Well sports fans, it’s finally upon us. And after what seemed like an endless off-season of college football embarrassment, scandal, and overall craziness, the dawn of Wisconsin’s first kickoff is a welcomed sight. As a chorus of camera flashes signal the start of Wisconsin’s 2011 campaign, we as college football fans can finally put a tumultuous off-season behind us. And as Bucky begins its journey in the newest edition of the BIG TEN, let’s take a look at UW’s ten biggest upcoming story lines for the 2011 season:
10) Nick Toon’s Health
We all know the 2010 Bullies of the Big Ten’s made their money through the running game–but let’s not forget the importance of the UW passing attack. The 2010 Badgers featured on of the most balanced offenses in the nation last year. Despite the parting of David Gilreath, Kyle Jefferson, and Lance Kendricks, I doubt Paul Chryst will deviate much from last year’s offensive blue print. Especially with the addition of an exceptional passer in Russell Wilson, Bucky needs a go-to target to keep defenses honest: enter Nick Toon. Toon is an NFL-caliber receiver with great size and athleticism but struggled with nagging injuries in 2010. For the 2011 Badgers to continue their balanced offense, Toon will have to stay healthy and emerge into one of the leagues top-tier targets.
9) Beat Sparty
I don’t know about you, but Michigan State whining over being passed up for the 2010 Rose Bowl still weighs heavy in my memory. My dad taught me one thing: if you don’t like the cards you were dealt, go out and prove the haters wrong. Apparently daddy Dantonio’s version of that advice included getting curb-stomped 49-7 by Alabama in their bowl game. That surely doesn’t sound like a BCS team to me. Yet still, the Spartans claim they’re in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Bucky gets a shot to go back to East Lansing and end those dreams. Last year Sparty was lucky (numerous times) this year, they’ll get a heavy dose of reality. And it’s up to Wisconsin to make sure that reality hurts.
8 ) The Russell Wilson Project
This subject was much more intriguing and questionable before the start of camp. I know Coach Beilema always has preached about the character of Russell Wilson, but I was still reluctant to see how he gelled with the team. After listening to many interviews, player reactions to Wilson’s work ethic, and the sheer fact that his team-mates voted him as a captain tells me that he will be just fine wearing the Cardinal and White. The only thing that remains to be seen is how he adapts to a Big Ten style of football. While I’m optimistic, I (as well as many Badger fans out there) am extremely excited to see the energy and play-making ability Wilson brings to an already loaded Badger backfield.
7) Nebraska vs Wisconsin
We all remember the electricity of OSU last year. Now imagine it was OSU’s inaugural Big Ten game… The Badgers and Huskers will be in America’s spotlight; I get chills thinking about it already. If you’re not already jacked for this game, check your pulse because you might be dead–or a Gophers fan.
6) Paving the Way
Last year’s Wisconsin rushing attack was a beast. It’s that simple. While a lot of the credit falls on James White, Montee
Ball, and John Clay, college football pundits were quick to point out the hand that Wisconsin’s O-Line had in that rushing dominance. But even for a program known for producing NFL quality lineman, replacing the thrashing performances of two All-Americans in Gabe Carimi (Outland Trophy Winner) and John Moffit is a tall task to handle. I’m going to go out on a limb and say UW is one of the only football programs that can do just that. The Badgers move an experienced Ricky Wagner to left tackle, and bring back center Peter Konz and right guard Kevin Zeitler. They also return experienced players like Josh Oglesby and dark-horse players like Ryan Groy and Ray Ball. These Badgers may lack the star-power that last year’s squad had, but the certainly have the clout to punish Big Ten defenses and pave the way for another version of Wisconsin’s rushing attack.
So there you have it, Wisconsin’s 10 through six biggest story lines heading into the 2011 season. Tomorrow we will count down Bucky’s final five biggest storylines. So sleep tight; kickoff is just a few nights away!