CFN Preview 2013 - Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Posted May 16, 2013 2013 Preview - Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin Badgers

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Gary Andersen
1st year
6th year overall: 30-31
Returning Lettermen: 52
Off. 29, Def. 19, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 10
Ten Best Wisconsin Players
1. LB Chris Borland, Sr.
2. RB James White, Sr.
3. WR Jared Abbrederis, Sr.
4. TE Jacob Pedersen. Sr.
5. S Dezmen Southward, Sr.
6. LB Ethan Armstrong, Sr.
7. OT Ryan Groy, Sr.
8. OT Rob Havenstein, Jr.
9. DT Beau Allen, Sr.
10. OG Dallas Lewallen, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 UMass
9/7 Tennessee Tech
9/14 at Arizona State
9/21 Purdue
9/28 at Ohio State
10/12 Northwestern
10/19 at Illinois
11/2 at Iowa
11/9 BYU
11/16 Indiana
11/23 at Minnesota
11/30 Penn State
It's not like the Badgers were blown out in the three straight Rose Bowl losses.

The defeat to TCU in 2011 was inexcusable considering the coaching staff didn't figure out Wisconsin could run the ball until too late, and still coming within a tipped two-point conversion of probably winning. The loss to Oregon in 2012 was fine considering it was a bad matchup, but there were a couple of weird breaks in key moments and Russell Wilson had the puck on his stick on one final drive. The Stanford game was there for the taking until a bad late giveaway all but ended the fun.

Yeah, Wisconsin got to three straight Rose Bowls and won the first two Big Ten championship games, but it's still impossible to get any respect thanks to the painful late losses. Losing one Rose Bowl is no big deal, but three in a row is more than a trend; it's an indictment of a program that can't take the next step.

But while the Bret Bielema era might be remembered as much for the way the last three seasons ended as it will be for all the success, he helped take what Barry Alvarez started and made it even more dominant. While Barry might be 3-1 in Rose Bowls and Bielema finished 0-2, there was more of an attitude over the last few years, and usually in a good way. Wisconsin was a Little Engine That Could as it grew under Alvarez, but at times it was an unstoppable freight train under the new Arkansas head man.

Now it's up to Gary Andersen to see if he can not only maintain the current level of success, but improve upon it by actually winning a Rose Bowl again, or possibly do more.

This year's Badger team could and should be better and more consistent under Andersen and his smart staff, and it needs to be. There's no grace period and there's time to adjust – either Wisconsin wins at least ten games and is in the thick of the Big Ten title chase, or the season is a failure. That's the level the program got to under Bielema, and with a veteran team returning and shockingly light schedule, there's no reason to take a step back.

The quarterback situation might be jumbled, but it's in far better shape than it appeared to be last year at this time. The O line is fine as long as the starting five stays healthy, Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen are all-stars to work the passing game around, and the combination of James White and Melvin Gordon should make up for the loss of Montee Ball.

The defense that was so underappreciated last season comes back stronger with a few key changes and the healthy return of a few key young playmakers. Chris Borland leads a deep and strong linebacking corps, while the front three should be a rock against the run. The secondary has to find some key replacements, but there's talent and athleticism to build on.

Andersen has been in tight spots, taking a moribund Utah State program and making it special, but now it's Big Ten championship or bust.

And, maybe, a Rose Bowl win.

What to watch for on offense: Can the offensive line get nasty again? All the other problems – the quarterback situation, a No. 2 wide receiver, the loss of Montee Ball – are easily fixable. Making sure the Badger offensive line finds its 2011 self again is a bigger deal. Andersen's Utah State's offensive lines were fantastic, and while he won't be bringing the spread over to Madison, he'll have a ton of big, talented blockers to play around with up front. The loss of center Travis Frederick to the Dallas Cowboys and the departure of Ricky Wagner takes away two of the team's most talented linemen, but center Dan Voltz is a future star and it's not crazy to suggest that the other four projected starters – tackles Ryan Groy and Rob Havenstein along with guards Dallas Lewallen and Kyle Costigan – will all do more than just spend a little time in an NFL camp.

What to watch for on defense: The 3-4. Considering the defensive front was a major positive throughout last season and into the Rose Bowl, and with most of the key parts returning other than linebacker Mike Taylor, it doesn't seem like there needed to be much tinkering. But the coaching staff will use a more pro-friendly alignment to take advantage of a nice crop of big, quick tackles while utilizing a few hybrid types on the outside. Brendan Kelly and Tyler Dippel are defensive ends, but they'll work as outside linebackers to try to generate more pressure for a line that came up with a good – not fantastic – 31 sacks. Fortunately, linebacker is one of the team's best-stocked areas.

The team will be far better if … it can win all the close battles. Yeah, going 8-6 doesn't look good, and to be fair, the team all but knew it was going to the Big Ten championship game no matter what – it didn't have much of a sense of urgency - but all six defeats last year could've easily gone the other way. On the flip side, the Badgers should've lost to Utah State, who missed a game-winning field goal attempt in the 16-14 loss, but it became almost comical how the team lost time after time in heart-crushing fashion. Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State were all overtime defeats, while Stanford, the collapse in the first game against Nebraska, and Oregon State were all decided by fewer than seven points. All six losses were by a touchdown or less, and if this year's team is a bit sharper, it can pull those off.

The schedule: The Badgers can't ask for a much lighter slate in Gary Andersen's first season. However, it all might come down to September. If Bucky is good enough to get to October 5-0, it'll be good enough to potentially go 12-0 even though the team really isn't talented enough to get through without a blemish. UMass and Tennessee Tech are the scrimmages needed to be ready for a statement game at Arizona State, and Purdue is a good Big Ten opener to be ready for the make-or-break showdown with Ohio State in Columbus.

With a week off to be ready for Northwestern, Illinois to follow, and another bye week to rest up for November, the schedule works out well. BYU will be a difficult home game after going to Iowa, but Indiana, at Minnesota and Penn State is about as easy as it gets. There's no Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska from the Legends.

Best offensive player: Senior RB James White. An electrifying playmaker, he's deadly when he gets the ball as a running quarterback or if he gets his chances out of the backfield running wide. He might not have Montee Ball's balance and vision, but he has better raw speed and the track record of production to hope for a huge final season. He ran for 12 touchdowns and 806 yards on just 125 carries, and this year he should be a mortal lock for well over 1,000 yards if he starts getting the ball 15 times a game or more.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Chris Borland. A great all-around playmaker, he came up with 104 tackles and 4.5 sacks with three forced fumbles and six broken up passes despite missing two games hurt. Extremely physical and always around the ball, he has to be accounted for on every play, and even then he seems to find ways to make something big happen. Steady as well as spectacular, he'll make several all-star teams while serving as the tone-setter for the excellent defense.

Key player to a successful season: The starting quarterback. Dan Voltz has to shine at center, Jordan Fredrick has to rock as a second wide receiver, and a few parts of the secondary have to come together right away, but more than anything else, the Badgers need a steady starting quarterback after working with three last year. Last year's star transfer, Danny O'Brien, appears to be out of the hunt for the starting gig, while the other two main stars of last year – Curt Phillips and Joel Stave – have separated themselves from the pack. Stave likely has the edge, but South Carolina and JUCO transfer Tanner McEvoy will get every chance to start. With five options to choose from – Bart Houston being the other prospect in the equation – the coaching staff has to find one guy and stick with him.

The season will be a success if … the Badgers win a third straight Big Ten championship game and go to a fourth straight Rose Bowl. Again, the schedule works. Even if there's a loss at Arizona State and a gaffe at home against a good BYU team, the conference schedule is more than breezy enough to go 7-1 in league action, at worst. Any team good enough to think about winning the Big Ten title has to take care of Northwestern and Penn State at home, and can't hiccup on the road against Illinois, Iowa or Minnesota. It's not a one game season, but …

Key game: September 28 at Ohio State. Sorry, Michigan-Ohio State fans, but until next year when the divisional changes kick in, this is the Big Ten's most important rivalry. With Penn State out of the mix again, the winner of the showdown in Columbus will almost certainly represent the Leaders in the Big Ten championship. After the classics these two have played over recent years, the hype should be through the roof.

2012 Fun Stats:
- 2nd Quarter Scoring: Wisconsin 123 – Opponents 47
- Time of Possession: Wisconsin 32:15 – Opponents 27:45
- Red Zone Scores: Opponents 30-of-32 (94%) – Wisconsin 42-of-52 (81%)
- 2013 Wisconsin Preview | 2013 Wisconsin Offense
- 2013 Wisconsin Defense | 2013 Wisconsin Depth Chart