By TOM LEA
MADISON - A panel of 10 ESPN Wisconsin writers, hosts and producers submitted a compilation of the 20 most important Wisconsin Badgers football players and coaches — ranked 1-20 — as it relates to success in 2012.
Success, as defined to the panelists, is regarded as winning a Big Ten championship. So, knowing the parameters, which players or coaches need to perform at the highest level in order for the Badgers to win their third-straight Big Ten title?
Through the past few weeks ESPN Wisconsin has counted down the top 20 players or coaches as voted on by the panel. No. 1 on the list came in with 161 points and 19 players or coaches received votes, but not enough to make the actual list of 20.
After a handful of weeks, thousands of words and mounting anticipation, our No. 1 most important person entering the 2012 season — as voted on by our 10-person panel — is none other than…
MATT CANADA, Offensive coordinator (161 points):
Isn’t it hilarious that the two most important Badgers (at least according to this poll that doesn’t really mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things) weren’t even thinking about being part of the Wisconsin program as early as eight months ago?
Matt Canada was directing an offense at Northern Illinois that was in the process of capping an 11-3, MAC Championship season, in former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren’s first season at the helm as head coach.
Danny O’Brien, our No. 2 most important Badger as it relates to 2012 success (defined as another Big Ten championship), was struggling through a sophomore season under Maryland’s first-year head coach Randy Edsall.
Outside of Northern Illinois’ early-season game with Wisconsin and the obvious ties Doeren has with the Badger program, there’s no way Canada was spending a lot of time thinking about the potential he would land as UW’s newest offensive coordinator.
And O’Brien, who many believe will be UW’s starting quarterback, was too busy trying to find ways to look good in Maryland’s hideous uniforms to even consider thinking what he would look like if he was wearing cardinal and white.
But that’s the way this thing turned out.
And Canada found his way to the top spot because his shoes are incredibly tough to fill. Those Badger fans reading this that can remember back to the pre-Barry Alvarez days — or even during certain portions of the Alvarez days for that matter — know the UW offense was never considered high powered.
It was an offense predicated on running the football, controlling the clock, playing sound defense and understanding the importance of valuing the football. That didn’t always translate to a lot of points.
Then Paul Chryst came about. And he continually churned out great offenses (and great players) on a yearly basis. Finally, his success on the field led him to a good head coaching fit at Pittsburgh.
And now Canada has the tall task of replacing the man that engineered an offense that scored more than 40 points a game in each of the past two seasons. He has to replace a guy that scored at least 70 points — including on 83-point explosion — on three separate occasions in 2010.
That’s 83 points!
Think of how unbelievable that is. In years past it would take four or five GAMES for UW to reach 83 points (or 70 for that matter). Chryst’s offense reached at least 70 three times in one year.
More importantly, UW’s offense scored more than 40 points per game in each of the past two seasons. He constructed the perfect balance between run and pass, so much so that opposing teams had no idea how to fully stop it.
Texas Christian, in the 2011 Rose Bowl, is one of the few teams to slow UW to the point that the offense looked disjointed. And even then, as soon as UW got back to its bread and butter (the run game) it couldn’t be stopped.
For all the calls Chryst made throughout his tenure that drew criticism, he made two great play calls. He was an offensive guru, one that got the most out of his quarterbacks and offenses.
Now it’s on Canada to recreate that momentum. He’s got Montee Ball coming back as a bona fide Heisman candidate. He’s got Danny O’Brien, a quarterback that has shown potential throughout his collegiate career, in line to become a two-year starter at the position. And he has Jared Abbrederis and a strong offensive line coming back, too.
But he’s also got a different offense. The team is going to have to learn it. It’s going to have to perfect it and more importantly, it’s going to have to buy into it.
That’s a lot of ifs. And when a team has elevated itself to the point where it’s got a chance for a third-straight Big Ten championship, there’s no room for excuses.
Fans, reporters and anyone in between will be able to see early on whether Canada can pick up where Chryst left off or not. That’s quite a bit of pressure to live up to.
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