Sunday, September 6, 2009

Why the Badgers might (emphasis on, MIGHT) actually win the Big Ten and more College Football Preview

Wait a second. I'm confused.

(And save the "you're always confused jokes...I'm only walking around confused 63 percent of the time.)

Why ARE the Wisconsin Badgers getting zero love from college football nation?

Try and remember, I'm not a Wisconsin "fan", per se. I want the team to do well, sure - I mean, it was always more enjoyable writing about a successful team during my 4 years in Wisconsin, the last three spent covering the football team. Besides, with more wins come more fan support, and thus more people reading your articles and what not. So naturally, now that I'm away from Madison, it's easier to support the team's success. But I still maintain that same sense of non-bias, trying to view all things Wisconsin with an objective eye.

That being said...I think this IS the year Wisconsin returns to prominence. Not completely, but this year marks the start.

The quarterback situation has never been better since Brooks Bollinger left in 2003 - I mean, did I actually see Scott Tolzien making plays last night? Never saw Evridge or Sherer or Donovan do that, and I would even argue that while John Stocco was grossly underappreciated and a good game manager, he's not exactly your sling-it-around kind of QB. As highly touted as Curt Phillips is, it says something that Scott Tolzien - donning my favorite football number, 16 - beat him out for the starting gig. Plus, Phillips is a viable option to take snaps and make plays with his legs.

John Clay is still John Clay, a bustout star waiting to happen. And just like the QBs, it must say something that Zach Brown is being considered the starter.

The wide goodness, the wide receivers. We all know Nick Toon could rack up 1,000 yards this year, but how about Isaac Anderson? Maurice Moore looks solid too, and David Gilreath is still around, though his being shoved down the depth chart could positively impact his, uh, impact on special teams. (In the words of Bill Simmons, I swear that made sense when I wrote it.) Plus, Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks should make sure the loss of Travis Beckum isn't too hard. Besides, Beckum missed most of last year anyway, so, you know, nbd.

Throw in the already solid special teams (let's hope Welch's worst night of the year was last night - two missed FGs and an extra point banged off the upright and in), and a defense that appears better than expected (O'Brien Schofield could be a BEAST, plus Mike Taylor and Chris Maragos made big plays last night), and...uh...yeah, why aren't the Badgers getting more respect?

Oh, yeah, they play in the Big Ten Conference.

No qualms there, really. The Big Ten doesn't "appear" to be down, Big Ten Network anchors slash fools and jesters. (Side note: now that I'm watching these games on TV, I'm realizing that the Big Ten Network is painfully bad. I love the principle, and it's nice to get more coverage to flyover state teams, but their programming is fairly pathetic.) The Big Ten IS down. It just is. Hey Ohio State and Iowa, seriously, it's okay to blow out Navy and Northern Iowa at home. Yo Minnesota, for all that talk of being so improved, it's not too impressive when you need overtime to beat a team with five wins in the last two years and is being led by a BASKETBALL POINT GUARD who's a nice story, but hasn't played football in five years. And Illinois? Hi. News flash: the season started. Yeah, it did. Yesterday. When you went out and got punked by Mizzou? (Yes, I'm a Mizzou fan, but still, humor me.) Maybe you want to show up for your nationally-televised opener and not let the Big XII have more ammo than it already has.

But therein lies my exact point with Wisconsin, and the No. 1 reason it's back: the SCHEDULE. Those four non-conference games - NIU, Fresno State, Wofford, and at Hawaii - are four guaranteed wins. Then you've got a Big Ten schedule highlighted by a visit to Columbus and...




at Minnesota? Home for Michigan State or Iowa?

Please, somebody tell me why the Badgers CAN'T go 11-1 with that schedule. Sure, they'll go to a bowl game above their heads and get punked there, but the fan base has to be pleased with 11-1, right?

What I like about the result of last night's game is that national pundits will see the score - 28-20 over Northern Illinois - and think, oh, another Big Ten team barely surviving a lower-end team. But honestly, Wisconsin played MUCH better than that score indicates. It's a young team, it'll grow up and learn how to play 60 minutes. It's also a fairly beaten-up team right now (no starting center, no backup defensive ends to spell Schofield and Watt, no backup safeties due to suspension), so that situation will improve. If King Bielema can make better personnel and in-game decisions this season - which can only go up after the 2008 debacle - there's no reason why Wisconsin can't shock some people this season. And as I've been saying for about a year and a half...basically the ENTIRE offense returns in 2010. That's when I believe the Badgers are a down Terrelle Pryor year away from WINNING the Big Ten Conference, for sure.

As for 2009, I see them losing in Columbus, and possibly even at home to the Spartans. But that's it.

Write it down: the Badgers will win double digit games this year.

And with that, some final predictions that I swear weren't affected by yesterday's action:

Big Ten champ (runners-up): Michigan State (Penn State, with the Buckeyes and Badgers right behind)
Big XII: Texas (Oklahoma...better get well soon, Sammy...and Oklahoma State)
ACC: Florida State (Miami or Virginia Tech)
Big East: West Virginia (Pittsburgh or Rutgers)
Pac-10: USC (Cal and Oregon)
SEC: Florida (Georgia and Ole Miss)
Top Four BCS Busters: Brigham Young, Boise State, Central Florida and Tulsa (that's right, Tulsa)
Heisman Winner: Jesus-Man slash Tim Tebow (who else?)
Runners-up: Scott Tolzien. OK, no, kidding. Let's go Colt McCoy, Jahvid Best and Dez Bryant.
Which non-BCS team not from Idaho or Utah could crash the BCS party? Central Michigan
Which currently ranked team will not make a bowl game? North Carolina
Best BCS team to get left out of the BCS party: Alabama
BCS title game: Florida over Texas

Look for our MEGA-NFL season preview later this week. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy Rose Bowl tickets.


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