2012 NCAA Football Las Vegas Odds: Wisconsin Badgers
Sunday, August 26, 2012
by Frank Martin
There is no question that the premier football program in the Big Ten right now is Wisconsin Badgers, which has been to back-to-back Rose Bowls and is the betting favorite to get back to a third this season.
Last year, the Badgers were fortunate enough to land quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson, a transfer from N.C. State, was an instant hit within Paul Chryst’s offense. He completed 72 percent of his passes for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns. His leadership, on and off the field, were key as Wisconsin suffered the ups and downs of the season, including two losses by Hail Marys.
It’s not going to be easy to become the first Big Ten school in 34 seasons (Michigan 1977-79) to reach the Rose Bowl three years in a row. The Badgers lost the nation’s most efficient quarterback in Wilson. They lost three All-Big Ten linemen, including first-round pick Kevin Zeitler. They lost three more All-Big Ten picks to graduation. They lost six coaches, including offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. He became Pitt’s head coach and took two assistants with him.
Yet again a transfer will be under center for the Badgers. Junior Danny OBrien transferred from Maryland this spring and is immediately eligible to play with two years left after earning his degree in College Park. The team is hoping O’Brien, who completed 56.4 percent of his passes last season for 1,648 yards with seven touchdowns against 10 interceptions, can become the passing threat to balance out its dominant running game.
Montee Ball surprised many by returning to school after a record-setting junior season. He rushed for 1,923 yards with 33 touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 306 yards with six scores last fall – the 39 scores tied Barry Sanders’ NCAA record. Ball was so consistent and productive the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon was the only game in which he didn’t score at least two touchdowns. Ball, the second-favorite for this year’s Heisman on Bovada NCAA Football Betting, has one of the nation’s top backups in James White. Last season, White rushed for 713 yards with six touchdowns and added 15 catches for 150 yards.
Junior Jared Abbrederis is the only proven wideout on the roster. Abbrederis led the Badgers with 933 receiving yards last season to go with 55 catches and eight TDs. Junior TE Jacob Pedersen was a big threat in the red zone last season, making 30 catches for 356 yards with eight touchdowns.
Wisconsin returns its top two defenders in linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. The duo combined for 293 tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss. Borland is a preseason candidate for many postseason awards after finishing tied for seventh in the country with 143 tackles, including 19 for loss last season. He will be counted on to bolster a rushing defense that finished last season ranked just 60th nationally, giving up an average of nearly 153 yards per game. Borland must help solidify the front seven. Taylor led the Big Ten with 150 tackles while also providing nine TFL, three forced fumbles, three pass breakups, two sacks and two interceptions.
The UW pass rush also struggled last year as the Badgers finished tied for 71st nationally with just 25 QB takedowns last season. Defensive lineman Beau Allen is the top returning pass rusher on the team, registering four sacks last year. The secondary lost safety Aaron Henry and cornerback Antonio Fenelus. Both had four interceptions and Henry was third on the team in total tackles (67).
The offensive line play will be crucial for the success of the Badgers this season. O’Brien isn’t as mobile as Wilson was and will need to find time in the pocket. But 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.
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