The Wisconsin Badgers basketball team just went through a Final Four run in college basketball that seemed improbable. Now the football team gets a chance to show that eve with a slew of graduates, this is still a team that can contend for a Big Ten title.
Teams like Ohio State and Michigan State figure to have a say in that. Acording to Athlon.com, Gary Andersen stepped into a well-oiled machine in Madison as the Badgers were a three-time defending conference champion when he got to town last year.
Now with eight total starters returning for this team, the need to win this season is ever so great. Here are the five pressing issues facing this team in 2014. Information from this story came from Athlonsports.com.
Who plays safety?
All-Big Ten safety Dezmen Southward has expired his eligibility and Tanner McEvoy is playing quarterback. This leaves only Nate Hammon with any starting experience at the safety position this spring. This pass defense was outstanding a year ago thanks to a great front seven and the emergence of Sojourn Shelton at cornerback. But if this unit wants to be anywhere near the No. 17-rated pass defense in the nation again, Andersen and his staff will have to find capable bodies to plug in at safety. With holes in the middle of the defensive line and at middle linebacker, Wisconsin can ill afford to have any glaring weaknesses at safety.
Who will step up on offense?
The Badgers' offensive line returns largely intact with the exception of All-Big Ten left guard Ryan Groy and should be one of the best in the nation once again. But senior leader James White and his 4,685 yards from scrimmage are gone. Star wideout Jared Abbrederis and his 4,818 all-purpose yards are gone as well. So too is All-Big Ten tight end Jacob Pedersen. While Melvin Gordon returns as a Heisman candidate at running back (who isn’t allowed to be tackled this spring), quarterback Joel Stave needs to find playmakers or defenses will completely stack the box to stop the running game. Kenzel Doe, Jordan Fredrick, Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright caught a total of 28 passes last year.
Who fills the front seven?
Wisconsin is losing three All-Big Ten players in end Pat Muldoon, nose guard Beau Allen and all-world linebacker and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Chris Borland. On top of that, linebackers Ethan Armstrong (51 tackles), Conor O’Neill (41) and Brendan Kelly (35) are gone as well as D-line contributors Ethan Hemer and Tyler Dippel. Obviously, replacing a player like Borland is virtually impossible but talented backups Vince Biegel, Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter and Joe Schobert will give it their best shot.
The team opens up against LSU, but by the looks of things, this is a schedule that could play to the team's favor. Western Illinois, Bowling Green and Northwestern are next in line. A 4-0 start could lead to a huge run within the Big Ten.
Finding a kicker
According to Bleacher Report, The last two years in the place kicking department have been ones to forget in Madison. Kyle French performed so poorly that he is leaving the program, and his replacement, Jack Russell, also left a lot to be desired this season, fittingly ending the season with a miss from 42 yards out.
Combined, French and Russell went an egregious 24-of-39 on field goal attempts over the past two seasons, including 4-of-12 from 40 yards and beyond, making folks long for the days of Phillip Welch and Taylor Mehlhaff.