David Stluka / UW Athletic Communications
Joel Stave: A veteran, but still untested in big games.
The University of Wisconsin football team opened fall camp this week with more questions and inexperience than usual. Only three starters return on defense. Quarterback Joel Stave, now a junior, remains unproven in big games, and the four players who caught the lion's share of his throws last season are gone.
Most observers, though, expect the Badgers to have another solid year. You can't really look at their schedule and come to any other conclusion.
Head coach Gary Andersen seems an unflappable sort, but comments about the schedule began immediately at the Big 10 media sessions last week in Chicago, and they'll probably work his last nerve before long. After Andersen's opening remarks to reporters, the first questioner wanted to know how lucky he felt to have such an easy schedule. "There's no easy Big 10 games," he replied evenly. "I'll debate that with you as much as you want to debate it because you better strap it on and be ready every week in the Big 10."
That's some solid coach-speak, although in fairness, what else could he say? That after the season opener against LSU in three weeks, not one remaining opponent can be found among the final AP top 25 from last January?
The main problem is the Big 10's new division alignment now that the league has ballooned to 14 teams. The Badgers are in the West, which shapes up as the weaker division. Bucky plays the other six teams in the West and only two from the East -- newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, which don't exactly boast stellar football traditions. Conspicuously missing are Michigan State and Ohio State, by far the best teams in the conference last year and probably again this year.
Here's the larger problem: Wisconsin didn't earn a signature win last year, and unless the Badgers upset LSU, they could go without one this season as well. That wouldn't be a good trend for a program that fancies itself a legitimate national power.