Big 10 Leaders PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Bret Bielema, 60-19 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Canada | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Ash

With a new quarterback under center, the Badgers will lean on the rushing attack and defense in 2012.


Wisconsin addressed its most glaring need in March when quarterback Danny O’Brien announced he would transfer from Maryland to Wisconsin. O’Brien, the ACC Rookie of the Year as a redshirt freshman in 2010 when he passed for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns, graduated in May and was set to join UW in time for summer workouts in June. He will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

“I don’t regret one day that I’ve been on campus at Maryland,” says O’Brien, who struggled last season after new coach Randy Edsall ditched Maryland’s pro-style offense and installed a zone-read scheme. “But I do feel rejuvenated to close this chapter and start a new chapter.

If O’Brien wins the starting job as expected, UW will have the formula it needs to compensate for the departure of offensive coordinator Paul Chryst — who is now the head coach at Pitt — and keep the offense humming.

The line should feature three players with starting experience; Tailback Montee Ball was an All-American last season and should be a legitimate Heisman threat in 2012; and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen should form a solid foundation for the play-action passing game.

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Wisconsin’s 45–38 loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl reaffirmed what the coaching staff already knew. UW needed to shore up its run defense, find ways to pressure the quarterback more consistently and get more speed on the field. Oregon rolled up 621 yards, including 345 rushing (8.6 yards per carry) in the victory. Other than two sacks, the pressure was inadequate, and too often Oregon runners/receivers ran away from UW defenders.

Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge believes he will have a rotation of at least eight players — four tackles and four ends. That depth is fine, but UW needs ends David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly to get after the quarterback. Gilbert was playing at an all-league level when he suffered a broken foot in practice and missed the final 10 games. Kelly recorded three sacks and five hurries after missing most of the previous two seasons because of injuries. He is capable of more.

UW also needs more from its secondary, which is a significant question mark. If junior Dezmen Southward can adequately replace Aaron Henry at free safety and cornerback Devin Smith can return to form after missing the final 12 games because of a broken foot, the secondary should be adequate. If either player falters, defensive coordinator Chris Ash will need to rely more heavily on untested young players.

Key Player

Montee Ball, TB—Rushed for 1,923 yards (6.3-yard average) and finished with a national-best 39 touchdowns (33 rushing, six receiving).

Jared Abbrederis, WR—Emerged as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver with 55 catches, a 17.0-yard average and eight touchdowns.

Chris Borland, MLB—After missing most of 2010 because of shoulder injuries, Borland moved to middle linebacker and blossomed into a playmaker.

Sept. 1st Northern Iowa
Sept. 8th at Oregon State
Sept. 15th Utah State
Sept. 22nd UTEP
Sept. 29th at Nebraska
Oct. 6th Illinois
Oct. 13th at Purdue
Oct. 20th Minnesota
Oct. 27th Michigan State
Nov. 10th at Indiana
Nov. 17th Ohio State
Nov. 24th at Penn State


The staff knows what it has in Abbrederis, who averaged 15.8 yards on punts and 24.6 yards on kickoffs last season. No one knows how the replacements for punter Brad Nortman and kicker Philip Welch, both multiyear starters, will fare. Punter Drew Meyer, a walk-on who redshirted last season, and sophomore kicker Kyle French must at least be dependable.


Wisconsin defeated Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten title game last season to secure its second consecutive league title. The return of Ball, the addition of O’Brien and the fact that Leaders Division rival Ohio State is ineligible for postseason play make UW the favorite return to Indianapolis. If the defensive issues can be addressed and the overall drop-off at punter and kicker isn’t significant, UW could return to the Rose Bowl for the third consecutive season.

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