MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 15: Montee Ball #28 of the Wisconsin Badgers rushes for a 35-yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Camp Randall Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
IU's seniors will face a tall order when they face defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin in mid-November. It's tough to remember that the last time the Badgers came to Bloomington, the game went down to the wire, although Wisconsin won 31-28. Over the past two seasons, in two games in Madison, UW has outscored IU 142-27, most infamously in an 83-20 Wisconsin win in 2010. The Indiana-Wisconsin series has always been about extremes, at least at Camp Randall. Anthony Thompson set an NCAA rushing record with 377 yards in Madison in 1989. In 2001, Levron Williams ran for 6 TDs in a 63-32 win over the Badgers. On the downside, in 1994, a 62-13 loss in Madison was a sign of bad times to come for the IU program. In 1999, a 62-0 loss further entrenched the impression that Cam Cameron wasn't going to make it. And then, 2010 and 2011.
Will things be different in 2012? Well, probably not. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the conference or division title, the Badgers are prohibitively favored to win the Leaders Division, with only Illinois, IU, or Purdue in any position to stop them. One-year transfer Russell Wilson is gone, but the Badgers will be starting yet another transfer from the ACC, Danny O'Brien. O'Brien, who is a redshirt junior who graduated from Maryland in three years, started 17 games in his two seasons with the Terps and had a very good freshman year (57%, 2438 yards, 22 TD, 8 INT) before backsliding a bit as a sophomore (56.4%, 7 TD, 10 INT). He's not as good as Russell Wilson, but fills a need for Wisconsin. Ball had an astoundingly good junior season, running for 1923 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and scoring 33 touchdowns. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting. If it seems as if Ball has been killing the Hoosiers forever, then you're right: Ball's breakout game as a freshman, when he stepped in for injured John Clay, was against IU, running for 115 yards and 2 TDs, and followed up with 167 yards and 3 TDs in 2010 and then 142 yards and 3 TDs in 2011. Behind Ball is James White, who ran for 713 yards and 6 TDs last season. In the receiving corps, Nick Toon is gone, which leaves Jared Abbrederis as the only returning receiver with significant experience. He gained 933 yards and caught 8 TDs last year. The Badgers had some turnover on the O-line, but has that ever mattered?
As great as the Badgers were on offense, they were close to as good on defense. Returning contributors include LB Mike Taylor (9 TFL, 2 INT), LB Chris Borland (2.5 sacks, 2 INT), safety Shelton Johnson, CB Antonio Fenelus (4 INTs each), and DE Brendan Kelly (3 sacks).
As always, the Badgers will be sound on both sides of the ball, and any passing game deficiencies will be overwhelmed by Wisconsin's ability to run the ball. Although it's a home game, this appears to me the biggest challenge on IU's schedule, although perhaps something will have changed for either or both teams by mid-November.
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