After making the transition to a 3-4 system, Wisconsin football boasted one of the best defenses in the nation in terms of both points and total yards allowed.
But in order for that success to continue, the Badgers are going to need to overhaul a defense that lost its entire front seven to graduation.
Linemen Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer, and Pat Muldoon, outside linebackers Ethan Armstrong and Brendan Kelly, and inside linebackers Chris Borland and Conor O’Neill are all moving on from their collegiate careers. Tyler Dippel, the primary backup on the defensive line, also graduated.
Borland, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, will be the toughest player to replace. He finished his career with three consecutive 100-tackle seasons, and was the sixth-leading tackler in program history. The Football Writers Association of America also named him a 2013 All-American.
Between the seven primary starters, Wisconsin is losing a combined 188 career games started. Any team would have a tough time rebounding from such a loss. It is to be expected that the Badgers will have some growing pains next year as a new wave of players move into the starting lineup.
But before you think the defense is poised for a steep dropoff, there are several players that could adequately fill the void and provide leadership:
Vince Biegel, outside linebacker
Biegel split his time between the second unit and special teams this season. Though he saw limited action, he occasionally showed flashes of brilliance. He played his best game against Northwestern, when he had four tackles, a sack, and a pass deflection. Biegel will be a redshirt sophomore next year.
Warren Herring, nose guard
As the primary backup to Allen, Herring had a very productive season. He finished tied for second on the team with four sacks. He was third on the team with six tackles for loss, behind only Borland and Kelly. At 294 pounds, Herring is about 30 pounds lighter than Allen. It remains to be seen whether the coaches will have him bulk up or keep him at the same weight to sustain his current production level. Herring will be a redshirt senior next season.
Derek Landisch, inside linebacker
Landisch’s 33 tackles this season were eighth on the team and the highest figure among backups. He has had a steady career through three seasons, but 2014 will be his first year as a full-time starter. In expanded action, Landisch will have the chance to add playmaking ability to his game in addition to his consistency. He will be a senior next year.
Marcus Trotter, inside linebacker
Trotter was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school, but has had a nondescript career sitting behind Borland on the depth chart. In October, Trotter replaced an injured Borland early in the Illinois game and started for him the following week against Iowa. In the two games, Trotter recorded 18 tackles, including two for loss, and recovered a fumble. Trotter will be a redshirt senior next season.
There certainly is talent on the roster to replace 2013’s outgoing starters. Unlike years past, however, Wisconsin does not have the typical early slate of cupcakes to get adjusted. The Badgers open their season against LSU on a neutral site next August, putting offseason pressure on this new front seven to become a cohesive unit as soon as possible.