Sizing up Wisconsin

WILL THIS BE the year Oregon State finally gets that marquee road non-conference victory? If so, they'll have to beat the team with the most buzz in the Big Ten -- Wisconsin.

TCU. Boise State. Penn State. Cincinnati. Oregon State has had their fair share of hard luck in recent years against top flight competition in the non-conference part of their schedule. This year, they travel to Wisconsin in Week 2, likely to be among the Top 15 when the polls come out.

Wisconsin, last year's Big Ten champ, fell just short in the Rose Bowl against TCU and finished 11-2 and ranked No. 7/8. And they already had a considerable amount of 2011 preseason buzz before QB Russell Wilson decided to transfer to the Badgers.

Wilson, a three year starter at NC State, was a major coup. He threw for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns against 26 interceptions in three years with NC State. In 2010, he completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 3,563 yards with 28 TDs and 14 picks. The 5-11, 190-pounder also rushed for 435 yards and nine scores last season. He's eligible to play at Wisconsin this year without sitting out because he's already graduated.

The QB addition has many fans, and media-types, speculating on not only a repeat Big Ten title for Wisconsin, but a national title run. Others say that's a premature leap.

In the spring, the general consensus was that Wisconsin got poor play from their quarterbacks, and solid to stellar contributions from just about everywhere else. Now a proven talent fills that void in Wilson. The acclimation period should be brief, Wisconsin runs a pro-style offense similar to what Wilson ran at NC State.

Adding to the optimism, would be Big Ten contenders Ohio State said goodbye to Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor this offseason, Penn State has serious questions at QB and Nebraska is playing in the Big Ten for the first time.

WHAT IS INTERESTING about the Wisconsin projections is how few starters they have returning. Usually with this much buzz, a huge part of the previous year's team is returning. The Badgers, however, return only 12 starters. And among those they'll need to replace, All-Americans LT Gabe Carimi, LG John Moffitt, RB John Clay and DE J.J. Watt.

Optimists point to Wisconsin's injury situation the last few years that led to many then-backups getting significant playing time -- the general thinking is that Wisconsin ably reloads this year rather than rebuilds at those spots.

But if there is one position that looks to be down from 2010, it's at defensive end.

Expect the Beavs to formulate an offensive game plan that tries to take advantage of that.

Also adding to the 2011 intrigue are the Wisconsin coaching changes coming off a Rose Bowl year. Three new assistants are in the fold with Dave Huxtable (linebackers), Thomas Hammock (running backs) and DeMontie Cross (special teams and safeties). DBs coach Chris Ash is now the defensive coordinator, while d-line coach Charlie Partridge is the new co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

OSU does not appear to be deep in 2011. And they have had to claw their way back in recent years from an early high-profile defeat at the hands of a non-conference opponent. An upset win on the road Sept. 10 at Wisconsin would do wonders for the Beavs and their fans headed into Pac-12 play. Can they do it?

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