Back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances go a long way in building a nationally recognized football brand. But in 2012, the wisconsin football program has the chance to take a final, long-awaited step forward.
After spending years adjacent to the circle that surrounds college football’s “elite” programs, Wisconsin has the opportunity next season to finally anchor itself among the upper echelon of not just the Big Ten conference, but all of college football.
And a Heisman frontrunner coupled with a remarkably deep and talented defense may be just enough to finally bring the Badgers much-deserved validation as one of the conference’s perennial contenders. Wisconsin’s pursuit of becoming an elite program (à la Ohio State) has been a reappearing topic for years — including a recent ESPN college football roundtable — but next season it has the opportunity to capitalize on recent success and establish a spot on the national scene.
Analysts are quick to point out potential issues arising from the exodus of UW coaches this offseason, most notably offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. But the talent returning on both sides of the ball puts Wisconsin in great position for a third-consecutive BCS bowl appearance that could place them firmly among the Big Ten’s best and no longer keep them looming a half-step behind.
This chance at claiming a spot among the country’s best programs begins with one of the most dangerous players lining up in the backfield in all of college football — running back Montee Ball. After piling up simply absurd numbers in 2011 — 1,923 yards and 39 total touchdowns — the senior running back will be the unquestioned centerpiece of the Badgers’ offense next season.
Ball is the rare, once-in-a-decade player who can single-handedly carry the offense as a one-man touchdown machine. Although he’ll have a tough time surpassing the stats he managed in 2011, the senior’s speed and vision out of the backfield alone could earn Wisconsin a couple of victories. Beyond that, Ball’s name staying in the Heisman discussion all season will continue to elevate the image of wisconsin football. Even if Danny O’Brien fails to exhibit the skills through the air he showed as a Maryland freshman in 2010, Ball will be ready to take a starring role in the Badgers’ offensive attack.