BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
COLLEGE FOOTBALL INSIDERS
2006 RECORD: 12-1; BIG TEN: 7-1
Won Capitol One Bowl vs. Arkansas 17-14
LOCATION: Madison, Wisconsin
STADIUM: Camp Randall (80,321)
HEAD COACH: Bret Bielema
OVERALL: 12-1 (1 seasons)
AT WISCONSIN: 12-1 (1 seasons)
Bret Bielema had a dream rookie season as head coach in 2006 taking over for the legendary leader Barry Alvarez. Has he set the bar too high? With 16 starters returning from a 12-win season, expectations are as high as they have ever been in Madison. They avoided Ohio St. last season and played only one ranked opponent all year (lost 27-13 at Michigan), so a repeat is no lock in what should be an improved Big Ten conference.
WHEN THE BADGERS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Paul Chryst (3rd Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 9
KEY LOSSES: Joe Thomas, John Stocco
The Badgers have to replace just two starters, however they were the two biggest pieces of the puzzle last year. Joe Thomas anchored one of the top offensive lines in the game and was so good that the Cleveland Browns made him the third overall pick in the NFL draft. While John Stocco went undrafted, the signal caller may be even more difficult to replace, inasmuch as the four other starters return along the line. Conversely, they will be handing over the reins to the offense to a mostly unproven leader, likely Tyler Donovan, who played well in their win over Iowa last season. In senior target Paul Hubbard, a phenomenal athlete, and converted linebacker Travis Beckum shining at tight end, they have two players who create mismatches with their rare speed/size combination. The strength of the offense is their between the tackles rushing attack, a staple in Cheese Country, with sophomore P.J. Hill a battering ram that delivers more blows than he receives.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Paul Hubbard (SR), 2) Travis Beckum (JR), 3) Jake Bscherer (SO), 4) Eric Vanden Heuvel (JR), 5) Luke Swan (SR), 6) Andy Crooks (SR), 7) P.J. Hill (SO), 8) Taylor Mehlhaff (SR), 9) Marcus Coleman (SR), 10) Andy Kemp (JR), 11) Tyler Donovan (SR), 12) Kraig Urbik (JR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Mike Hankwitz (1st Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Roderick Rogers, Joe Monty, Mark Zalewski, Joe Stellmacher
The heart and soul of the Wisky defense is the linebacking core, which brings speed and playmaking ability. Jonathan Casillas is their leading returning tackler and is he among the top two-way players, making 10.5 tackles in the backfield against the run, not to mention the fact he is among the top cover linebackers in America. Coming from the SAM position is DeAndre Levy, their top pass rusher, with talented sophomore Elijah Hodge ready to step into the MIKE spot. There is quality in the trenches as well, with the tackles space eaters and end Matt Shaughnessy their top lineman. Corner Jake Ikegwuonu is their most skilled player, possibly on either side of the ball, a physical lockdown corner, with Allen Langford not a bad cover man himself. They have question marks at safety with both projected starters coming off medical redshirt seasons, although sophomore Shane Carter, the kid brother of former All-Pro Chris Carter, is an intriguing prospect.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Jake Ikegwuonu (JR), 2) Elijah Hodge (SO), 3) Allen Langford (JR), 4) Nick Hayden (SR), 5) Jonathan Casillas (JR), 6) Matt Shaughnessy (JR), 7) Jason Chapman (JR), 8) DeAndre Levy (JR)
The common belief is that the Badgers season will come down to their two games against Big Ten stalwarts Michigan and Ohio St. a week a part in November, however that is assuming they make it past October unblemished. The first five games should not provide much of a test, although the Hawkeyes could be tough, making a 5-0 start likely. After that, they face back-to-back road tests when they go to Illinois and Penn St. The Nittany Lions, if everything breaks right, will be tough to beat in Happy Valley, while the Illini are the Big Ten program on the rise and gave Wisconsin all they could handle in Camp Randall (30-24) a year ago, scoring the most points against the Wisky defense other than the 27 points Michigan put up. The Badgers may be gunning for the Maize and Blue, as well as OSU, however they cannot overlook clubs like Penn St. and Illinois who will have their targets set on Wisconsin.
Expectations and how the Badgers handle them is a new challenge this crew has yet to face or overcome. Not many people knew what to expect from Brett Bielema as he took over the program and the same goes for many of his coaches who were newbies at their jobs in Madison. Several new starters on both sides of the ball from last season now have to match or exceed their performances of a year ago. There are also those who carry the weight of their last names, Casillas is the son of former pro Tony, I have already mentioned the Carter brothers, while Elijah Hodge is the younger brother of Abdul and headman Bielema has already stated he is the more talented of the two Hodge boys. Furthermore, they are a now an opponent everyone will circle on the schedule.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
If quarterback Tyler Donovan can repeat what he did in his short stint as the leader of the Wisconsin huddle (against Iowa and Buffalo), we could have a real three-team race in the Big Ten and the Badgers believe they can play with the Wolverines and Buckeyes, which means they can play with anybody. This club is a unique one: they have the typical offensive line that approaches 1600 pounds and a physical fearless defense, along with NFL caliber prospects Ikegwuonu, Hubbard and Beckum, among others at the skill positions. There is more athleticism and speed than those in Madison are accustomed to, that combo makes them maybe the most dangerous Badgers team heading into week one that the Big Ten has ever seen.
Check back tomorrow to see who is #6 in CFI’s Top 25 Countdown