After the 2013 season brought a new coaching staff and a transition to the 3-4 defense, changes will continue this fall as Wisconsin heads into the 2014 campaign.
More than half of last season’s primary starters are no longer with the team, including the entire front seven on defense and fan favorites Jared Abbrederis and James White on offense.
Additionally, the Badgers could see a new starting quarterback this year after redshirt junior Joel Stave’s inconsistent play and a nagging shoulder injury suffered in the Capital One Bowl.
Replacing the core of a defense and two key impact players on offense while also figuring out who will be under center is no simple task. Considering this all has to be done in one offseason, it would seem like Wisconsin is headed for a tumultuous fall.
However, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda did a superb job last season in his first year with the Badgers. He inherited a roster full of players recruited to play in a 4-3 alignment, yet produced a defense that allowed the seventh-fewest yards in the country. With a full season of the 3-4 defensive scheme under his belt, Aranda can spend less time implementing and more time preparing the next wave of Badger starters.
The new front seven will not be entirely devoid of experience, either. Senior inside linebacker Derek Landisch has had a productive career as a reserve. He made two starts last year and recorded 33 tackles, the highest figure among defensive backups. Redshirt senior nose guard Warren Herring finished tied for second on the team last year with four sacks and also had six tackles for loss in 2013.
On offense, the departure of James White, who quietly became Wisconsin’s fourth leading rusher of all-time, means sophomore Corey Clement will have big shoes to fill as the complementary back to redshirt junior Melvin Gordon. Clement showed flashes of brilliance last season, scoring seven touchdowns and averaging more than eight yards per carry. Expanded playing time for Clement this fall means another year of a strong tandem in the Wisconsin backfield.
The passing game comes with a lot of unanswered questions for the Badgers. Losing Abbrederis, as well as top tight ends Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, means that Wisconsin will need to rely on a young corps of unproven talent.
Redshirt junior Jordan Frederick, redshirt sophomore Alex Erickson and sophomore Rob Wheelwright could lead the charge at wide receiver for UW. However, they combined for just 21 receptions in 2013.
There is also the issue of finding a starting quarterback. Last year, Stave was wildly inconsistent, routinely underthrowing or overthrowing his intended targets. While he did have some good games, most notably against Ohio State where he threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns, he did not do enough to automatically return as starter. His inconsistency has opened up the battle to redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy, who played safety last year for the Badgers, redshirt sophomore Bart Houston and dual-threat freshman D.J. Gillins.
While there is certainly a heavy dose of offseason turmoil, the Badgers have enough developing talent to remain one of the top threats in the Big Ten. Wisconsin will look to prove its worth as a top threat in the nation when the Badgers square off against perennial power LSU in the season opener Aug. 30 in Houston.