SB Nation's Wisconsin site Bucky's 5th Quarter gladly took place in a question and answer session regarding the UNLV vs. Wisconsin game this weekend. Head to their site to see my answers to the questions they asked me.
1. Who are the playmakers on offense that UNLV should know about?
2. Looking at Wisconsin's losses over the past few years some have come against teams with a spread offense. UNLV will still have elements of the spread under new coach Bobby Hauck, why have the Badgers struggled against spread attack teams?
Well the most obvious playmaker is running back John Clay, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy candidate. But it is entirely possible for him to take a backseat in this game. Clay had surgery on both ankles in the offseason and while he is healthy, there are concerns about his weight and conditioning.
His carries could be limited until the Big Ten season so Montee Ball and freshman James White could get their fair share of touches on Saturday. Otherwise, wide receiver Nick Toon is poised to have a big year and tight end Lance Kendricks will also be a frequent target for quarterback Scott Tolzien. Wisconsin's best player on offense, however, is left tackle Gabe Carimi who will certainly be a first round draft pick next spring.
This was a big concern a few years ago, but last year the spread wasn't really a problem. Call it a lack of preparation or a lack of discipline, but the spread offense kind of ruined the '07 and '08 seasons for Wisconsin. The Badgers were much better against the spread last season, in large part because of the emergence of linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, who seemed to be in the right place at all times. I don't expect it to be an issue Saturday against UNLV.
3. What are the chances of Wisconsin winning the Big 10 or going to a BCS bowl this year?
Those chances are very high but Wisconsin can't afford to make mistakes that cost them wins like they did three times last season. The Badgers dominated Ohio State in total yards, first downs and time of possession last year but lost by 17 points because of two defensive touchdowns and a special teams touchdown by the Buckeyes. Wisconsin had a 10-0 lead on Iowa before losing 20-10. And at Northwestern, the Badgers had three chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter but failed each time. The talent is there to fix those mistakes and if they can, we're talking about the BCS title game, not just the Big Ten.
4. I am skeptical of Wisconsin's high preseason ranking can you explain to me why they are deserving of being ranked that high?
Well, we're talking about a team that finished with a No. 16 ranking last year after dominating a pretty good Miami team in the Champs Sports Bowl. The offense was No. 1 in the Big Ten last season and it returns everyone but tight end Garrett Graham. The offensive line is arguably the best in the country and you can make the same argument about the group of running backs. Scott Tolzien might not be as talented as Terelle Pryor, but he is more consistent and more dependable. The defense has a few holes to fill, but it was also playing with two freshmen linebackers last season and a host of young cornerbacks who gained a wealth of experience. Borland was the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year and Taylor might have won the award had he not gotten hurt. Taylor may miss Saturday's game but the two are expected to be healthy and anchor a strong defense this season. The Badgers are ranked No. 12 right now. I'd say they are more like No. 15 or 16 -- where they left off last season -- but all signs point to them being even better in 2010.
5. Both of us see Wisconsin winning, but what would it take for the Badgers to mess up this game and lost it?
It would take a lot. Wisconsin nearly lost at UNLV in 2007 but those were two different teams. This Badger team is better and it seems like this UNLV is team is worse. I just don't see how Wisconsin's running game won't have success Saturday. If the Badgers lose, it will probably be because they struggle with the heat early, turn the ball over and fall into a hole. Here's what is more likely to happen: If Wisconsin doesn't go deep on the first play from scrimmage like they did last year (an 80-yard touchdown against Northern Illinois), the Badgers will run on every single play on their first drive, score a touchdown and never look back.