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Wisconsin Badgers 2016 Spring Football Preview

Author:
Paul Chryst

Paul Chryst

It was business as usual in Madison last fall. Despite a coaching change, Wisconsin posted yet another 10-win season, complete with a bowl game victory over USC. The Badgers were right in the thick of a heated Big Ten West race in 2015, and all signs point to the same this upcoming season.

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But it all starts in the spring.

Second-year head coach Paul Chryst and his team will need to replace a couple of key contributors on defense, find a go-to weapon in the passing game and establish a workhorse at Wisconsin's bread and butter position — running back.

5 Storylines to Watch in Wisconsin's Spring Practice

1. Can Clement keep his job?

Last season, many of us were mentioning Corey Clement as a breakout star in the B1G. Injuries derailed that train, and it opened the door for two other backs to pile up significant carries and yards. Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal were both impressive in Clement's place, and both have what it takes to be that traditional Badger workhorse. Whether Chryst settles on one guy or goes with the committee approach, his log jam at running back is a problem most other Big Ten coaches wish they had. Will one of them separate from the pack in the spring?

2. The new-look secondary

Former Badger and NFL standout Jim Leohnard takes over as the secondary coach. It will be interesting to see whether or not his guys fully adopt his physical style of play. Additionally, Wisconsin will be working in three new starters into the secondary. The primary focus will be replacing Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy — two of the best safeties in the Big Ten last season. D'Cota Dixon and Arrington Farrar look to be the favorites at this point, but that could easily change before spring practice wraps up.

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3. Will the D-line be Wisconsin's strength?

The Badgers are positioned to have one of the better defensive fronts in the conference in 2016. Defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Arthur Goldberg will form what should be the most seasoned duo at the position in the B1G. Olive Sagapulu is a star in the making at defensive tackle and could become a household name in college football within a season or two. T.J. Watt, the younger brother of you-know-who, has shown to be versatile enough to step forward from his linebacker position and become a viable pass rusher from the three-point stance when needed. Behind these guys are a handful of players with meaningful game experience. Look for this unit to shine during the spring.

4. Who replaces Joe Schobert?

The Badgers lost their best linebacker, a true playmaker with intangibles that are tough to replace. Jack Cichy has proved be be versatile enough to play inside or outside linebacker. He's the leading candidate to replace Schobert. Cichy will have company though with Watt and Garret Dooley gunning for that second spot on the depth chart. You get the feeling that the staff would like to see Cichy nail down the job with ease before fall camp begins.

5. What will the passing attack look like?

With Joel Stave gone after what seemed like a decade under center in Madison, a two-man battle between Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook will take place. Houston obviously has a slight edge from an experience standpoint, but Hornibrook has a rocket for a left arm that is hard to ignore. No matter who wins that battle, someone will need to step up and replace Alex Erickson as the top receiver target, including being more of a threat in the red zone. Jazz Peavy is a guy with big-play potential to keep an eye on, while Robert Wheelright is the type of big-bodied receiver Chryst would like to see step up and be a traditional No. 1 target.

Pre-Spring Wisconsin Outlook in the Big Ten

As previously mentioned, the Badgers should be talented enough to once again be right in the thick of the Big Ten West race. The issue is the schedule, which includes a brutal stretch from Sept. 27 right through Nov. 5. During that time, Wisconsin is slated to host Ohio State and Nebraska while traveling to Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern. That stretch will be what makes or breaks the Badgers' season. They'll need the running game to return to its recently dominant form and the defensive line to play at the highest level in order to make it through that stretch above .500. The talent and potential to do that is there, it's just a matter of meshing and executing.

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— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the owner of KnowItAllFootball.com and host of "Raising the Bar" on RadiOmaha.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.