Wisconsin was 8-5 but they won the conference title game hanging 70 on Nebraska before losing in the Rose Bowl to Stanford. Wisconsin finished 8-6 but lost 3 games in OT, they were right there in every game they played. Wisconsin now has a new coach at the helm so there is a bit of a question mark surrounding them.
Gary Anderson comes over from Utah State where he has churned out a few prospects over the last few seasons while turning the program around. Anderson does seem to follow in with traditional Wisconsin values as Utah State was known for hard-nosed defense and running the football.
We will start this preview with the running back James White, White is not the returning starter, he is taking over for Montee Ball but Wisconsin fans have seen enough of White that they know they are getting a quality back. White has rushed for over 2,500 yards in his three seasons at Wisconsin and was actually the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2010. White had 840 yards and 12 touchdowns a season ago as Wisconsin will try to pound the ball once again with the running game. White is an NFL prospect, he just needs to work on blocking and receiving before moving on to the next level. Sophomore Melvin Gordon may wind up being an even better prospect and he should get plenty of relief and garbage time carries for the offense. Derek Watt is a capable fullback as Wisconsin still utilizes the fullback in a traditional sense and he is a prospect down the road for teams at the NFL level that do so.The quarterback position is not settled. Last year we saw three different quarterbacks start and this season it’s just as muddled. Joel Stave started and so did sixth year senior Curt Phillips. Throw Tanner McEvoy a transfer, into the mix and you have one of the most interesting position battles in all of the Big Ten. McEvoy is the better dual threat and runner but both Stave and Phillips have their backers. This will be an important battle to watch as Wisconsin goes for it’s fourth Big Ten title in a row.
Best Draft Prospect: James White RB 6th Round 2014 and Derek Watt FB 6th Round 2016.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
While it’s a mystery who is going to be throwing the ball (or more importantly when as all three will probably see considerable time throughout the season) it’s not a mystery as to who will be catching it. Jared Abbrederis at wide receiver is the only player who caught over 30 passes a season ago and he also acts as the punt and kickoff return man. Abbrederis plays bigger than his 6’1” frame as he can be turned loose as he goes down the field and shags deep balls on a routine basis. Jacob Pederson is a tight end that will also look to be drafted as he has improved his blocking last season. Pederson is a little undersized and should go to a team that wants to use him as more of an h-back and not just a tight end. Pederson had 27 catches for 355 yards and 4 touchdowns, numbers he can improve upon. Jordan Frederick and Reggie Love are both backups who have seen some time and Jordan Frederick is being groomed to be the leading of the receiving corp after Abbrederis graduates. Fullback Derek Watt can and will be utilized in the short passing game and has very reliable hands. While Wisconsin doesn’t throw as much as the other teams in the Big Ten they have the personnel to haul in the passes.
Best Draft Prospect: Jarred Abbrederis WR 4th/5th Round 2014 and Jacob Pederson TE 4th/5th Round 2014.
Wisconsin is all about having lineman drafted to the NFL level. Wisconsin has had an offensive lineman drafted in 13 of the last 15 NFL Drafts. This year the best prospect the Badgers have is Ryan Groh who is projected as a 3rd rounder. He started at Wisconsin as a tackle and has moved to guard and I feel he plays better as a tackle but his ability to play both with ease will help him at the next level. Groy is also the backup center and seen action there, there is virtually nowhere along the line he can’t play at 6’5” 315 pounds. The right side of the line has a pair of late round prospects for 2015 in guard Kyle Costigan and tackle Rob Havenstein. Wisconsin has three backups along the line that have started at least two games at one time or another so depth is not an issue with the Badgers. This may not be one of the most exceptional lines we have seen at Wisconsin but the standards for lineman here are very high. This line will do wonders and provide a steady running game, like we see year in and year out.
Best Draft Prospect: Ryan Groy OT 3rd Round 2014.
There doesn’t seem to be a bevy of standout defensive personnel along the line but Wisconsin will blitz and blitz quite frequently from a variety of areas and packages. Brendan Kelly will float between end and linebacker depending on whether the Badgers are using a four or five man front, in most cases he will be the fifth lineman used. Tyler Dippel, Beau Allen, Jesse Hayes Vince Biegel plus sprinkle in linebackers like star Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong and you never know where the blitz is coming from or exactly how many are coming. Wisconsin will employ three players playing as traditional defensive tackles with Beau Allen being the best prospect among the lineman, a man who is more agile than his 330-pound frame would suggest. Beau is listed as a 5th round prospect for 2014 and he will attract the attention of a number of teams since he can actually play on the outside in a 3-4 and not just be a nose guard, his agility will even allow him to play as a penetrating tackle in a more traditional 4-3 setting. Vince Biegel will be the wildcard as Wisconsin had big plans to turn him loose last season before a broken foot caused him to redshirt after two games. Big Ten teams don’t know how good he can be just yet and the element of surprise should be something that Wisconsin will use to their advantage.
Best Draft Prospect: Allen Beau DT 5th Round 2014.
We already talked about Chris Borland, a player who should be an all-conference linebacker in the middle. I say middle because even though Wisconsin only has outside linebackers he plays more like a middle linebacker and normally does line up in the middle when the Wisconsin sets call for a third linebacker to drop back from the end position. Borland has a well-rounded game which resulted in 104 tackles with 10 stops coming for loss with 4.5 sacks. Borland also forced 3 fumbles, recovered another 3 and had 6 passes defensed. Junior Ethan Allen was nearly as effective as he racked up 93 tackles with Borland forming one of the best linebacker tackling duos in the country. Biegel and Jesse Hayes will also play linebacker along with junior Marcus Trotter. Armstrong is also a fringe NFL prospect for the 2015 class as he will be the leader after Borland moves onto the NFL after this season. Armstrong is learning from one of the best communicators in the conference as Borland calls most of the plays, something very important with all of the movement and different formations employed by the front seven.
Best Draft Prospect: Chris Borland 5th Round 2014.
With only one returning starter this has to be the area on the football field where Wisconsin has the most concern. Dezmen Southward is back at free safety and he posted 69 tackles with 8 coming for loss. The rest of the secondary is brand new as far as the starting lineup with strong safety Donnell Vercher. The corners are both very limited as far as experience with Peniel Jean looking like he will be starting at corner over freshman Sojourn Shelton. The other cornerback position will be patrolled by Darius Hillary, a young sophomore who shows a lot of promise and is someone I could see having a future in the NFL when drafted from the 2016 class. Hillary is under 6’0” but by all accounts has an amazing vertical leap and matches up well with the taller receivers in the conference. With all th inexperience we see it will be very important for Wisconsin to get consistent pressure ad hopefully get even more than the 31 sacks they posted a year ago.
Best Draft Prospect: Dezmen Southward S UFA 2014.
Jared Abbrederis will serve as the kick and punt returner. If Wisconsin feels Abbrederis is overworked since he is the top target it seems Reggie Love is the contingency plan. Kyle French was inconsistent as the placekicker last year going only 10-16 and 2-6 from 40 yards and beyond. This has to be a cause for concern for Wisconsin. Drew Meyer punted 80 times as a freshman, he was guilty of outkicking the coverage from time to time although nearly half of his kicks were dropped inside the 20 (36 out of 80). Wisconsin did a terrific job covering kicks and punts, as long as they do a better job at converting field goals the special teams will be just fine.
Best Draft Prospect: Jarred Abbrederis KR/PR/WR 4th/5th Round 2014
The schedule is pretty favorable with a lot of time before the road game at the end of September with Ohio State. Wisconsin then only has two games in October before they get into the home stretch the only road games in the month being against weaker conference foes Minnesota and Iowa. BYU and Penn state come to Madison in November. Overall this is a very favorable schedule and one where seeing Wisconsin win a 4th consecutive conference title is possible even with the coaching change.
Another year another highly touted Wisconsin lineman that will come off the board. We should see 3-4 players drafted this season and that is normal in Madison. We will have to see if the recruiting classes are affected by the coaching changes since Wisconsin does a great job at drafting from various states around the country (their top 10 recruits for this year are from 7 different states). I expect it will be business as usual in the coming years for the Badgers and NFL teams will be grateful.