Melvin Gordon declared for the NFL Draft. Gary Andersen left to coach Oregon State. The quarterback position is hanging in the balance. Starters on defense need to be replaced. On its surface, this season doesn’t appear to be promising for the Wisconsin Badgers.
But Wisconsin has several advantages going into 2015, and it will return to Indianapolis in December to vie for its third Big Ten title in five years.
Wisconsin’s rushing attack does not need to reload. Yes, Melvin Gordon is gone, but how quickly people forget about his backup. Junior Corey Clement will pick up right where Gordon left off. As a sophomore, Clement rushed for 949 yards and nine touchdowns. A total of 105 of those came in the Outback Bowl against Auburn. He’s two inches shorter than Gordon (5-foot-11) but weighs about the same (217 pounds). And if you know Wisconsin football, they have always set up their offense through running the ball effectively. That will only continue with Clement in the backfield. In the passing game, wide receiver Alex Erickson and tight end Troy Fumagalli will be there to catch the frequent play-action passes.
While the defense lost some notable players (Marcus Trotter, Derek Landisch and Peniel Jean), the defensive backfield returns plenty of talent and experience. The 2014 Second Team All-American Michael Caputo returns as well as Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton. The three of them combined for 109 solo tackles last season. Linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel return as well, making the Badgers’ back seven a threat for any air attack.
Not only does Wisconsin have the players, but it has the right coach as well. Paul Chryst knows Wisconsin football. He was the offensive coordinator when Bret Bielema was coaching the Badgers from 2006-11 before taking the job at Pittsburgh. Now that he’s back, Chryst doesn’t have to go through the grueling process of finding what works and what doesn’t. He’ll hit the ground running once fall camp starts, and it’ll be like he never left.
The one thing that could derail the Badgers is the quarterback situation. Last season Wisconsin couldn’t pick a lane, and became predictable at times. Tanner McEvoy took the majority of the snaps when they were running the ball and Joel Stave would be put in to pass. There needs to be a defined starter and a defined backup this season. Otherwise, Wisconsin is playing with fire.
The question this season shouldn’t be “Will Wisconsin win the division this year?” but rather, “Will Wisconsin score on Ohio State on December 5?”
Brooks Hooley is a Junior Big Ten Football writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @brookshooley.