Wisconsin’s 2015 outlook is comparable to the morning after a huge party. The guest of honor and the host—Melvin Gordon and Gary Andersen, respectively—have skipped town and everyone else is left to clean up the aftermath. Fortunately, the Badgers have the luxury of playing in a very watered down Big Ten West. If there is anything to be exposed, we won’t see it until later in the season (unless of course Alabama takes them to the woodshed in Week 1). Furthermore, new head coach Paul Chryst has coached in Madison before as an offensive coordinator, so Wisconsin football is not lost on him at all. That just might be good enough for the Badgers to win the West again.
Gordon rushed for 2,587 yards and 29 scores last season. That is a huge void to fill, but people forget about his backup Corey Clement who had nearly 1,000 yards of his own (949) and nine touchdowns in 2014. He will be the primary back in Chryst’s system. The Badgers return three upperclassmen to the offensive line, and that is a huge advantage paired with a veteran back who knows the system. As per usual, the ground game will be the primary strategy of the Wisconsin offense this season, but the passing game returns a few key players as well. Senior quarterback Joel Stave and his favorite target senior Alex Erickson return and will need to make plays every now and then—barring another case of the “yips” for Stave—to keep defenses honest. Tanner McEvoy is back as well and may be used as a receiver instead of serving a role as the backup quarterback.
On defense, the Badgers must compensate for the loss of linebackers Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter as well as defensive back Peniel Jean. Landisch and Trotter had 176 tackles between the two of them last season, and Jean led the team in interceptions with two. Senior safety Michael Caputo returns for his final season and will need to be the cornerstone for the Badger secondary along with fellow senior Darius Hillary. Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal return as well with some playing experience.
After opening the season against Alabama, Wisconsin hosts Miami (OH), Troy and Hawaii for their non-conference schedule. The Badgets begin Big Ten play when Iowa comes to Madison. Their conference road games are Nebraska, Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota to close out the regular season. Playing Minnesota in Minneapolis in the cold weather is no easy task, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wisconsin dropped that game.
Some might consider this a rebuilding year for the Badgers, but playing in an easy division will benefit them greatly. I have Wisconsin at 9-3 with a 6-2 conference record and winning the Big Ten West, eventually losing to Ohio State in the conference championship game for the second year in a row.
Brooks Hooley is a Junior Big Ten Football writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @brookshooley.