With Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State receiving the top three spots and most of the attention on the trio, the Badgers have lower expectations from the outside world, something that is just fine and dandy with head coach Bret Bielema.
After answering only a couple questions during his 15-minute media session Monday morning at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago, the atmosphere reminded Bielema of his first trip to Big Ten Media Day in 2006 and how quietly his team was pursued.
"I remember Joe Thomas and John Stocco were with us (and) we were standing outside and they said, ‘Coach, they don't think much of us,'" Bielema recalled. "I said, ‘That's a good place to be.' It kind of reminds me of that situation."
As it turns out, Wisconsin won a program record 12 games that season, finishing off its 12-1 season with a victory over Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl.
Although Bielema didn't bring a quarterback down to Chicago this season, the topic of who the Badgers signal caller will be to open the season remains a hot topic.
Following spring camp, the UW staff listed fifth-year senior Dustin Sherer as the No. 1 quarterback, followed closely behind by redshirt freshman Curt Phillips. Even though the position is Sherer's to lose when fall camp starts on August 10, Bielema didn't rule out Scott Tolzien and Jon Budmayr from competing, boasting that all the quarterbacks have done plenty of good things.
"I'm excited to see all those guys," Bielema said. "Scott Tolzien did some good things for us as well; Curt Phillips did well in the spring game and has continued to grasp the offense very, very well; I'm excited to see what Budmayr does ... Nobody works harder and is more focused on the task at hand than him."
Just like last year, Bielema and his staff will make a decision on the starters roughly 10 days before the opener, which is September 5 home contest against Northern Illinois.
After Bielema signed arguably his best signing class to date last February, pundits wondered which of the 21 2009 freshman commitment would have the ability and the talent to provide an immediate contribution on the field.
"I have earmarked 14 guys that I think physically, just after recruiting them and being around them and learning their mentality, could do something for us," Bielema said. "My guess is that number always gets somewhere between six and 10. But I think this class might be a little bit different. I really believe that quite a few of these freshmen really want to play."
Of those 14 players, Bielema highlighted wide receiver Kraig Appleton, offensive lineman Ryan Groy, offensive lineman Travis Frederick (who enrolled in spring ball and made huge gains over the summer according to Bielema), linebacker Chris Borland (‘he's been solid," Bielema said), defensive end David Gilbert and linebacker Tyler Dippel (who is recovering from a knee injury sustained in a post-season all-star game).
One player Bielema succinctly praised was running back Montee Ball, who comes to Wisconsin as the state of Missouri's all-time leading rusher. Being compared to junior running back Zach Brown for his maturity and the way he handles his work, Ball, with three running backs in front of him on the depth chart, could see some time this season.
"He's a pretty focused young man and has great talent," Bielema said. "He's already physically mature enough to probably play."
Although the talent may be there, Bielema also explained the he likes redshirting kids in case of injuries (i.e. Aaron Henry) or wasting a year for so-so contributions.
"I learned first hand when I was an assistant coach at Iowa and I didn't want to play a kid, we went ahead and played him and he is OK," Bielema said. "His senior year, which could have been his junior year, if we would have had him on that next year's team, what a huge difference. There have been several guys that came in and played as freshmen and then used that redshirt year after that.
"I kind of like having it in your hip pocket because those injuries do happen. So if you're physically able to play as a freshman, I'd much rather have that option down the road then have it forced on you the first year."
From the Infirmary and the Weight Room
- After tearing his MCL during spring practice, sophomore defensive end Louis Nzegwu has returned to the team and has been able to work out 100 percent and has not been limited by the training staff. Currently, Nzegwu is listed as the number two defensive end by senior O'Brien Schofield.
- After coming into spring camp with some added weight, Wisconsin challenged running back John Clay to get down to 240 pounds by the start of the fall camp. After a rigorous off-season workout, from what Bielema's has heard, Clay is on his way.
"(Strength and Conditioning coach) Ben (Herbert) has been working with him every day," Bielema said. "I think it was up to three times a week he was doing an extra conditioning session. It's not so much that we want to lose weight, it's a matter of how that body is because John is a big guy."
Although Clay has made gains to lose some of the extra weight, Bielema isn't buying that Clay is down to 235 pounds, as the sophomore back claims.
"He's dreaming," Bielema said. "If he gets to 235, he'll be on a dancing show somewhere. That's not his football weight."
- Bielema wasn't able to get a firm conformation on Clay's weight, or any other player for that fact, due to NCAA rules prohibiting coaches from weighing in players, or seeing them personally, during the summer.
Although Jeff Duckworth has been fighting a shoulder injury and hasn't participated in many drills, the wide receivers have put on some weight, which encourages Bielema.
"From a physical standout, we got Kyle Jefferson over the 180-mark, which is big," Bielema laughed. "I know (Herbert) has been real excited about the wide receiver group. There have been a couple guys that have jumped out there, as well as the freshmen that are coming in …I'm excited because I think that's a position that needs to come forward."