Once named the ACC rookie of the year, Danny O'Brien transfered to the Big Ten and has already been named the starter by Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema.
Ryan Trapp | Staff Writer
2011 Record (Big 10): 11-3 (6-2)
Returning Starters (Off/Def/ST): 10 (4/6/0)
Any conversation about Wisconsin has to start with All-American running back Montee Ball. The senior found the end zone an astounding 39 time last season, tying the FBS record set by Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, and scored more points last year than any non-kicker in NCAA history. If he plays up to expectations in 2012 he could become one of the most decorated runners in college football history. Sitting behind Ball on the depth chart is another immensely talented runner in James White, who has run for over 1700 yards and 20 touchdowns in two seasons as a back-up. N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson has a special season with the Badgers in 2011, and head coach Bret Bielema is hoping that Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien can replicate that success. Their offensive line sports two players who project as potential first round picks, left tackle Ricky Wagner and second team All-Big Ten center Travis Frederick. Former walk-on Jared Abbrederis returns at the receiver position along with big-play threat Jeff Duckworth (15.3 yards per catch last season). While the Badgers lack significant experience outside of that tandem, Jacob Pedesen has solid hands at the tight-end position and pulled in eight touchdowns last season.
Wisconsin’s defense will led by one of the nation’s deepest and talented group of linebackers. All-Conference middle linebacker Chris Borland was a stat machine last year, tallying 143 tackles, 19 for loss, five forced fumbles, five passes defended, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. He’s joined by Mike Taylor (team-high 150 tackles in 2011) and former walk-on Ethan Armstrong. Bielema was extremely high on safety duo Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson in spring practices, saying at one point they could become the best safety combo he’s seen at Madison. They’ll join cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie in a very experienced secondary. The only returning full-time starter on the defensive line is tackle Ethan Hemer. But the junior will be joined by Brendan Kelly and David Gilbert at the ends, both of whom saw starts at some point last season. Junior Beau Allen emerged as a star during spring practice and should fill in at the other tackle position for the Badgers. With questions surrounding several other teams in the Leaders Division, Wisconsin is poised to make a run to the Big Ten title game and beyond.
ROAD TO THE BCS
They scored a home matchup against Michigan State, but have tough road matchup against Nebraska at the end of September. The Badgers also travel to Columbus November 17, and a win against Urban Meyer’s new squad could catapult the Badgers into the BCS title picture. Signs are a go for Wisconsin to rattle off their fourth straight ten-win season.
BURNING QUESTION: Will the "Rent-A-QB" system work for the second straight year?
Russell Wilson gave Wisconsin everything they wanted and more last season. After transferring from N.C. State, he led the nation in passer efficiency rating (191.78) and was a named third team All American with the Badgers. Bielema’s second foray into the ACC talent pool nets him Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien. The junior was named ACC Rookie-of-the-Year after a terrific 2010 season, throwing for over 2400 yards and 22 touchdowns. He struggled down the stretch last season, and lost the starting gig to C.J. Brown midway through the season. If O’Brien can recapture some of that freshman fire, this team will be very dangerous in 2012.
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