The off-season is a long and tiresome trudge, so how can we best get through it? By looking ahead to next year, of course. So, in the spirit of forward thinking, we present a team-by-team look at Iowa's 2010 football opponents (with looks at Illinois and Purdue thrown in for good measure so our Big Televen brethren don't feel ignored). Next up: BADGERS BADGERS BADGERS.
WISCONSIN BADGERS (@ Iowa City, IA; October 23, 2010)
Where the devil do they play? At the only former Civil War training ground turned football stadium, of course: Camp Randall.
What did they do last year? Won ten games, beat a Florida team (Miami) in the Champs Sports Bowl, and removed Bret Bielema's ample rear end from the proverbial fire in Madison (which was just fine by the locals: more room for brats). It was certainly a marked improvement from the mildly disastrous 7-6 campaign in 2008, when the Badgers struggled to beat powerhouses like Minnesota and Cal Poly and got waxed by a Florida team in the Champs Sports Bowl (Florida State).
Still, their two losses were by double digits (though the Ohio State loss featured one of the strangest box scores of the entire season) and they furthered Bielema's trend of struggling against ranked teams. Since taking over in 2006, Bielema is just 4-9 against ranked teams... and two of those wins came against Fresno State and a Michigan team in 2007 that was barely even trying (since their game against Ohio State the following week was a de facto Big Ten Championship Game). Bielema's maintained Wisconsin's presence as a consistent upper-division Big Ten team, but he's struggled mightily to get them to climb to the same elite heights that Alvarez took them to in the '90s.
So do they have, like, history with Iowa? Oh, most certainly. Aside from our rodent-loving friends up north, there's no other team that Iowa's played as often as Wisconsin (86 times, to be precise) and among Iowa's rivalries with Big Ten foes, no series is as even as the Wisconsin series: Iowa holds a narrow 42-41-3 edge over the Badgers. Still, despite the decades of history and the insufferably close geographic proximity, Wisconsin doesn't seem to raise the ire of Iowa fans nearly as much as our other primary geographic rivals. Barely a day goes by around here without hurling an insult toward Iowa State or Minnesota or Illinois or just Northwestern (and we eagerly await adding Nebraska to the mix when they join the cool kids in 2011), but weeks could pass by without a dig at Wisconsin. Games against Minnesota, Iowa State, and, increasingly, just Northwestern inspire buckets of bile to spew forth from your otherwise happy-go-lucky editors and authors; a game against Wisconsin inspires the same level of interest and hatred as, say, a game with Michigan State or Purdue.
So why don't we hate Sconnie? Well, for lots of reasons. They don't chant "We hate Iowa" at wholly unrelated sporting events. They don't have a painfully obvious and obnoxious inferiority complex. They don't treat a game against Iowa like it's their Super Bowl. (In fact, they don't even consider us their biggest rival; virtually all Badger fans would likely label the Gophers as their biggest rival.) And, frankly, there isn't much on-field heartbreak to draw on to get ye olde hate flowing. Outside of a five-year span in the late '90s (1997-2001), you have to go back to the early '60s (1962-1967) to find a time when Wisconsin regularly beat Iowa. In the subsequent 40 encounters, Iowa has a record of 27-12-1 against the Badgers. The lowest point in the modern history of the rivalry was that five-year span from 1997 to 2001, but it's difficult to get too worked up about those losses since (a) those were very good Wisconsin teams (the '98 and '99 teams went a combined 21-3 and won a pair of Rose Bowls) and (b) those were (mostly) very bad Iowa teams. Hell, who can stay mad at them when they're gracious enough to roll over and let Iowa celebrate a Big Ten title victory or let Shonn Greene go absolutely apeshit?
More importantly, we don't hate Sconnie because Sconnie is us. As Jacobi pointed out the other day, Wisconsin is Iowa with lakes and an accent. Throw in an unholy love of cheese curds and you've pretty well nailed it. Culturally, Iowa City and Madison have quite a bit in common as well. And from a football standpoint the parallels are even eerier: they steal our coaches, our recruits, even elements of our footballing philosophy. So I suppose you could be annoyed at them for being a bunch of dirty plagiarists if you were so inclined. But if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then we should feel pretty damn flattered.
What's the one thing you should know about Wisconsin?
How many of these fools were around a year ago? Quite a few, actually: per the Wisco spring prospectus, 10 on offense, six on defense, and both kicking specialists.
What should we expect when Wisconsin has the ball? Running, running, and... well, a little passing, too. A year ago, Wisconsin actually had a remarkably balanced offense in terms of production: they averaged 203.9 ypg rushing and 213.1 ypg passing. Still, while the productivity may have been pretty equal, the playcalling was anything but: the Badgers threw the ball 340 times (37% of the time) and ran the ball 581 times (63% of the time). Only OSU ran the ball more than that (64% of the time). So yeah, it's pretty obvious what Wisconsin is going to do when they have the ball: line up behind their beefy linemen, pound away with a set of bruising tailbacks, and mix in a dash of play-action passing.
At the forefront of that attack is, once again, John Clay. Clay was the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year and led the Big Ten in rushing attempts (287), rushing yards (1517) and rushing touchdowns (18) a year ago -- and no one else was really close to his stats. He had over 80 carries and 300 yards more than the second-best guy in both categories (Penn State's Evan Royster) and twice as many touchdowns as the second-place finisher (Purdue's Ralph Bolden). He continues the tradition of massive bruisers at running back at Wisco (he's 6'2", 247 lbs., and hits like a truck full of bricks), although he ranks as one of the better ones (he's certainly better than PJ Hill). There's little reason to expect any less productivity from Clay in 2010, especially with basically all of the offensive line that paved holes for him in 2009 coming back for more in 2010. When Clay needs a breather (and he may need a few, if the off-season pictures of him during his rehab from ankle surgery are any indication), expect sophomore Montee Ball (98-391-4) and senior Zach Brown (66-279-3) to mind the store.
In front of Clay in the backfield is Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin's first returning starter at QB since John Stocco started three consecutive seasons from 2004-2006. That Tolzien won the job was a mild surprise since upperclassmen Dustin Sherer had logged quite a bit of playing time in 2008. The problem was that Sherer wasn't very good in 2008: 104/191, 1389 passing yards, 6 TD/5 INT. Even by the relatively low standards of Wisconsin QBs, that wasn't up to snuff. Tolzien responded with a perfectly normal season by Wisconsin QB standards in 2009: 211/328, 2705 passing yards, 16 TD/11 INT. That said, he had his worst games against the best defenses Wisco played in 2009: against Iowa and Ohio State, he completed 60% of his passes (slightly subpar for him last year) and had zero touchdowns to five interceptions. Unless Wisco plans to run Clay 40 times a game in those two encounters this year, they're going to need better production out of Tolzien to turn those losses into wins. If something happens to Tolzien, Curt Phillips (a rare highly recruited QB prospect at Wisco -- 4* Rivals/3* Scout/79 ESPN) would have been the likely replacement -- until he tore his ACL in late March, at least. In his absence, Jon Budmayr becomes the back-up QB; he's yet to log a stat in his college career.
On the bright side, Tolzien will have some experienced targets to throw to in 2010. Wisco's top three receivers all return in 2010, including Nick Toon (54-805-4), Isaac Anderson (30-480-2), and David Gilreath (12-177-0). While they lose an All-Big Ten tight end in Garrett Graham (51-624-7), they return an experienced target at that spot in Lance Kendricks (29-356-3). They're a solid, dependable crew (and if you're CFN, they're the best WR unit in the Big Ten, which is further evidence that CFN is retarded and will rot your brain), but an explosive crew of gamebreakers they are not (though David Gilreath is a speedy target that Wisco likes to utilize in multiple roles). Like Iowa, Wisconsin is one of the few teams that makes heavy use of the tight end, so Kendricks should have a big season as Graham's replacement. Toon is the most reliable option of the bunch, so expect Tolzien to look for him early and often.
Paving the way for all these skill players to do their thing is yet another enormous collection of beef masquerading as an offensive line. While we fret slightly over the new lean and mean look for Iowa's offensive line, Wisconsin is holding firm to the "bigger is better" maxim: all five of its projected starters along the line tip the scales at 310+ lbs. The leaders of the line are the two gents shoring up the left edge and middle of the line, senior left tackle Gabe Carimi, a consensus preseason first-team All-Big Ten selection, and senior center (and BHGP's new favorite Badger) John Moffitt, another preseason All-Big Ten pick. Carimi and Moffitt have 65 career starts between them and should serve as excellent anchors for the line. Sophomore Travis Frederick is the favorite to slide into the LG spot between them; he started four games a year ago. On the right side, man-mountain Josh Oglesby (6'7", 331 lbs.) and junior Kevin Zeitler are expected to lock down things at right tackle and right guard, respectively. They each started ten or more games a year ago, so they have plenty of experience.
This figures to be yet another big, mean Wisco offensive line that should pave the way for another high-powered offense. A year ago, they led the Big Ten in ppg (31.8 ppg) and total offense (416.9 ypg) and there's not much reason to expect different results this year, when virtually everyone from the 2009 squad is back. In 2009, their offensive line bullied the undersized Iowa defensive line for a good chunk of the first half; hopefully the added bulk that Ballard & Co. have put on in the off-season will help them slow down the Badger offensive juggernaut when it rolls into Iowa City in October. If not, they may have to resort to sending out Norm on his golf cart to clip the Achilles' tendons of the Badger linemen.