Big Ten defensive coordinators cringed when they heard the news. Badger fans, on the other hand, began rebooking Pasadena hotels for their return trip this January. This resulting from the announcement that ACC standout quarterback Russell Wilson will set aside his baseball career and transfer to Wisconsin for his last year of football eligibility.
Wilson was a member of the Asheville Tourists, the class A team for the Colorado Rockies, but after struggling in his first season, he decided to explore his options of returning to college football. The decision then came down to transferring to either Wisconsin or Auburn, both pretty good options. In the end, Wilson went for the cheese over the poisoned trees.
Wilson, who led his NC State squad to a 9-4 record and a victory in the Champs Sports Bowl last season, joins a potent Badger offense that shredded defenses to pieces in 2010. Behind a three-headed monster at running back, Wisconsin sported the highest scoring offense in the Big Ten (41.5 ppg) and ranked 2nd in the conference to Illinois in rushing yards.
`Like the Badgers in 2010, Wilson had a successful season of his own. Wilson led the ACC with 3,563 passing yards and 28 TD’s. He also added over 400 yards and 9 TD’s on the ground, ranking 1st in the conference in total yards.
The one knock on Wilson, however, was that he turned the ball over too often in 2010. His 14 interceptions were a career high and were costly in close games against East Carolina and Clemson. Throwing interceptions has not usually been a trademark for Wilson, though. As a freshman, Wilson threw 17 TD’s with only 1 INT. The next season Wilson threw 11 picks on 378 attempts, followed by 14 picks on 527 attempts as a junior.
Wilson will not have that problem in Madison where they like to run, run and run some more. A dependable running game was not something Wilson had at NC State last season (123 ypg), where only Duke rushed for less yards in the conference. Heck, Montee Ball and James White can go for 123 yards a piece on any given Saturday.
Wilson will not be the only one that benefits from this move to the Dairy State. Yes, Scott Tolzien had a very good season for the Badgers in 2010, throwing for 2,459 yards and 16 TD’s on only 266 attempts, but when is the last time an opposing defense was actually afraid of a Wisconsin quarterback? Well, they should be now. Wilson has the ability to make all the throws, as well as create with his feet. He is the definition of a playmaker at quarterback.
So how good does the addition of Wilson make Wisconsin? Well, it does not make up for the loss of two All-Americans on the offense line and the absence of J.J. Watt on the defensive side but it adds a major weapon to an offense that can already pound defenses on the ground.
The Badgers will need to find a way to get it done on defense, but the 2011 Badger offense may be better than the 2010 version. Northwestern fans who watched their Wildcats give up 70 points to the Badgers last season will be glad Wisconsin isn’t on this year’s schedule. Other teams will not be so lucky.
So who is the favorite to win the conference? Normally, the easy answer is Ohio State, but with Terrelle Pryor and Mr. Sweater-vest out of Columbus the pecking order has changed. The Buckeyes will still be tough but they should have their share of struggles.
Nebraska will be the other pick to win the Big Ten but their fortunes will depend on which Taylor Martinez shows up at quarterback: the one that was a Heisman Trophy candidate through the first half of the season or the one that caused Bo Pelini to pop a blood vessel in his face down the stretch. Like the Badgers, Nebraska will have a solid defense and a good running game, with the quarterback position possibly being the deciding factor between the two. The two teams will square off in Madison to open up Big Ten play and with the addition of Wilson, I give Wisconsin the edge.
As for the rest of the teams in the Big Ten, Michigan has no defense. Penn State has quarterback issues. Michigan State will be good but not the favorite. Same can be said about Iowa and Illinois. The Illini are an intriguing story, however. If Scheelhaase can continue to improve and the defense can avoid any repeats of the Michigan game last season, a favorable schedule could push the Illini into position to contend.
Either way, Bucky will be the favorite to go back to Pasadena, if not contend for a National Championship. Auburn was able to strike gold last offseason, who says Wisconsin can’t do the same?