Wisconsin started last year with something of a quarterback controversy. Dustin Sherer eventually wrested the job away from Allan Evridge halfway through the year, and kept it until the end. Sherer will be a 5th-year senior in 2009, and redshirt junior Scott Tolzien will back him up. Youngsters Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr will provide depth.
|Wisconsin QBs Passing 2008|
|Wisconsin QBs Rushing 2008|
Sherer was the (very slightly) better passer of the two main guys last year, and if he knows from the beginning that he’ll be full-time starter this year, the situation will probably improve even more. Sherer has a lot of experience in the system, and the Badgers are known for having quarterbacks who are more manager than game-changer.
PJ Hill departs from the “fat Wisconsin running back” position, only to be replaced by John Clay. Clay was the team’s second-leading rusher in 2008 as a redshirt sophomore. He’ll be backed up by junior Zach Brown, with Bradie Ewing getting a couple carries. Incoming freshman Montee Ball will get some carries.
|Wisconsin RBs Rushing 2008|
|Bill Rentmeester (FB)||11||50||0||4.55|
|Wisconsin RBs Receiving 2008|
|Bill Rentmeester (FB)||1||3||0||3.00|
Though Hill was Wisconsin’s leading rusher last year, Clay is widely regarded the better runner. As long as he can keep his weight down, he can be a pretty productive back. Michigan has routinely been able to stop the fat Wisconsin backs, having more trouble with the speedy guys, so Zach Brown might be a bit more of a danger to Michigan.
5th-year senior Garrett Graham was Wisconsin’s leading receiver in the repeated absence of Travis Beckum, who is the only departing player from the Badgers; receiving corps. Junior David Gilreath, redshirt junior Isaac Anderson, and redshirt sophomore Nick Toon will likely be the primary wide receiver targets.
|Wisconsin Receivers Receiving 2008|
|Garrett Graham (TE)||40||540||5||13.50|
|Travis Beckum (TE)||23||264||0||11.48|
|Lance Kendricks (TE)||6||141||0||23.50|
|Mickey Turner (TE)||4||46||1||11.50|
|Wisconsin Receivers Rushing 2008|
Wisconsin has used the TE pretty well in the past couple years, and they’ve gotten used to using Graham instead of the perpetually-injured Travis Beckum. He should be a big piece of the puzzle this year. Toon was one of the surprises of the spring, and he may take on a bigger role in the offense this year. He’s the tall split end that’s a complement to the shorter, speedy Gilreath and Anderson.
Lots of hits here. Guard Kraig Urbik was drafted in the 3rd round of the NFL draft, and tackle Andy Kemp and guard Eric VandenHeuvel are also gone from the front. Returning will be left tackle Gabe Carimi, a redshirt junior who missed part of last year with injury, center John Moffit, another redshirt junior, and redshirt sophomore tackle Josh Oglesby, who filled in for both VandenHeuvel and Carimi when they were injured. True Sophomore Jake Current may step in to play one of the guard spots, with redshirt junior Bill Nagy likely filling the other slot.
The Badgers lost three starters on the front line, which will hurt any team. This is especially true when all three were signed by NFL teams, and one was a third-round pick. Still, the Badgers had injuries last year forcing their youngster to get some playing time, so they won’t exactly be stepping in completely green. Considering the Badgers’ history of turning out great offensive linemen, there will definitely be a step back in 2009, though maybe not as great as it seems.
The Badgers lose a couple important, but likely replaceable pieces. With the QB situation a little more settled, and John Clay likely to be more than able to take over as the leading rusher, the offense could be able to move the ball a bit. The offensive line lost its best player in Craig Urbik, but the Badgers always seem to be able to plug in some new guy and have serious success running the ball. As per usual, they will be a run-run-play action team.
Wisconsin loses a few of key players from the front line, with DE Matt Shaughnessy the most talented, going in the third round of the NFL draft. DT/DE Mike Newkirk and and DT Jason Chapman are also gone. Senior DT Dan Moore will return, joined by redshirt senior Jeff Stehle. Redshirt sophomore Louis Nzegwu will be one of the defensive ends, along with 5th-year O’Brien Schofield. The depth on DL isn’t exceptional, but it’s there.
|Wisconsin Defensive Line 2008|
The DL was nicked by graduation, and the depth here might struggle to start the year. If Shaughnessy’s pass rush can be replicated without him on one end, and a penetrator in the middle, the defensive line will only take a slight step back. Still, a step back is probably in order.
Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy may not have led the Wisconsin linebacking corps in tackles, but they were certainly two of the most important pieces in this unit. Jaevery McFadden will play his 5th year alongside a pair of new starters. Culmer St. Jean and Erik Prather have the most experience, and the redshirt junior and 5th-year senior are likely the starters.
|Wisconsin Linebackers 2008|
|Culmer St. Jean||23||0||0||0||1|
McFadden had the most tackles on the team last year, but Levy was most definitely the team’s best linebacker. Replacing a 3rd-round pick and a free-agent signing will definitely be a significant blow to this unit. If the backups can contribute right away, don’t be shocked, as they’ve both been in the system for a while. However, they don’t have the same NFL hype that the outgoing players did.
The Badger secondary should be stacked. The team only loses Allen Langford, and though he was a good player, the experience that another year in the system and game time earned by the other players should improve their play in 2009. Redshirt junior Jay Valai returns at strong safety (with backup by 5th-year Aubrey Pleasant), and 5th-year Chris Maragos, a Western Michigan transfer, took over at free safety by the end of last year, replacing classmate Shane Carter. The corner positions will likely be manned by redshirt junior Niles Brinkley and redshirt sophomore Mario Goins.
|Wisconsin Defensive Backs 2008|
There is a ton of experience returning in the secondary for the Badgers, and a pretty good wealth of talent, as well. Several of the Badgers have started games at their positions, even the backups. This should be a very strong unit for the Badgers, and their pass defense, which was 24th in efficiency last year, could improve.
The front lines for Wisconsin are weaker than the secondary, which looks like it will be obscenely good this year. If the pass rush can keep up without a few key pieces up front, opposing teams could have trouble moving the ball through the air. Fortunately for Michigan, the run game is their strength, and that should be the (relative) weakness of the Badger D.
Specialists Phillip Welch, a redshirt sophomore kicker, and Brad Nortman, a true sophomore punter, both return for Wisconsin.
|Wisconsin Kicking 2008|
|Wisconsin Punting 2008|
Welch was pretty good last year, and considering it was his freshman year, he could continue to improve. The case is the same for Nortman, though he was slightly below-average in the Big Ten in net punting last season.
The Badgers have some rebuilding to do on the front lines on both side of the ball. For a team that molds itself in the classic Big Ten model of running the ball and stopping the run, that could be a problem. However, most everywhere else looks to be a strength, with receivers on the offense and secondary on the defense being the crowning achievements. Will Wisconsin make a slight move away from the classic pounders to take advantage of team strengths? Given my opinion of Bret Bielema, I’m inclined to say no, but he can’t be that bad of a coach, right?