Big Ten

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference):
Bowl Game: Champs Sports Bowl (W 20-14 vs. Miami)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): 16, 16
Conference finish: 4th Big Ten
Offensive rank: 30
Defensive rank: 17

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: John Clay, 1,517 yards, 18 TD
Passing: Scott Tolzien, 2,705 yards, 16 TD, 11 INT
Receiving: Nick Toon, 805 yards, 4 TD; Garret Graham, 624 yards, 7 TD
Tackles: Jaevery McFadden, 74 total tackles
Sacks: O'Brien Schofield, 12 sacks (11 solo, 2 assisted)
Interceptions: Chris Maragos, 4 interceptions

2010 Season Outlook

(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

October 2 @ Michigan State: The Badgers haven't beaten the Spartans in East Lansing since 2002. Beginning in 2003, the home team has been the winner in each of their last five matchups. Wisconsin should be 4-0 at this point and shouldn't have too much problem handling Minnesota in Madison the following week, but Michigan State could pose a threat for a team hoping to play in a BCS bowl at the end of the year.

October 16 vs. Ohio State: At least they'll get the Buckeyes, who are on the shortlist of favorites to win the national title, at home this year. Wisconsin hasn't beaten the Buckeyes in their previous three meetings, but the home game against Ohio State in 2008 came down to a late Buckeyes touchdown with just over a minute left that gave Ohio State the three-point win.

October 23 @ Iowa: Getting Iowa in Iowa City is a tough break for a Badgers team hoping to be in position to make a run for the Big Ten title after their meeting with Ohio State the week before. It could actually be Iowa, not Ohio State, that ultimately stands between the Badgers and a BCS bowl game. In fact, this matchup could determine who finishes second (or possibly first) in the Big Ten and thus who is invited to a BCS game.

November 27 vs. Northwestern: If Wisconsin is ahead in the conference standings or in position to finish behind Ohio State when the regular season finale against Northwestern rolls around, don't start celebrating yet, Badgers fans. Wisconsin was 2-4 against the Wildcats last decade and one of their three losses last season came against Northwestern in their Big Ten finale.


Coaches': 12

Key Losses

Garrett Graham, TE; O'Brien Schofield, DE; Jaevery McFadden, LB; Chris Maragos, S

Key Returning Players

Scott Tolzien, QB; John Clay, RB; Nick Toon, WR; Lance Kendricks, TE; Gabe Carimi, OT; John Moffitt, G; J.J. Watt, DE; Chris Borland, LB; Jay Valai, S

Offensive Overview

The offense should be spectacular this season. Ten starters return with the only departure being All-Big Ten first teamer tight end Garrett Graham. Lance Kendricks, who ran amuck in the Champs Sports Bowl against the Hurricanes, will get the starting job and could emerge into just as good of a tight end as Graham. Wide receiver Nick Toon returns after leading the team in receptions and receiving yards, but other players need to step up to give quarterback Scott Tolzien more options. Isaac Anderson, David Gilreath and Kyle Jefferson need to provide additional targets to compliment Toon and Kendricks.

Tolzien benefited from the added attention given to the ground attack, but he proved to be a bit of a surprise success story last season, passing for 2,705 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He comes into 2010 with a year of experience behind him and as the unquestioned leader of the offense under center. Backup Curt Phillips tore his ACL, leaving the backup quarterback position a bit muddled; a possible problem if Tolzien goes down.

John Clay could be the least-talked about Heisman candidate outside of the state of Wisconsin. He is rarely mentioned along with Mark Ingram, Jake Locker, Andrew Luck, Terrelle Pryor, Ryan Mallett, Dion Lewis and other media darlings, but it may not take him long to turn a few heads and shift the focus of the Heisman talk to Madison. Running behind all five returning starters on the offensive line, Clay could easily surpass last season's 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns. Montee Ball and Zach Brown sit behind him and are itching for carries, giving Wisconsin some nice insurance and the opportunity to give Clay a play or two off to keep him fresh. Clay could easily go for 2,000 yards even with Bell and Brown getting their carries. This is one of the best backfields in all of college football.

The offensive line, with tackle Gabe Carimi leading the way, could be one of the best in the nation. Guards John Moffitt and Kevin Zeitler, center Peter Konz and tackle John Oglesby also return with excellent depth behind them. The strength will again be run blocking and pass blocking has a few question marks, although improvement is expected and Tolizen should feel rather comfortable behind such a talented offensive line.

Defensive Overview

Defensive end J.J. Watt should be special this season. Louis Nzegwu, who will be lining up opposite Watt and looking to replace O'Brien Schofield, is fast enough to be productive behind the line of scrimmage and in the pass rush. David Gilbert is a pass rushing specialist who will work into the rotation. Tyler Dippel, coming off an ACL injury, should find playing time as well. It's not the end positions that are in question, it’s the inside. Both starting tackles are gone, meaning Jordan Kohout and Patrick Butrym will have to step up. Butrym has some starting experience, but overall this will be a relatively inexperienced bunch with sophomore Ericks Briedis and redshirt freshman Ethan Hemer working behind them. None of the four are over 300 pounds, but that shouldn't matter with a few 290+ pounders and some overall athleticism that could prove any doubters wrong.

The linebackers corps should be solid with sophomore Chris Borland returning following a freshman season in which he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He recorded 54 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, and came away with five sacks, second most on the team behind Schofield. He even added an interception, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Culmer St. Jean also returns after finishing second on the team with 63 total tackles. Jaevery McFadden is gone, but Mike Taylor is back after injuring his knee in the middle of the season. He started seven games before the injury and will return to round out what should be a nice starting linebackers corps. Kevin Claxton should also see time in the rotation for his pass rushing and overall athleticism.

Aaron Henry will get the start at the free safety position with Jay Valai starting at strong safety. Both players are former cornerbacks who should do well in providing that last line of defense. At cornerback, Devin Smith, Antonio Fenelus and Niles Brinkley will make up the starting and nickel cornerbacks. While the rush defense was among the best in the nation last season, the pass defense left a bit to be desired. This unit can cover and should not get beat on too many deep balls with two cornerbacks playing the safety spots. There's no reason that this cannot turn out to be one of the best units on the team if they can play consistently and live up to their potential.

Special Teams Overview

Philip Welch is a talented kicker who connected on 17 of his 24 attempts in 2009 (although not as impressive as his freshman campaign of 20 for 24) including a 57 yarder. He hit 47 of his 49 extra point attempts and should again find himself among the Big Ten's best kickers. Brad Nortman will be the punter after averaging 42.0 yards per punt last season. David Gilreath will return punts and kicks again. He was the primary return man last season, averaging 23.7 yards per kick return and an unimpressive 5.6 yards per punt return. He did return one punt for a touchdown, however, although the average could stand to come up a few points.

Head Coach: Bret Bielema

Coach Bielema is entering his fifth season as the Wisconsin head coach coming off a 10-3 campaign in which the Badgers took down the Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl. He's still waiting for that BCS bowl invitation despite finishing with an 11-1 regular season record in 2006 (Ohio State won the conference and Michigan received an at-large bid). Bielema has his team in a prime position going into the season to battle for the conference crown, or even the national title, or at least walk away with a BCS at-large bid.

Before taking over as head coach for the 2006 season, Bielema served as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin from 2004 to 2005, was the Kansas State co-defensive coordinator from 2002 to 2003 and served as the linebackers coach at Iowa from 1996 to 2001.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Scott Tolzien, QB; Lance Kendricks, TE; Gabe Carimi, OT; John Moffitt, G; Jay Valai, S

Season Prediction

3rd Big Ten Conference

Nobody should be surprised if the Badgers overtake Iowa for the second spot in the conference, and try not to let your jaw drop too low if they beat out Ohio State for the conference title, but entering the season questions on defense are holding the Badgers back. The defensive tackle position is unproven and the secondary, while they should be good and have the talent to produce, needs to prove they can play at a high level week in and week out.

The running game should be an absolute terror with John Clay, Montee Bell and Zach Brown comprising a deep and talented backfield. The Wisconsin running game could even challenge for one of the top five rushing attacks in the nation. Scott Tolzien should be solid through the air and could be counted among the Big Ten's top passers by the time the season is over.

All that said, though, the month of October should tell us all we need to know about the fate of this Badgers team. With a win against Minnesota on the 9th a strong probability, if this team can win at least two of their three matchups against Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa, Wisconsin should be able to finish second or higher in the conference. If they are unable to do so, they'll likely be looking at third in the division. That's all assuming they don't drop one against Purdue, Indiana or Michigan and can get by Northwestern at the end of the year. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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