It may only be July, but it’s never too early to talk college football. Get your daily fix with our countdown of the preseason Top 25, the consensus picks of the American-Statesman sports staff:
No. 24 WISCONSIN
THE BADGERS WILL CONTEND IF … they can get enough out of the quarterback position to keep defenses honest.
Coach: Gary Andersen (1st year)
2012 record: 8-6 overall, 4-4 Big Ten
2012 bowl: Lost 20-14 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl
Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
The biggest change in Madison is on the sidelines. For 23 years, the Badgers had rock-solid stability with Barry Alvarez and then his right-hand man, Bret Bielema, in charge. Then last December, Bielema shockingly resigned to take the Arkansas job. This time Alvarez, the athletic director, veered far outside the program to hire Gary Andersen, 49, coming off an 11-2 season at Utah State.
But don’t think Alvarez would hire some guy who’d rip up the old-school Wisconsin playbook, install a spread offense and wing it 50 times a game. The power-run game stays.
NEXT IN LINE
Just because Montee Ball took his 5,140 yards and NCAA career record 77 touchdowns to the Denver Broncos doesn’t mean the Badgers won’t have a stud running back. They always have one, and senior James White is the man. He’s been a backup since his freshman season, when he rushed for 1,052 yards. And look out for sophomore Melvin Gordon, who rambled for 216 yards on just nine carries in the Big Ten title game. This could turn into a White/Gordon tag team.
Except for Russell Wilson’s sensational 2011 campaign, Wisconsin quarterbacks almost always have been “game managers” — don’t do anything fancy, just don’t get us beat. That’s the case in 2013. Returning starter Joel Stave is unremarkable. He’s trying to fight off senior Curt Phillips and touted JUCO transfer Tanner McEvoy, who has the most upside. The picture remains unsettled, and it doesn’t help that the line isn’t proven with two high NFL draft picks departed.
But Badgers fans were happy to hear this week that Andersen mined his Utah connections to lure Maxpreps.com national freshman quarterback of the year Austin Kafentzis to his 2015 class.
FLIPPING THE ‘D’
While the offense will look similar, the defense won’t. It’s switching from a 4-3 to a multiple 3-4, Andersen’s preferred style. Fortunately, there’s plenty of experience. Chris Borland is the heart and soul of the team and will be inside with fellow senior Ethan Armstrong. Redshirt freshman Vince Biegel is a name to watch. Several DEs have been converted to OLBs. Of bigger concern is the secondary, which returns just one starter.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Wisconsin is the first Big Ten team to play in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan (1977-79). The Badgers lost all three games by a combined 15 points.
- The Badgers played in the Big Ten title game last year because division rivals Ohio State and Penn State, who had superior records, were ineligible.
- When Andersen left Utah State, he called every one of his players on the phone to tell them his decision before making it public.
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
2012: 8-6, L Rose Bowl
2011: 11-3, L Rose Bowl
2010: 11-2, L Rose Bowl
2009: 10-3, W Champs Sports
2008: 7-6, L Champs Sports
Total: 47-20, 1-4 in bowls
Passing: Joel Stave, 119-70-1,104, 6/3
Rushing: James White, 125-840, 12 TDs
Receiving: Jared Abbrederis, 49-837, 5 TDs
Tackles: LB Chris Borland, 104
Sacks: DE/LBs Brendan Kelly, Tyler Dippel, 5 each
RETURNING ALL-BIG TEN
WR Jared Abbrederis (1st team)
TE Jacob Pedersen (1st team)
LB Chris Borland (1st team)
OG Ryan Groy (2nd team)
TEXAS PIPELINE (1)
LB Nick Hill (Texarkana)
Aug. 31; Massachusetts
Sept. 7; Tennessee Tech
Sept. 14; at Arizona State
Sept. 21; Purdue*
Sept. 28; at Ohio State*
Oct. 12; Northwestern*
Oct. 19; at Illinois*
Nov. 2; at Iowa*
Nov. 9; BYU
Nov. 16; Indiana*
Nov. 23; at Minnesota*
Nov. 30; Penn State*
* Big Ten game
TOP 25, BY CONFERENCES
(So far …)
2: Big Ten (No. 24 Wisconsin, No. 25 Northwestern)
OUR TOP 25 (SO FAR)
No. 25 Northwestern
No. 24 Wisconsin
No. 23: Coming Saturday. Want a hint? Last year this school enjoyed unprecedented, across-the-board success in the big three men’s sports of football, basketball and baseball.