Big news from MSNBC.com -- some guy from Tampa, who's listed in the page's title as "Expert," doesn't think the Badgers will be playing for the national title this year. You have to admire the guy's temerity -- it takes a true daredevil to pick against a team that hasn't played for a national title in nearly half a century -- but before we address the content of his preview, let's review the rubric for creating the vast majority of Big Ten previews out there:
1. Check out last year's record. Pretty self-evident. Wisconsin went 12-1 last year, beating an SEC team in a bowl game. Noting this, we move on ...
2. Look to see who's sticking around and who bolted. John Stocco's gone. Joe Thomas is gone. PJ Hill is still here. The defense is mainly intact, and it was really good. So ...
3. Assess the losses, and assume everyone who stayed will be improved. Quarterback is a big hole to fill, so fret about that a little bit, but qualify the fretting with the fact that there's a QB battle in Madison, and both candidates have won conference games as starters. Pay lip service to the loss of Joe Thomas, because a lot of people said he was really good and he was taken really early in the NFL draft, even though most of us don't appreciate what the offensive line does except push the defensive line.
4. Check out the schedule. The non-conference games are a non-issue. Penn State and Ohio State on the road could be perilous, but PSU wasn't all that great last year (see step #1 ... it's all you need!) and OSU is depleted (see step #2. Isn't this easy!?) Michigan's at home, and they're supposed to be pretty good (again, step #2). Everyone else is irrelevant.
5. Try not to pick Ohio State or Michigan. Let's face it, they're usually the champs. But nobody wants to say, "put it all on OSU and let it ride" ... that's not sexy! It's too easy to be right with Ohio State! So, ignore the gaping hole at QB and declare Wisconsin "as good as anyone else in the conference."
Step #5 is what Joey Joe Joe seems to dislike, so that leads to the next step in the rubric, the one that goes into effect after most people's previews are already out there:
6. Compile evidence that shows why everyone else shouldn't pick the sexy team. At this point, because of step #5, everybody's got his non-Buckeye, non-Wolverine pick out there. This makes your column really easy to write: just pick up on the evidence that the other writers had to willfully ignore in order to pick their second-tier Big Ten team to win the title.
And true to form, here's what we get. An immediate bet-hedge -- "Badgers not bad, but don't believe the preseason hype" -- and then all the usual warmed-over, lazy half-truths:
* The Badgers weren't THAT good last year. (What 12-win team was?) They lost to their only legitimate opponent, Michigan, and dodged Ohio State. (Extreme ultra bonus points for actually using "dodged," as though the Badgers had any say in who rotated off their conference schedule, and even if they did, they probably couldn't have guessed five years ago that OSU was going to play for the national title in 2006.)
* Michigan and Ohio State play in the Big Ten. OK, that's not a half-truth, but come on. We know. Those two teams win a LOT of titles. But this is what Step #6 requires: pick Michigan or Ohio State. Also, throw in the other dark horse team and give it superior status to the team you're addressing. This year, that's Penn State. In the recent past, we've seen the Badgers, Iowa, and Purdue play that role. Same old, same old.
* We don't know who the quarterback is! Well, we know it's going to be one of two guys, each of whom has won games in a starting role before. Presumably the schedule, which is front-loaded with cupcakes, will facilitate the development of either Donovan or Evridge -- or both.
Overall, this is a nice, simple column to write -- perfect for summer vacation.