Fresh off the most disappointing Big Ten title season in recent memory, a season that began with a shocking loss to Oregon State, ended with the head coach leaving for Arkansas, and featured five regular season losses by a total of 19 points, the Wisconsin Badgers begin life after Bret Bielema when spring practice opens at Camp Randall on March 9. The Badgers' spring game is scheduled for April 20.
Wisconsin went 7-5 in 2012, with a 4-4 record in the Big Ten. The Badgers lost four regular season games by three points each, with three losses coming in overtime. Because division rivals Ohio State and Penn State were serving postseason bans, Wisconsin received a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game despite a third-place finish. The Badgers capitalized on their opportunity, dismantling Nebraska, winning their third consecutive conference title, and going back to the Rose Bowl. Before they could go back to Pasadena, head coach Bret Bielema announced he was leaving the program to become the head coach at Arkansas. Athletic director Barry Alvarez appointed former Utah State coach Gary Andersen as head coach in December. Alvarez coached the Badgers to a 20-14 loss against Stanford on New Year's Day.
Andersen, who ran a spread offense at Utah State, has said he plans to adopt Wisconsin's traditional power running attack with some option concepts. On the defensive side, Andersen does not expect to fully implement the 3-4 system he used at Utah State, as Wisconsin's bevy of experienced 4-3 linemen dictates the alignment. However, Andersen has promised he will implement some 3-4 concepts in the defense.
Spring practice start date: The Badgers open practice on March 9.
Spring game date, location: The Wisconsin spring game will be played on April 20 at Camp Randall Stadium, Madison.
Approximate returning starters: Wisconsin returns nine starters on offense, including two potential quarterbacks: Last year's starter, sophomore-to-be Joel Stave, will compete with sixth-year senior Curt Phillips for the starting spot. Four Badger starting linemen return, as well. On the defensive side, seven Badger starters return, including inside linebacker Chris Borland and a quartet of senior defensive linemen.
Biggest addition: There's no bigger addition than a new head coach. While Gary Andersen has said all the right things about maintaining Wisconsin's style of play and recruiting territory, the fact is that he has no significant experience in Wisconsin's previous systems on either side of the ball, nor any history of recruiting in the upper Midwest. Andersen has big shoes to fill: In seven years at the helm, Bielema went 68-24 overall and 37-19 in the Big Ten, won three Big Ten titles, and won nine or more games five times. Tongue-biting criticism from the Badger faithful was widely reported as part of Bielema's rationale for leaving Madison, and Andersen will have a short leash from many.
Biggest loss: Is it possible for a team to lose its wildly successful head coach, yet suffer an even bigger loss? Such is the case here, where the Badgers are finally going to have to face the world without Montee Ball in the backfield. Ball set the Division I career touchdown record in 2012 in an 1,830-yard, 22-touchdown season. In games where Ball ran for 115 or more yards, Wisconsin was 7-1; in games where he did not break the 115-yard mark, the Badgers went 1-5.
New players? Wisconsin freshmen Keelon Brookins and Sojourn Shelton are already on campus for spring practice. Brookins is arguably the top player in Wisconsin's 2013 class, a four-star defensive back from Oakdale, Minnesota. Shelton, also a defensive back, is a consensus three-star prospect out of Plantation, Florida, adjusting to his first winter in Madison.
New coaches? For a program with a new head coach, Wisconsin has retained some continuity. Running backs coach Thomas Hammock and secondary coach Ben Strickland were retained, primarily for recruiting purposes. There is wholesale change everywhere else, though. On offense, Andersen has hired former San Diego State coordinator Andy Ludwig to run the Badger attack. Ludwig is tasked with preserving Wisconsin's power offense principles. Andersen will bring his defensive coordinator from Utah State, Dave Aranda.
New schemes? Andersen is telling reporters he plans on preserving the status quo, and Ludwig is a smart pick to do just that. The former Oregon, Utah, and Cal offensive coordinator is known for his pro-style, play-action offenses. Andersen has suggested that some "option concepts" could be included, but Wisconsin's current cadre of quarterbacks don't lend themselves to a heavy quarterback running presence. Andersen ran a 3-4 defense at Utah State, but does not plan on implementing a 3-4 alignment as he did at Utah State. Aranda has told reporters that he envisions a 4-3 defense utilizing some 3-4 concepts, largely because Wisconsin's defensive strength lies in its senior defensive linemen.