Big Ten Football Preview: Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Badgers won their third consecutive Big Ten title in 2012, but their season ended with a loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Before the trip to Pasadena, then-head coach Bret Bielema left the program for the same position at Arkansas. Though Wisconsin did not necessarily earn their spot in the Big Ten championship game, (Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible) they certainly proved their worth by routing Nebraska for the Rose Bowl bid. All-time NCAA touchdown leader Montee Ball has moved to the next level and the Denver Broncos, but James White is more than capable of being the running back of the future.
Wisconsin enters the season ranked No. 23 in the nation, in large part due to their stability on the offensive line and in the backfield. A perennial ground-and-pound team, Wisconsin’s running backs are usually the focal point of the offense. Such will be the case with James White in 2013. Last season, White’s total number of rushing attempts was just over 35% of the workload given to Montee Ball. White rushed for 44% of the total yards gained by Ball. Averaging 6.4 yards per carry last season, White established himself as a standout running back in a limited role. Expect to hear James White’s name in Maxwell Award discussions at season’s end.
The starting quarterback position has yet to be stabilized, as neither Joel Stave nor Curt Phillips has earned the full confidence of first-year coach Gary Andersen. Whoever lines up under center will have two reliable receivers lined up on either side of him in Jared Abbrederis and Jordan Frederick. The two combined for nearly 40% of the Badgers receptions last season and Abbrederis alone accounted for one-third of the teams receiving touchdowns. The Badgers passing attack will continue to supplement a stellar ground game.
Gary Andersen’s defense at Utah State last year and his defense this year at Wisconsin will be two entirely different units. Moving from the West Coast where the spread offense dominates, Andersen’s speed-oriented defensive values clash with Big Ten principles. Wisconsin’s defense is big, strong, and physical; the old-school philosophy has proven successful as the Badgers finished in the top-25 nationally in every major team defensive category.
In the first year under Andersen, expect Wisconsin’s defense to show flashes of West Coast speed and athleticism, particularly in the secondary. The new head man has been very impressed with cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean and their ability to adjust to a changing scheme while maintaining physicality and strength.
Kyle French missed each of his final three field goal attempts last season, but he showed good range connecting on a 46 yard field goal against Illinois. French assumed kickoff duties in the Rose Bowl and there is no indication to suggest he will not continue that role in 2013. French will likely be a top-5 kicker in the Big Ten by season’s end.
Wisconsin has a very difficult road game in Columbus on September 28, but the rest of their schedule is easy by Big Ten standards. The Badgers do not play Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska. The Badgers will be defeated by Ohio State and Penn State, but they will cruise through the rest of their schedule.
John Lewis is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.