Five Minute Guide to '99
All eyes will be on Ron Dayne as he goes for the NCAA career rushing record
On Wisconsin, On
The Badgers can play brutally effective (read: boring) football. Three yards and a nasty rug burn. Last season Wisconsin beat Purdue and Iowa with a total of 116 rushes and 18 passes, which might explain why the Badgers' aerial attack ranked 107th in the nation. Basically, Wisconsin has only three plays: hand off to tailback Ron Dayne, run the option and ... no, there's just the two.
In his three seasons in Madison, the Great Dayne has already rushed for 4,563 yards and set 42 school records. He needs 499 more yards to break Archie Griffin's Big Ten career rushing mark and 1,717 yards to surpass the national record established last season by Texas's Ricky Williams. The 5'10", 252-pound earthmover has outrushed the opposing team in 20 of his 31 starts, and six times has gained 100 yards in a quarter. He positioned himself atop the preseason Heisman list with 246 yards and four touchdowns in January's Rose Bowl victory over UCLA.
Coach Barry Alvarez acknowledges that while he has always downplayed individual records in coaching his teams, he will give Dayne every chance to reach the rushing landmark. He even plans to phone Texas coach Mack Brown to ask how Brown balanced winning games with Williams's individual mission. On the key question of who will replace Mike Samuel as the guy who hands the ball to Dayne, Alvarez will audition both of his quarterbacks, senior Scott Kavanagh and redshirt freshman Brooks Bollinger (68 college passes combined), in the three opening nonconference games against Murray State, Ball State and Cincinnati and hope a regular starter emerges.
As usual, Wisconsin will lean heavily on its punishing defense, which has eight starters back from a crew that last season ranked first nationally in scoring defense (10.2 points) and third in rushing defense (89.6 yards per game). Junior defensive end John Favret will try to torment opposing passers in place of departed national sack leader Tom Burke, who was drafted in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals. Opposing receivers will be hounded by sophomore cornerbacks Mike Echols and Jamar Fletcher, who combined for 10 interceptions, including three that were returned for touchdowns by Fletcher.
The Badgers are fundamentally sound: Last year they led the nation in turnover margin and the Big Ten in fewest penalties. If Wisconsin can somehow defeat Michigan and Ohio State on back-to-back weekends to open the conference schedule, the team's biggest hurdle to a national title shot could be its bland image, which draws extended yawns in the polls. "It's hard to change people's perceptions of our program," Alvarez says. "Last year some said we were the worst team ever to go to the Rose Bowl, and we beat a UCLA team, on its home field, that came within one win of playing for the national championship. If we haven't earned respect by now, we never will."
-- Tim Crothers
1998 record: 11-1 (7-1, tied for 1st in Big Ten)
Sept. 25 vs. Michigan
Oct. 2 at Ohio State
The lack of an established passing game will prevent the Badgers from returning to the Rose Bowl.
Five Minute Guide to '99
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