Wisconsin enters the season with expectations of Big Ten titles, BCS bowls, number one rankings and a national title to build on its 12-1 season from a year ago. Many critics say that Wisconsin could feasibly go undefeated during the regular season – a feat that has never happened since the program began in 1889. But in order to be great, the Badgers can't rely on last season's success to propel them through a much more difficult 2007 season.
"You can't just step out there and expect to be good because you were in the past," defensive coordinator Mike Hankowitz said. "The past doesn't guarantee the future. The future depends on what we do today. One time if you aren't thoroughly prepared or ready to play, we aren't going to play as well as we are capable of."
More importantly, the Badgers can't go 12-0 until they are 1-0 first and their season opener is no picnic like in seasons past.
For the first time since 2003, Wisconsin opens its season against a school from a BCS conference, taking on Washington State this Saturday in Madison.
Although the Cougars finished last season downtrodden – losing their final three games to finish 6-6 – and having to replace six starters on defense, Washington State's strength is its passing attack; an attack that passed for 259.8 yards on the season to finish 15th in the nation.
"We had a chance to play them when I was at Oregon State and the strength of their defense is their front, where they have excellent size," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "They'll be big, physical and their middle linebacker [Kendrick Dunn] makes some good plays. Washington State is going to be a solid defense, well coached and it'll be a heck of a challenge for us."
The leader of the Cougar offense is senior quarterback Alex Brink, who is one of the most underrated players in the Pac-10. A second-team Pac-10 selection a season ago, Brink completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 2,899 yards with 19 touchdowns with 10 interceptions last season. More importantly, Brink is a veteran in the Cougar offense, having started 28 straight games since his freshman year.
"[He's a] very very good football player," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "Anytime you have a three-year starter at quarterback, you realize that he's done some good things. He's very accurate, has a good feel and is very exciting to watch when you watch him on film."
The receivers Brink is going to be throwing to aren't too shabby either. Senior Michael Bumpus caught a team-high 60 passes in 2006 and is just 52 catches away from becoming the school's all-time receptions leader. Senior TE Jed Collins and junior WR Brandon Gibson return to an offense that was second in the PAC-10 with 259.8 passing yards per game.
"I've seen excellent preparation [this fall], but now we have to take it to the game against a veteran Washington State offense," Hankowitz said. "Their QB started 28 games, a group of receivers that are ranked second best in the Pac-10 and an excellent tight end. This quarterback [Alex Brink] knows where to go with the ball. This is going to be a great test for us in the opener."
Picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10 preseason media poll, the Cougars will have to rely on their offense if they want to pull the upset on Saturday. With such high expectations running through the Wisconsin locker room, the Badgers aren't going to be taking their season opening opponent lightly.
"They're going to come ready to play," TE Travis Beckum said. "Out of all the other opening games we've had, they might be one of the toughest. We have to come in and play Wisconsin football and be prepared for anything."
Washington State at. No.7 Wisconsin
Date/Time - Saturday, Sept. 1 at 2:30 p.m.
Stadium - Camp Randall (FieldTurf / 80,321)
Television - ABC (Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, Paul Maguire, Bonnie Bernstein)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)
Series - Wisconsin leads 1-0
Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 35-26, in Madison on Sept. 25, 1976
The Badgers have won nine consecutive season openers … Wisconsin enters the season riding a nine-game winning streak … Wisconsin opens the season ranked No. 7 in both the USA Today Coaches Poll and the AP Poll … UW has won its last seven season-openers at Camp Randall.