While they've yet to put together a serious run at a national championship, the Wisconsin Badgers have built a pretty consistent program.
In fact, Wisconsin is the only Big Ten program that can claim to have appeared in four consecutive New Year's Day (or later) bowl games.
For a fan, that's gotta be pretty hard to complain about.
That said, it seems the Badgers have found their role in the college football universe, and it doesn't include BCS bowls or national titles. They're solidly in that next tier of teams, and it appears they're going to field another almost-good-enough team in 2008.
|WHY THEY'LL WIN
|It would be hard to ask for the team to be more experienced. Wisconsin returns 17 starters, including nine on a defense that will be looking for redemption.
On offense, it's time to start whipping some people up front. The Badgers are going to run the ball this year. And then they're going to run the ball. Perhaps, that will leave them some time to run the ball.
P.J. Hill (1,212 yards, 14 TD) is still fat, but when he's healthy, he's a beast to bring down. If he's not healthy, or when the Badgers need a change of pace, they have sophomore Zach Brown (250 yards in season finale, 568 total) and redshirt freshman John Clay. Even without the suspended Lance Smith, Wisconsin has a deep and talented backfield.
When Wisconsin does throw, they still have Travis Beckum, and he's still one of the nation's best tight ends.
The huge, Earth-moving offensive line returns nearly intact, and Ohio State, Penn State, and Illinois all visit Camp Randall. It's possible that Wisconsin's toughest road game could be their non-conference date with Fresno State.
|WHY THEY'LL LOSE
Because Allen Langford is their best cornerback, and that's not a good thing. Langford makes a habit out of getting beaten, and now the senior has to find a way to put it all together.
Here's hoping he does, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it.
Sophomore Aaron Henry joins Langford in the "Trying to come back from a torn ACL to cover Big Ten receivers" camp. Behind them? A bunch of guys you've never heard of, assuming you've heard of these guys.
|HOW TO BEAT THEM
|Don't let them establish the run. I'm not a big believer in the whole "stop the run and you win!" mantra that "conventional wisdom" tries to force on all of us.
However, if you're going to beat Wisconsin, you're going to do it by making Evridge beat you. If he throws for 300 yards and four scores, you tip your hat to the kid and congratulate him. If you lose because Hill and friends ran for 325 yards and Evridge only threw six passes, you've not done a good job preparing your team.
Throw at those corners. Frankly, no one has a clue how good Wisconsin's pass defense will be. One thing is for sure back in that secondary, and it's strong safety Shane Carter. Outside of him, there are a lot of unanswered questions.
Can Langford and Henry play? Will there be some depth behind them if they can't? Will Aubrey Pleasant take a geometry class so he can take better angles of pursuit? Or will Jay Valai win the free safety job and render Pleasant's tackling issues meaningless?
Spread 'em out. The Badger defense has been vulnerable against spread attacks for a long time. This year looks to be no different, unless the linebackers start playing like they did in 2006. The relative ease with which teams spread out the Wisconsin defense and have success attacking it is quite alarming because of the long-term nature of the problem.
|While it's hard to imagine a trip to Florida for New Year's getting old for anyone, it's probably getting old for Wisconsin. The Badgers have gone to either the Outback or Capital One Bowl each of the last four seasons, and they're surely yearning for a change of venue.
Naturally, the preference would be a change of venue to, say, Miami. Maybe Pasadena. Unfortunately, the only way the Badgers are able to change course would be if they flounder and end up in Tempe or, worse, Detroit. This doesn't appear to be a legitimate national championship contender, unless Evridge and the receivers find a way to present the threat of an air attack that can pile up yards in bunches.
If all goes well for Wisconsin, they could conceivably average 250 rush yards per game, but it won't mean anything if Evridge can't throw it once in a while.
As for that defense, yeah. I'm not optimistic, though I do hope new coordinator Dave Doeren can find some answers in the secondary.
With Ohio State firmly planted as the top team in the league, Wisconsin looks like a solid pick for second, though they're simply too flawed to be taken seriously for a shot at a BCS bowl.