September 1, 2010

Tom's Takes: A prediction entering 2010

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before. We've heard it to the point where we expect to hear it each and every time it happens. It's almost like it comes with the territory.

Every time the Wisconsin football team has high expectations, they falter. It's almost as easy as saying the sun will come up tomorrow or that there's always next year.

But this season, I'm feeling something different. And it all ties back to last year's performance, one capped off with an impressive 20-14 win over Miami that was more lopsided than the score indicates.

This team gets it.

They get that what they did last year hasn't and won't win them anything this season. They get that they have to earn everything they get and that being good on paper gets you about as far as five bucks will get you in an airport.

Nowhere.

We all know the team, and maybe more importantly the fan base, desperately yearns for a trip to Pasadena or any of the other three B.C.S. destinations. The fact of the matter is there are no trips being booked in August or September because nobody is quite sure how to handle a team that routinely chokes when the pressure reaches its apex.

But this team has a different aura about them. They are all Bret Bielema's recruits. There are no leftovers from the Barry Alvarez regime and the leadership hasn't been better or deeper since Bielema's first year.

It all begins and ends with senior quarterback Scott Tolzien. He embodies everything a leader should be. He's vocal when he needs to be but doesn't take it over the top because he likes to hear himself talk or because he likes the power trip.

He leads by example almost to a fault because he's about as close to ideal as one can get in the way he prepares, the way he presents himself to the media and the way he handles himself off the field.

He is a leader that has gone through the rigors and monotony of scout team only to earn his way to the top of the depth chart. There is nothing bad to be said about a guy that spends three of his five years on campus as a quarterback afterthought only to prove his worth on the field in the most professional manner one could strive for.

And the fact that he's returning for a second year leading an offense that has a chance to be the best in the Big Ten is nothing but a security blanket. He knows the offense, he knows the personnel he's working with and he trusts all of his teammates.

And more importantly they trust him.

It's that cohesiveness that is different about this team. The 14 seniors on the roster have seen the good times (last year's 10-3 season and romp over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl) and the bad times (a sobering blowout loss to Florida State to cap off a distinguishable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons 7-6 season). They know what the highs, and more importantly the lows, feel like and they don't want to fall back into that high-expectations-only-to-fail trap.

Which is why I have no problem putting myself on the record as saying this team will go at least 10-2 with a chance to actually win all 12 games. I don't see any lopsided losses (Ohio State of last year) or any letdowns (at Michigan two years ago) with this team. If anything, I see just one or two games where they played hard only to see the oblong pigskin bounce away from them.

While many base their predictions on the sum of the parts returning from a season ago, I am doing my best at personalizing mine through what I've seen in practice both last spring and this fall. Just call me 'Nostra-Thomas'

For all the reasons I've already discussed, I think 10 wins is the minimum for this team barring catastrophic injury to multiple key skill players, namely Tolzien. And I don't think 12 wins are too far fetched.

I truly feel that if this team is able to put together games like they did against Miami on a weekly basis, they will run the table in the Big Ten, including a win over Ohio State, Iowa and at Michigan, a place they haven't claimed victory at since 1994.

I also know that it's not realistic to think this team, or any for that matter, are able to play their best football on a weekly basis. But there's something about this team that has me feeling they will be close.

Badger followers all know that expectations tend to lead to disappointing seasons and long winters in Madison. And this next sentence will do nothing but add some more hype in my own gregarious means. But a trip to Pasadena will do wonders to give a little boost to the monotony of 10 hours of daylight and cold temperatures come mid-December.

There's just something different about this team that has me thinking that a trip to the golden coast is more of a potential reality than an illusion entering the 2010 season.

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