SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Wisconsin Badgers

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Barry Alvarez (14th year, 92-58-4)
2002 record: 8-6 (Beat Colorado 31-28 in Alamo Bowl)
Big Ten finish: T-8th
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 190.2 ypg
(6th in Big Ten, 33rd in nation)
Pass: 164.5 ypg (11th, 96th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 148.7 ypg (6th, 51st)
Pass: 224.2 ypg (7th, 67th)
Projected Starters
Offense (5 returning starters in bold)
WR  Lee Evans  Sr. 
WR  25  Brandon Williams  So. 
LT  75  Morgan Davis  Jr. 
LG   67   Dan Buenning   Jr.  
53  Donovan Raiola  So. 
RG   50   Jonathan Clinkscale   Jr.  
RT  61  Mike Lorenz  So. 
TE   85   Tony Paciotti   Jr.  
QB  19  Jim Sorgi  Sr. 
TB   28   Anthony Davis   Jr.  
FB   45   Matt Bernstein   So.  
Defense (8)
DE   90   Erasmus James   Sr.  
DT   77   Anttaj Hawthorne   Jr.  
DT   74   Jason Jefferson   Jr.  
DE  92  Jonathan Welsh  Jr. 
OLB   24   LaMarr Watkins   So.  
LB   46   Jeff Mack   Sr.  
LB   12   Alex Lewis   Sr.  
CB   2   Scott Starks   Jr.  
CB  21  Levonne Rowan  So. 
FS  18  Jim Leonhard  Jr. 
SS   7   Ryan Aiello   Sr.  
Special Teams
97  Mike Allen  Jr. 
31  R.J. Morse  Jr. 
KR  25  Brandon Williams  So. 
PR  18  Jim Leonhard  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  at West Virginia 
Sept. 6  Akron 
Sept. 13  UNLV 
Sept. 20  North Carolina 
Sept. 27  at Illinois 
Oct. 4  at Penn State 
Oct. 11  Ohio State 
Oct. 18  Purdue 
Oct. 25  at Northwestern 
Nov. 8  at Minnesota 
Nov. 15  Michigan State 
Nov. 22  Iowa 
Barry Alvarez believes his team's surprising Alamo Bowl victory over 14th-ranked Colorado provided the nation a glimpse of what awaits Big Ten foes this fall. That is, a young and athletic team capable of challenging for a conference title.

"I went through the Colorado tape, and, boy, you see a lot of young people in there making plays," Alvarez said. "They'll go into the season with so much confidence."

So will Alvarez and his assistants, who return 13 position starters. In addition, senior wide receiver Lee Evans is on pace to return after missing all of 2002 with a knee injury, and the specialists should be upgraded.

That recipe should lead to an upper-division finish and perhaps even the Badgers' first conference title since 1999.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

For the first time since 1998, the Badgers will have a full-time starting quarterback other than Brooks Bollinger, who compiled a 30-12 record in four seasons. Senior Jim Sorgi is 0-5 as a starter but has come off the bench to lead Wisconsin to several victories and has passed for 2,247 yards and 16 touchdowns.

If Evans is healthy, the Badgers have a legitimate All-American who will garner double-coverage and ease the burden on the younger receivers.

Wisconsin, which has featured a 1,000-yard rusher for a Big Ten-record 10 consecutive seasons, has two such candidates in junior Anthony Davis and sophomore Dwayne Smith. With 3,021 yards, Davis is the nation's leading rusher over the past two seasons. But the coaches are so enamored of Smith (552 yards, six touchdowns) that they have designed two-back sets to use both runners at the same time.

The key to making it all work is the offensive line, which will feature three new starters. Four of the five spots seem set. The big question mark is left tackle, where Morgan Davis and Jake Wood could battle throughout training camp for the starting job.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Despite the departure of end Jake Sprague, the Badgers should be able to rotate at least seven players on the line. Juniors Anttaj Hawthorne and Darius Jones are potential stars.

Wisconsin gradually has upgraded its speed and overall athletic ability at all three linebacker spots, and this could be the strength of the defense. Seniors Alex Lewis and Jeff Mack will man the inside and should make most of the big plays. Lewis might be the most explosive linebacker Wisconsin has had since Alvarez took over the program in 1990.

Jim Leonhard, who led the nation in interceptions with 11 last season, has been moved to free safety from strong safety. Look for him to keep on making big plays. However, new secondary coach Ron Lee must identify a play-making cornerback to complement Scott Starks.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The kicking game must be bolstered if the Badgers are to challenge for a title. Punter R.J. Morse struggled in the second half of the season and seemed to lose confidence. He will have to show more consistency and pop to hold his job. Kickers Mike Allen and Scott Campbell combined to make only 15-of-23 field-goal attempts last season. They will be pushed for the No. 1 job by freshman Matt Domonkos, who joined the program in January. Don't count out Allen, though. He showed his poise by calmly drilling the game-winner in the Alamo Bowl from 37 yards in overtime.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Wisconsin finished 2-6 in the Big Ten and 8-6 overall last season because it had to rely too heavily on untested talent. This season could prove to be more fruitful. The return of a healthy Evans should provide a huge boost to the offense. If the line gels quickly, the Badgers could have one of the more versatile and potent offenses in the Big Ten. On defense, the front seven has enough talent and versatility to be stout. This defense will be very good if a lockdown cornerback emerges. The final piece will be the special teams. If the staff finds a kicker and punter who can perform consistently, a New Year's Day bowl is a legitimate goal.

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