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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Second-half outlook: Wisconsin

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 5-2

Remaining schedule: open, vs. Purdue, at Indiana, vs. Michigan, at Northwestern, open, at Hawaii

An open date probably arrives at a good time for Wisconsin, which needs to get back to the things it did in the first five weeks. Quarterback Scott Tolzien must recapture the efficiency he displayed in September and avoid mistakes after tossing five of his eight interceptions in the last two games (both losses). Wisconsin remains an offense built around the run game, play-action passes and no major mistakes, so Tolzien needs to rebound against Purdue. The offensive line has been banged up for much of the year but should improve down the stretch. Defensively, Wisconsin needs more of the same from standout end O'Brien Schofield, who has become much more than a name on a scouting report. Dave Doeren's unit is certainly much more aggressive this fall, and players are constantly in the opposing backfield. Linebacker Mike Taylor is a big loss, and Wisconsin needs freshman sensation Chris Borland to continue his impressive play. Despite back-to-back losses, the schedule still sets up favorably for a run to a January bowl game.

Best-case scenario: Tolzien comes back strong after the bye week and turns in an interception-free performance against Purdue. Running back John Clay stays healthy and punishes defenses, while tight end Garrett Graham and wide receiver Nick Toon sizzle in the play-action passing attack. Wisconsin sweeps its final five games and reaches the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl.

Worst-case scenario: The 5-0 start turns out to be a farce and the mistakes we saw against both Ohio State and Iowa continue down the stretch. Tolzien keeps throwing picks and gets pulled in favor of Curt Phillips. Clay can't stay healthy and neither can the offensive line. The defense gets overaggressive at times and has breakdowns in the secondary. Wisconsin fails to capitalize on the soft slate, winning only one or two more games to reach a minor bowl.

Prediction: Alamo Bowl. Wisconsin finishes 9-3 or 8-4.