What’s Holding Wisconsin Back from National Title Contention in 2012?

Can Bielema Lead Wisconsin to a National Title?

The position most talked about as a key to Wisconsin’s success in 2012 has been the play of Danny O’Brien at Quarterback, but interestingly, if the Badgers are looking to compete at the highest levels on the national scale it just may be the defensive line that holds the key to Wisconsin’s success and not Danny O’Brien, but why?

Well, it may come down to just one little statistical anomaly from the 2011 version of the Badgers and if corrected Wisconsin could be on it’s way to another Top Ten ranking and National Title contention.

If you’re like me then you love you some football stat breakdowns and frankly no one does it better than Phil Steele himself. He released his 2012 list of National Championship contenders earlier today, coming up with 11 schools capable of competing for a title based on last year’s stats and a few other factors. Did Wisconsin make that list? Count me as not shocked, but NO they didn’t make his list. But this isn’t some arbitrary list, it’s got guts to back it up in the form of statistical analysis.

It’s becoming pretty commonplace for the Badgers football and basketball teams to be underrated to start the season and frankly it doesn’t even bother me anymore. It also doesn’t help that as of late they seem to not be able to take that extra step when needed to really vault themselves into the top tier nationally. 

In his analysis Steele actually looked back at EVERY single stat imaginable for national championship and BCS contender as well. He came up with a formula that used 24 different categories for those champions and contenders over the past 20 years and if you fell out of the range for the worst performances in that category you were out. Basically it was a stats version of duck, duck, goose.

Wisconsin missed out on being a title contender by 0.2 average yards per carry given up last season and were the 28th team in the list that started with all 120 teams from last season in FBS football. But after the Badgers elimination on that stat alone I wondered, is that the only thing holding them back? Turns out, YES.

The last stat categories left for Steele were offensive and defensive yards per point along with the number of offensive and defensive returning starters. As for offensive ypp, the lower the better and the baseline was Michigan’s 1996 National Championship team and their 16.5 yards per point. Wisconsin averaged 10.6 yards per point in 2011 so they are well under in that mark. How about defensive yards per point? The higher the number the better there and Wisconsin needed to beat the 2009 Auburn defense’s number of 13.6 ypp. Wisconsin averaged 16.7 ypp defensively last year, so all good there. 

As for the offensive and defensive starters returning well the numbers needed were 4 and 3 respectively and Wisconsin has both beat with at least 5 returning starters (6 if you count those that started due to injury) on offense and at least 6 starters back (again could be as high as 8 if you account for injuries) on defense. 

Now, of course there’s the point that gone is Russell Wilson who put up numbers never seen before from a QB at Wisconsin and that helped, but can Danny O’Brien be at least competent enough to make sure the Badgers are averaging less than 16.5 yards per point in 2012. I’d say that’s quite likely. Why? Well the 2010 Maryland offense, which was a Pro-Style offense comparable to Wisconsin’s and led by Danny O’Brien, averaged 10.9 yards per play. Stats say he should be capable of putting up somewhat similar numbers, heck I’d take even a few yards off. 

Having taken that argument off the table statistically speaking, it’s clear that the defensive line and it’s ability to get pressure and be better against the run is the true key to Wisconsin having success in 2012. Luckily they should have David Gilbert back after his broken foot and the line is deep. Brendan Kelly had a monster spring and if he can keep that level of play up us Badger fans could be looking at a much improved defensive line and thus much improved chances at success on a national stage.

Interestingly of the 11 teams to make the cut on Phil’s list, 3 were Big Ten teams in Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska. Call me crazy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we are just as good if not better than at least two of those teams that made the cut. Either way Wisconsin may have to go through all three to get out of the Big Ten as champions and if so, that certainly would have to make us National Championship contenders, right?

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, as well as Publisher of Big Ten site