The pieces are all in place for a pretty good season. When you have a very favorable schedule, one that does not include playing a Spartan or Buckeye, it allows you to breathe with a little less constriction. But the road is not entirely straight, either. There are (Nittany)Lions, and Boilers, and Wolverines - oh my! But, without further adieu - here is the first edition of my Badger season predictions.
2 Sept 06 BOWLING GREEN (in Cleveland, OH) Last year, Brian Calhoun made his Badger debut with a bang as he rushed for 258 yards and tied a school record by scoring five times as Wisconsin won a 56-42 slugfest with the visiting Falcons. Oh what a difference a year makes.
Gone is Calhoun, who elected to jump to the NFL on the heels of a season which saw him gain just shy of 2300 yards from scrimmage. Gone from the BGSU lineup is QB Omar Jacobs, who torched the Badgers from 458 yards passing in the game last year. Anthony Turner, a redshirt sophomore, takes over the Falcon offense. He is a dual threat guy, having thrown for 492 and rushing for 154 more in his two starts last season. BGSU is very thin in the WR department, as only Corey Partridge returns from the top 3 yardage receivers. Though, he did gain nearly half of his 370 yards on the season last year versus the Badgers.
All this being said, I think the Badgers roll. The much improved defense will get to show the nation what many around Madison are saying about them: they will be good. With or without Stocco, the offense will roll. PJ Hill will gain 120 and score a couple of times.WISCONSIN 31, BGSU 14
9 Sept 06 WESTERN ILLINOIS Welcome the visiting Leathernecks, a D-1AA school, to Camp Randall.
Western returns seven starters from a 2005 team that finished third in the school record books in both total offense (418.2 ypg) and passing offense (267.3 ypg), including third-year starting quarterback Steve LaFalce and senior wide receiver Marco Thomas. However, that was not enough to steer them to a winning season as they ended 2005 with a (5-6) record.
This may be a "get out your program and look at the roster" type game for some of the Badger Nation, as many players will see action. It will be ugly...early.WISCONSIN 48, Western Illinois 7
16 Sept 06 SAN DIEGO STATE A familiar face will be on the other side of the field as former All-Big Ten QB Chuck Long is taking over the helm of the Aztec program. Long, who threw for over 10,000 yards his career at Iowa, had been the associate head coach and offensive coordinator for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma before accepting this position. He takes over a team that went 5-7 last year, and has not posted a winning season since it became part of the newly developed Mountain West Conference in 1998.
SDSU hung tight with Ohio State for a half last year before eventually falling 27-6. They return 15 starters (6 offense, 9 defense), including all four of their top rushers and QB Kevin O'Connell (2663-19TD-12INT). Long will implore a more traditional style offense, but the long standing Aztec run 'n gun patent will remain as well. However, that will not stop the Badger offense and defense from controlling both sides of the field. This game will be closer than it looks on paper, but still a Wisconsin dominance will be evident.WISCONSIN 31, SDSU 17
23 Sept 06 MICHIGAN Buckle up because the Big Ten season starts on a bumpy road. When you visit Ann Arbor, a place where the Maize-n-blue have won 93% of their games since 1991. They also own a 31 season bowl trip streak, the longest current run in the NCAA.
The Wolverines are going to be potent, as they return their number 2-7 receivers, as well as all of their top rushers. And, when you return a junior QB who is in his 3rd season behind center things look pretty good. They also return eight starters on the defensive side of the ball.
This is a "you had better win" season for Lloyd Carr. Going 7-5 at Michigan does not cut it. The Badgers won a close one last year, breaking a 3-game losing streak to the Wolverines. Playing at the Big House is never an easy thing to do. This game might have to be decided with the flip of a coin.Michigan 24, WISCONSIN 21
30 Sept 2006 INDIANA This is the team that returns the most offensive starters in the Big 10 (well, tied with Illinois at 8). Unfortunately, they were all part of the 4-7 campaign of 2005. QB Blake Powers threw for a respectable 2305 yards in his first season under center. Now, a junior, he is poised to better that. With the help of 2nd team All-Big Ten sophomore WR James Hardy (893 rec. yards - 10 TD), things look really good. But, then comes the bad news.
When you return six starters on defense, you usually feel pretty good. However, when that defense gave up over an 1/8 of a mile in rushing yards each game, you tend to lose a bit of hope. Though, they were second in the league in passing yards allowed (202.5). They actually ranked ahead of the Badgers in total defense...barely. Wisconsin atones for the loss at Michigan with a solid win.WISCONSIN 31, INDIANA 20
7 Oct 2006 NORTHWESTERN Randy Walker: thank you for bringing the fun to the fun-n-gun offense again. You will not soon be forgotten.
31 year old Pat Fitzgerald, who looks like he could still play at a very high level, takes over for the fallen Walker. At the Big Ten Media day in Chicago, he looked and sounded up to the task. "We are going to play each game like it is the only game," Fitzgerald said. Northwestern returns almost everyone on offense. Almost.
Losing a guy who threw for 3622 yards is not easy. Brett Basanez was, for all intensive purposes, a four-year starter. He threw for over 10,000 yards in his career, and led the Wildcats to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in half a decade. That hurts and so will this loss.WISCONSIN 41, Northwestern 21
14 Oct 2006 MINNESOTA Jonathon Casillas and Ben Strickland combined for a play that will not soon be forgotten last year. Both return this year hoping for a little different ending to the game.
Gone from the Gopher squad is the two-headed 1000 yard rushing monster of Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell. They do return QB Bryan Cupito (2530-19-9) and the WR duo of Logan Payne (529-2) and Ernie Wheelwright (569-5). On the flip side, they return over half of the starters from a defense that had only two QB in the conference throw for more passing yards per game than the Gophers allowed. The axe stays at home.WISCONSIN 34, Minnesota 17
21 Oct 2006 PURDUE Perhaps the biggest disappointment/surprise in the Big Ten was the Boilermakers. Many prognosticators were saying Purdue had a chance at 10 wins and a January bowl game. Well, that is the thing about predictions: you are 50/50 with every game.
There is no doubt the Boilers are going to be explosive on offense. Curtis Painter takes over full-time from game one at QB. Returning are RB Korey Sheets (601, 10TD), WR Dorien Bryant (960-4 TD), and WR Kyle Ingraham (500). This is one of those trap kind of games for the Badgers. I think the defense is in fine form by this point in the season.WISCONSIN 38, Purdue 31
28 Oct 2006 ILLINOIS Nevermind that Illinois returns over 80 percent of their starters from the 2005 season, because that squad went 2-9.
Head Coach Ron Zook will be in his sophomore season for the Illini. "We could be one of the better teams around, I think," said Zook in Chicago. This is the same coach who, while coaching Florida at the Outback Bowl in 2002, referred to Lou Groza Award winner Nate Kaeding of Iowa as "one heckuva running back". OK, back to the task at hand. Illinois returns their QB in Tim Brasic (1979-11-11) and the three-headed running back core of Pierre Thomas (689), EB Halsey (370), and former HS All-American Rashard Mendenhall (226). But, like I said, nevermind who they return - this is going to be a very ugly game.WISCONSIN 38, Illinois 14
4 Nov 2006 PENN STATE JoePa visits Camp Randall for a visit. He brings with him a very young, but talented receiving corps and a young QB with a rocket for an arm. QB Anthony Morelli takes over for utility player Michael Robinson, the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year (coaches).
The biggest holes to fill will be on the defense, where DT Tamba Hall (1st round draft choice, 2005 All-American), DT Scott Paxson (1st team all-Big 10, and DB Alan Zemaitis (1st team all-BT). But, Coach Paterno has been through almost 10 presidential changes so he knows about dealing with turnover. However, the players and the Badger faithful are not going to be frightened of the old ball coach.WISCONSIN 27, Penn State 21
11 Nov 2006 IOWA OK, let me start this by saying I am sure I cannot win either way I choose. But, thems the breaks.
Since the turn of the century, only five teams have won when visiting Kinnick Stadium - Wisconsin and Iowa are two of them. The Hawkeyes lost their top two receivers, top two linebackers, and top two cornerbacks. That is three times the double trouble for most teams. Most. But, they return QB Drew Tate (2828-22-7), RB Albert Young (only RB in BT to run for 1000+ yards in conference games), four starting offensive linemen (with new LT Dace Richardson having played ample minutes as a true freshman), and, perhaps, 2nd team all-BT kicker Kyle Schlicher. They also return Kirk Ferentz. These two teams have had some good battles since 1996, with the record even at 5-5 and the Hawkeyes having won the last four.
Coach Bret Bielema, a former All-Big 10 performer and assistant coach at the Iowa, returns for his first game in Kinnick wearing another color. Emotions will be high as this game may send the victor to Tampa, Orlando, or....beyond. Sticking with the tough place to play theme, I see this being a tight one, but...IOWA 27, Wisconsin 21
18 Nov 2006 BUFFALO This will be one of those "I hope nobody gets hurt" kind of games. With the NCAA giving the go ahead for 12 games, the Badgers found perhaps the worst opponent in NCAA D-1 football to feast on. There is really not much to say about, perhaps, the statistical and by their win-loss record worst team in the country. Badger fans will get a further glimpse into the future of the program as a snowball fight in the stands may be more exciting the action on the field once halftime hits.WISCONSIN 49, Buffalo 14
OK, that makes the Badgers 10-2, 6-2. It will, more than likely, put them in the top three of the Big 10 and GUARANTEE a return trip to Florida. It is a guarantee because of a few factors:
1) Badger fans travel about as well as anyone in the country, and bowl vendors love that.
2) Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, or Michigan - or maybe two of them - will be playing in a BCS game. I say two of them get the nod which means the other two will play in Tampa and Orlando on January 1.
3) Because I want to be in Florida for the third season in a row on January 1.
BOWL PREDICTION Wisconsin gets an invitation to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida to play the SEC representative South Carolina Gamecocks. The defense stands tall and holds the Old Ball Coach's bunch to only three scores.WISCONSIN 24, South Carolina 17
I hope, as well do many of you, that this right on or close. I can tell you this much: if the Badgers win 10 games in the regular season, the excitement level will be high. So, with that BadgerNation will be planning a Bowl charter trip to wherever the team goes. From San Antonio, to Tampa, to Orlando, to Pasa...OK, first game is first.
1-0, right? :)