Just six short days before the University of Wisconsin football team will play its' second game in 2006. Albeit, however, the first official game of the 2006 season. The Badgers, and many of the Badger faithful, are making a small drive on I-39 to I-94 to I-255 to I-80 to whatever highway you wish to travel once in Ohio to play the Falcons of Bowling Green State University at Browns Stadium in Cleveland. This will be the first ever Division 1-A football game to be played at the home of the NFL's Cleveland Browns. The home Falcons hope that this year they can light the score board up a little bit more.
However, as we look Inside the Numbers and on the depth chart, this year's game will prove to have a little different look on the scoreboard for the USS Bielema's maiden voyage.
FEWER FALCONS FLYING: Gone from last year's squad is QB Omar Jacobs. Jacobs, who threw for 2,591 yards and 26 TD (against just 7 INT), elected to throw his hat into the NFL after his junior season. In the season prior to last, the fleet footed signal caller threw for an astounding 4,002 yards while compiling an incredible TD to INT ratio of 41 to 4. He was subsequently drafted in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would have been one of the top quarterbacks in the country had he returned for his senior campaign. Badger fans are happy because they recall him torching the secondary for 458 passing yards and five touchdowns.
Also gone are WR Charles Sharon and WR Steve Sanders, who were the main beneficiaries of Jacobs' passes. Sharon hauled in 74 balls for 1028 yards and 6 TD. He was also the top return man for the Falcons, averaging just shy of 11 yards on 25 punt returns, and also 28.3 yards per kick return. The all-time leading receiver in school history, Sharon recorded 232 catches and was the only receiver in school history to top the 3,000 yard mark in receiving yards. Sanders, on the other hand, caught 18 fewer balls (56 rec.) for 855 yards, but was a TD machine as he recorded 14 trips to pay dirt. Between the two of them, they accounted for 52.2 percent of all team receptions, 63.4 percent of the receiving yardage, and 69 percent of all TD receptions in the 2005 season.
The Falcons will also be without their top two running backs from last season, BJ Lane and PJ Pope, both of whom were lost to graduation, also.
BADGER-FALCON M*A*S*H UNIT: Bret Bielema must be wondering what else can go wrong for him. You always expect an injury or two popping up in fall camp, but not three guys who were projected starters on your offensive unit.
FB Chris Pressley (lower leg) and WR Marcus Randle-El (knee) are both expected to miss most or all of the season due to injury. If there is one bright note, both are juniors and will return next season.
The biggest injury news to hit Camp Randall this season is that of school-record throwing QB John Stocco. Mr. Reliable over the past two seasons, he elected to have a minor scoping of his knee performed as so he could return for the majority of the 2006 Badger football season. Stocco is tentatively scheduled to make his return on September 9th for the home opener versus D-1AA Western Illinois.
Badger fans will remember the name Corey Partridge from last season's game against Bowling Green State. Then a freshman, he hauled in eight receptions for 160 yards and a TD. In the other 10 games the Falcons played, Partridge only amassed 15 receptions for 147 yards.
Not injured but suspended, the Falcons' projected starting QB, sophomore Anthony Turner, will sit out the season opener.
Also injured for the Falcons are DE Diyral Briggs, DE Joe Schaeffer, DL Darius Smith, and WR Matt Emans.
FALCON OUTLOOK: The one thing that the Falcons will have a tough time replacing is the leadership and talent that Jacobs brought to the table. Losing your school's all-time leading receiver and receiving duo does not help, either. One interesting note, however, is that the last time they replaced a QB (2004 - the graduated of Josh Harris) the team averaged 44.3 points per game. But, last year that number dropped to 33.8 ppg. As I stated above, with most of their skill players gone the odds of duplicating the revolving door effect of '04.
On defense the Falcons return just five starters, one of which is out with an injury (Briggs), from a team who allowed 28 points a contest. They are very talented at the LB position, with all-MAC performer Terrel White returning. Also returning are FS DeAudre Perry, CB Antonio Smith, DT Brad Williams, and DE Devon Parks. Special Teams for the Falcons will come from the feet of babes, with true freshmen Sean Ellis and Alonso Rojas taking over kicking and punting duties, respectively.
The team has seven, or eight if you count the first game of the season, road games scheduled. One of which is an early October trip down the road to the Horseshoe in Columbus. It is going to be a long road, literally, for the Falcons to reach a bowl game.
GET OUT YOUR PROGRAMS: Wisconsin football fans are going to have to get used to a couple of new names in this game. Well, maybe more than a couple. So, my suggestion would be to have your program or roster at arm's reach. This game is going to get ugly early and the Badgers will score often. Not to mention, with the receiving corps up in the air in Bielemaland right now, knowing your number chart is going to be a good thing.
THE BOTTOM LINE: 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. However, both Turner and Partridge will not be in uniform against 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. I will change my score from a week ago.
WISCONSIN 37, BGSU 14 Lighting up a scoreboard can be fun....for one team.