For a variety of reasons, the Wisconsin Badgers may be the least heralded three-time Big Ten Football Champions ever.
Sure, they were not technically division champions last year, but you can’t blame the Badgers for the lack of institutional discipline at Ohio State and Penn State.
No, their brand of play isn’t sexy. They grind it out on the offensive side of the ball in hopes of winning the time of possession, an approach that is made effective by a consistent core of talent at running back and some of the largest offensive linemen found in captivity.
Their defense, generally speaking, is very stout particularly against the run. Combine these two factors and you have a lot of low-scoring bouts, a hard sell to the average fan in a world of college football where defense may still win championships, but offense is generally predicated on the high-flying spread attack.
The 2013 season took an unexpected turn before the 2012 season was even over. Shortly after Wisconsin’s stomping of Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship game, then-head coach Bret Bielema announced that he was leaving the school for, what he felt were, greener pastures at Arkansas.
UW eventually tabbed former Utah State head coach Gary Andersen as their new head man. Andersen can count himself as one of the few coaches to ever inherit a program that was arguably at its peak. But, with that luxury come high expectations.
2012 Record: 8-6 (4-4 B1G, Third in Leaders Division)
Bowl Game: Rose Bowl- Lost to Stanford 20-14
Head Coach: Gary Andersen, 1st year
First Practice: March 9
Spring Game: April 20
The More Things Change…..Change will be the name of the game in Madison this year as Andersen and his staff take over. The question is: how much will the new regime stray from the traditional school of thought at Wisconsin, both offensively and defensively? No doubt that Andersen would like to work at least some components of the spread into the offensive attack. Fans are understandably hesitant in that regard, but a small dose of change may not be the end of the world. One of the downfalls of a run-heavy offense is the inability to overcome medium-to-large deficits in a timely fashion. Perhaps some spread could remedy that.
Andersen has also shown a willingness to adjust his defensive schemes based upon where the talent lies. That may not be the worst thing for a Badgers’ squad that boasts some talented linebackers and skilled end in David Gilbert whose athleticism could possibly be minimized by such a shift.
The More They Stay the Same…..Even if (and it’s a huge “if”) Andersen wants to become more spread-oriented, the transition would be gradual. The pro-style offense will probably never be fully disassembled at Wisconsin and even if it is, it won’t happen in one offseason .
Let’s Get Ready to Rumble: Linebackers
Wisconsin may have lost linebacker Mike Taylor to graduation, but the Badgers return standout Chris Borland and a host of other LB’s with good playing experience. Ethan Armstrong was a fixture in the lineup a year ago and could be poised to have a breakout season during his redshirt senior campaign.
Nothing to See Here: Running Back
There’s no replacing a Montee Ball but, per usual, UW looks to have a few qualified candidates waiting in the wings. Used primarily as a change of pace back on end-arounds, then-redshirt freshman, Melvin Gordon showcased his explosiveness and playmaking ability. A few doubts remain about his ability to be the workhorse, but no one can deny that he will make an impact in 2013. Senior James White will also be back for his final season. After he was named a consensus Big Ten Freshmen of the Year in 2010, White was thought to be the heir apparent to John Clay, but was eventually overshadowed by Montee Ball. White played more of utility role last season, but is a more than capable primary back.
Name to Watch: Bart Houston, Quarterback
Arguably the most highly touted recruit of the 2012 class, Houston took a redshirt last season, in part, to address some medical issues.
The hype surrounding Houston in Madison is still palpable. Now it's time for him to showcase his stuff and make an impression on the coaches. Spring could be especially crucial for him considering that junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy will not be able to join to the team until fall.
Spring is a Success If….The learning process begins.
With a change at the top of the totem pole and several positions seeing more than one position coach in the past few seasons, the transition will not be easy. The key is that it begins now. It may not be possible to learn everything in a few weeks of practice, but some concepts have to stick before spring camp breaks,