The Badgers will hope to add to the growing troubles for visiting Akron when the two teams open the season this Saturday morning in Madison.
Finishing 4-8 overall last season, including sixth in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference, Akron's 2007 season was another huge step backward from the 2005 team that claimed the out right MAC football championship. Needless to say, the zip has left the Zips the last two seasons. Akron finished 97th nationally in scoring offense (21.17 points per game), tied for 75th in scoring defense (29.17 ppg) and struggled to stop the run, allowing an average 183.8 yards on the ground.
"There were a lot of things happening last year but competitively, we played a lot of games hard and lost a lot of games late," said Akron head coach J.D. Brookhart at the conference's media day. "Part of the reason (we struggled) was because we had two kids at quarterback and never could find a groove. I think that part has improved dramatically. We like the chemistry and character of this football team."
Returning five defensive and eight offensive starters, Akron hopes the missing piece of the puzzle is junior quarterback Chris Jacquemain, who will be the signal caller this season after finishing 10th in the Mid-American Conference in passing per game (147.5) in 11 games last season. Defensively, Wisconsin won't have to deal with senior Bryan Williams, who finished 10th in the league in rushing yards, anymore but the offense will have their hands full of him, as he will now be playing safety for Brookhart's bunch.
"Bryan Williams is a fantastic athlete and instantly becomes an impact player on defense," Brookhart said. "As fast as he was on offense, I thought he played even faster on defense during the spring."
The other player to watch on defense is sophomore end Almondo Sewell, who was an 11-game starter in 2007 and earning second-team All-MAC honors. Sewell led his fellow linemen with 65 tackles and is the team's leading returning starter with 14 tackles for loss.
Although the Zips' record shows a lack of success against the Big Ten (going 1-15 in their last 16 games against the conference), the Zips put a scare into Ohio State when they travelled to Columbus last fall and trailed by one at halftime.
"I've basically made reference to our kids (that) this is a team that a year ago, the score of the Ohio State game at Ohio State was 2-0 at the end of the first quarter, 3-2 at the end of the half," Bielema said. "They're definitely not afraid to come in and play a team on the road in the Big Ten."
Saturday will be the first opportunity for senior quarterback Allan Evridge to take his first reps under center as a member of the Badgers. Evridge hasn't started since he was a freshman at Kansas State, where he threw for a freshman school-record 1,365 passing yards but completed only 47.9 percent of his passes.
"I am the same guy I was the day before, the same guy as three days before, I will always be the same," said Evridge about being named the starter. "Nothing changes for me. It feels great that the hard work paid off and it's very rewarding, very satisfying, to be able to play with these guys and try to help the team win."
Evridge should be able to transition well into the role if he looks in the direction of senior tight end Travis Beckum. Beckum, who chose to return for his senior season, led Wisconsin in catches (75), yards (982) and touchdowns (six).
"We're ready to come out and play and have some fun," Beckum said. "Beating Akron is our first goal. We have to be prepared for them and for what they bring."
Akron (0-0) vs. No.12/13 Wisconsin (0-0)
Date/Time - Saturday, August 30 at 11:00 p.m. CT
Arena – Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
Television - Big Ten Network (Matt Devlin, Ian Allen and Jay Wilson)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)
Series – Wisconsin leads 1-0
Last Meeting - Wisconsin won 48-31 on September 6, 2003 in Madison. UW jumped out to a 31-10 halftime lead in that game but saw the Zips close the gap to 34-31 in the fourth quarter. Leading by three and backed up to their own one-yard line, Badgers' quarterback Jim Sorgi connected with wide receiver Lee Evans on a 99-yard touchdown pass to give Wisconsin some breathing room.
The Badgers, charter members of the Big Ten Conference, are starting their 120th season of football (UW is 91-25-3 in 118 previous season-openers). UW has won 10 straight season openers (last loss was vs. Syracuse at Giants Stadium in 1997).
UW's 10 straight wins in season openers is tied with USC for the fourth-longest streak in the country. The only teams with longer current streaks are Nebraska (22), Florida (18) and Georgia (11).
This will be the Badgers' seventh August game in school history and first since 2003. UW is 5-1 all-time in the month of August with its lone loss coming in its first-ever August contest, vs. Syracuse in 1997.
UW is 27-3 all-time against teams currently in the MAC. Wisconsin last lost to a MAC opponent in 1990, when the Badgers lost at home 24-18 to Temple.
Wisconsin enters the 2008 season having won 14 consecutive games at Camp Randall Stadium, the second-longest current streak in the country (Oklahoma has won 17 straight). During the 14-game home winning streak, UW has outscored its opponents 470-187, an average winning margin of 20.2.
After talking all off season about the huge chip on its shoulder for failing to live up to last year's expectations, Wisconsin will finally be able to put that talk to rest and show on the field what this team is capable of doing. The defense should be improved after the struggles they suffered last season, especially against the spread offense, because of the extensive work Wisconsin's defense did against the spread during the spring.
Offensively, Allan Evridge was the right choice for quarterback and with the stupendous talent at the running back position, the Badgers offense should be able to click against a team that struggled mightily against the run and at the same time, start building some chemistry with the green wide outs.
Wisconsin is a 26.5-point favorite on Saturday and even though the Badgers should win this one without much trouble, UW won its first five games by an average of 9.8 points. Thinking it will be a somewhat slow start, I'll take UW but not to cover.
Wisconsin 34, Akron 10