It is hard to get excited about a Wisconsin Badgers football program this season when the program returns only eight starters from last year’s team. But when one of the returning players is Melvin Gordon, a running back who should not only be a Heisman Trophy candidate and a potential first round draft pick, there is reason for hope on Wisconsin’s campus.
Even with the losses, the Badgers are a favorite in the Big Ten West. Head coach Gary Anderson won nine games in his first season. Let’s see what he does in his second season. Here are 10 things to know about the Wisconsin Badgers.
MAJOR HOLES TO FILL
Athlon Sports ranks the Badgers 15th in the nation in its preseason college rankings. The Badgers return only eight starters, but the expectations remain high in Madison. And even with the personnel losses, Wisconsin is still positioned for a run at the Big Ten title. Running back Melvin Gordon headlines an offense that should be one of the best in the nation on the ground.
Four starters return on the line, including tackles Rob Havenstein and Tyler Marz. The receiving corps needs to be revamped, and quarterback play is a concern. However, a rebuilt defense and solid rushing attack should be enough to remain a top 25 team in 2014
Second-year coach Gary Andersen prefers dual-threat quarterbacks, and McEvoy brings the read option to an already potent running game. Melvin Gordon and James White combined to rush for 3,053 yards last season, the most ever at the FBS level by two teammates. White is gone — and many fans believe Gordon should have left, too. Gordon was eligible for the draft as a third-year sophomore and likely would have been the first back taken.
QUESTION MARK UNDER CENTER
Will it be Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy taking the first snap against LSU this year? Stave threw for 2,494 yards last season, but McEvoy was Coach Gary Andersen and coordinator Andy Ludwig’s pick to challenge Stave in 2013. McEvoy played safety last year and moved back under center this spring. Stave’s shoulder injury added to the uncertainty.
FROM THE BOTTOM UP
The defensive front seven is completely new, led by senior nose guard Warren Herring, who will also play end to bolster the pass rush. Redshirt freshman Alec James was involved in one of several position changes, going from outside linebacker to defensive end. James will also help pressure the quarterback, along with outside linebacker Vince Biegel.
A DECENT SCHEDULE
While the depth chart has a lot of holes, the schedule is a huge positive for Wisconsin. The Badgers catch Rutgers and Maryland in crossover play, while Nebraska visits Madison. Sure, there’s a road trip to Iowa and a potential swing game at Northwestern, but Wisconsin’s 2014 slate is one of the easiest in the Big Ten.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
The team's nickname originates in the early history of Wisconsin. In the 1820s and 1830s, prospectors came to the state looking for minerals, primarily lead. Without shelter in the winter, the miners had to "live like badgers" in tunnels burrowed into hillsides.
THE BRILLIANCE OF ALVAREZ
In 1990, Barry Alvarez became the head coach of the Badgers and, following three losing seasons (including a 1–10 campaign in his first year), Alvarez led the Badgers to their first Big Ten championship and first Rose Bowl appearance in over 30 years. On January 1, 1994 Wisconsin defeated UCLA 21–16 to claim its first Rose Bowl victory. Over his 16-year tenure as head coach, Alvarez led the Badgers to two more conference championships (one outright, one shared), eleven bowl games (going 8–3), two more Rose Bowl victories (1999 and 2000), and a #4 ranking in the final AP Poll of the '99 season.
THE BOTTOM OF THE BOWL (GAMES)
The Badgers have appeared in 25 bowl games and have a record of 11 wins and 14 losses (11–14). Their most recent bowl game was in the 2014 Capital One Bowl. The Badgers have participated in a season-ending bowl game 12 consecutive seasons, having lost the last four games
The UW-UM series is the nation’s most-played rivalry in Division I football and has been played continuously since 1907. Much prestige was always associated with the game, and the significance was emphasized with its place on the schedule. Between 1933 and 1982, the Wisconsin-Minnesota game was always the final regular-season contest for each school. The series took an added twist in 1948 when more than state bragging rights were on the line.
After a 16-0 setback that season, the Wisconsin lettermen's group, the National 'W' Club, presented Minnesota with an axe wielded by Paul Bunyan. He was the mythical giant of Midwestern lumber camps. Each year since, the winner of the annual battle between the Big Ten rivals is presented with the axe, complete with scores inscribed on the handle, for display on its campus. Minnesota leads the series 59-56-8.
Known as the "Great Dayne" and "The Dayne Train" throughout college, Dayne was the starting running back all four years at Wisconsin. Not a flashy or boisterous player, Dayne was a workman-like back, expected to carry the ball as much as necessary. He had 1,220 carries during his career.
Over his four seasons, Dayne set the NCAA Division I-A rushing record for total yards in a career. He gained 1,863 yards as a freshman, 1,421 as a sophomore, 1,325 as a junior, and 1,834 as a senior. He finally broke the record in the final game of the 1999 season against Iowa. Dayne ended his career with 6,397 rushing yards (which does not include yardage from the four bowl games he played in), eclipsing the record set the previous year by Ricky Williams of Texas. As of 2013, Dayne's 6,397 career yards still stand as the Division I-A career rushing record.