible for postseason play, I still think it’s a safe bet for Wisconsin to qualify for the B1G Championship game. We’ll see if Danny O’Brien proves me wrong and continues Wisconsin’s newly found tradition of excellent one-year QB transfer play…
According to Rivals.com, the Wisconsin Badgers’ 2012 recruiting class is ranked 57th in the nation and 8th in the B1G. Having only 12 signees in the class made it nearly impossible for Wisconsin to be much higher in the rankings. After the Badgers’ Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, Coach Bielema lost six assistants. I’d thought this would’ve had a much bigger impact on their 2012 class, but surprisingly, the Badgers lost only 2 commitments. One of those being our very own Buckeye OL Kyle Dodson, whom Coach Meyer went after very, very hard on the recruiting trail.
With only 12 verbals, the Badgers made every one of them count as they shored up five 4-star rated recruits, according to Scout.com. Two of these players, I think, are future stars for the Badgers in QB Bart Houston of De La Salle High School in Concord, CA and RB Vonte Jackson of Bradford High School in Kenosha, WI. Both are highly touted and received many other scholarship offers from big-time schools.
Needless to say, the single-most missed Badger this year will be QB Russell Wilson. Other than Wilson, who I’ve talked about entirely too much in this preview as well as many others, Wisconsin loses both its starting kicker and punter, as well as first-team all-B1G CB Antonio Fenelus. Those key special teams losses further cement my argument that Wisconsin will drop at least two B1G games, despite their opportune schedule.
Overall Record: 10-2
Conference Record: 6-2
Offensive Team MVP: RB Montee Ball
Defensive Team MVP: LB Chris Borland
Week 12 Buckeye-Badger Brawl Score: Ohio State 21 Wisconsin 14
Previous B1G Summer Previews:
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Illinois Fighting Illini
Penn State Nittany Lions