INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: Le'Veon Bell #24 of the Michigan State Spartans scores a 6-yard rushing touchdown against Shelton Johnson #24 and Ethan Hemer #87 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the second quarter of the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
was gracious enough to answer some questions about the upcoming season and the rivalry between Wisconsin and MSU.
1. The Badgers are coming off back-to-back Rose Bowls, but lose a ton of starters and coaches. However, sanctions at Ohio State and Penn State mean Wisconsin is basically one win away from another Rose Bowl. How are fans looking at the upcoming regular season? Obviously football season is a crazy time, but are fans already looking at potential matchups in Indianapolis? Is the national championship a reasonable goal?
There is no doubt that Badger fans are very high on this year's team. Perhaps, more than anything, they are anxious to get rid of the sour taste left behind by back-to-back losses in the Rose Bowl.
It is pretty clear that with Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for postseason play, the Leaders Division is Wisconsin's to lose. Some coaches and media members are doing their best to downplay that fact, but Purdue or Illinois as Division champions is a hard sell.
While the Boilermakers do not face off with Michigan State, they will have to take on Michigan, Iowa,and Ohio State. Likewise, Illinois also avoids MSU in the regular season, but the Illini must travel to both Michigan and Wisconsin (in back-to-back weeks) and will also make the trek to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. Tim Beckman will undoubtedly bring improvement to that program, but there is simply no way that his squad will turn things around that quickly.
Even assuming a win in Indianapolis in early December, it is hard to imagine the Badgers playing for a national title. The strength of non-conference schedule simply isn't there. In my personal opinion, it will take nothing short of being the only undefeated team in the nation to play in Miami Gardens.
2. When Bret Bielema said there was a QB battle after the transfer of Russell Wilson last year, no one took it seriously. Does Danny O'Brien have a real battle this year? Or is he expected to be the starter?
Bret Bielema's statement during Big Ten Media days proclaiming that Curt Phillips had a legitimate chance to compete for the starting quarterback job caught many of us in Wisconsin off-guard. Initially, I brushed it off as simply bulletin board material for O'Brien to mull over prior to the start of camp.
But, after some additional consideration, it may be something more. Don't get me wrong, O'Brien is still the overwhelming favorite to win the starting job, but Phillips having a chance isn't completely out of the realm of possibility if the senior can stay healthy. That's a big if. Phillips has had the ACL in his right knee surgically repaired three times and was favoring it during spring camp, a healthy first month of the season would be a big step forward.
The fact that O'Brien has two years of eligibility remaining adds a bit of a twist. If the former Maryland signal-caller doesn't see action right away, it won't be considered a waste of a transfer. O'Brien didn't fit into the system of new head coach Randy Edsall and is much better served in Madison. He is, no doubt, a better athlete than Phillips, but it may take time for O'Brien to pick up the new offense. By many accounts, O'Brien is intelligent and incredibly thoughtful, something every head coach wants to see in his quarterback, the tradeoff is that it may take some time to digest the nuances of the new playbook.
3. Outside of quarterback and Montee Ball, who are some players (on both sides of the ball) to watch for this year? Who are some guys who could have breakout seasons?
Outside of the household names, there are a few Badgers looking to really establish themselves in 2012. Junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis had a breakout season in 2011 on offense (55 rec, 933 yards, 8 TD) as well as on special teams where he was featured on returns. With leading wide out Nick Toon now in the NFL, Abbrederis is the only experienced receiver returning this season.
On the defensive side of things, linebacker Mike Taylor looks to affirm is performance of a year ago that saw him lead the Big Ten in tackles. He is joined by Chris Borland who also put up some monster numbers during his first full season since having shoulder surgery.
4. Has MSU become a major rival for Wisconsin? With the wild games over recent years, Isaiah Lewis' trash-talking and success of both teams (not to mention the hoops rivalry) what is the Badger view toward the Spartans right now? It's too bad the regular-season matchups will go on hiatus after this season.
With the decline of Minnesota and the success that both Wisconsin and Michigan State have enjoyed recently, the series between the schools is certainly becoming more heated. For the bulk of 2000's the Badgers seemingly always struggled when they traveled to East Lansing, even in games in which they were favored. In the last three trips to Spartan Stadium, Wisconsin was downed by a Michigan State squad who was, arguably, better than they were. For this to develop into a full-blown rivalry, the Spartans will have to begin winning at Camp Randall regularly which is something that most opposing teams struggle to do.
It is too bad that the series is on hold, but there is a good possibility that the second Big Ten Championship game will be a rematch of the first.
5. No team is safe from alternate jerseys. MSU's Pro Combats were mostly loved by Spartan fans, but generally disliked by outsiders. What do you think of Wisconsin's alternate for this season, and what do you think of the perception from everyone else?
The new alternate uniforms do a fine job of paying homage to the history behind Wisconsin football in a simple and clean way. It was a bit disappointing (though not at all surprising) that the jerseys look so much like every other alternate uni that Adidas has created. If this is the best that Adidas can come up with, I would like to see the uniforms put away for good after September 29.
The new get-ups have received mixed reviews from the outside world. The purists say that it is not an entirely accurate representation of the uniforms of yesteryear. Some of those in favor say that it is nice to see Wisconsin stretch its bounds from the look they have used for the last two decades.