Taking a run through our schedule, we'll start with the "pre-season," the games before BigTen competition starts.
First up is Akron. According to my favorite preview authority (scroll down 'til you find it at #95), the Badgers shouldn't have much to worry about. The Zips aren't effective in the passing game, last year ranked at the bottom of the MAC (12th) for total offense and moved all the way up to 9th in the MAC for total defense. Sure, they're returning their quarterbacks . . . both of them. I'm a firm believer that two starting quarterbacks means you don't have one starter. No surprise, the Badgers should come out and steamroll the Zips.
Next is the Marshall Thundering Herd out of Conference USA. It's been a long time since Randy Moss and Byron Leftwich roamed the Marshall sidelines. Again, my preview authority tells me we don't have much to worry about. Last season the Herd threw the ball pretty well, which could be a concern given the state of the Badger defensive line and the corners, but their senior quarterback graduated and is replaced by a rookie with virtually no experience. Marchall's defense ranked 110th in the NCAA last season, and is unlikely to contain our rushing game. You are Marshall? Welcome to Camp Randall . . .
So . . . on to Fresno State. You don't need to have a long memory to worry about this game. Fresno State gave USC all they could handle in 2005, at USC. And 2001? I don't even want to think about IT.
Pat Hill's anyone, anywhere, anytime scheduling *philosophy* (bravado) somehow managed to land a home-and-home that brings the Badgers out to California's agricultrual valley (thus the green "V" you see on the back of the FSU helmets), for what Hill calls, "probably the biggest game in the history of the San Joaquin Valley." In addition to being a huge boon to the Fresno State Athletic Department, the pre-season top 25 Bulldogs hope to launch their BCS dreams with a win over the Badgers. There's reason to believe they will.
With 10 returning starters on offense an offense that was #21 in total offense last year, Fresno boasts a quality Senior quarterback, Brandstater, speedy receivers, and a talented tight end to make up an explosive passing game. Not exactly the Badger defense's strong suit going into this season. Yikes. On top of that, a big, veteran line, and quality running backs. An experienced, balanced, and explosive offense. So that's not so good.
On the plus side, the Badgers should be able to work over the Fresno defense. Giving up over 400 yards a game and nearly 27 points, they ranked 92nd in scoring defense last year. From 2007 to 2008, they lost two starters from their line, and an outside linebacker. Up front, where they need to stop the run, the Bulldog front 7 gives up a ton of weight and experience to the Badgers. Their tackles are 280 and 265 pounds (the latter is a freshman), and their ends are 270 and 245 (or 250). The linebackers, too, are small, coming in at 210, 225, and 210. In addition, the linebacking corps is young (sophomores and a junior), and thin. In short, the 300+ lb. heifers the Badgers will run at them, followed by fullbacks that outwiegh many of the Bulldog lineman, then the wallop that Hill and Brown pack, and the Badgers should be able to consistently chew up yards and clock.
So both teams should move the ball and score, what about the intangibles? The special teams are a wash, with both replacing their kickers. Fresno State is a small stadium, but with a good crowd. After a long flight, the Badgers may struggle a bit to get going. Fans of BCS teams everywhere like to think of these kinds of games as a walk in the park, but we should all know better. After playing Fresno State a few years back, Cal players commented that it was like taking all the all-state and all-conference players in California that were told they were too small to play bigtime college football, and putting them on the same team. They are speedy, talented, hit hard, and they are supremely motivated to upset the "big time" teams.
Whether the Badgers leave with a win or a loss, they will leave bruised, battered, and thankful they have a week off before they welcome Michigan and the start of the BigTen season.