The Wisconsin Badgers begin the 2012 campaign at home against the Northern Iowa Panthers, an FCS team competing in the Missouri Valley Football conference. The Badgers open the season at #12 in both the AP and USA Today coaches’ polls, while Northern Iowa opens #7 in the FCS coaches’ poll. Last season, UNI won the MVFC with a 7-1 conference record and went 10-3 overall. They defeated Wofford in the first round of the FCS playoff but lost to Montana in the quarterfinals. They held up well in their one game against a BCS team, losing 20-19 to Iowa State.
UNI’s big challenge this season will be replacing their QB Tirrell Rennie, a dynamic double-threat who last year amassed over 2,000 combined yards rushing and passing with 9 rushing and 14 passing TDs. Coach Mark Farley held an open QB competition in the offseason and finally settled on redshirt freshman Sawyer Kollmorgen, who will make his first career appearance Saturday in front of 80,000 at Camp Randall Stadium. Given the tough surroundings and Kollmorgen’s inexperience, look for plenty of hand-offs to running backs David Johnson and Carlos Anderson.
Getting the offense going will likely be tough for Northern Iowa, but their biggest test will come defensively as they try to stop Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing attack. The Badgers once again have a much-heralded offensive line and a Heisman candidate in Montee Ball, not to mention strong #2 RB James White. UNI will match up with a front seven that has only one returning starter from 2011. If Wisconsin goes to the air, it will be Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien leading the attack, with Jared Abbrederis, Jacob Pedersen and Ball as his top receiving weapons.
Injury-wise, the Badgers will be without nickel corner Peniel Jean who is expected to miss up to 6 weeks with a fractured foot. Coach Bret Bielema announced on Thursday that Zac Matthias will start at right guard over Kyle Costigan. Kyle French has been named the kicker over Jack Russell.
Game time is at 2:30 PM Central. The game will be carried on Big 10 Network and over the radio airwaves by the Badger Sports Network.