Four-Year Trend: 2008 (7-6), 2009 (10-3), 2010 (11-2), 2011 (11-3)
Notable Player: Montee Ball. The Badgers lost wide receiver Nick Toon, three star offensive linemen and one of the finest quarterbacks in the country. Wisconsin needs Ball to do what he did last year, average six-plus yards per carry with a heavy load and be a credible receiving threat out of the backfield. Can he do so without the talented cast around him? His fall camp could have got off to a more auspicious start.
Massive Attrition: Wisconsin has just 10 returning starters next season. That number is fewest in the Big Ten and tied for 116th nationally. The Badgers also replace six of their nine assistant coaches. The most prominent addition is offensive coordinator Matt Canada. He was a long time Indiana assistant before a one-year stint at Northern Illinois last year, where the Huskies finished eighth in yards per play offense.
Soft Schedule: Non-conference the Badgers play Northern Iowa (FCS), Utah State and UTEP at home with a road date at mighty Oregon State. Inside the Big Ten, three of the Badgers’ road games are against Purdue, Indiana and Penn State. They play Michigan State and Ohio State in Madison. They do not play Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern.
Top Newcomers: Players: Danny O’Brien (QB), Vince Biegel (LB), Vonte Jackson (RB)
Circle This Game: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State [Oct. 27] The Spartans and Badgers played two classic games in 2011. This is one of the few true tests Wisconsin will face in 2012. The Badgers should advance to the Big Ten title game regardless of the outcome, though their performance here could squash or buttress aspirations beyond the conference.
Why We Like Them: Wisconsin has an assembly line, churning out NFL quality offensive linemen and productive, bruising tailbacks. After some early instability in Bret Bielema’s tenure, Wisconsin has settled into a firm foundation, becoming one of the nation’s most consistent programs. Talented Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien should resolve the Badgers’ outstanding question at quarterback.
Best-Case Scenario: The Badger defense is tougher than last year. The next batch of offensive linemen emerge from the test tubes to win All-Big Ten nods. Despite losing Russell Wilson and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, Wisconsin more or less replicates its 2011 production. They sweep games against Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State. They finish 12-0 and entier the Big Ten title game undefeated, with a chance to earn a BCS title game berth.
Worst-Case Scenario: Wisconsin’s defense remains soft. Precision suffers with new personnel. The Badgers beat up on the bad teams. They can’t quite hang with the better B1G teams. They drop a road game and finish 8-4, still likely winning the Leaders Division.
Projected Bowl: Fiesta