Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison was a successful one, as the Badgers went 9-4 with all four losses coming by 10 points or less.
Despite having just eight returning starters, the Badgers are Athlon’s early favorites to win the Big Ten West Division in 2014.
Wisconsin won’t play Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State in crossover play and host Nebraska in mid-November.
The Badgers have some uncertainty at quarterback, as Joel Stave is locked into a tight battle with Tanner McEvoy for the No. 1 spot. The defense has several new faces stepping into the starting lineup, but there’s plenty of potential in the revamped front seven.
Early Wisconsin Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Wisconsin has question marks, I still like the Badgers to win the West Division. The schedule is very favorable, as Wisconsin won’t play one of the top four teams from the East and Nebraska visits Madison in late November. With games against the Huskers and Iowa coming later in the year, it should allow coach Gary Andersen plenty of time to find reinforcements on the front seven on defense and in the receiving corps. Wisconsin won’t have an explosive passing offense, but the rushing attack will be among the best in the nation. As long as Melvin Gordon and the offensive line stays healthy, the Badgers will reach double-digit wins in Andersen’s second year.
Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com
Gary Andersen and company couldn’t have asked for a better 2014 schedule. This is one of the Big Ten’s most favorable slates – yes, even with mighty LSU in the opener. Speaking of LSU, one could make the argument it’s the only real test until mid-November, when the Badgers host Big Ten West rival Nebraska on Nov. 15. Here’s a crazy stat: Wisconsin’s Big Ten opponents went a combined 22-42 (.344 winning percentage) in 2013 conference play - this includes Maryland and Rutgers, which went 3-5 in the ACC and AAC, respectively. The Badgers lost a lot of talent, particularly on defense, and their leading returning receiver (Jeff Duckworth) caught just 12 passes, but they have a forgiving schedule that can help ease in the new faces.
Brandon Cavanaugh (@EightLaces), HuskerCorner.com
Time to take off the training wheels for Badgers' second-year head coach Gary Andersen. Last year, he had the talent to introduce himself properly to the Big Ten. More importantly, he had an immense amount of leadership on the field.
As always, Wisconsin has its punishing running game to rely on. One of the best one-two punches in the nation returns in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Who'll be handing off to them is a mystery as questions loom about Joel Stave's future under center. He's been serviceable, but Tanner McEvoy could oust him come fall camp. Who's going to replace Jared Abbrederis is a huge question mark as is what the receiver corps is going to look like in the first place.
Wisconsin offers up a treasure trove of offensive linemen yet again such as left tackle Tyler Marz. The entire line should not only be able to protect whomever's under center, but clear a path for the Gordon-Clement tag team.
Defense looks to be touch-and-go for Anderson's crew. The front seven suffered major losses in three starting defensive linemen and All-Everything linebacker Chris Borland. The Badgers have a stud in the secondary in Sojourn Shelton who started every game as a freshman in 2013 while leading the team in picks. There's enough talent in the defensive backfield to produce a quality secondary and the Badgers' Egyptian cotton-soft schedule gives them plenty of time to do so.
While Wisconsin's schedule should allow them to make a mistake or two on their way to Indianapolis, the bad news is the Big Ten East's representative likely tops them easily
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
That schedule, woof. Wisconsin might have a nice record, but there are not a lot of ranked teams on that schedule, especially if teams like Nebraska and LSU regress. Wisconsin’s run game give the Badgers a chance in every game, especially against the dregs of the Big Ten. I’ve tabbed LSU and a road game against Iowa as losses, and I threw in Maryland. Wisconsin, with an unproven defense and unsettled quarterback situation, isn’t good enough not to have a lapse or two. With Maryland’s impressive receivers, the Terps may be able to catch the Badgers napping.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
With Wisconsin, you know what you are going to get year-in and year-out. The Badgers are going to run the football, and this fall they will do so with one of the best running backs in the country in Melvin Gordon. Wisconsin may very well open the season with a loss against LSU in Houston, but little should be standing in the way of a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game at the end of the year. Wisconsin gets Nebraska at home for what could be the deciding game in the west, but Wisconsin must stay alert with a road trip to Iowa the following week. That has letdown written all over it for me right now, but ultimately it should not be enough to keep the Badgers from booking a trip to Chicago. The big question for me is who steps up as a go-to receiver and will this defense be as good as it has in recent seasons in Madison? Wisconsin will be good, but they will not be great in 2014.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
The season opener with LSU in Arlington will be a tough test, but after that, Wisconsin's schedule opens up about as big as some of the holes All-America candidate Melvin Gordon will be running through. Bowling Green is a good team, but it won't be able to take down the Badgers at Camp Randall. Other than a road game at Northwestern and a visit from Nebraska in the middle of November, I don't see any big potential land mines on the Big Ten slate either. The Badgers are the big winners of the Big Ten's conference realignment as far as 2014 goes and I fully expect them to represent the new West Division in Indianapolis at the conference championship game on Dec. 6.
Mike Fiammetta (@B5Q), Buckys5thQuarter.com
Picking an 11-1 schedule for Wisconsin surely seems radical. Coming from a Wisconsin writer, it probably comes off as obscenely biased. But considering the Badgers' weak-on-paper schedule in the Big Ten West Division, the ceiling is very high for UW in Gary Andersen's second season. Questions persist on offense -- a starting quarterback may not be named until well into fall camp and there is not one proven receiver on the roster, but as the old saying goes, "Death, taxes and Wisconsin rushing yards." Or something like that. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement are back, primed to prove to the nation that they form the best rushing duo in the country. The offensive line should also be solid once again, and while quarterback issues are never encouraging, some combination of Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy is expected to be solid enough to keep the Badgers atop the division.
Defensively, the 3-4 base defense moves into year two without Chris Borland and Dezmen Southward, two mainstays of the past several years. Losing Borland especially hurts, and while there are questions as to where quarterback pressure and other big plays will come from, there are several breakout candidates including defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, as well as inside linebacker Leon Jacobs. The secondary is still kind of young, but sophomore cornerback Sojourn Shelton could be on his way toward becoming one of the conference's best. On special teams, the Badgers might be going with a true freshman kicker in Rafael Gaglianone, and while that might be troubling to some, the Brazilian can really boot it.
Back to the schedule -- everything hinges on that LSU game in Houston. A win there, no matter the margin, gives Wisconsin the genuine possibility of running the table. That's not exactly bold reasoning, but most people picking wins/losses at this juncture likely having Wisconsin dropping a game or two, like, at Northwestern or Iowa. Even in that scenario, a 9-3 season would be welcomed by most Badgers fans, I'd say. That should be enough to land a spot in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game and possibly another Rose Bowl.