Wisconsin: 10 reasons to be excited in 2012

Wisconsin is the hottest team in the Big Ten. It’s true. This is a new world Big Ten, where traditional heavyweights like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska all are looking up at Wisconsin. This is the Badgers’ world … and everyone else is just living in it. The Badgers are coming off back-to-back Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances, going an aggregate 22-5 overall the last two seasons (13-3 Big Ten).

Now, history beckons. Wisconsin is aiming to be the first Big Ten team to play in three consecutive Rose Bowls since Michigan turned the trick after the 1976-78 seasons. And only three schools have won three Big Ten championships in a row: Michigan, Ohio State and Minnesota.

There are many reasons for Wisconsin fans to be excited about 2012. Here are just 10 of them.

1. Montee Ball. Mon-TEE … Mon-TAY … It doesn’t matter how you say it, the guy is a boffo running back and a Heisman front-runner who finished fourth in the balloting last season behind Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson. Ball shocked many by opting to return for his senior season after running for 1,923 yards and tying the NCAA single-season mark for touchdowns with 39. Can he possibly have a more productive season? To do so, he’ll have to overcome a recent beating he received from five assailants.

[BTN.com: See all of Dienhart’s 10 reasons to be excited posts]

2. Running back depth. Wait, there’s more behind Ball. James White is good enough to start at any Big Ten school. The lightning quick White ran for 713 yards and six touchdowns last season and can score any time he touches the ball. White ran for 1,052 yards as a freshman in 2010. Behind him is redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon. It just isn’t fair.

3. Danny O’Brien. I know, the coaches say the quarterback job won’t be handed to the junior after he transferred from Maryland, where he made 17 starts. But, it may be considered an upset if he doesn’t win the starting job. If O’Brien can just be a reasonable facsimile of departed signal-caller Russell Wilson, this offense should be every bit as lethal as it was in 2011 when it ranked first in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation in scoring (44.1 ppg).

4. Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. Is there a better linebacking tandem in the Big Ten? Taylor ranked first in the Big Ten in tackles last season, while Borland was fourth. What the duo lacks in athletic ability it compensates for in effort, desire and hustle.

Jared Abbrederis

5. Jared Abbrederis. Bet you didn’t know he’s the leading returning receiver in the Big Ten, catching 55 passes for 933 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. Along with Jeff Duckworth, Marquis Mason and Isaiah Williams–the junior is a good building block for a receiving corps that is replacing departed star Nick Toon.

6. O-line. Yes, I know three starters from last year’s offensive line are gone in tackle Josh Oglesby, guard Kevin Zeitler and center Peter Konz. But, c’mon, this is Wisconsin. The Badgers always have a good offensive line. Stud senior tackle Ricky Wagner is this year’s cornerstone, a legit contender to be the school’s third Outland Trophy winner since 2006. Junior center Travis Frederick also could be special. Others to watch are massive sophomore Rob Havenstein and junior Ryan Groy.

7. Jacob Pedersen. The junior may be the top tight end in the Big Ten. He enjoyed a breakout in 2011, making 30 catches for 356 and eight touchdowns, the most by any Big Ten tight end. Pedersen could be a deadly red-zone weapon and a third-down security blanket for the new quarterback.

[BTN.com: Wisconsin releases full adidas alternate uniform]

8. Schedule. It is fairly user-friendly. The non-conference doesn’t feature any heavy lifting, with home games vs. Northern Iowa, Utah State and UTEP. And there is a trip to slumping Oregon State, which is a combined 8-16 the past two seasons. In league play, the Badgers could be favored in every game. The toughest road game: at Nebraska. Michigan State and Ohio State come to Madison. Bottom line: This sets up well for Wisconsin.

9. Welcome back. Junior end David Gilbert is back after missing the last 10 games of 2011 with a broken foot and didn’t take part in spring drills. Wisconsin needs Gilbert to be a pass rusher off the edge along with senior end Brendan Kelly. Also back is senior cornerback Devin Smith, who started the first two games of 2011 before incurring a season-ending broken foot. Smith will join returning senior starter Marcus Cromartie to help stabilize a cornerback slot that is in transition with Antonio Fenelus gone.

10. Bret Bielema. The guy has proven he can coach in six seasons in Madison. Now, he must show he can work in six new assistants quickly, losing the likes of offensive coordinator Paul Chryst to the Pitt head coaching job. The newbies: offensive coordinator Matt Canada; tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner; offensive line coach Mike Markuson; receivers coach Zach Azzanni; linebackers coach Andy Buh; secondary coach Ben Strickland.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (11 Comments)
Mark Charles Peshaba on 8/7/2012 @ 6:12pm EDT Said:

I personally disagree with this post. Michigan State, Ohio State both slammed Wisconsin during regular season. Wilson is gone now. TCU and Oregon had there way with Wisconsin in back to back Rose Bowls. Definetly one of the most overrated teams out there. If anything they need to prove themselves to everyone. With a winning season and a Rose Bowl win!!!!! Then maybe they can say everyone in the BIG10 looks up to them!!!!!!

Ed Smith on 8/7/2012 @ 9:16pm EDT Said:

Wisconsin is good, but luckier than good. Michigan State played just as well the past few years and is as good, if not better than Wisconsin. For Michigan State not be mentioned in this article is a joke. MSU won a share of the Big Ten Championship and had to take a lesser bowl game than an inferior Michigan team! If the Big Ten had not changed the format of the conference around, MSU would have gone to the Rose Bowl last year as a Co-Champ. Oh well, MSU will just have to keep winning to turn the biased media around!

Go Green!

eric on 8/8/2012 @ 10:34am EDT Said:

@Peshaba … Michigan State and Ohio State “slammed” Wisconsin? Huh? Two last-minute losses on Hail Mary passes equate to “slammed?” There should be no argument that the games were tight, and there is a strong argument that Wisconsin was clearly the better team in both. With respect to proving themselves with a Rose Bowl win, take a look at what is going on 20 years now, and who has been where in the Big Ten with respect to Rose Bowl wins and overall consistency.

Michigan State is doing well but signs that it will perpetuate are weak – recent times have seem them get as high as they can and they will drop back to the middle of the pack with Iowa. Ohio State was, is and will be strong. Michigan is back. There is definitely a “big three” thing going on. Nebraska and Michigan State are on the edge of that. But to be honest, while I bleed Bucky Red I’d like to see some more parity and hope the likes of Minnesota, Purdue, etc., can start clawing their way up. Give me a Big Ten with no team having fewer than 2 conference losses and I’ll be happy. Might not bode well for national championships but I say who cares.

Kaleb on 8/8/2012 @ 1:49pm EDT Said:

@Ed Smith: Really? You’re mad that there’s no mention of Michigan State in this article? A specifically Wisconsin article?

Give me a break.

Beyond that though, while Wisconsin isn’t guaranteed anything, it’s going to be another interesting season coming up. Should be fun. And if it means another chance for Wisconsin to make Michigan State fans upset that their team failed to perform when it mattered most, all more the better.

Tom Thompson on 8/8/2012 @ 1:57pm EDT Said:

Maybe if Wisconsin didn’t play such a cream puff non conference schedule every year they’d get more respect.

Steve-o on 8/9/2012 @ 5:55pm EDT Said:

@ Ed Smith and Mark Charles: Slammed and had their way with Wisconsin in one possession games? Wisconsin was lucky having two last second heaves completed against them? There’s zero bases for those statements and you both know it. You’re desperate to rationalize and need catharsis for being lesser.

If anybody was lucky it was MSU in ’11 avoiding the only other power in OSU, winning a high majority of close games the last two years, but getting clobbered in losses. Wisconsin STILL finished on top both years in spite of all that. They’ve already proven they’re legit powers. MSU has to prove that they aren’t a flash in the pan because of all their fluky wins.

Mark on 8/9/2012 @ 8:06pm EDT Said:

Lets not forget the most penalized team in the big ten had ZERO penalties in the hail mary game. the Illegal procedure penalty on the MSU LT on the huge third and 8 late that was not called was amongst the worst no calls I have seen in years(not even close).

UW got homered in 2008 in as well on the PHANTOM holding call on clays last td. was a JOKE. I cant wait till uw works these trash talkers in madison this year

Josh on 8/9/2012 @ 11:53pm EDT Said:

Michigan State sucks, I don’t know why you guys are commenting on a wisconsin article… Enjoy finishing 2nd place again next year.

Charles P Johnson on 8/13/2012 @ 8:36pm EDT Said:

I’m Red & White through & through, but, I agree with Peshaba. Wisconsin needs to prove themselves with a Rose Bowl win. They should’ve run all over TCU & Oregon. If they can remember the O-line is usually the biggest in the country and the shortest distance between two points is a straight line up the middle, a national championship or Rose Bowl win shouldn’t be a problem. As for their non-conference schedule, I heard they tried to get Alabama for a home-n-home but it didn’t fit into Alabama’s schedule. I hope they keep trying.

Brett on 8/15/2012 @ 11:02pm EDT Said:

The Badgers scored at will against oregon the problem was the lack of defensive speed. as for TCU if you check the stats the Badgers actually ran for over 200 yards agaist the vaunted Horned frogs D, even while they moved away from pounding with clay in the middle of the game, but went back to it on the last drive. I do agreeTo be considered nationally elite a big time bowl win is crucial to the assent of the program