College football countdown: No. 9 Wisconsin

Tuesday, August 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Even without Dayne, Badgers may be great

The reality is beginning to set in at Wisconsin. No one was eager to embrace it, but life without Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne is upon the Badgers.

Swallow hard. Now move on.

That is what coach Barry Alvarez has advised his team to do. The fact is that even without the bulldozing big man in camp, Wisconsin remains a legitimate national title contender and a favorite to win the Big Ten.

What the Badgers will not do is attempt to mold anyone they have into a Dayne-type player. Rather, Alvarez said this year's version of Badgers will have their own identity. They'll look different, but the results, if he's lucky, will be the same or better.

"What you try to do is take advantage of your other skill players," Alvarez said. "We will feature some things differently this year."

This season, things will switch hands. The quarterback, not the running back, will probably get the glory. Brooks Bollinger took over for Scott Kavanagh last season and helped the Badgers to eight consecutive victories to finish the year.

Bollinger is perhaps overshadowed in a conference featuring Heisman-caliber quarterbacks – Drew Brees from Purdue, Kurt Kittner from Illinois and Antwaan Randle El from Indiana – but his worth to Wisconsin this year will be immeasurable. If he's able to soften the blow made from Dayne's departure, the season will be a success.

"Our quarterback is a multi-talented, runner-thrower," Alvarez said. "He's mobile enough for us to use him in run and pass situations. We'll probably throw the ball more than we have the last four years."

Bollinger also has people to get the ball to, namely Chris Chambers. Three offensive linemen are back, though tackle Chris McIntosh is gone. In the backfield, the Badgers will look to running back Michael Bennett, a speedster with good hands out of the backfield.

Cornerback Mike Echols has just as much speed as Bennett. He and Jamar Fletcher combine to solidify a rock-solid secondary that also returns free safety Jason Doering.

"When you have good corners, it allows you to do a lot of things on defense, like blitzing when we chose to," Alvarez said. "We have three guys who have been very productive for us, and that enables us to be flexible."

Maybe the post-Dayne era won't be so hard to swallow, after all.

Wisconsin Schedule- Sept 2 Western Michigan; Sept 9 Oregon; Sept 16 Cincinnati; Sept 23 Northwestern; Sept 30 at Michigan; Oct 7 Ohio State; Oct 14 at Michigan State; Oct 21 Purdue; Oct 28 at Iowa; Nov 4 Minnesota; Nov 11 at Indiana; Nov 25 at Hawaii

Wisconsin Badgers Capsule

COACH: Barry Alvarez (70-44-4 in 10 years)

LAST YEAR: 10-2 (7-1 in Big Ten; beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl)

OUT: Running back Ron Dayne, Heisman Trophy winner and all-time leading rusher at Wisconsin.

IN: Redshirt freshman running back Broderick Williams, who could get big minutes alongside starter Michael Bennett.

BIG PLUS: Quarterback Brooks Bollinger has experience that will carry the Badgers far in Dayne's absence. Plus, wide receiver Chris Chambers gives Wisconsin a deep threat and will help Bollinger improve on third-and-long, where he struggled a year ago. ...Kick returner Nick Davis (five returns for touchdowns in his career) is back.

BIG MINUS: The tailbacks are still not proven, though Bennett is a proven track star. ...Linebacker Bryson Thompson may not be as good as brother Donnel Thompson, now gone. The pass rush could be a major problem.

NATIONAL TITLE IF: Bollinger has to be consistent, and the defensive front has to give support to the strong secondary. ... Bennett must also have a big year in Dayne's place.

BOTTOM LINE: The Badgers lost a lot in Dayne. Someone has to emerge with a spectacular year for Wisconsin. They also have to beat Michigan at Michigan.

Top 25 So Far

25. Clemson
24. Mississippi
23. So. Miss.
22. Utah
21. Texas A&M
20. Penn State
19. Tennessee
18. Colorado
17. Oklahoma
16. Purdue
15. Illinois
14. Kansas State
13. Florida
12. Ohio State
11. TCU
10. USC
9. Wisconsin