If you are a college football fan, it seems like the Wisconsin Badgers have been a good team forever. But, there was a time when the Big 10 was called Ohio State, Michigan and the little eight. Wisconsin became competitive when Barry Alvarez arrived on the scene in 1990.
Bret Bielema replaced Alvarez and they didn’t miss a beat. Bielema left for Arkansas and along came Gary Andersen from Utah State.
I do believe in time that Andersen will be better than either at Wisconsin and win a lot of football games. Yes, I do realize that Andersen had a 30-31 record coming into Wisconsin but he coached at Utah State and took them from terrible to 11-2 in his last season. It was obvious that his teams were well coached.
Last year’s Badger team in Andersen’s first season went 9-4 and looked a lot like Wisconsin teams under Alvarez and Bielema with one of the better run games in the nation, featuring 2 1000 yard running backs.
Judging from returning starters, Wisconsin’s offense should be good again and especially because they return 4 offensive linemen. Defense is not so fortunate losing 8 starters including team leader, Chris Borland. Borland was not only a team leader, he was a top notch MLB and he will be missed.
Besides having 4 starters back up front, the return of Joel Stave (6-5,225) for his third year as a starter is a nice reason to be optimistic. Stave is a pro style QB and threw for 2494 yards in his sophomore season. Stave is not particularly mobile and wound up with -4 rushing yards a year ago. But, he does have an adequate arm and gets the job done as the team leader.
Primary back up Curt Phillips used up his eligibility leaving junior Tanner McEvoy (6-6,215), Bart Houston (6-4,220) or incoming 4 star freshman DJ Gillins (6-3,180) from Jacksonville, Florida to battle it out for back up status.
Gillins will more than likely redshirt. His mechanics are a little rough but he is a super athlete with a strong arm and very quick feet. He is totally unlike the other QBs on the roster. It will be interesting to watch his development.
James White and his 4000 plus career rushing yards is gone. But, the Badgers other running back, Melvin Gordon (6-0,205) was sensational. He turned in a spectacular sophomore season where he rushed for 1609 yards on 206 carries and 12 TDs. I am speculating that he has a similar year and declares for the NFL after the 2014 season. I hope he comes back for his senior season instead. I have Todd Gurley from Georgia as my first team AA RB but Melvin Gordon is very, very talented and may be right up there.
Also back at RB is the #3 ball carrier from a year ago, Corey Clement (5-11,210). He had a nice freshman season gaining 547 yards and scoring 7 TDs. Pretty good year considering the guys playing in front of him. I would not be surprised at all if Clement rushed for over a 1000 yards this season.
Jeffrey Lewis (6-2,210) also returns but has played very little. Vonte Jackson (6-0,200) a redshirt sophomore, and JC transfer Serge Trezy (6-2,215) or incoming freshman Taiwan Deal (6-2,235) could be a factor in the RB picture.
Fullback returns great blocker Derek Watt (6-2,230) and Derek Straus (6-0,235). Neither will see the ball a lot, but both can clear holes for those that do.
Former walk on Jared Abbrederis is gone at WR and that is a big loss. Alex Erickson (6-0,195) and Jordan Frederick (6-3,210) figure to be the new starters there. They combined for 19 catches in 2013.
Reggie Love (6-3,210) caught 1 pass in 2012 as a freshman and then redshirted last season. He only started playing football his senior year of high school and was really green upon arrival in Madison. He was injured early on last year and chose to redshirt. I am thinking he has a break out year.
Robert Wheelwright (6-1,175) redshirted a year ago after coming from Columbus, Ohio. Another redshirt was Jazz Peavy (6-1,170) and he could figure into the mix. Wisconsin recruited a hoard of WRs in the 2014 class including Natrell Jamerson (5-11,180), Krenwick Sanders (6-2,185), Chris Jones (6-2,190) and George Rushing (6-1,180). These guys will either help out at WR or move to the defensive backfield. Either way, the Badgers need some people to step up at the receiver positions.
Tight End position is also a bit light on experience. Jacob Pederson is gone with his 39 receptions. Sam Arneson (6-4,255) is back for his senior season but he only had 6 catches in 2013. Austin Traylor (6-3,245) is a junior that has played very little. Eric Steffes (6-3,255) is a sophomore that hasn’t played very much but has potential. TJ Watt (6-4,215) younger brother of you know who and fullback Derek, redshirted last season. A couple of these guys will need to step up.
As unsettled as WR and TE positions for the Badgers, the Offensive line is in good shape.
Both tackles return with Tyler Marz (6-7,320) on the left and Rob Havenstein (6-8,340) on the right. Right guard Kyle Costigan (6-4,305) also is back as is Center Dallas Lewallen (6-6,320). New starter should be Dan Volz (6-4,310) or Ray Ball (6-7,325), but Volz played last season.
Jack Keeler (6-7,290), Matt Miller (6-5,260), Hayden Biegel (6-5,250) are redshirt freshmen that should back up the starters this season. Jaden Gault (6-6,280), Michael Deiter (6-6,300), George Panos (6-5,310), Micah Kapoi (6-3,285) and Jacob Maxwell (6-5,285) are all true freshmen that should redshirt this season.
The offensive line is big and deep and talented and will keep that Wisconsin running game going smoothly one more season at least.
Wisconsin generally plays great defense but they lost a lot of starters and especially the heart and soul of their defense in Chris Borland. Look for Borland in the NFL next season.
Jake Keefer (6-3,255) Missed all of last season with an injured knee, but should be back at full strength. He was the #1 player coming out of Wisconsin in 2011 and redshirted his freshman year. He played in 2012 so he has that experience. Keefer should start at one Defensive End spot.
Konrad Zagzebski (6-3,270) should start at the other end. He started 3 games in 2013 and played in every other game. Chikwe Obasih(6-3,235) was a highly recruited freshman in 2013 and redshirted. It may be tough to keep him off the field this season at DE. James Adeyanju (6-2,260) is a redshirt junior who needs to make a move soon. True freshmen Billy Hirschfeld (6-6,265) and Conor Sheehy (6-4,255) may have to provide depth.
Warren Herring (6-3,285) is entrenched at the Nose Tackle. He was tied for second on the team for sacks with 4, had 6 more tackles for loss, and finished with 17 total tackles on the year. Bryce Gilbert (6-1,305) played some in 2013 and should be a reliable substitute. Arthur Goldberg (6-3,280) has played sparingly and he may have to hold off incoming freshman Jeremy Patterson (6-3,285) from Georgia.
OLB has some experienced guys returning such as Vince Biegel (6-4,240) and Joe Schobert (6-2,225). Biegel finished 12th on the team in tackles and had 2 sacks. Schobert also had a sack and was 14th in tackles. Leon Jacobs (6-4,220) is a pretty solid back up.
ILB has Derek Landisch (5-11,225) and Marcus Trotter ( 6-0,235) returning. Landisch had 33 tackles and Trotter had 23. Wisconsin does not have a lot of depth and Garret Dooley (6-2,220) will need to play after his redshirt season.
Defensive backfield is in pretty good shape. The only starter they lost here was Dezmen Southward. Michael Caputo (5-11,200) is back at one safety and he finished second on the team in tackles a far distant second to Borland.
Corners will be spectacular sophomore Sojourn Shelton (5-9,165) who is way too small but delivered with a team leading 4 INTs and was 6th on the team in tackles. Darrius Hillary (5-11,185) returns at the other and was solid.
Nate Hammon (6-1,205) had a very solid freshman season and was among the leader in tackles. Providing more talent and depth in the secondary are players like Peniel Jean (5-11,190), Michael Trotter (6-0,210) Plus recruits like Dareien Watkins (6-1,200)
Wisconsin opens with a bang facing LSU in Houston. The rest of their schedule is surprisingly easy. They don’t face Ohio State, Michigan State, or Penn State. Most of their tougher games are at Camp Randall.
I am predicting a 10-2 regular season record for the Badgers.