2005 Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

We wrap up our 13-part series looking at the Big Ten and OSU's 2005 opponents with this glance at Wisconsin. The 2005 season will mark the swan song for 16-year head coach Barry Alvarez, who will step down at season's end. Alvarez will remain as Wisconsin's athletic director, however.

We continue our look at the 2005 Big Ten football race and OSU's opponents. In today's 13th installment of the series, we look Wisconsin. The Badgers rotate off OSU's schedule for 2005-06.

Wisconsin

* Last Year, Bowl: 9-3, lost to Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Big Ten: 6-2/third.

* Coach: Barry Alvarez (16th year at UW, 108-70-4).

* Returning Starters: 11. Offense (5): C Donovan Raiola, LT Joe Thomas, WR Brandon Williams, QB John Stocco, FB Matt Bernstein. Defense (4): SLB Mark Zalewski, WLB Dontez Sanders, MLB Andy Crooks, CB Brett Bell. Specialists (2): K Taylor Mehlhaff, P Ken DeBauche.

* Big Ten Championships: 11, last won outright title in 1999.

* Rose Bowls: 6, last appearance in 1999.

* BCS Bids: 2, last appearance in 1999.

* National Championships: None.

* Series Vs. Ohio State: Though OSU and Wisconsin do not play in 2005, we will note that OSU commands the all-time series 50-17-5. Wisconsin has won four of the last six games in the rivalry, including 24-13 last year in Columbus. UW also has won its last three trips to Ohio Stadium, also prevailing in 1999 and 2001.

* Schedule: Sept. 3, Bowling Green; Sept. 10, Temple; Sept. 17, at North Carolina; Sept. 24, Michigan; Oct. 1, Indiana; Oct. 8, at Northwestern; Oct. 15, at Minnesota; Oct. 22, Purdue; Oct. 29, at Illinois; Nov. 5, at Penn State; Nov. 12, Iowa; Nov. 25, at Hawaii.

* Outlook: Alvarez announced in late July that his 16th year as the UW coach would be his last. He will remain as the athletic director, however.

"I've had the opportunity to do both jobs and it's been a great challenge, a privilege and a true pleasure," Alvarez said. "I feel like we've done a good job in handling the responsibilities of both positions, but the demands certainly take a toll."

Alvarez has chosen defensive coordinator Bret Bielema to replace him. Bielema is a former Iowa player and assistant coach. He had been at UW just one year, though, before getting this appointment.

"I just felt the timing was right and I was comfortable with the successor," Alvarez said. "I didn't want him to lose a year in recruiting."

For his part, Bielema said Alvarez began giving him feelers about taking over in the spring.

"The one thing I've tried to do for my entire career is gather a little bit of knowledge from everybody I've been around," Bielema said. "Everybody kept saying, `Be ready when this day comes.' Once I figured out what was going on, I was prepared to answer the things he was asking.

"The best thing for me is I have six months with a mentor who knows everything about our program. And I do know my new boss pretty well, which is huge. The best thing about this transition is he will be down at the end of the hallway. The best thing he has ever said to me is for me to just be my own man."

Wisconsin could be in for a rebuilding year after some heavy graduation losses. The good feeling from last year's 9-0 start was washed away after late season losses to Michigan State, Iowa (denying UW the Rose Bowl bid) and Georgia in the bowl game.

"I really like the makeup of this football team," Alvarez said. "We've got a lot of new faces, but we have a lot of seniors and guys who have played a lot of football. We also have a lot of very productive veterans who will do a good job of leading this new group. I like teams like this. I like teams that are hungry and have to prove themselves. We weren't satisfied with last year. We had a good year, but we had an opportunity to have a great year. I think our players are hungry and really anxious to prove some things."

Stocco (1,999 yards passing, 9 TDs) will look to take the next step. Colorado transfer Brian Calhoun, a junior, may be the choice to replace Anthony Davis at tailback.

"The backfield could be the strength of our team," Alvarez said. "(Matt) Bernstein has had a good career for us. I think he'll be as good a fullback as there is in the country. Even though Brian Calhoun hasn't played for us, he's been a productive player. We played against him in the Alamo bowl when he was at Colorado. He is very talented and has sprinter's speed and can make you miss. He can be as fine a back as there is in the country. Booker (Stanley) has played and done some good things for us over the years."

* Jerry Rudzinski Says: I don't think it has sunk in that Alvarez will not be roaming the sidelines the next time OSU plays the Badgers. They say true leaders create a sustainable culture. The coach must have been good if he departs and the team then falls flat on their face. The coach was great, though, if he departs and the squad doesn't miss a beat.

Great coaches create great programs and great programs win. They establish a fan base. They create a buzz around the sport on campus. They create loyalty with all those involved with the team. They create tradition. They create their own luck. Most important, they create a well-oiled recruiting machine with great opportunities for assistant coaches. That is what Woody left OSU. That is what Bo left Michigan.

It pains me to say it, but I think Alvarez has done some of that (not quite to the level of Bo and Woody, though). Wisconsin is in a different mode when compared to when Alvarez took over. A big offensive line and a running game defined Wisconsin years ago. That is baloney anymore. They have sent defensive backs, wide receivers and basically every position group onto national prominence and the NFL at one point or another. Rose Bowls are nice. Rose Bowl victories are even better.

The good fortunes of Wisconsin will continue. Expect them to stay on the upper tier of the league after Alvarez leaves. He will look over the shoulder of the program. The fact that he hand-picked his predecessor says a lot. It is no fun being an AD when your football team is getting beat up.

* Steve Helwagen Says: It was a shock to hear that Alvarez would be stepping down. He just took the AD job in the spring of 2004 and I think most expected him to handle both duties for at least a few years. But he decided now was the time to begin the transition process.

I am sure last year's 0-3 finish took some starch out of Alvarez, whose team was a top-10 fixture as late as November before falling off the face of the football planet.

I know Ohio State fans will not miss Alvarez. OSU once won 21 straight over UW from 1960-80 before Earle Bruce's teams stumbled against UW in the 1980s. John Cooper's teams largely held their own against the Badgers. But Alvarez is 3-1 against Jim Tressel-coached OSU teams.

In terms of this year's UW team, Stocco saw some good and bad last year. He is a nice "caretaker" of the offense. If they can get the running game going with Bernstein, Stanley and Calhoun, then this is certainly a bowl team. But the huge losses on defense may make it hard for the Badgers to be anything more than a second-tier bowl team.

The Badgers face a tough early schedule with Bowling Green at home in the opener and a trip to North Carolina in the nonconference and the Big Ten opener at home with Michigan. Still, UW can be a big factor in the conference race with UM, Purdue and Iowa all booked to visit Madison.


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