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Badger Bits: Who must step up for Wisconsin this season?

James White was one of many Badgers in 2010 who performed well above expectations.
James White was one of many Badgers in 2010 who performed well above expectations.

A large reason the Wisconsin Badgers had such a successful football season in 2010 was the large number of contributions from unexpected players on the roster. In my mind, this list includes players such as Blake Sorensen, Antonio Fenelus, Bill Nagy, Jacob Pedersen, James White, Jared Abbrederis, and Montee Ball. Maybe you saw some of their excellent contributions coming, but that shouldn't diminish their importance.

The fate of a few season-defining plays rested on the shoulders of even unlikelier Badgers. How about punter Brad Nortman's two fake punt runs for first downs? Don't forget the touchdown saving tackle on an Arizona State kickoff return one yard from the end zone by Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson. And Nate Tice's QB bootleg touchdown run against Indiana was legendary...just kidding on that last one.

So who could be the unexpected players that the Badgers need to step up this season? Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal looks at a few players who could be pivotal to the Badgers 2011 season. His list includes star players who need to perform (Nick Toon, Ricky Wagner) as well as some less heralded players who could be important this year (Southward, Marcus Cromartie, and Beau Allen). Other players I think could step up big this year are Kevin Claxton, Melvin Gordon, Rob Havenstein, Jeff Lewis, David Gilbert, and Jeff Duckworth. I could be completely wrong here, but that's why college football is so excellent; you never know who will step up and dictate your team's ultimate destiny.

So I'm sure you'd rather be watching a Badgers football game instead of looking at links about Badgers football. But at least we don't have to wait until Saturday for the game. And besides, you want to be as knowledgeable as possible about the team when you are conversing with friends during the game on Thursday. Yes, you want to be the one who can confidently answer why Philip Welch isn't kicking.

The preseason ESPN Big Ten blog power rankings are out, and Rittenberg/Bennett deem Wisconsin to be the number one team in the conference as of right now. Can you say wire-to-wire leader?

Redshirt freshman kicker Kyle French will be handling field goals and extra points against UNLV because senior Philip Welch is still dealing with a quadriceps injury. French shouldn't be under too much pressure on Thursday because the Badgers are a heavy favorite. As long as he doesn't pull a "CAL POLY KICKER NOOOOO", we should be good.

The This Week in Football page on is an excellent resource for everything and anything you need to know about Thursday's night game vs. UNLV, especially if you're planning to attend. For example, it just reminded me that the game will be broadcast on ESPN 3D. If you have a 3D television and plan on watching the Badgers game, let us know how it looks.

Bret Bielema does not ban his players from using Twitter, but he will not let any player post something that will motivate an upcoming opponent or place himself in a poor light. You know, Bielema probably hasn't followed the recent trend of just banning it altogether because Wisconsin tends to recruit the type of player who will recognize how to use social networking smartly.

ROFL SOME OTHER BIG TEN FOOTBALL TEAMS ARE BAD. H/T to Off Tackle Empire on this one. Okay, maybe this falls more into the "that's kinda sad" category. In their defense, the Big Ten has one of the toughest if not the toughest bowl slate of any conference in the country, further compounded by the lack of home field advantage in the bowl games.

How cute, the people in Gopher territory are talking about the Badgers. Firstly, they discuss how Bielema's stature as UW coach has skyrocketed since the end of the 2008 season. Secondly, Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill and Bielema have been friendly in the past; also, Kill wants to use our team as a blueprint for his Gophers.

Here's Thursday's matchup previewed from the UNLV perspective. Not a lot of optimism flowing when it comes to their chances.

Excellent discussion here regarding ticket pricing and demand at Camp Randall. Not surprisingly, more wins equal higher ticket prices.

Finally, ESPN's Page 2 gave each team in the preseason top 25 an appropriate band to associate with. The Badgers got Steve Miller Band, pretty appropriate as Steve came ever so close to earning a UW-Madison degree. We leave you with a Steve Miller Band song you'll likely hear at Camp Randall at some point this season (which starts in two days!):


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