Dienhart: Wisconsin 2011 Season Recap
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart spent the season covering Big Ten football, and now it’s time for his team-by-team season recaps. For the past 12 days, Dienhart has posted a recap for each Big Ten school, in alphabetical order. Up here: Wisconsin. Watch our feature on the Ultimate Montee Ball Highlight Reel now and read Dienhart’s season recap in this post.
Record: 11-2 overall; 6-2 Big Ten
Bowl: Rose vs. Oregon
Season recap: Once QB Russell Wilson decided to transfer from N.C. State, Wisconsin was the preseason pick of most to win the Leaders Division. And the Badgers delivered, though they needed some help. Wisconsin opened 2-2 in Big Ten play and found itself chasing Penn State all season. The Badgers finished with four wins and in a row, including a season-ending 45-7 thumping of Penn State in Madison in a de facto Leaders Division title game. All season, the Badgers—who had a Big Ten-low eight turnovers–used an explosive and balanced offense, along with an underrated defense, to dominate en route to winning the inaugural Big Ten championship game over Michigan State. If not for two October losses on last-second passes, Wisconsin—which was No. 4 in the nation when it lost at Michigan State on October 22–may have found itself in the BCS title chase.
High point: It was all about getting revenge over Michigan State and clinching a second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl in the inaugural Big Ten title game for the Badgers. And Wisconsin came through with a thrilling 42-39 win over Michigan State, which earlier in the season clipped the Badgers on a Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired.
Low point: The Badgers found themselves 2-2 in the Big Ten and wondering if they could win the Leaders Division following a 33-29 loss at Ohio State. It was Wisconsin’s second defeat in a row on a last-minute pass, as Michigan State stunned the Badgers the week before, 37-31, on a Hail Mary heave. In each loss, special teams were an issue, as the units were shaky all season.
Offensive MVP: RB Montee Ball. A case also could be made for Wilson, who had 31 touchdown passes and just three interceptions and has tossed at least one touchdown pass in an NCAA-record 37 straight games. But Ball gets the nod. The Heisman finalist set a Big Ten single-season record for touchdowns with 38 and led the conference in rushing with 1,759 yards (135.3 ypg). Ball ran for 151 yards and four scores in a 48-17 pasting of Nebraska in early October that showed how good he and this team could be.
Defensive MVP: LB Mike Taylor emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top defenders en route to pacing the league in tackles (10.5 pg.). He’s a heady player who rarely is out of position and works well in tandem with fellow LB Chris Borland to form a top duo.
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.