After a disappointing 7-6 season, Wisconsin will get its first shot for redemption in front of a primetime national television audience.
Wisconsin will kick off its 2009 season by hosting Northern Illinois on Saturday, September 5 at 6 p.m. on the Big Ten Network, announced by the Big Ten Wednesday.
"In order for us to take sufficient steps, we have to look in the past and learn from mistakes in our past," said senior Jae McFadden. "We had a lot of mistakes in the past … and we're focused now on getting better, getting started and making last season a memory."
This marks the fifth night game at Camp Randall since 2005 and 13th in stadium history. It is the first prime time game against a non-conference opponent at home since the Badgers defeated Fresno State, 23-21, on Aug. 23, 2002.
UW owns a 26-22 record in night games and is 21-3 in its last 24 prime time games, dating back to 1995.
Heading into 2009, the Badgers return 42 letterwinners and 12 starters from a year ago (five offense, five defense, two specialists), but will have their work cut out for them in replacing six starters on each side of the football and 18 letterwinners.
Wisconsin finished in the Top 20 nationally in two statistical categories in 2008: rushing offense and fourth-down defense. Junior P.J. Hill was a big part in giving Wisconsin the 14th-best rushing offense in the country: rushing for 1,161 yards on 226 carries (a 5.1 average) and 13 touchdowns.
With Hill making the leap to the professional ranks, sophomore John Clay (884 yards and nine touchdowns) will be asked to shoulder the burden of the running game and be the main focus of a Wisconsin offense that finished 37th in total offense and 47th in scoring.
Meanwhile, the Badgers finished among the 20 worst teams in the country in four categories: kickoff returns (dead last), fumbles lost (only two teams had more), turnovers lost (only nine teams had more) and red zone defense (only two teams were worse).
As a defense, Wisconsin finished 37th in total defense, 44th in passing and rushing defense and 66th in scoring defense, but one wouldn't know it by the way the Badger defenders have performed this spring, as the unit is on a mission.
"One year, one goal. We just want to contain people and get better this spring," sophomore cornerback Aaron Henry. "Despite losing a lot of guys, we're not going to let that hold us back. This year, expect old Badger football. Rough, tough, in-your-face and talking smack. Old-school defense."
On the flip side, Northern Illinois, who has played Wisconsin more than other Big Ten team, has to deal with the loss of senior defensive end Larry English (projected to be a first-day draft selection) and receivers Britt Davis, Marcus Perez and Matt Simon.
The Huskies, who finished 6-7 last season and lost to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl, do return some key components from that squad. Sophomore Chandler Harnish led NIU in passing yards (1,528), touchdowns (eight) and rushing yards (539); sophomore Me'co Brown (an all-purpose threat that does a bit of everything for the Huskies) and junior Mike Sobol, who finished second on the team with 67 tackles.
Wisconsin has won 10 of 11 meetings between the schools, including a 44-3 home victory on Oct. 20, 2007.
"We all know the last time we played Wisconsin, things didn't go so well, so hopefully that will motivate our guys more to get ready for the opener," Huskie head coach Jerry Kill said in a school release.
The two teams will also meet September 17, 2011 in Chicago at Soldier Field.