College football teams don’t usually improve themselves in the offseason via free agency.
However, the Wisconsin Badgers have solidified their position as Team To Beat in the new-look Big Ten over the summer because of the unlikely addition of one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, Russell Wilson. Wilson was a three-year starter at North Carolina State and threw for 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns (to 14 interceptions) last year. He provides an instant upgrade for the Badgers, as sophomore Jon Budmayr and his whopping 10 college passing attempts previously represented the most “experienced” quarterback on the Wisconsin roster.
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Wilson chose Wisconsin over Auburn as the school at which he will exhaust his final year of eligibility. Although Wilson is a transfer (the college version of free agency), he is eligible to start right away – rather than being forced to sit out a year – because of an NCAA rule that allows an exemption for graduate students.
Given the amount of change that the Big Ten has witnessed over the course of the last few months – from new addition Nebraska, to the two new divisions, to the Ohio State scandal offering a new pecking order within the league – it is fitting that Wisconsin heads into the season as the prohibitive conference favorite on the strength of its new quarterback.
Here is Doc’s Sports 2011 Wisconsin Badgers college football preview with predictions:
Bret Bielema is back for his sixth season at the helm of the Badgers. He is coming off his second-most successful season yet, following only his 12-1 record in 2006, and managed a share of the Big Ten title for UW for the first time since 1999. Bielema did suffer the defection of his defensive coordinator in the offseason as Dave Doeren left for Northern Illinois.
Wilson’s arm will make a huge difference for the Badgers passing game. But the element that the Badgers should be most excited about is Wilson’s scrambling and ability to make things happen outside of the pocket. The running back duo of Montee Ball and James White will keep the pressure off Wilson and should lead one of the top rushing attacks in the nation. Wisconsin lost two linemen to the NFL, but they have a trio of returning starters and the two new first teamers, Travis Frederick and Josh Oglesby, both have extensive experience. Frederick became the first freshman lineman to start a Wisconsin opener in 20 years last season and Oglesby has logged 12 starts in the past two years. Three-year starter Nick Toon, son of former Jets standout Al, leads a relatively inexperienced receiving corps that should be this unit’s lone weakness. But Wilson should be able to coax something out of this crew, just like he did with some mish-mash groups in Raleigh.
This Badgers defense is deceptively solid heading into this season. They lost J.J. Watt, the No. 11 pick in the NFL Draft, and they only return three starters in their back seven. But I actually think this UW group will be better than last year’s No. 20 ranked unit. Wisconsin lost Watt, but they have seven of their top eight defensive linemen back. They have just one returning starter at linebacker, All-Big Ten second teamer Mike Taylor, but 2009 conference Freshman of the Year Chris Borland will be back from injury as well. That duo has been hampered by injuries the last two seasons, and if they stay healthy they could be formidable. All-conference corner Antonio Fenelus anchors the secondary, and overall the Badgers will start three seniors in the back line. And with Wilson making big plays and the running game controlling the clock, the best defense for this group could be its offense.
2011 Wisconsin Badgers Football Schedule Analysis
By the time the Badgers play a 2011 road game you will be deciding whether to go as Anthony Weiner or Green Lantern for Halloween. Wisconsin plays five of its first six games at Camp Randall and the sixth game is a Sept. 17 trip to Chicago to take on a transitioning Northern Illinois squad. Wisconsin’s marquee nonconference game comes in Week 2 against ho-hum Oregon State.
The key contest of the opening stanza is an Oct. 1 home game against Nebraska. That game represents Nebraska’s first taste of life on the road in the Big Ten and could be a conference championship game preview. The only other impediments on the schedule for the Badgers will be back-to-back road games (their first of the year) against Michigan State (Oct. 22) and Ohio State (Oct. 29). Only a pair of November games at Illinois and at home against Penn State offers any true tests after that.
2011 Wisconsin Badgers Futures Odds
WagerWeb presently has the Badgers as the favorite to win the Big Ten Conference title. (Remember: this year that means winning the Big Ten Championship Game.) They are listed at 1.5-to-1. According to Bodog, Wisconsin is currently 20-to-1 to win the 2012 BCS National Championship.
2011 Wisconsin Badgers Football Predictions
I think that the most likely scenario has the Badgers going 10-2 in the regular season. That would be one road loss (potentially two) and a home loss to either Penn State or Nebraska, or if they get stunned by Oregon State. However, I think that they have a great shot at going 11-1 this regular season and they have the potential to run the table.
That said, I actually don’t think that they are going to win the Big Ten title. I simply don’t think that they will beat Nebraska twice and I think that the loser of that first game will have a big edge in any potential rematch. Wisconsin has beaten its college football season win totals in each of the last two years. I expect the books to jack up the price on this year’s team (anything at 9.5 or less I would bite on), especially after all of the Russell Wilson Hype. However, I don’t think that this team has the juice, particularly on defense, to be considered a true national title threat.
The door is open, especially given Ohio State’s fall from grace, for Wisconsin to take control of the conference. But whether or not they remain as an Iowa-type team – one that challenges the Big Boys every four or five years, and is just solid the rest of the time – or whether they take Ohio State’s spot on the throne remains to be seen. And a lot of it will come down to whether the Badgers can move past just being a “system team” that develops good players and get into the realm of recruiting and playing with top-tier athletes on both sides of the ball, particularly the skill positions.
Robert Ferringo is a professional NFL and college football handicapper and is coming off an exceptionally profitable 2010-11 football betting season (college and pro). Over the last year his clients have more than tripled their bankrolls with his predictions in all sports. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here.