- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPN Insider is in the midst of a series looking at 20 teams that might have a chance to win the national title in 2012. Today, the series focuses its lens on the Wisconsin Badgers' title hopes.
K.C. Joyner takes a look at the reasons why Bret Bielema's team could be a factor in the championship race. It all starts, not surprisingly, with the Badgers' high-powered offense that likely will be led by transfer quarterback Danny O'Brien:
"The Badgers may be returning only five starters on offense, but that number belies the amount of talent on this platoon. It starts in the backfield with running backs Montee Ball -- who made a strong case for the Heisman Trophy last year -- and James White, who ranked eighth in the Big Ten in rushing yards by a running back. O'Brien also will have the services of Jared Abbrederis, whose 12.9 yards per attempt (YPA) mark easily topped the 9.4 YPA posted by the more highly regarded Nick Toon."
Joyner also calls the Wisconsin defense underrated last year and says it could be better this season.
On the reasons why the team can't win a championship, Joyner says there's the very realistic probability that O'Brien won't live up to Russell Wilson's phenomenal numbers, that the Badgers could get burned in the secondary and that the schedule might be too tough.
I agree with the more pessimistic assessment. The offense should stay at a very high level even without Wilson and with more inexperience at receiver and a couple of spots on the offensive line. Very few teams will be able to match the Badgers' running attack, which also conveniently helps keep the defense off the field.
But I still wonder if the defense is truly at a national championship level. And then there's that schedule, which includes very tricky assignments at Nebraska and Penn State, plus tough home games against Michigan State and Ohio State. I have a hard time seeing any Big Ten team going undefeated this year because the league is so balanced.
Bielema has gotten this program very close the past couple of years, with a top-five finish in the regular season in 2010 and a 2011 campaign that might have been just two plays short of an undefeated mark. Yet if the Badgers couldn't do it last year with historic seasons from Wilson and Ball, it's difficult to imagine them doing so in 2012 against what looks like a harder schedule.