Sunday, August 28, 2011

Initial Rankings of the 2011 Wisconsin Badgers Football Team

The 2011 Wisconsin Badgers are a member of the foolishly named Leaders Division along with Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, and Purdue. The equally foolishly named Legends Division is comprised of Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern. I get that the Big 10 wants to be politically correct but how is Nebraska a "Legend" in their first year in the Big Ten? Furthermore, how does the conference keep Big Ten as their conference name when there are 12 teams in the conference. I guess I shouldn't be surprised because they kept the name Big Ten despite having 11 teams in the conference since 1993.

Besides being horribly named, the new divisions in the Big Ten change certain rivalries since each teams will only have eight conference football games till 2017 when they increase that number to nine conference games. That means until 2017 the Badgers will play the five teams in their division as well as one protected rival (Minnesota) every year. The two other conference games will be cross-over games that rotate every two years. The silly part of that scheduling decision is that since Minnesota is Wisconsin's protected rival instead of Iowa, Wisconsin will not play Iowa again until 2013.

With my complaints out of the way, in honor of college ranking the Top 25 teams in the country I thought I would give my rankings of the Top 25 current Wisconsin Badger football players along with some short comments.

Before we get to the Top 25 players, much like the Top 25 rankings, there are also teams "receiving votes" that are ranked just outside the Top 25. Since we have not seen the 2011 Wisconsin Badgers play any real live snaps yet there are a ton of players that just missed out on the Top 25*. Here are my rankings of the Top 25 current 2011 Wisconsin Badgers football players:

#25) Shelton Johnson (SS, JR) - At this point Johnson is the starter over sophomore Dezmen Southward but keep an eye on this competition because if Johnson struggles, Southward will be plugged in right away.

#24) Kevin Claxton (OLB, SR) - The converted strong safety is trying to get settled at his new position, outside linebacker.

#23) Jake Byrne (TE, SR) - Wisconsin has turned into an offensive line and tight end factory for the NFL. Byrne might turn out to be the next one and he is not even the best current Badger tight end.

#22) David Gilbert (DE, JR) - With the loss of all-world defensive lineman J.J. Watt to the NFL, Gilbert will have to improve on his 21 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss performance from 2010.

#21) Ethan Hemer (DT, SOPH) - Started the second half of the 2010 season at defensive tackle after sophomore Jordan Kohout hurt his ankle in Wisconsin's win over then #1 ranked Ohio State. Hemer is currently ahead of Kohout but that could change in short order.

#20) Devin Smith (CB, SR) - Started at cornerback in 2009 but was relegated to nickel cornerback in 2010. Smith is motivated to put his horrible performance against TCU in the Rose Bowl behind him because if Smith struggles, junior Marcus Cromartie could force Smith back to being the nickel cornerback.

#19) Bradie Ewing (FB, SR) - The NFL moved away from using fullbacks a while but it looks like the NFL is gravitating back to using fullbacks. Ewing needs to show that he can not only serve as a blocking back but contribute on special teams if he wants a chance to play in the NFL.

#18) Antonio Fenelus (CB, SR) - The Badgers are talking about playing more press coverage in 2011. If they do play more press coverage, there is a chance that Fenelus moves into the Top 10 in the midseason rankings.

#17) Josh Oglesby (RT, SR) - Despite struggling with injuries throughout the preseason, Oglesby still beat out freshman Rob Havenstein for the starting spot at right tackle. If Oglesby can't stay healthy though, the Badgers should feel comfortable turning to Havenstein because he as absolute physical freak of nature (6'8" and 345 lbs).

#16) Patrick Butrym (DT, SR) - In his 5th year on campus Butrym looks to go out with a bang after registering 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2010.

#15) Jacob Pedersen (TE, SOPH) - As mentioned above, the Badgers are an NFL tight end producing machine. Pedersen is a young, impressive tight end that hopes to join Travis Beckum, Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham, and Lance Kendricks in the NFL in the near future.

#14) Travis Frederick (LG, SOPH) - After losing left guard John Moffit and his 42 career starts to the NFL, the Badgers are going with a youth movement along the offensive line starting Frederick at left guard. There is a slim chance that Frederick will be as impressive in 2011 as Moffit was in 2010 but hopefully Frederick will blossom into a quality starting left guard by 2012 at the latest.

#13) Louis Nzegwu (DE, SR) - Put together a pretty impressive 2010 campaign with 46 tackles (8th on the team) and 7.5 tackles for a loss (3rd on the team). With J.J. Watt in the NFL, the Badgers hope that Nzegwu can improve on those numbers in 2011 to emerge as the leader of the defensive line.

#12) Kevin Zeitler (RG, SR) - Normally people talk about bookend offensive tackles. I am not sure what the offensive guard corollary is but that is exactly what Frederick and Zeitler give the 2011 Wisconsin Badgers.

#11) Nick Toon (WR, SR) - The good news, Toon is still playing for the Badgers. The bad news, if Toon played better throughout his college career he would have left school early for the NFL. Toon needs to have a big 2011 season if he wants to transition from playing on Saturdays to playing on Sundays like his father.

#10) Peter Konz (C, JR) - Made 19 starts over the last two years, which should serve Konz well as he looks to become the quarterback of the offensive line for the next two seasons.

#9) Brad Nortman (P, SR) - You might remember that Nortman picked up a critical first down on a fake punt last year to help Wisconsin beat Iowa on the road. Nortman is an outside contender for the Ray Guy Award (best punter in the nation), which would give the Badgers their first Ray Guy Award winner since Kevin Stemke won in 2000.

#8) Mike Taylor (OLB, JR) - Put up good numbers in 2010 (58 tackles and 4 tackles for a loss, both 4th on the team) despite rehabbing a knee injury (ACL) and spraining his knee against Ohio State. Taylor hopes to be fully healthy by the time the Badgers open their conference portion of their schedule at home against Nebraska in one of the most anticipated games of the season.

#7) Philip Welch (K, SR) - Despite struggling with injuries throughout the preseason, some NFL Draft prognosticators have Welch getting drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft.

#6) Ricky Wagner (LT, JR) - Losing a starter at left tackle to the NFL like Gabe Carimi always hurts but it makes it even harder when that left tackle was voted the Outland Trophy winner (best offensive lineman in the country). Carimi joined Joe Thomas (winner in 2006) as the only Wisconsin lineman to win the Outland Trophy. Those are pretty big shoes for Wagner to fill. Stay tuned because Wagner's performance could go a long way towards determining whether the Badgers are a national championship contender in 2011.

#5) Chris Borland (MLB, SOPH) - Despite being a productive outside linebacker the Badgers moved Borland to middle linebacker. Ranking Borland 5th might feel a little high when you account for the position change but with how well Borland played outside, he should be even more successful moving inside.

#4) James White (RB, SOPH) - Played so well last year that White almost forced John Clay to enter the NFL Draft even though Clay's draft stock was low. Keep your eye on White because he looks like a rich man's Michael Bennett.

#3) Aaron Henry (FS, SR) - Seems to have a nose for making big plays, both of his INTs were returned for TDs last year. The Badgers hope Henry can do more of the same in 2011.

#2) Montee Ball (RB, JR) - Dropped 20 lbs between the 2010 and 2011 season to guarantee that he is the starting running back for the 2011 Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers have a ton a quality back-up running backs (White, Lewis, and Gordon) so there is a good chance that the Badgers have the best four-headed running back monster in the country.

#1) QB - Russell Wilson (QB, SR) - After putting together a successful career through the air (threw for 8,545 yards and 75 touchdowns) and on the ground (ran for 1,083 yards and 17 touchdowns) at North Carolina State, Wilson utilized a rule that allowed him to transfer without sitting out a season because he graduated from North Carolina State. Wilson narrowed his schools to Auburn and Wisconsin. In what was a huge recruiting victory for Wisconsin, Wilson choose to play for the Badgers instead of the Tigers despite the fact that Auburn won the national championship last year. Wilson is an impressive dual-threat quarterback that gives the Badgers a legitimate chance to play in the first ever Big Ten Football Championship Game and possibly even the BCS National Championship Game.

Check back throughout the season for more coverage of the 2011 Wisconsin Badgers and don't forget to tune in on Thursday, September 1, 2011 as the Wisconsin Badgers open their 2011 campaign at home against UNLV.

* Jon Budmayr (QB, SOPH), Jeff Lewis (RB, FR), Melvin Gordon (RB, FR), Sherard Cadogan (FB, FR), Brian Wozniak (TE, SOPH), Jared Abbrederis (WR, SOPH), Jeff Duckworth (WR, SOPH), Kenzel Doe (WR, FR), Casey Dehn (LT, SOPH), Zac Matthias (LG, SOPH), Ryan Groy (C, SOPH), Robert Burge (RG, JR), Rob Havenstein (RT, FR), Brendan Kelly (DE, JR), Pat Muldoon (DE, SOPH), Beau Allen (DT, SOPH), Jordan Kohout (DT, SOPH), Ethan Armstrong (OLB, SOPH), Conor O’Neill (OLB, SOPH), Derek Landisch (OLB, FR), Marcus Trotter (MLB, FR), Marcus Cromartie (CB, JR), Peniel Jean (CB, FR), Darius Hillary (CB, FR), Dezmen Southward (SS, SOPH), Michael Trotter (FS, FR), Kyle French (K/P, FR), Kyle Wojta (LS, SR), James McGuire (LS, SOPH), and Alec Lerner (KO, SOPH)

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