The last addition of the Front Seven for the season. Sigh. Apparently it is true what they say about all great things.
Through 11 victories and one loss, the roles for the Badgers have become virtually established in concrete. The running game rips off chunks of yards time and time again. Scott Tolzien then takes advantage of the softened defense at a 74.3 percent clip. Points continue to pour onto the scoreboard until head coach Bret Bielema is accused of running up the score.
On defense, UW will make every tackle that is there and tee off on the quarterback when the opposing team is forced to pass. Eventually, J.J. Watt will come through with a key play when the defense needs a pick-me-up most.
Now the only question left, is will the Front Seven Badgers be enough for the top playmakers at TCU?
As usual, the rankings are determined based on performance, expectations and need — a wonderfully vague definition of valuable to justify just about any selection.
Please vent debates and disagreements on the premium board.
Last week's rankings in parentheses
1. J.J. Watt, DE (1) — Watt's performance in the Rose Bowl could go a long way to determining if he returns for next season. A strong showing and he may not feel like he has much left to accomplish at UW — not to mention the boost in draft stock that comes from excelling on a national stage. If the Badgers and Watt by extension play poorly, however, don't be surprised to see Watt return for his senior season with unfinished business to take care of.
2. Gabe Carimi, LT (2) — Named the Outland Trophy winner might be more curse than blessing for this matchup. The TCU coaches will have spent a month dissecting any possible weakness in Carimi's game, and the TCU pass rushers will love their one chance to show up the "most outstanding offensive lineman in the nation". Defensive ends bring it every time they go up against Carimi, but with a month of TCU coaches jibes at their players during practice of who they are facing across the line of scrimmage, extra motivation will be pretty easy to come by.
3. Montee Ball, RB (3) — With John Clay fully healthy once again, Ball remains the starter. That should tell you everything you need to know about how much the coaches like the way Ball is running right now. Ball didn't have a chance to play against Ohio State and it was Clay who carried the running game. Taking on a run defense that is at least as solid as OSU's if not better, Ball will finally get his chance to prove he can run on more than the likes of Indiana and Michigan.
4. Scott Tolzien, QB (5) — Last season, Tolzien's two worst games came against the two toughest teams the Badgers played all season. This year, Tolzien has fared better against the top notch teams — but still threw interceptions against the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes. TCU excels at making a QB commit a little sooner then he wants to. If Tolzien has a multiple pick day, it will be tough goings for the Badgers to come back.
5. Aaron Henry, CB (4) — Henry has become a force in the secondary at not letting good runs become great runs. He is sure tackling and playing at the fastest level in his career. He will once again be needed as the last line of defense.
6. Mike Taylor, LB (NR) — Taylor compared TCU's offense to Michigans: One the Badgers successfully defended for three quarters, but let run roughshod over them for 15 minutes. They key to stopping TCU? Gap defense, according to Taylor. Everyone fills their lane, no one tries to play the hero. His sideline to sideline speed will be needed, however, when the gap discipline inevitably breaks down.
7. James White, RB (6) — White has become the crucial X-factor for UW and a headache for opponents. Defenses can do everything right to stop him — and he will still find a way to bust a big play. He provides a boost of energy for the offense whenever he creates something out of nothing. Count on him to make a highlight reel impact at least once come Jan. 1.
J.J. Watt has occupied the top spot in the Front Seven for most of the season. Will his clutch play be enough against TCU though?