The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.
No. 13 Wisconsin
Wisconsin could be charged, but probably not convicted, with fraud last year after finishing 10-3 without a regular-season victory to brag about — unless 37-0 over Purdue counts.
The Badgers mostly won the games they were supposed to win — surviving in double overtime at home against Fresno State — and somewhat understandably took it on the double chins versus Ohio State, Iowa and Northwestern.
Wisconsin's best win — by six points over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl — might as well be rolled over into this year because it was postmarked Dec. 29.
The memory of 2008 also cannot be flushed. That was the year Wisconsin opened the season ranked No. 13 by the Associated Press, charged to a 3-0 start … and finished 7-6.
You can learn from something like that.
"I do like the fact that our kids, the majority of our players that are going to be significant players in this senior class, all went through the scars of that season themselves in addition to myself and several on my coaching staff," Coach Bret Bielema said.
Well, here comes another big expectations year — the last of the Big Ten as we know it. With Nebraska joining next year and the conference splitting into divisions, and with the addition of a Big Ten title game, getting to Pasadena isn't going to get easier.
Bielema, who has never been warm and fuzzy with the media, tried to lighten the mood when he took the podium for Big Ten media days in Chicago.
"I was going to walk in with a Rose Bowl hat, but I thought it would be a little over the top," he said.
Wisconsin appears to have the goods for a long, deep jog for the Rose, returning 10 starters on offense. That includes the quarterback, Scott Tolzien, and John Clay, the Badgers' bulldozer in the backfield. At 248 pounds, Clay ran for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns, with six straight 100-yard games to end the year.
He earned the Big Ten offensive-player-of-the-year award, though not the Chicago Tribune's prestigious Silver Football, presented since 1924 to the league's top player (the first winner was Illinois' Red Grange). Penn State's Daryll Clark and Michigan's Brandon Graham shared that award last year.
Clay, though, enjoyed his share of celebrations — ringing bells all across the league.
Wisconsin's nonconference schedule is made to order, with the Sept. 4 opener at Nevada Las Vegas, which is coming off a 5-7 season while breaking in a new coach. Wisconsin then hosts San Jose State, which will be limping into Madison a week after opening at Alabama.
Wisconsin then hosts Arizona State, picked to finish ninth in the Pacific 10 Conference, followed by pea-shooter Austin Peay. Wisconsin's one-two crunch comes at home against Ohio State on Oct. 16 followed by a trip the next week to Iowa.
If Wisconsin survives those two games, Bielema can slip that Rose Bowl hat back on without people going "huh?"
The countdown so far: 25. Washington; 24. Navy; 23. Utah; 22. Houston; 21. Pittsburgh; 20. USC; 19. Stanford; 18. Auburn; 17. Arkansas; 16. Oregon State; 15. Florida State; 14. Georgia Tech; 13. Wisconsin.