The Badgers are in for a big year of transition in 2013.
This offseason marked the first time since the 1980s that Wisconsin had to go through a true coaching search. Athletic Director Barry Alvarez took his time and settled on a respected football mind in Gary Andersen. The former Utah State coach has stated he won't change the schemes too much in Madison, but this spring will be important as he looks to put his stamp on the program. This is a team that has been to three straight Rose Bowls and has high expectations once again in 2013.
Wisconsin Badgers 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 8-6 (4-4)
Spring practice dates: March 9-April 20
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6
Passing: Joel Stave, 70 of 119, 1,104 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs
Rushing: James White, 125 car., 806 yards, 12 TDs
Receiving: Jared Abbrederis, 49 rec., 837 yards, 5 TDs
Tackles: Chris Borland, 104
Sacks: Tyler Dippel and Brendan Kelly, 5.0
Interceptions: Three tied with 1
Redshirts to watch: OL Dan Voltz, QB Bart Houston, DB Hugs Etienne, LB Vince Biegel, OL Jake Meador, DT Arthur Goldberg, OL Walker Williams, RB Vonte Jackson
JUCO Transfers to Watch: QB Tanner McEvoy, DB Donnell Vercher
Aug. 31 UMass
Sept. 7 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 14 at Arizona State
Sept. 21 Purdue
Sept. 28 at Ohio State
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 10 Northwestern
Oct. 19 at Illinois
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 at Iowa
Nov. 9 BYU
Nov. 16 Indiana
Nov. 23 at Minnesota
Nov. 30 Penn State
Offensive Strength: Offensive skill talent. Despite the loss of NCAA record-setting tailback Montee Ball, the Badgers aren't short on offensive talent. James White and Melvin Gordon will get the bulk of the carries while wideout Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen provide two extremely dependable targets.
Offensive Weakness: Quarterback instability. There are a lot of bodies for Andersen to pick from but few proven commodities. Joel Stave is the best passer but is returning from injury. Curt Phillips is the best athlete but has never been healthy. Danny O'Brien is still around as well. Redshirt freshman Bart Houston might fit the scheme best of all.
Defensive Strength: Front seven depth. Only one member of 2012's starting front seven won't be back this fall. Mike Taylor was a great player but the top nine defensive linemen and six of the top seven linebackers return, including star tackler Chris Borland.
Defensive Weakness: The secondary. Three-fourths of the starting lineup is gone, including both starting cornerbacks. This team struggled to get turnovers and will need to develop pass defenders quickly this spring.
Spring Storylines Facing the Badgers
1. Stabilize the sideline. Bret Bielema had to deal with massive coaching defections prior to the 2012 season. And now, Madison welcomes just the third head coach to the sideline since 1990 when Alvarez was first hired. So for the second straight season, Wisconsin will have a totally new set of position coaches roaming the practice fields. Andersen needs to implement his process, establish his attitude for the program and bring stability to the sideline. This roster was young the last two seasons and growth can be stunted by constantly having to listen to new teaching voices. Andersen will set the entire tone for his tenure this spring.
2. Flesh out the quarterback situation. Stave was clearly the best passer on the roster a year ago until his broken clavicle caused him to miss the final quarter of the season. He is back healthy this spring but his pro-style, pocket-passing skills may not be exactly what Andersen wants under center. Phillips brings unique athletic ability and a knack for making big plays late in games, but he has dealt with multiple torn ACLs and is one hit from another injury. O'Brien was totally ineffective, both running and passing, and looked completely overmatched most of the time he was in the game. Houston could be the wildcard after redshirting last fall. The big passer ran the triple option at famed De La Salle High School and was one of the highest-rated QB recruits to ever sign at UW. Junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy will join the competition in the fall and is a good fit for coordinator Andy Ludwig's offense. The good news is Andersen has plenty of options. The bad news is none of them may be effective enough to win a fourth consecutive Big Ten title.
3. Fill the gaps left on the O-Line. There really isn't much talent departing this roster but two first-team All-Big Ten blockers have moved on to the NFL. Travis Frederick might be the best center in the draft and Ricky Wagner played the most important spot on the line. This position has been and will always be solid at Wisconsin, but filling two massive voids at left tackle and center will be key this spring. Ryan Groy, Kyle Costigan, Rob Havenstein and Zac Matthias will try to hold off a deep collection of young, highly touted players looking to earn a starting spot. Look for redshirts Dan Voltz, Jake Meador and Walker Williams to press for time.
4. Develop lockdown covermen. Both Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith earned some sort of All-Big Ten honor last year and both are gone. As is safety Shelton Johnson. The trio was a solid group but didn't make big plays and wasn't overly talented. It feels like Bielema struggled to find lockdown covermen in his time at the helm (he was gifted Jack Ikegwuonu). So as the Big Ten begins to shift towards more spread passing attacks, including scheduled conference opponents Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana, Andersen needs to rebuild and stabilize his secondary. An early trip to the desert to face Todd Graham, Taylor Kelly and Arizona State will provide a gaudy test for a new defensive backfield once the season starts.
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