Can Wisconsin Defend Its Big Ten Title?

Wisconsin looks like the favorite in the Leaders Division to appear in the Big Ten Championship game. The fact that Ohio State will be ineligible for the game is certainly a major reason for that. Still, Phil Steele rates the Badgers ninth in the country and best in the Big Ten. The toughest game on their schedule might be the conference opener in Lincoln. A year ago, they blew the Huskers off the field in Madison. How will they perform in the rematch?

 

The departure of Russell Wilson should change things pretty dramatically. Wilson completed 14 of 20 passes for a gaudy 255 yards and two touchdowns against the Huskers a year ago. He added 32 yards rushing on six carries including a 10-yard touchdown scramble. They also lose receiver Nick Toon, who caught four balls for 94 yards and a touchdown against NU. Russell's replacement is former ACC rookie of the year Danny O'Brien. O'Brien is no Wilson clone. He's more of a poor man's Kirk Cousins. Cousins gave Nebraska exactly zero trouble last year in Lincoln. Expect similar results from O'Brien.

That's not to say that Wisconsin will be a pushover. Montee Ball carried the ball 30 times for 151 yards and four touchdowns against Nebraska in the last meeting. He's got three-fifths of his offensive line returning as well, though fullback Bradie Ewing and tight end Jake Byrne graduated. It's fair to say that NU's game plan will be to not allow Ball to score four touchdowns this year, even if he might top the century mark in yards again.

The Badger defense was good but not great a year ago. Martinez made them look pretty good by throwing three interceptions. Their return game has been impressive and could be critical in the rematch. Wisconsin has to break in a new kicker and punter this year though, so special teams could be uneven.

The overall schedule is pretty friendly to the Badgers. U-Dub should cruise to 4-0 in the nonconference before they head to Lincoln.  Then they get Michigan State and Ohio State at home. Their season finale is at Penn State. No one else should give them a challenge in the regular season. Even without Wilson, they look like at least a ten win team.

The Badgers are likely to see either Michigan or Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game. On paper, they can compete with either team but wouldn't hold a decided advantage. So certainly Wisconsin can defend their title, even if they aren't an overwhelming favorite to do so. Things might be different if Ohio State could stand in their way. But all the Buckeyes can do is smudge U-Dub's win-loss record a bit. All that really seems to stand between Wisconsin and the Rose Bowl is winning in Indianapolis in December. There may be doubt about their odds there, but little doubt that they'll be there.

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2 things about Wisconsin that are important…they also lost their offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. I think that’s huge. The latter was a hire I wish WE would have gone after. Their O lines are equivalent to our old pipeline days, something which ole’ Barney Cotton has failed to live up to. I’d say after that, Nebraska light is a team we can beat this year and it will feel good doing it!

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that O’Neill is no Wilson.

So much of Wisconsin’s offensive success last year was based on Wilson making plays with both his feet and his arm. That, and he made *excellent* choices with the football.

O’Brien is neither as talented nor as experienced/savvy as Wilson. That’s huge.

Ball is the key the Badger offense. Now, how will he play when everyone can get away with keying on him? We’re about to find out…

I think PE’s comments are dead on.  The loss of two offensive coaches, particularly their talented O-line coach will hit Wisconsin just as hard (well, almost as hard) as the loss of Wilson.  Monte Ball is a good back, but he will be only as good as his offensive line.  If their o-line pipeline is working this year, they’ll still be tough to beat.

But I think Wisconsin’d defense, while good is not anywhere close to great. We play up to our abilities I think we rip them apart in Lincoln this year. SRex, Tmart, Bell, Cotton, Reed, etc…...will be too much for them.

There’s a very good chance we beat them twice this year.

GBR!!

Wisconsin has a lot of issues coming into the 2012 season.  See below:

1) Coaching staff changes (O-line and OC gone).
2) No Russel Wilson (O’Brien threw 10 picks and 7 TDs last season…......hmmm.).
3) No Nick Toon (Jared Abbrederis is a good receiver but is not a #1. He benefited enormously be playing alongside Nick Toon).
4) Playbook will be drastically simpler (Clearly, Montee Ball and James White will be getting the rock most of the time).
5) New PK and punter. (Gone is Phillip Welch, the longtime kicker who was a Lou Groza semifinalist in 2008 and nailed 5-of-6 field goals last year).
Clearly, last year’s team had all of the pieces in place for a run at the national championship.  The 2012 Badgers will be good with such a powerful running game.  However, the 2012 squad is light years away from last year’s team in terms of talent and experience. 

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I believe the game at Memorial Stadium will be the most challenging for the Badgers. It seems everyone is quick to dismiss O’Brien, Abbredaris, Duckworth, etc., which is to the Badger’s benefit - everyone dismissed Russell last July. Looking forward to a good game in Lincoln. On Wisconsin!

until they play who knows but Bigredfootballfan should consider this: Nick Toon was always hurt during his 4 years. The guy was also at times kind of a slacker but Abbrederis is a better reciever than Toon and certainly more versitile plus he’s quicker. ‘Abbe” led the team in recieving yards and touchdowns last year. Do you think Toon could have returned a kick off in the Rose Bowl 60 yards?

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