I forgot to mention this in the last preview post, but the Iowa game is IU's last home game of the 2010 season. The Penn State game, in week 11, technically is an IU home game, but the IU administration elected to choose cash over the short-term competitive interest of the team. I'll have much more about that tomorrow, but that means that IU's season ends with a three game stretch of games away from Bloomington: at Wisconsin, Penn State in DC, and at Purdue. The trip to Camp Randall will present a significant challenge for IU. Since the Badgers' renaissance began with an out-of-nowhere trip to the Rose Bowl in 1993, IU has beaten Wisconsin only twice, in back to back games in 2001 (at Wisconsin) and 2002 (in Bloomington). Following that surprising winning streak, which was highlighted by a 63-32 win by IU in Madison, the Badgers have owned the series. From 2005 to present (the teams didn't play in 2003 or 2004), Wisconsin has averaged 42 points per game against IU and has scored at least 31 in every game against IU. Last year's game was, compared to most of IU's losses in 2009, a bit different. Rather than blow a big lead, IU played from behind for most of the day but pulled within three with four minutes to go. The IU defense couldn't stop the Badgers from running out the clock, and that was that. Wisconsin's star running back John Clay missed the second half of that game with a concussion, and while the Wisconsin running game was strong without him, his absence probably allowed IU to stay in the game.
Clay was a workhorse in 2009, gaining 1517 yards on 287 carries and scoring 18 touchdowns. Two other running backs managed to contribute as well, and Montee Ball (391 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Zach Brown (279 yards, 3 TD) both return. Scott Tolzien won the starting job before last season and played very well. He completed 64 percent of his passes and threw 16 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Nick Toon, the son of Wisconsin and NFL great Al Toon, emerged as the Badgers' leading receiver, catching 54 passes for 805 yards and 4 touchdowns. Isaac Anderson (480 yards, 2 TD) and tight end Lance Kendricks (356 yards, 3 TD) also return. The Badgers, in short, return the vast majority of their contributors at the offensive skill positions. On defense, Wisconsin continues to play the way it has under Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema, with a dominant defense to match the power running game and competent quarterback play. Wisconsin's pass defense was only average (#58 of 120 I-A teams), and IU did have some success throwing the ball against them last year, but the Badgers allowed only 88 yards per game on the ground and ranked #17 in total defense and #33 in scoring defense. The Badgers replace six starters, but that rarely seems to matter.
This game strikes me as a perfect storm for the Hoosiers, and not in a good way. It's against a very physical team that wins by pushing its opponents around, which isn't often a good setup for IU. It's on the road. It's late in the season, when the Hoosiers often are beaten down with injuries and don't have the depth to compensate. This game might be an interesting test to determine whether the solid recruiting of Lynch and his staff really has created the sort of depth that will allow IU to compete in November. A win at Camp Randall would be a surprise, even if IU has a very good team (I rate this game IU's second most difficult), but after that 2001game, nothing will ever completely surprise me.