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An early look at the Wisconsin Badgers.

Wisconsin Badgers
Last meeting: 11/8/2008 (Wisconsin 55, IU 20 in Bloomington)
Last IU win: 10/12/2002 (32-29 in Bloomington)
Series: Wisconsin leads 35-18-2
Bret Bielema (4th season, 28-11)

Bret Bielema enters his fourth season as Wisconsin's head coach.  He succeeded the high successful Barry Alvarez, and while his first team, which finished 12-1, was one of Wisconsin's best ever, he fell to 9-4 in 2007 and 7-6 in 2008.  Of course, that decline had no effect on the 2008 game against IU.  Since Wisconsin returned to respectability in 1993, IU has defeated the Badgers only twice, in 2001 and 2002.  In 2008, IU was reasonably competitive in the first half, trailing only 24-21 at halftime, but Wisconsin outscored IU 31-0 in the second half. By the way, the Wisconsin game, and the Penn State game that will follow a week later, are part of an occasional scheduling oddity.  IU will play Wisconsin in Bloomington for the second consecutive year and Penn State on the road for the second consecutive year.

What can we expect from the 2009 Badgers?


Here is Wisconsin's NCAA stat summary for 2008.  Despite the ho-hum record (including 3-5 in the Big Ten and a near loss to Cal Poly), the Badgers overall offensive and defensive numbers were reasonably good: the Badgers ranked #37 in both total offense and total defense.  The Badgers didn't get much production from the passing game, but avweraged 7.3 yards per passing play, good enough for #39 nationally.  Thanks to the now departed PJ Hill, Wisconsin averaged 4.8 yards per carry while rushing for 211 yards per game, both top 25 rankings.  Their yards per play numbers on defense, both in terms of rushing and passing plays, were very good as well.  So, why was Wisconsin mediocre?  The number that really stands out for Wisconsin is turnovers.  The Badgers ranked #9 nationally with 31 giveaways, and were -9 on the season.   I'm sure it's not that simple, but it's worth watching this season.

PJ Hill led Wisconsin in rushing last year, but the second back, John Clay, ran for 884 yards and average 5.7 yards per carry, and he will be the starter this season.  Zach Brown, who ran for 305 yards and also had a good average, also returns, so expect Wisconsin's usually excellent running game to continue behind Wisconsin's well-regarded offensive line.  At quarterback, Dustin Sherer, an Indiana kid from Hamilton Heights High School, should get the start again, but Wisconsin will be relying on the run, as usual.  The Badgers do replace most defensive starters, including all but one defensive lineman.

It will be an interesting year for Wisconsin.  Can the Badgers reverse the general trend of decline?  As with last year, I expect the Badgers to be havily favored, but if IU can improve, then this game, a home game against a team that was 3-5 in the conference last year, is one that the Hoosiers should target.