Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. The golden age
It's amazing what a couple of nice hires can do. In 1963, Wisconsin began the season seventh in the AP poll after losing the Rose Bowl and finishing second in the country. The Badgers reached as high as second that season but collapsed, losing four of five and finishing 5-4. From 1964-92, nearly three full decades, Wisconsin finished with a winning record just six times and never won more than seven games in a season. (It won seven games for four straight years between 1981-84 but did it just one other time in that span.)
When Barry Alvarez took over in 1990, he wasn't facing a Bill Snyder-esque building job, but it was close enough; the Badgers had gone just 9-36 in the previous four years, and they would go just 11-22 in his first three seasons.
In the last 20 seasons, Wisconsin has finished with a winning record 18 times. The Badgers have been to six Rose Bowls (including each of the last three), have finished in the AP top 10 six times, and have won at least 10 games in a season eight times. Bret Bielema, Alvarez's replacement, stumbled briefly (from 12-1 in 2006 to 7-6 in 2008) but surged to 32-8 from 2009-11 and rebounded from a slow start in 2012 to win his second straight Big Ten title game.
This is the golden age of Wisconsin football. Aside from a solid run between 1951-62 and some dominance at the turn of the 20th century, there is nothing that compares to what the Badgers are doing right now. And they're doing it because of a combination of solid commitment and the right hires.
It's hard to make two of them in a row, but with Alvarez and Bielema, Wisconsin did. Now, with Bielema off to Arkansas, it aims for a third.
2. Gary Andersen's Utah State salvage job in one word: Awesome
In 2012, not only did Utah State finish 16th in the polls and win 11 games (more than former head coach Brent Guy won in four seasons from 2005-08), but the program looked like it belonged, like it had always belonged. With a steady quarterback, an explosive running game, and the best mid-major defense in the country -- at ninth overall in Def. F/+, the Aggies ranked ahead of BYU, Rutgers, TCU, and Notre Dame -- the Aggies had the look and feel of a great team and came within six points of finishing undefeated.
Utah State was so good last year that you forgot that the Aggies had been pretty awful until rather recently.
As I've written an infinite number of times through three years of season previews, coaching changes are a complete and total crapshoot. You are most likely hiring a guy who succeeded in his last job, be it as a head coach, star assistant, et cetera. (And if he didn't succeed in his last job, he probably succeeded in his second-to-last job.) But despite previous success, a high percentage of hires don't work out. Culture is different from one school to another. Recruiting territory is different. Maybe he just doesn't get the breaks. Regardless, even the hires that seem just about perfect can fail in this zero-sum game. And just because Gary Andersen absolutely aced the Utah State job doesn't mean he'll do the same at Wisconsin.
But wow, did he ace the Utah State job. With a star defensive coordinator in Dave Aranda (who has followed him to Madison) and a heck of a defensive pedigree of his own (he was Utah's defensive line coach during the Utes' undefeated 2004 run and the defensive coordinator for their undefeated 2008 run), Andersen needed just two years to improve USU's defense from 102nd in Def. F/+ to ninth. His offense was run-friendly and pretty explosive -- which should play perfectly well in Madison -- and did the defense as many field position favors as it could. After six straight years of ranking 99th or worse in the overall F/+ rankings, USU improved to 66th in 2011 and 17th in 2012.
He earned the promotion. Now he just has to keep earning it.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-6 | Adj. Record: 9-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 16|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Northern Iowa||26-21||W||26.7 - 34.3||L|
|8-Sep||at Oregon State||7-10||L||15.4 - 16.5||L|
|15-Sep||Utah State||16-14||W||23.3 - 14.4||W|
|22-Sep||UTEP||37-26||W||36.1 - 23.6||W|
|29-Sep||at Nebraska||27-30||L||22.3 - 25.1||L|
|6-Oct||Illinois||31-14||W||34.6 - 26.6||W|
|13-Oct||at Purdue||38-14||W||45.2 - 15.6||W|
|20-Oct||Minnesota||38-13||W||39.1 - 24.0||W|
|27-Oct||Michigan State||13-16||L||19.4 - 24.6||L|
|10-Nov||at Indiana||62-14||W||43.8 - 16.5||W|
|17-Nov||Ohio State||14-21||L||22.5 - 14.4||W|
|24-Nov||at Penn State||21-24||L||29.4 - 20.7||W|
|1-Dec||vs. Nebraska||70-31||W||72.3 - 23.9||W|
|1-Jan||vs. Stanford||14-20||L||32.2 - 34.4||L|
|Points Per Game||29.6||59||19.1||17|
|Adj. Points Per Game||33.0||35||22.5||19|
3. Greatest 8-6 team ever
Okay, fine, there haven't been many 8-6 teams in college football's history, but I feel confident in saying that Wisconsin was probably the best of the bunch. After replacing both assistants and quarterback Russell Wilson, the Badgers struggled early on. But when the calendar flipped to October, Wisconsin flipped a switch.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): WIsconsin 24.8, Opponent 22.8 (plus-2.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 8 games): Wisconsin 38.3, Opponent 20.8 (plus-17.5)
As you'll see below, Wisconsin was dinged by about 2.4 points per game of bad turnovers luck (fumble recoveries, batted passes that didn't become interceptions); in a season that sees you lose four games by three points or less, that can make an incredible difference, no? Wisconsin was close to something much greater than 8-6, but in the end, the Badgers still won another Big Ten title (thanks to Ohio State's postseason ineligibility) by thoroughly emasculating Nebraska in the title game, and the Badgers still damn near beat a great Stanford team in the Rose Bowl despite losing Bielema.
|Q1 Rk||10||1st Down Rk||19|
|Q2 Rk||25||2nd Down Rk||10|
|Q3 Rk||47||3rd Down Rk||32|
4. Just add water
You like to run, Coach Andersen? And you hired Andy Ludwig, coordinator of a 2012 San Diego State offense that ran 67 percent of the time on standard downs and 48 percent on passing downs last year, to run your offense? You'll fit in just fine here.
We have to go back quite a long way to find a Wisconsin offense that either didn't run much or wasn't very good at it. Last year's offense took a while to get off the ground following the departure of an incredible quarterback, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, three long-time starting linemen (two of whom were first-team all-conference), and a No. 1 receiver. And the full-season averages above were only good, not spectacular. But despite uncertainty at the quarterback position -- Danny O'Brien wasn't very good, and Joel Stave got hurt -- Wisconsin went from slightly below average to outstanding in October and beyond.
When Curt Phillips, a former star recruit who has been plagued by knee injuries, took over for Stave in the starting lineup, Wisconsin went from run-heavy to run-obsessed. Phillips wasn't asked to do much, averaging just 18 pass attempts per game (including sacks) in his five starts, but he brought some mobility to the table, and Wisconsin's running game did not suffer with the extra load. The Badgers rushed for 605 yards versus Indiana, 640 versus Nebraska, and even a solid 301 (4.9 per carry) versus an excellent Stanford defense.
Stave's upside in the passing game is quite a bit higher than Phillips', but word out of the spring was that Phillips was a bit better in handling the blitzes that Aranda and the defense threw at the QBs. If Ludwig is looking for a Ryan Katz/Adam Dingwell impersonator, i.e. a guy who hands the ball off really nicely and is okay with not playing hero ball, then Phillips could be just fine, especially with his mobility. Lower upside is fine if accompanied with higher downside. I guess.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Joel Stave||6'5, 227||So.||** (5.4)||70||119||1,104||58.8%||6||3||10||7.8%||7.9|
|Curt Phillips||6'3, 215||Sr.||**** (5.8)||46||81||540||56.8%||5||2||9||10.0%||5.3|
|Bart Houston||6'4, 219||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Tanner McEvoy||6'6, 215||So.||*** (5.5)|
|James White||RB||5'10, 197||Sr.||*** (5.7)||125||806||6.4||9.9||12||+18.6|
|Melvin Gordon||RB||6'1, 203||So.||**** (5.8)||61||631||10.3||9.8||3||+26.7|
|Curt Phillips||QB||6'3, 215||Sr.||**** (5.8)||18||160||8.9||10.1||0||+6.4|
|Joel Stave||QB||6'5, 227||So.||** (5.4)||9||32||3.6||5.1||0||-0.8|
|Jared Abbrederis||WR||6'2, 188||Sr.||NR||8||83||10.4||9.3||0||+3.6|
|Jeffrey Lewis||RB||6'2, 211||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Vonte Jackson||RB||6'0, 199||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Corey Clement||RB||5'11, 205||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
5. Montee Ball scored 83 touchdowns (and threw for an 84th)
Montee Ball was incredible, one of the best college running backs of the last few decades. He was decisive, sure-footed, and more explosive than he probably gets credit for being. I have to keep reminding myself of that because it's easy to look at last year's backups and assume little to no drop-off.
If any duo is capable of replacing an all-timer like Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon would certainly seem up for the challenge. Bielema didn't really trust them in close games last year -- they combined for just seven carries versus Michigan State, nine versus Ohio State, and eight versus Penn State -- and that's at least a bit of a warning sign. But against lesser defenses, when things were clicking, he unleashed this duo with spectacular results. Against Purdue, they combined for 23 carries and 211 yards. Against Minnesota, 25 and 195. Against Indiana, 22 and 157. And, of course, against Nebraska in the conference title game, a positively absurd 24 for 325.
Ball was the grinder, and White and Gordon (the master of the jet sweep) were the gashers. They also caught 10 of 16 passes for 197 yards, and they evidently might share the backfield a bit, as well. This could be fun.
James White. Jeff Hanisch, US Presswire.
|Jared Abbrederis||WR||6'2, 188||Sr.||NR||71||49||837||69.0%||11.8||26.0%||54.9%||11.8||149.3|
|Jacob Pedersen||TE||6'4, 241||Sr.||** (5.2)||49||27||355||55.1%||7.2||17.9%||49.0%||7.4||63.3|
|Jordan Fredrick||WR||6'3, 210||So.||*** (5.5)||27||17||196||63.0%||7.3||9.9%||48.1%||7.7||35.0|
|Kenzel Doe||WR||5'8, 171||Jr.||** (5.4)||26||16||121||61.5%||4.7||9.5%||46.2%||4.9||21.6|
|Derek Watt||FB||6'2, 230||So.||*** (5.6)||18||12||150||66.7%||8.3||6.6%||72.2%||8.6||26.8|
|James White||RB||5'10, 197||Sr.||*** (5.7)||14||8||132||57.1%||9.4||5.1%||28.6%||7.1||23.5|
|Brian Wozniak||TE||6'4, 257||Sr.||*** (5.6)||14||9||94||64.3%||6.7||5.1%||78.6%||6.3||16.8|
|Chase Hammond||WR||6'5, 209||Jr.||*** (5.5)||14||5||50||35.7%||3.6||5.1%||64.3%||3.5||8.9|
|Jeff Duckworth||WR||6'0, 206||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||9||60||75.0%||5.0||4.4%||66.7%||5.1||10.7|
|Sam Arneson||TE||6'4, 255||Jr.||*** (5.7)||5||4||19||80.0%||3.8||1.8%||100.0%||2.3||3.4|
|Reggie Love||WR||6'3, 209||So.||*** (5.6)||3||1||19||33.3%||6.3||1.1%||0.0%||2.5||3.4|
|Melvin Gordon||RB||6'1, 203||So.||**** (5.8)||2||2||65||100.0%||32.5||0.7%||50.0%||27.4||11.6|
|Austin Traylor||TE||6'3, 243||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Rob Wheelwright||WR||6'3, 185||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
6. Stay healthy, Jared
Jared Abbrederis missed a couple of games early in the year with injury and was still targeted almost 50 percent more than Wisconsin's No. 2 receiver last year. After averaging 12.6 yards per target as Russell Wilson's No. 2 receiver in 2011, he stepped up to No. 1, weathered issues at the quarterback position, and still averaged 11.8 in 2012. He is an incredible receiver, one who can do damage on short passes near the line of scrimmage, then torch you deep on play-action. He is also the only returning Wisconsin receiver who averaged better than even a mediocre 7.3 yards per target last year.
Junior Kenzel Doe is a good enough punt returner to make you think he could be come a strong weapon in space at some point, but Abbrederis is the only proven guy. Hope he doesn't get hurt again.
|Rick Wagner||LT||36 career starts; 2012 1st All-Big 10|
|Travis Frederick||C||31 career starts|
|Ryan Groy||LT||6'5, 317||Sr.||*** (5.6)||20 career starts|
|Rob Havenstein||RT||6'8, 338||Jr.||*** (5.6)||15 career starts|
|Kyle Costigan||RG||6'4, 304||Jr.||** (5.3)||9 career starts|
|Zac Matthias||RG||6'5, 323||Sr.||*** (5.6)||4 career starts|
|Robert Burge||RT||4 career starts|
|Dallas Lewallen||LG||6'6, 318||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jacob Ninneman||C||6'1, 280||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Riki Kodanko||RT||6'9, 332||Jr.||NR|
|Tyler Marz||LT||6'7, 318||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Ray Ball||LG||6'7, 327||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Dan Voltz||C||6'4, 310||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Walker Williams||OL||6'7, 318||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Trent Denlinger||RG||6'6, 285||RSFr.||NR|
|Jack Keeler||OL||6'7, 285||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Q1 Rk||36||1st Down Rk||12|
|Q2 Rk||3||2nd Down Rk||26|
|Q3 Rk||15||3rd Down Rk||19|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Beau Allen||NT||6'3, 333||Sr.||*** (5.6)||14||27.5||3.8%||7.5||2.5||0||2||1||0|
|Ethan Hemer||DT||6'6, 296||Sr.||NR||14||19.0||2.6%||2.5||1||0||3||0||0|
|Pat Muldoon||DE||6'3, 258||Sr.||*** (5.7)||11||12.5||1.7%||5.5||2.5||0||2||0||0|
|Warren Herring||NT||6'3, 286||Jr.||*** (5.5)||14||10.0||1.4%||1||0.5||0||1||0||1|
|Bryce Gilbert||DT||6'1, 307||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||7.5||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Konrad Zagzebski||DE||6'3, 271||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Jake Keefer||DT||6'3, 254||So.||**** (5.8)||4||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|James Adeyanju||DE||6'2, 259||So.||*** (5.7)||3||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Josh Harrison||DE||6'0, 231||Jr.||*** (5.5)||1||1.0||0.1%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chikwe Obasih||DE||6'3, 231||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Alec James||DE||6'4, 220||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
7. 3-4 compatibility grade: A
Wisconsin has won a lot of games in recent years, but the Badgers have done so despite what we might call poor timing. In 2011, Wisconsin ranked first in Off. F/+ but only 52nd in Def. F/+. In 2012, the defense came around (14th in Def. F/+), but the offense took a while to get rolling (28th). A team with Wisconsin's 2011 offense and special teams and 2012 defense would have ranked second overall in last year's F/+ rankings. And considering all the close losses, it's certainly not outlandish to suggest that team could have gone undefeated and made the BCS title game (and gotten whipped by Alabama). As it stands, Wisconsin made the Rose Bowl in both years, and maybe that's enough (instead of one huge peak and one lull).
That was a pretty meandering paragraph (sorry), but the main takeaway is this: the Badgers were damn good on defense last year, and they return all but two players from the front-seven two-deep. Granted, those two players (David Gilbert and Mike Taylor) were fantastic, but new coordinator Dave Aranda has a lot of toys to play with here. And honestly, the talent seems to fit his scheme.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Chris Borland||ILB||5'11, 248||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||80.0||11.1%||10||4.5||0||6||3||3|
|Ethan Armstrong||ILB||6'2, 216||Sr.||** (5.4)||14||73.5||10.2%||2||0||1||4||0||0|
|Brendan Kelly||OLB||6'6, 250||Sr.||*** (5.6)||11||22.5||3.1%||6||5||0||2||0||1|
|Derek Landisch||ILB||5'11, 227||Jr.||*** (5.5)||14||21.5||3.0%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Tyler Dippel||OLB||6'4, 267||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||15.0||2.1%||5.5||3||0||1||0||0|
|Conor O'Neill||ILB||6'0, 222||Sr.||*** (5.5)||14||12.5||1.7%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Marcus Trotter||ILB||6'0, 236||Jr.||*** (5.7)||4||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nick Hill||OLB||6'2, 222||Sr.||NR|
|Vince Biegel||OLB||6'3, 230||RSFr.||**** (5.9)|
|Garret Dooley||LB||6'2, 215||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
8. I mean, really, this is just about perfect
Perhaps the most important piece lines up in the middle; the biggest issue in shifting from 4-3 personnel to 3-4 is that you rarely inherit the type of tackle who can easily eat up blockers and man the nose tackle position properly. Size is sometimes an issue in this regard.
But Aranda inherits man-mountain Beau Allen, a player who not only meets the size requirements (and then some) but also possesses some interesting play-making ability, especially against the run. If he is able to competently play his role at NT, then the planets around him align nicely. Chris Borland is a quality inside linebacker, and Brendan Kelly and Tyler Dippel could thrive in attacking OLB roles. Mike Taylor was a one-man run-stopper, but there's still a lot to like about this front seven.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dezmen Southward||SS||6'2, 214||Sr.||** (5.3)||14||56.5||7.9%||8||0||1||4||1||0|
|Darius Hillary||CB||5'11, 187||So.||*** (5.5)||14||19.5||2.7%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Michael Trotter||FS||6'0, 210||Jr.||*** (5.7)||13||19.0||2.6%||1||1||0||1||0||0|
|Michael Caputo||SS||6'1, 198||So.||*** (5.6)||13||9.0||1.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Penial Jean||CB||5'11, 188||Jr.||*** (5.7)||5||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Devin Gaulden||DB||5'10, 186||Jr.||*** (5.5)||4||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jerry Ponio||DB||6'1, 198||Sr.||NR||10||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Terrance Floyd||DB||5'10, 197||So.||*** (5.6)||7||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kyle Zuleger||SS||5'11, 188||Sr.||NR|
|Hugs Etienne||CB||5'11, 175||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|T.J. Reynard||DB||5'11, 180||Jr.||NR|
|Keelon Brookins||DB||5'11, 185||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Sojourn Shelton||CB||5'9, 162||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
9. A black hole at cornerback
If either Marcus Cromartie or Devin Smith returned at cornerback this year, I'd almost be talking myself into Wisconsin challenging Michigan State for the best defense in the conference. (That would also be bit outlandish considering the new system, so I should thank the CBs for protecting me from myself.) But as it stands, Wisconsin appears wonderfully stocked at linebacker and on the line, and the Badgers return a seasoned safety in Dezmen Southward ... but cornerback could be quite an issue.
Cromartie and Smith combined to defense 30 passes for a defense that shored up so many of its 2011 weaknesses last year; the eight returning defensive backs, including Southward, combined for nine. For all we know Darius Hillary, Penial Jean, and perhaps a couple of newcomers (either JUCO transfers or freshmen) could provide the same level of on-ball defending, but that's probably too much to ask. The Wisconsin pass rush better be pretty fantastic -- and it may be -- because the corners are going to need a little help for a while.
|Drew Meyer||6'2, 182||So.||80||41.5||5||31||36||83.8%|
|Kyle French||6'1, 199||Jr.||49||63.5||27||55.1%|
|Jack Russell||6'0, 172||So.||28||57.8||1||3.6%|
|Kyle French||6'1, 199||Jr.||38-40||8-10||80.0%||2-6||33.3%|
|Jack Russell||6'0, 172||So.||14-15||0-1||0.0%||0-1||0.0%|
|Kenzel Doe||PR||5'8, 171||Jr.||8||12.4||1|
|Melvin Gordon||KR||6'1, 203||So.||7||21.6||0|
|Kenzel Doe||KR||5'8, 171||Jr.||7||27.9||0|
|Jared Abbrederis||PR||6'2, 188||Sr.||17||6.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||72|
|Field Goal Pct||113|
|Kick Returns Avg||53|
|Punt Returns Avg||71|
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|14-Sep||at Arizona State||36|
|28-Sep||at Ohio State||10|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||13|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||57|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+3 / +9.8|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (7, 6)|
10. A one-game season
The non-conference slate features a pair of wonderfully interesting games versus Arizona State and BYU, but non-conference only matters if you're a national title contender. Wisconsin is not. But the Badgers are probably more capable of threatening for the Big Ten title (and a fourth straight Rose Bowl) than we are giving them credit for; the offense is perhaps limited at quarterback but stocked with exactly the type of players (i.e. running backs, a play-action deep threat, and solid line) its new coordinator needs. And the defense almost looks like it was built for a 3-4 defense all along.
Wisconsin was better than its record last year and returns more than enough pieces to threaten for a fourth straight Rose Bowl. And instead of drawing, say, Michigan and Nebraska from the other division, the Badgers get Iowa (on the road) and Northwestern (at home). Everything is winnable ... except, perhaps, for the trip to Columbus on September 28.
As you'll read later this week, I'm not nearly as high on the Buckeyes as some, but the winner of the UW-OSU game will almost certainly win the
Leaders Legends West Leaders Division this year. Are the Badgers good enough to win in Columbus?