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NCAA Football Big 10 FootballWisconsin Badgers

Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin Badgers

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off yet another Big Ten title under Bret Bielema, the Wisconsin Badgers figure to look a bit different in 2013 — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bielema has left the program to coach the Arkansas Razorbacks while the Badgers hired the guy who turned Utah State around, Gary Andersen.

The young head coach took the Aggies from 4-8 in 2009 to 11-2 last season. If he can take over a team coming off a Rose Bowl appearance, there’s no telling how successful he can be with the Badgers.

However, while losing Bielema may end up being a positive in the long-run, losing Montee Ball and not having a clear No. 1 quarterback may be a bit of an issue. Not to mention the fact that Wisconsin is also losing their lead tackler from 2012, linebacker Mike Taylor.

How will the new-look Badgers stack up against the competition in 2013?

KEY PLAYERS

While Ball is no longer on the team, Melvin Gordon and James White will be one of the best one-two running back duos in the nation. They combined for 1,483 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground last season — and that was with Ball getting a majority of the carries.

Jared Abbrederis is a senior wide out that will likely get a bulk of the targets in 2013 from whomever wins the quarterback job. He was the team’s leading receiver in 2012 with 49 catches for 837 yards and five touchdowns.

The defense will be led by senior linebacker, Chris Borland. He was one of the best at his position going into last season and finished with 104 tackles to go along with 4.5 sacks.

OFFENSE

Joel Stave, if chosen to be a starter, could be the difference between another Rose Bowl and a .500 season. The sophomore was solid in limited time last year. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes with over 1,100 yards and six touchdowns in six starts.

Gordon and White will be a deadly combo in the backfield, and the loss of Ball will be less painful because of these two. There’s no wonder why the Badgers were the 13th-best run team in the nation last season.

Improving the passing game will be key, and that’s what held back the offense in 2012, ranking just 115th nationally in pass yards per game — pretty ugly. Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen will be big forces in the receiving game.

DEFENSE

As I said before, Borland is surely the team’s leader on the defensive side of the ball. The Badgers had the 17th-best national defense point-wise last season, and graduated linebacker Taylor was a big reason for that. However, Borland, along with Ethan Armstrong, will lead one of the best linebacking groups in the Big Ten. The two linebackers finished with 104 and 93 tackles respectively in 2012.

As for defensive backs, senior safety Dezmen Southward will lead the way. Finishing with 69 tackles, eight tackles for loss and an interception, Southward will be a key returning back that is sure to anchor the middle of the field.

Returning the top two sack leaders from 2012 will be huge as well. Both Tyler Dippel and Brendan Kelly finished with five sacks last season.

SCHEDULE

While the Badgers finished 8-6 with a Big Ten title in 2012, their regular season was a bit of a disappointment. They were expected to finish with 10-plus wins but ended up with only eight, and fans were not happy. They will hope to fare better in 2013.

Here’s a look at their toughest games: at Arizona State Sun Devils, at Ohio State Buckeyes, vs. Northwestern Wildcats and vs. Penn State Nittany Lions.

They have a relatively easy schedule, not having to face Michigan State, Nebraska or Michigan. They could easily find their way to yet another Big Ten title game — their third in three years. I believe they will finish 9-3 with the possibility, though it’s unlikely, of making it to the title game over the Buckeyes.

Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.