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Pre-Season Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

2009 Record: 10-3 (5-3 in Big Ten)
2009 Bowl: Champs Sports Bowl (beat Miami, Fl 20-14)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: #16
Head Coach: Bret Bielema (38-14 at Wisconsin, 20-12 in Big Ten)
Non-Conference Schedule: at UNLV (9/4), San Jose State (9/11), Arizona State (9/18), Austin Peay (9/25)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 31.8 points per game (1st in Big Ten)
Rushing Yards/Game: 203 (1st in Big Ten, 15th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 213 (7th in Big Ten)
Total Yards/Game: 416 (1st in Big Ten) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 21.8 points per game (4th in Big Ten)
Rushing Yards/Game: 88 (1st in Big Ten, 5th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 217 (5th in Big Ten)
Total Yards/Game: 305 (4th in Big Ten, 17th in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.23 per game (4th in Big Ten)
Penalties: 47 yards per game (4th in Big Ten)

Returning Starters
Offense: 10
Defense: 6
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Scott Tolzien, Sr (211 of 328 for 2705 yds, 16 TD, 11 INT)
Rushing: RB John Clay, Jr (287 carries for 1517 yds, 18 TD, 5.2 ypc)
Receiving: WR Nick Toon, Jr (54 rec, 805 yds, 4 TD, 4.2 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Culver St. Jean, Sr (63)
Sacks: LB Chris Borland, Soph (5)
Interceptions: CB Niles Brinkley, Sr (2), CB Devin Smith, Jr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #16
Lindy's: #6
Mark Schlabach: #10
Phil Steele: #23
Rivals: #9
Scout: #9
Sporting News: #8
Sports Illustrated: #11
USA Today Coaches Poll: #12

2010 Pre-Season Big Ten Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #3
Phil Steele: #4
Sports Illustrated: #3 (tied with Penn State)

Bowl Predictions:
Athlon Sports: Capital One Bowl (vs. Georgia)
Phil Steele: Outback Bowl (vs. Georgia)

Wisconsin went 10-3 last year dropping games to Ohio State, Iowa and Northwestern.  This year Ohio State draws the same Big 10 schedule as last year (does not included Penn State), they draw Ohio State at home and they also have one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country. I would be very surprised if Wisconsin does not end up in the Top 15 at the end of the year and they have a good shot to be Top 10 if they don't slip up like they did last year against Northwestern. Wisconsin also returns 10 offensive starters including Heisman candidate John Clay. Wisconsin actually returns the most starters in the league. They also return 107 starts along the offensive line which is the 9th most in the Nation and the most in the Big Ten (Ohio State is next with 93 starts- #18 in the Nation). There is a lot to like about this Wisconsin team but their season may come down to a pair of back-to-back games against Ohio State on Oct 16th and on the road at Iowa on Oct 23rd. We caught up with Troy Pieper of the Wisconsin Badgers based blog Badger of Honor to find out more about the 2010 version of the Badgers.

What are the biggest strengths and most glaring weaknesses of the Badgers this year?

There are a couple of things that I think are the Badgers biggest strengths. First off their offense is loaded again after leading the Big Ten in most categories a year ago. They return their entire core and the Offensive Line might be the best in the Nation as I can see 3 of them getting drafted next April. Also the return of Scott Tolzien is huge, he was more important to the team a year ago than most will give him credit for. The most obvious strength is the guy who I think deserves more Heisman Hype than he's getting, John Clay could surpass 2,000 yards and 20 TD's this year and my prediction is he'll win his 2nd Big Ten Offensive Player of the year award. If you look at what he did last year it's pretty amazing when you take into account that he didn't become the full time starter until mid season. I would also throw their Special Teams in as a strength as Phillip Welch is considered by many including myself as one of the two best Kickers in the Big Ten........ the only weakness I see with this team is the back end of the Defense. I think the DL and the LB's are solid enough when you take into account how many points UW should put up, but the Secondary besides maybe Jay Valai who started 13 games a year ago.

Who do you consider the first major test on your schedule?

I think the Badgers will roll through the Non Conference schedule, but the Big Ten Opener scares me a bit. I think Michigan St. could surprise some people and I feel they have a good shot at finishing ahead of Penn State. So going on the road to start the Big Ten at MSU scares me a little. I still think they should be unbeaten heading into the Ohio St. game, but that one does scare me.

What team on the schedule do you want to beat the most?

The obvious answer would be Ohio St. seeing that they are #2 in the Pre Season poll, and picked to win the Big Ten. But I look at this as which team left the most bitter taste in my mouth a year ago that is a contender, and even though if you watch the game at Ohio St. a year ago you will see that the Badger for the most part out played them and the Badgers minus a few big plays could have been right in that game, but the one game that still bothers me is the game at Camp Randall against Iowa. The Badgers had their way in the 1st half and just didn't produce any points, and lost a close game, and to most in Wisconsin that is our 2nd biggest rival besides Minnesota. So I would love nothing more than for UW to go Iowa this year and take them down. If that would happen I think the Badgers will win the Big Ten because you can write it down right now the Badgers will beat Ohio St. the week before at Camp Randall!!

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Most people will say Nick Toon, but I think most know him by now. I think the one guy who will get no talk that could end up being the MVP of this team if an injury would happen to Clay is Monte Ball. Ball a year ago finished 2nd on the team in rushing even though he only appeared in 9 games. He'll be the #2 Back this year ahead of Zach Brown, most people don't even talk about him, most will say if Clay gets hurt Brown will need to step up, but Monte Ball is the guy who could keep John Clay away from the Heisman race. I think he'll get enough touches weather Clay is healthy or not, and he'll be a guy people will start talking about a lot more and people will realize even if Clay doesn't come back for his Senior year next year that the Badgers have another guy ready to take over.

Who is the most impactful player on the team?

I've tried to stay away from the obvious answer up to this point, but I can't here, John Clay I think is the most impactful player in the Big Ten, so he's by far the most impactful player for the Badgers. Others who are in this conversation are Gabe Carimi who is the best OL the Badgers have had since Joe Thomas, Nick Toon I think will be in this conversation by the end of the season if he continues to progress, and Scott Tolzien is the guy the Badgers need to keep growing and become more of and impact, even though he was a very bright spot on the team a year ago he could take another step and that could be a huge impact for this team. When it's all said and done this team will WIN or LOSE with John Clay.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

I would say the entire Secondary. If the back end of this defense is good, not many teams will do much against this team, they are already very stout against the run. If their Secondary can make improvements this "D" could be special, the one thing I will add to this is I think Chris Borland last years Defensive Freshman of the year needs to take the next step as well into a GREAT LB, he got a lot of praise and is getting praise this pre season, but I think he could still raise his game a little more!

Who is the top newcomer that can make an impact this year?

This is a tough one, the Badgers have so many returning players, there really isn't many newcomers who will get many chances, but the one guy I'm excited to see what he can do is Red Shirt Freshman Jordan Kohout. He's penciled in as one of the starting D Lineman, and if this "D" is going to be dominant they will need someone who isn't expected to be great to step up and make an impact, and he could be the guy.

Who is the one player on an opposing team that strikes the most fear in your heart?

Again the most obvious answer here is Terrelle Pryor, and that is the answer. He has been scary ever since his Freshman year if not anything but the HYPE that the media has given him. I don't think he's reached that hype yet, but if he would play an entire season like he played a year ago in the Rose Bowl, that would be scary, and you could hand him the Heisman Trophy, the only thing with him is he's been more hype to me than anything, but he showed what he is capable of in the Rose Bowl, and if he builds off of that game, he is the scariest player in the Big Ten..... besides John Clay of course.... I'm going to get Clay the hype he deserves one way or the other!!

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

I can't argue with the Media's prediction for the top three in the Big Ten, with OSU first, Iowa second, and Wisconsin third, but I will say this if UW can come out of East Lansing with a win, which I think they will even though it does scare me, then the Badgers are looking at a two game season: home against Ohio St. and the following week at Iowa. As crazy as this may sound, I think Wisconsin will win both those games, however there is a let down after such a huge two game stretch, and I could see them losing the next week at Purdue, and maybe even the game at Michigan, but I still see this team at least finishing in a tie for the Big Ten title with a record of 11 - 1 or 10 - 2, but when they are unbeaten after beating OSU and Iowa it will feel like a let down to some!!

Make sure to check out Badger of Honor this year for your Wisconsin and Big Ten needs. You can also follow them on twitter @badgerofhonor.

Previous Big Ten Previews: 
Illinois Fighting Illini
Indiana Hoosiers
Iowa Hawkeyes
Michigan Wolverines
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Northwestern Wildcats
Ohio State Buckeyes
Penn State Nittany Lions
Purdue Boilermakers

Next Up: Michigan State Spartans

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