A glut of returning starters, expectations of a top-10 year and the lingering enjoyment of closing the last campaign with a pleasing upset of a well regarded opponent.
Yes, these are the themes of conversation as the Badgers get back to practicing their craft.
Wisconsin opened its spring season Wednesday, biding farewell to last year's seniors as they performed for scouts at the team's pro day. Most of the players have already been participating in weight programs for the last few weeks, but the start of practice means a new beginning for them.
""After seven weeks of offseason training and the winter conditioning program, we're very anxious to get back on the field,"" junior defensive end J.J. Watt said. ""[We're] really chomping at the bit. The Miami game left a good taste in our mouths and we want to get back out there and capitalize on the gains we made last year and capitalize on the gains we made so far in the offseason.""
There are, however, a few key questions for which the answers will go a long way toward defining Wisconsin's success in 2010.
The second year bump?
It has been five years since a quarterback saw a second year as a starter in Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst's offense, and from his first season to the next, John Stocco went from a near liability at the position to putting up some of the best numbers in program history. Senior Scott Tolzien will be in that position for 2010 and will be surrounded by a strong cast of supporting skill players, much like Stocco was in 2005.
""One thing I can honestly say, it's a lot more enjoyable watching film when it's you on film, you're not watching someone else,"" Tolzien said. ""There's so much more you can look for. It's not just looking at reads but just your own footwork, recalling what you saw pre-snap on a play. It's just a lot more exciting""
Tolzien threw for 2705 yards last year with 16 touchdowns and 11 picks.
D-line surprises again?
In 2009, most expected the defensive line to be a weakness after losing three starters. Instead they became a strength, helping hold every Big ten opponent below 100 rushing yards per game.
This year again a number of starters depart and again there are some questions about their replacements.
Too bad the lone returning starter doesn't see it that way.
""This year people think the defensive line is going to be a weakness, and that's fine by us,"" Watt said. ""The media and all that, they see stuff from the outside. And what we see is, we see Wednesday morning six a.m. workouts, we see guys watching tons of film at nights, we see guys working out in the weight room and trying out new moves every single day.""
""We understand the defensives line is really where it all starts for the defense, so if we can prepare to provide a strong defensive line, then the rest of the defense will follow.""
Watt mentioned defensive ends Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert and tackle Jordan Kohout as linemen who could draw attention in the coming weeks.
How to turn returners into success?
In 2007 and 2008 Wisconsin was projected for top-15 seasons as successful squads returned flush with experienced starters. Both years the Badgers disappointed as younger players either failed to step up or flat out regressed.
Last year the expectations lessened and success returned. Coming into the spring the Badgers are again seen as a top 12 team with 18 starters returning to their posts from 2009.
But that fact is not something the team wants to rest on.
""The bottom line is the players from last year need to improve and get better,"" head coach Bret Bielema said. ""If we don't make ourselves better even though we're coming back, it doesn't do anybody any good.""
Bielema added that the spring was a chance for players to address their weaknesses, adding that it was a different type of coaching to get experienced players to keep improving.
-Sophomore running back John Clay and offensive linemen John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi headline a number of Badgers who head into the spring injured. Clay will not play at all while recovering from ankle issues and coaches expect the two linemen to miss the first half of practices.
-A few numbers from the pro day: safety Chris Maragos rand between a 4.47 and 4.53 in the 40-yard dash, a result his representation said he was pleased with. Tackle Dan Moore had an impressive 29 reps on the bench press and looked good in mobility drills. His defensive linemate Jeff Stehle pushed out 25 reps as well.