Wisconsin may be the only team in the country whose game plan is
lifted from its fight song.
On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin
Plunge right through that line,
Run the ball clear down the field, boys
Touchdown sure this time.
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
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."
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Rush to glory? Dayne stuck around one more year, largely to try to gain the 1,717 yards he needs to surpass Ricky Williams.
1998 record: 11-1 (7-1, tied for 1st in Big Ten)
Final ranking: No. 6 AP, No. 5 coaches' poll
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Passing Total
Yards Yards Yards
OFFENSE 31.3 204.3 109.9 314.2
DEFENSE 10.2 89.6 180.6 270.3
Schedule strength: 65th of 114
Sept. 25 vs. Michigan
The Badgers' first real test of the season doubles as their
conference opener. They haven't forgotten last year's 27-10 loss.
Oct. 2 at Ohio State
Lose to the Wolverines and the Buckeyes and Wisconsin can forget
about being Big Ten champs. The Badgers haven't won in Columbus
in their last five tries.
The Bottom Line
The lack of an established passing game will prevent the Badgers
from returning to the Rose Bowl.