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RantSports College Football Rankings: No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Last season was head coach Gary Anderson‘s first run with the Wisconsin Badgers, and the team stayed close to the status quo. Wisconsin finished with at least nine wins for the fourth time in five years, featuring one of the top rushing attacks in the country and a top-10 defense. The team is still missing that consistent game manager at QB, but everything seemed to meet the Wisconsin standard.

Offense

The biggest question facing the offense is at quarterback, and Anderson spent the first week of fall camp trying to get every QB as many snaps as possible. Joel Stave seems to have the upper hand for now, but fellow junior Tanner McEvoy isn’t far behind. The competition is still wide open.

Gordon is again going to be a beast at RB for Wisconsin. In 2013, he racked up 1,609 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns, to go along with an insane 7.8 YPC. Gordon is going to be the best back in the Big 10 this season, and could very well enter the Heisman conversation. One other guy who deserves mention is sophomore Corey Clement, who rushed for 547 yards last season with only one-third the carries that Gordon received.

Along with the QB chaos, Wisconsin is also going to have to find production from its receiving corps. Four of the top producers from a season ago are gone, including standout Jared Abbrederis. That leaves junior Jordan Fredrick as the top returnee with only 106 yards to his name. Quarterback play may alleviate the hit taken out wide, but the lack of experience is still a concern. Expect sophomore Alex Erikson and senior Kenzel Doe to progress this season, along with any combination of guys from a decent incoming class.

Wisconsin’s offensive line is going to be stellar. Returning seniors Rob Havenstein and Kyle Costigan have made a combined 49 starts in their impressive careers, and will anchor a deep and talented unit.

Defense

Wisconsin’s defense always seems to be one best in the Big 10 despite usually being unappreciated. After the transfer of Reggie Mitchell, junior college transfer Donnell Vercher not being admitted, and McEvoy switching positions to QB, Wisconsin had to look around for a second safety to play alongside junior Michael Caputo, who is filling one of the vacant safety positions. That answer will come in the form of true freshman Austin Hudson, an early under-the-radar enrollee.

The linebacker position will need to be rebuilt. Wisconsin lost a huge chunk of its LB corps, including Chris Borland. The Badgers have recruited well recently and have talent ready to jump in, but there aren’t too many proven options to work with.

The Wisconsin d-line was a key to success in 2013. This season, DE Konrad Zagzebski and nose guard Warren Herring are the only two linemen returning with a 13-game campaign in 2013. Junior Jake Keefer had to sit out last season with an injury, and he’ll be a welcomed addition in 2014. Outside of him, the d-line is going to need a few more big men to step up.

Schedule

The non-conference headliner for Wisconsin is obviously going to be the opener against LSU, which will offer an excellent measure as to how far the Badgers have come. Though a win is obviously the aim, Wisconsin gains just as much by playing a good football game against a good team this early. Bowling Green might be a team to watch this season in the MAC, but the rest of the non-conference slate looks manageable.

Wisconsin has a geographical advantage in the Big 10 and will get to compete in a weaker West Division, leaving Iowa and Minnesota as the top two competitors along with the Badgers. The Cornhuskers travel to Madison while the Hawkeyes will welcome Wisconsin to their home late in the season.

Two crossover games against Maryland and Rutgers are easy outs for Wisconsin. Though the Terrapins are underrated, they’re not ready for a team like Wisconsin. The next-best scenario for Wisconsin would be replacing Maryland with Rutgers.

The final game of the regular season against Minnesota is going to be a game to watch. Wisconsin will likely have its eyes set on first place in the West, and the Gophers will be putting a good team on the field, despite the lack of dazzle on paper.

Tyler Fenwick is a Big 10 writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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