A new era of college football begins this fall as the BCS is no more and the top four teams will now compete in a playoff to determine the National Champion. Teams have already begun gathering for spring practice and the Wisconsin Badgers begin their spring camp Wednesday.
The Wisconsin football team heads into their 2014 season with holes in important positions on both sides of the ball as they saw leaders like Chris Borland, James White and Jared Abbrederis all graduate. Those former players will be unable to suit up for the Badgers this upcoming season; however, they will join their previous teammates at the first spring practice but for different reasons.
Abbrederis, Borland and White will display their talents in front of scouts and GMs from across the league one final time at Wisconsin’s pro day. The 40-yard dash, route running, agility tests and more in-depth interviews are what these draftees will perform for one final time in Madison.
While the spotlight may be geared towards them with the hype of having NFL personal on campus, there is still a team that begins its season with a lot of questions on offense and defense. A number of underclassmen, including true freshmen, are going to get the opportunity to get first and second team reps early in spring due to the Badgers’ lack of depth and injuries at many key positions.
To say this team will miss the presence of Abbrederis on the field would be an absolute understatement. The returning wide receivers for their offense consist of two receivers that totaled 17 receptions for 163 yards and zero touchdowns. In order to complement their proven run game they will need to provide some sort of passing game to keep defenses honest during the season.
Jordan Fredrick has the makeup of a solid receiver with a 6-foot-3 frame and bigger body at 210 pounds, but lacks consistency when it comes to catching the football. The development of Joel Stave, or whoever plays quarterback this season, will depend on Fredrick’s ability stay consistent early on in camp being he is a third year player.
The other half of the returning wide outs is return specialist and now senior, Kenzel Doe. Because he is so undersized at 5-foot-8, he is not the prototypical number two receiver. Instead, he is a useful slot wide out that works well with screens and being in the open field where he can use his brilliant speed.
So where does that leave the Badgers on offense? For starters, in search of another receiver to pair alongside Fredrick to counterpart the rushing duo of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Keep an eye on incoming recruit Dareian Watkins to be given a chance at receiver as he comes in ranked as the 10th best athlete, according to Rivals.com.
Watkins played the combination of running back and quarterback primarily on offense in high school but did see time at receiver. His 6-foot-2, 192-pound build should at the very least intrigue offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig into giving him a go at receiver.
Another offensive competition to keep an eye on will be at the quarterback position. Coach Gary Andersen has already confirmed that Stave will head into spring practice as his starting quarterback. Tanner McEvoy, the junior college standout turned safety, will also compete for the starting job and this could get very interesting due to all of Stave’s mishaps that ended last season.
It is not very likely that Coach Andersen would go with a guy like true freshman D.J. Gillins at quarterback but he will get his chances to display his talents during the spring. What Gillins has going for him that many recruits do not have is that he enrolled early at Wisconsin and has been on campus for a full semester and able to get comfortable with the coaching staff.
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, there is not much experience anywhere unlike the offense where the line and backfield have returning players that made major contributions last season. Unfilled holes at linebacker and on the defensive line turn into a major reliance on their already young secondary.
However, the Badgers get their second leading tackler back in junior linebacker Micahel Caputo who finished last season with 36 solo tackles. Sophomore Sojourn Shelton and junior Darius Hillary will anchor the cornerback position. If Shelton can make another step in his growth like he did last season, the Badgers will certainly have something to look forward to going forward.
With McEvoy moving to offense there will be a higher need at the safety position so that is another position to keep an eye on early in spring. Keep an ear out for true freshmen safety Austin Hudson, who also enrolled early at Wisconsin, as his name has already been mentioned by Andersen as someone who will get a chance to compete for a starting spot.
Wisconsin’s 2014 schedule is favorable for them to make a run for the top of the Big Ten as they avoid playing Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State this upcoming season and instead play the likes of new conference members Rutgers and Maryland.