As the 2008 college football season gets ready to kick off tonight, I figure it is high time to post my outlook on the upcoming Badgers' football season. Thankfully, unlike Deadspin, which has gone to crap since Will Leitch left, this post will not be written by an Iowa fan. It will be written by a Wisconsin alum. Also hopefully Tyler Donovan's Mom will not stop by again like she did last year.
So, most of the pre-season polls and predictions have the Badgers ranked in the 10-15 range with a 2nd or 3rd place finish in the Big Ten. To be honest, I think this team has way too many questions to be ranked that high and challenge OSU for the Big Ten title. With the practices closed to the media this season, there is less pre-season info out there about the Badgers. Hopefully some good things happened during camp and they are ready to explode on the scene.
Last year the Badgers were ranked around #5 in the country coming in to the season and there was talk of a national title shot. They played poorly in the early games and were not able to pull away from the likes of UNLV or The Citadel. They lost a game at Illinois they easily could have won and then came out with one of the flattest performances I have ever seen at Penn State. They had the lead on OSU in the second half, but the piss poor D couldn't stop the Buckeyes. It was a decent season but could have been a lot better.
Coming in to this season there are several question marks on the starting roster and these players will have to step up for the Badgers to have a legit shot at the Big Ten title.
- QB - For those who remember, I was really hoping Allan Evridge would have won the QB job last year. He wasn't able to overtake Donovan, and Donovan, while tough, just couldn't make the throws. This year Evridge gets his chance. Not so much because he is a great QB that wowed the coaching staff in Spring and Fall practices, but because the guys behind him (Sherer, Tolzien) didn't look any better. Evridge is a Senior meaning next season, the Badgers will have their fourth QB in four years. Hopefully Curt Phillips can step up after red shirting this year and have a Bollinger type run. But this year is Evridge's year. He lost some weight in the off season, but is still a sturdy guy who can run. He didn't look great when he was in the games last season, but hopefully the confidence of being the starter is enough to spark Allan. He will need to be a legitimate passing threat to open up the ground game for Hill, Brown and Clay.
- Secondary: This is my biggest concern. The safeties were just brutal last season. Many people like to tout Shane Carter as something special, but I think the guy was just brutal last year. Sure, he had 7 picks, which is great, but the guy takes some of the worst angles when attempting to make a tackle that I have ever seen. Thing is, when he actually pursues correctly, his isn't a very sure tackler. Last season was his first season seeing extensive playing time in college, so hopefully the coaches worked with him on these weaknesses and he will be solid in the middle of the field this year. Aubrey Pleasant was the starting strong safety last year. He played like Carter, but without the INTs. Thus, it sounds like Jay Valai will be the starter this year. He is know for big hits. Lets just hope he knows how to cover as well. The corners are in bad shape right now because of injury. With Ike gone, Allen Langford and Aaron Henry, both coming off serious knee injuries, were set to be the starters. However, Henry, who the coaches feel will be a very good player, had a setback and another knee surgery a few weeks back. He hopes to be back by the Big Ten portion of the schedule. This means redshirt Freshman Mario Goins and little used to this point Niles Brinkley better be up to the task, because they are going to see a lot of playing time. I also worry about Langford because he was never known as a speedster and got by based on being a technically sound CB. If the injury has robbed him or any speed, he could get beat deep often.
- LBs: The linebacking crew was a disappointment last season, but much of that can be attributed to poor MLB play. Look for Jonathan Casillas, he of the punt block recovery in the Minnesota end zone of 2005, and DeAndre Levy to have solid seasons yet again. The key will be the play of new starter Javery McFadden at MLB. If he doesn't improve the play at the position and the safetys blow again this year, the Badgers will have a soft middle and it could be a long year.
- RBs: Hey, something positive! I thought P.J. Hill looked great in the bowl game last season. It looked like he made a statement that he was not going to give up his starting job without a fight. If, a big if, he can stay healthy all season, he could have a monster year. I know he gets knocked because of his injury history, but he has 2,800 yards in two seasons, 29 TDs and averages over 5 yards per carry. That is good stuff. People like to knock Hill, but he is a good all around back. Zach Brown showed last year that he could pick up the slack if needed. He rushed for 250 yards against the Gophers, but he looked to be missing that extra gear to finish off long runs. Hill has this gear, Brown is still looking for it. The wild card if Johnny Clay. He is a big dude with a ton of hype. If he can show something in the pre-Big Ten games, the three headed monster at RB could be something else.
- New Kickers: The Badgers will be welcoming in a new kicker and punter this season. Losing Melhaff will hurt. Not only was he a steady field goal kicker, but his ability to register touchbacks was huge. The kicking battle is still going on, as far as I can tell, between big legged redshirt Freshman Phillip Welch and consistent walk-on Junior Matt Fischer. Taking over the punting duties this year will be Freshman Brad Nortman. These guys are going to have to step up to replace two solid kickers. Poor kicking and punting can doom the field position game.
- WRs: I'll keep this short. Tons of potential. Minimal experience. Somebody is going to have to step up to help out Evridge and open up the field for the running game. This will be eased by the fact that you have a preseason AA at TE in Travis Beckum and another solid TE in Garrett Graham.
- Schedule: The Badgers open up with what should be two wins before heading out to Fresno for a season defining game. Win this game and it is a great springboard into the Big Ten season, proving the badgers are worthy of a Top 10 ranking. Lose and you are looking at another ho hum season. I know people like to bash the Badgers schedule, but how many BCs teams are willing to play at Fresno? Not too many. This is a huge game and could be one of the top 10 non conference games of the season, since good non conference games are few and far between. Wisconsin gets Penn State and OSU at home this season, but watch out for the game at MSU.
So, I am going to go with a 9-3 season. To many questions, in my mind to make a legit run at a Big Ten Title. I see a loss at Fresno, a loss to OSU and a loss at MSU.
No matter what, I am pretty excited college football kicks off tonight. Not that excited about he NFL this year, but the college football season has plenty to offer and crazy stuff usually happens. usually during those late night Pac 10 games on FSN. Anyhow, looking forward to a couple trips to Madison this fall and a yet to be determined roady. I've only seen one loss on the road and that was last tear at Illinois, so maybe I need to go to East Lansing this year to ensure a win.