Can PJ stay healthy and lead in rushing?
We're counting down the weeks until kickoff by profiling a different Big Ten team each week. Today, the Wisconsin Badgers are up.
To me, this is the scariest game for Ohio St. in 2008. Right now, all the attention is on SoCal and rightfully so, however, it is the game in Madison that could decide the Buckeye's destiny.
COACHING: Bret Bielema is entering his third season and is looking to improve upon his 21-5 start to his coaching career. With another round of OOC cupcakes and their toughest games at home, don't be surprised to see Whisky play in their fifth straight January bowl game.
OFFENSE: While much has been made of Ohio State's 18 returning starters, Wisconsin returns 17 starters, including 8 on offense. Allan Evridge, a senior transfer from Kansas St. looks to have a leg up in the competition to replace Tyler Donovan at QB. Evridge, saw limited action last year, but started 6 games for Kansas St, in 2005.
P.J. Hill is back for more and if he can stay away from injury, he may challenge Beanie for the conference rushing title. Hill has rushed for 2,781 yards in his first two years on campus and will have 4 returning linemen to run behind. Hill sat out 2+ games with injury last year, but still managed 14 touchdowns and 5.9 yards per carry.
Three of Whisky's top four receivers return, including all-conference TE Travis Beckum, who lead the Badgers with 75 catches for 982 yards and 6 touchdowns. Kyle Jefferson, a 6'5" Glenville product, will try to improve upon his 15.8 yards a catch average.
As mentioned Wisconsin will have 4 starters returning on the offensive line. The running game will be there and the 105 combined starts of this unit will allow the new QB time to get acclimated to the pace of play.
DEFENSE: While the defense may have slipped a bit in 2007, allowing 30+ points in 6 of their games, they return 9 starters and 13 of their top 16 tacklers. Wisconsin brings the wood and this defense, combined with a drunken home crowd at night, has me a bit nervous for October 4th.
Jonathan Casillias (96), DeAndre Levy (70) and Elijah Hodge (67), were the top three tacklers from a year ago and all return to their respective linebacker positions.
Matt Shaughnessy lead Wisconsin with 13 TFL last year and will lead two other returning starters on the D-Line. Six of their top 8 linemen are back, looking to continue the Badger's recent line success. FS Shane Carter lead the Big Ten with 7 picks last year an will be joined again by SS Aubrey Pleasant and CB Allen Langford in the secondary.
KEY GAME: The Ohio State game happens to fall in the middle of Wisconsin's key stretch. The Badgers go to Fresno St. on October 13th for a 9:30 central time kick, a game they desperately tried to get out of. After a bye week, Whisky opens up Big Ten play at Michigan, followed by home games against Ohio St. and PSU.
BEST-CASE: Wisconsin is going to have a good year. You know they have hopes of an upset Oct. 4th and if that happens, they could have the inside track for the conference title. Their OOC schedule also includes home games against Akron and Marshall to open up and mighty Cal-Poly to finish off the season. After their opening B10 stretch, their last six games are winnable; at Iowa, MSU and Indiana, with home games against Illinois and Minnesota.
WORST-CASE: If QB play becomes inconsistent and defenses can shut down the run, Wisconsin could lose 2 or 3 of their first 4 games. Their defense is going to keep them in games if the offense struggles, but even if they lose 1 of their last 6, the worst case should be another 9-4 record for Bret and his team.
I don't have to remind Buckeye fans what happened last time OSU played in Camp Randell Stadium. That game is going to be the highlight of the Big Ten season, with the potential of another low scoring defensive battle. Wisconsin's success hinges on the play of their QB, the Badgers should see a lot of 8 or 9 men fronts and if the QB can't throw the ball, fans in Madison may see this team fall below their expectations.