10 Questions Wisconsin Football Must Answer This Offseason
Questions Wisconsin Must Answer This Offseason
The Wisconsin Badgers' first-year under Gary Andersen had its share of ups and downs, but overall the post-Bret Bielema era started off on a positive note.
With the addition and retention of quality coaches across the league such as James Franklin at Penn State and Pat Narduzzi at Michigan State, Andersen's maturation over the next two seasons, thanks to lighter schedules, are crucial to Wisconsin's future success.
With so much talent leaving, we're going to see just how well Andersen does without a stuffed cupboard and tested leadership. This also leaves a bunch of questions to be answered during the offseason.
The good news is that the Badgers don't have to take on the best of the best conference teams during the regular season.
Unfortunately, it also makes the margin of error incredibly slim since the conference teams they do face will likely fall to the big boys that the Badgers avoid. This probably ends up making some of their victories moot.
While Wisconsin's schedule during another year of conference expansion isn't the Big Ten special that Rutgers and Maryland will be facing, it'll give the nation an idea of not only what Andersen can do from a coaching perspective, but a staff that's going to have to replace a bevy of talent and leadership on both sides of the ball as well.
Will this be a year where fans in the stands of Camp Randall Stadium don't have much cause to jump around or can Andersen make his case as one of the hottest coaches in college football?
Should Joel Stave Remain Under Center?
Joel Stave had a productive 2013 season completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 2,494 yards and a 1.32 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In short, he was effective in the Badgers' offense. It helps when you're throwing to the likes of Jared Abbrederis, but Stave was serviceable just the same.
He left the 2014 Capital One Bowl with a right shoulder injury, but should be ready to compete for his starting position. We'll see him pushed by a trio of signal-callers in Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and D.J. Gillins, but there's a decision the staff needs to make before the competition even begins.
Does it want to go into 2014 with experience (Stave) or a more mobile quarterback such as Gillins, which means rolling the dice and risking losses now for potential Big Ten power later?
Who Will Back Up Melvin Gordon?
Tell me if you've heard this one before. Wisconsin has a fantastic starting running back and now it's just a question of who's going to be the likely breakout star after he leaves.
Melvin Gordon could've opted to be one of the record-breaking number of underclassmen to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft, but he returns to give the Badgers' offense its trademark punch.
He's the known quantity, so who's next?
Sophomore-to-be Corey Clement was still wet behind the ears when he took his first carries against Massachusetts, but he finished the season with 547 yards and seven touchdowns. I'll give you three guesses as to who has the inside track and the first two don't count.
What Will Receiving Corps Look Like?
Last season, Stave had a cache of weapons to help him lead the Badgers' passing game. Abbrederis led the pack with Jacob Pedersen and Jeff Duckworth lended a hand.
Unfortunately, they're all gone.
Expect a battle royale for playing time, let alone the starting spot. One has to think seniors-to-be Connor Cummins and Marquis Mason will get the opportunity to lock down spots due to experience alone.
Who Replaces Jared Abbrederis?
You don't just replace a guy like “Abbrecadabra.”
Sure, there might be a walk-on waiting in the wings ready to follow in his footsteps, defy the odds and stun the nation. Just in case there isn't, that's where wide receivers coach Chris Beatty comes in.
While molding the corps that have already donned the “W” for at least one season, he also has to bring in the newbies and teach them a very important lesson. Having a guy like Abbrederis works wonders to take the pressure off the rest of the unit, but they now have work in tandem.
Can Wisconsin Afford To Lean On Its Offense?
With so many defensive weapons moving on, it's going to take some time for defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his assistants to replace that experience and intensity. In the meantime, Gary Andersen may have to be content with potential shootouts this season.
My personal message to Badger fans: don't cringe.
Thanks to guys like Sojourn Shelton, Michigan State-style wins circa 2013 could be what Bucky's in for assuming Wisconsin's running game shows up yet again.
Who Replaces Chris Borland's Defensive Presence?
We come back to a problem much like the replacement of Abbrederis. How do you replace the “Essence of Defense”? Well, you don't.
To give you some perspective, it's akin to someone who asked how Ndamukong Suh could be replaced in 2010.
Much like Wisconsin's wide receiver dilemma, the Badgers must challenge those who stood alongside Chris Borland to pick up that torch. It happened for Michael Rose at Nebraska. It can happen for a defensive-minded team like Wisconsin.
The second coming of Borland shouldn't be expected immediately. Maybe not for a while, but much like Wisky's receivers, the defense can dominate again as a unit.
Can Vonte Jackson Finally Find Success At Safety?
There are many parallels between Nebraska and Wisconsin. Vonte Jackson's the most recent one.
While former Husker Stanley Jean-Baptiste will shortly be attempting to excel in the NFL, Jackson is hoping to find success in a familiar manner to Husker fans.
He's switching from a running back to a safety (Jean-Baptiste moved from wide receiver to cornerback). Jackson has already battled three anterior cruciate ligament tears in two years. That's something the former Blackshirt didn't do.
It's likely that at least a few Nebraska fans will be rooting for Jackson to make the same leap in productivity that the Huskers' converted defensive back did.
Will Recruiting Momentum Continue?
As of this writing, Wisconsin's 2014 class is ranked No. 30 nationally according to Rivals.com. The highest mark Bret Bielema ever posted while leading the Badgers was a No. 34 nationally-ranked class.
Stars may not be your thing, but the point is this staff can recruit. In its first full year operating as a unit, it'll bring in one of the conference's best hauls. If they can continue this momentum into the 2015 class, they'll remain at the top of the Big Ten ratings along with Ohio State, Michigan, etc.
Which True Freshmen Could See Playing Time?
Speaking of recruiting, let's touch on newbies that may not have to wait to play a down this season (assuming they all sign on the dotted line, of course). Defensive tackle Craig Evans is the perfect candidate to help build depth along the defensive line.
Dareian Watkins may step in as a wide receiver to help the eventual starting quarterback with his excellent speed and athleticism.
Defensive ends Conor Sheehy and Billy Hirschfeld may see some time considering the schedule's lighter load and opportunity to gain experience.
What Should An Acceptable Mark For 2014 Be?
The Badgers' 2013 season can be summed up with one word: heartbreak.
Considering the losses they've suffered, both fans and pundits alike might be willing to give coach Andersen a pass for what may come in 2014, but Badger backers may not be disappointed.
It's hard to think that they'll defeat LSU to open the year, but following the tangle with the Tigers, the Badgers could find themselves on a hot streak.
Another three or four loss season may not be out of the question. That seems like a tolerable year following such a mass exodus of superstars.