Junior quarterback Brooks Bollinger is quick to point out that major league baseball's infatuation with strong-armed Big Ten passers extends beyond Ann Arbor. No, he may not be a $17-million bonus baby like Michigan's Drew Henson, who in March signed a six-year deal to play third base for the Yankees, but Bollinger was a 50th-round draft choice of the Dodgers in 2000. "I don't think they're going to offer me $17 million like Drew got," Bollinger, a shortstop, says. "Right now, I'm devoted to football."
That's good news for coach Barry Alvarez, who has good depth at quarterback with Bollinger (17-3 as a starter) and sophomore backup Jim Sorgi. Still, after losing 12 starters, plus two kickers, questions dog the team at nearly every other position, particularly running back. As if losing leading rusher Michael Bennett to the NFL wasn't enough of a blow, Wisconsin was dealt a big setback in the spring when sophomore Broderick Williams, who was supposed to become the starter, suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee. Ready or not, red-shirt freshmen Anthony Davis, Tyron Griffin and Jerone Pettus will have to make immediate contributions, which means Wisconsin's streak of eight seasons with a 1,000-yard running back is in peril.
The days of relying solely on the rushing game may be a thing of the past in Madison anyway. After watching Northwestern ride its multiple-wideout formations to a share of the Big Ten title last fall—and knowing his line is callow-Alvarez installed the spread offense. Though the spread will add spice to Wisconsin's game, the Badgers won't be a power in the conference unless they plug a leaky defense that permitted too many big plays last season. The unit will have six new starters, but considering its performance last year, that may be a plus.
During the off-season the 54-year-old Alvarez flirted with the vacant coaching job at Miami before taking himself out of the running. He then vowed to finish his career at Wisconsin and signed a new deal in the spring that extends his contract through 2006. "I was more serious about the Miami job than any job I've talked about before," Alvarez says. "But there are still some things I want to accomplish here."