With the spring game looming this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, public attention has returned to the Wisconsin football program.
The Badgers are coming off a 9-4 record in Gary Andersen’s first year as head coach. Though it was a good season, Wisconsin was unable to return to the Rose Bowl and continued its recent postseason futility with a loss in the Capital One Bowl. With 12 starters departing, the Badgers will need a variety of new faces to step up in 2014. Here is a breakdown of some of the most beguiling battles of spring.
In his first full season as starter, Joel Stave proved mediocre and drew the ire of the Wisconsin fan base. As is often the case with subpar quarterbacks, Stave was wildly inconsistent throughout the season and was prone to both overthrowing and underthrowing his targets. His 13 interceptions tied for the most in the Big Ten.
Though Stave remains the incumbent, his mediocrity and nagging shoulder problems stemming from a bowl game injury will leave the door open for competition. Four-star freshman recruit D. J. Gillins has generated a lot of buzz with his dual threat playing style. Redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy has transitioned from safety back to his old position of quarterback.
However, redshirt sophomore Bart Houston figures to have the best chance of unseating Stave. He has ideal size at 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds. Despite just one career pass attempt, he is the only other player on the roster with in-game quarterback experience besides Stave.
With uncertainty at quarterback and another strong 1-2 punch in the backfield with Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, the Badgers already figure to be a run-heavy team once again. However, following the departure of Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen and the weaknesses of the receiving corps, an emphasis on the ground game is a sure bet.
Redshirt junior Jordan Fredrick and senior Kenzel Doe will likely be the starters. Those two only combined for 27 receptions last year, a far cry from the 78 that Abbrederis alone hauled in last season. Sophomore Rob Wheelwright and redshirt sophomore Alex Erickson should play complementary roles next year, but they have a combined 11 catches in their young careers.
One of these four players will, either by merit or default, rise to the top of this unknown bunch and become the new reliable target for whoever ends up under center in the fall.
Though Wisconsin lost its entire starting unit as well as its top backup on the line, the Badgers already know two replacements that will transition smoothly into the lineup. Redshirt seniors Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski both appeared in all 13 games last season as part of the second unit.
Herring, a nose guard, tied for second on the team with four sacks while recording 17 total tackles. Zagzebski, an end, made 19 tackles, two of which were for loss.
The final starting spot on the line could go to redshirt juniors Victor Adeyanju or Jake Keefer, though they have just 10 games of combined experience.
More likely, that third spot will go to one of three redshirt freshmen—Garret Dooley, Alec James or Chikwe Obasih. Obasih is the heaviest of the three right now at just 245 pounds, so all will need to bulk up. However, all three were four-star recruits and are making noise in this week’s practices, particularly Obasih.