Cautious Optimism

30 Aug

The bar has been set very high for the Wisconsin Badgers this year; and with good reason. They return an extremely talented backfield, a more-than-capable offensive line, an accolade-laden quarterback, and an exciting defense lead by Chris Borland. There are a load of reasons why the Badgers will succeed in 2011. And while I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to UW sports, I’m going to play the role of devils advocate and rattle off the Badger’s biggest areas for pitfalls this up-coming season.

Injuries– The Badgers will be relying heavily on two players (one on each side of the ball) coming off injuries. If anything happens to either Borland’s shoulder or Toon’s foot (especially with the depth behind each of these play-makers lacking) , the chances of the Badgers running the table takes a huge hit. If the Badgers can stay healthy, they should be legit contenders, but I always hesitate to put too much of the load upon the shoulders (no pun intended, Chris) of oft-injured players.

Quarterback Play– Russell Wilson is an athlete, and a damned good one at that. In my eyes, he was the perfect pickup for the Wisconsin Badgers this past season. He’s an experienced player with a “Wisconsin”-mentality. He has a proven track record at NC State and brings a boat-load of experience to an otherwise rookie quarterback class. That being said, he’s still unproven at Wisconsin. Even as a smart kid, picking up an entirely new offense, nomenclature, and playbook is a challenging task. If Wilson struggles against some sub-par teams, Wisconsin’s depth in the backfield should be enough to lead the Badgers to victory. But if Russell Wilson struggles against some marquee opponents,  there will be trouble, trouble in Badger City. As the Badgers move into the challenging stretches of its season, the Badgers will go as Russell Wilson goes. Our only hope is that it’s for the better.

Away Game Blues–Despite the storm clouds hanging low over Columbus, Ohio, by no means will the 2011 Buckeyes roll over. For the first time in a while the Buckeyes enter the year as underdogs–with something to prove. This mentality, along with a revenge-driven team aiming to repay the Badgers for their lone 2010 blunder, makes the Wisconsin trip to the Horseshoe look awfully menacing.  And on top of that, the Badgers get to head back to East Lansing again to take on the Michigan State Spartans; not an easy task. We all know the Badgers usually are a much-improved football team in the friendly confines, but to achieve greatness this year the Badgers will face an uphill battle in winning in these two tough environments–and this is  without mentioning a tricky trip to Illinois. While I like the Badgers chances, the Badgers season will ultimately be decided by their performance in these away games. Something I’m not ready to promise, yet.

Pressure-Cooker– I don’t like putting labels on programs. For example, I think it’s incredibly dumb when people say, “Iowa only does well in years when they’re under the radar.” That’s just stupid. Each season features a different roster made up of players who handle different situations, well…differently. But even with that being said,  I remember the 2007 Badgers who were ranked #5 in the country before plummeting into irrelevance, all too well. This year’s Badger squad also features a similar type of “buzz” the 2007 team had. How they handle that pressure, especially with the national spot-light on them for games with Nebraska and Ohio State, will tell us a lot about this year’s versions of the Wisconsin Badgers. Playing with a target on your back is never easy. It’s up to the Badgers to prove they can do it.

These are my biggest potential pitfalls for the 2011 Badgers. Do you see something I missed? Don’t agree with something I wrote? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thought. On Wisconsin.

–Mitch Larson

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