10) Nick Toon’s Health
9) Beat Sparty
8 ) The Russell Wilson Project
7) Nebraska vs Wisconsin
6) Paving the Way
OK, Let’s jump into it: the top five storylines for Wisconsin as Brett Beilema leads his squad into the 2011 football season.
5) Anchoring the Defense
Two years ago it was O’Brien Schofield. Last year it was #99 in JJ Watt. Who will it be this year? Well, if health stays in Wisconsin’s favor, it will be the returning Chris Borland. The 2009 Big Ten freshman of the Year, Borland was side-lined due to a nagging shoulder injury. 2011 is a different story. Finally back to full-strength, Borland has moved to inside middle linebacker and will assume the “quarterback of the defense” role. A stellar player with a guts, physical attributes, and instinct to spare, Borland is a special player–the type of player that can change games, or even seasons. Watching Borland step up and run the Wisconsin defense will be a huge storyline this year. We already know the Badgers will score, but watching Borland and company shut down opposing offenses could be just as sweet.
4) The Two-Headed Monster (+1)
Even before UW landed Russell Wilson, Wisconsin was labeled as having one of the most dynamic backfields in the country. Thunder and Lightning. Smash and Flash. Yards and Touchdowns. Montee Ball and James White form the perfect one-two punch lining up behind any quarterback. What makes it scary? They won’t be lining up behind just any quarterback. The trifecta perfecta lining up behind Peter Konz will be scary good. No knock on Scotty Tolzien (who was an amazing quarterback for the Badgers last year) but he didn’t come close to matching the athleticism that Wilson features. I know Wisconsin is traditionally a power running, between the tackles type of team, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Paul Chryst throw a few wrinkles worth of quarterback draws and speed options into the Badger rushing attack.
3) Continued Momentum
“Swagger” is a word being thrown around loosely in sports, these days. Last year, though, Wisconsin embodied it. After the OSU show-down, Wisconsin proved to itself that they could win any game they played. They learned they could impose their will upon any opponent. But beating them wasn’t enough, punishment was the goal. Wisconsin walked into every game (except maybe the Rose Bowl) with the expectation to man-handle its way to victory. And as they did that, the media took notice. The entire aura surrounding the team changed. People began labeling Wisconsin as “sexy.” What’s exciting is that they achieved “sexiness” by playing mistake-free, pound-the-rock football. They weren’t gimmicky; they just lined up across their foes and rocked them. The success the 2010 Badgers had has given the 2011 Badgers a taste of success. The sting of the Rose Bowl to keep them hungry. Those are two dangerous things to give a football team. Now all that’s left to see is how they use those two aspects.
2) Bright Lights
Building off the mo-train of the 2010 crew and a nucleus of talented returning players, the media has graced the Badgers with prime-time spot after prime-time spot. The Nebraska game will, in my opinion, be the most hyped game of the year at the collegiate level. Traveling to the Horse-show to beat a revenge-driven Buckeyes is huge. Walking into Spartan Stadium to shut up Michigan State will be pivotal. If the Badgers want to achieve the things they set out to do, these games will have to be victories. It’s the only way to get to Indianapolis. And they will have to do that with a huge target on their back. Wisconsin has huge opportunities to continue and build upon their success from the previous year. There will be plenty of tests for the Badgers. And plenty of bright lights for the Badgers to shine under.
Yes, Coach. We want to go 1-0 each Saturday. We know that. What we want, though, is to go 1-0 for 13 straight weeks. The expectations have been set high for this crew and it’s going to take a lot of skill and a bit of luck for this team to navigate the Big Ten unscathed. And as old as it gets, they need to stay true to the “one game at a time” mantra. Wisconsin has come into seasons highly ranked before and stumbled along the way, so it’s up to the Badgers to avoid those footfalls. The Badgers have the skill and the coaching. I believe they have the right mentality. Now all that’s left is to put on the face paint, grab a cold one, and enjoy the 2011 Wisconsin football team. On Wisconsin.