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Despite all this change, Wisconsin is still the Big Ten West's safest bet

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Every year, the Badgers seem to show up with new faces, then end up running to Indianapolis anyway.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. The case for Paul Chryst

The Wisconsin program is a massive contradiction.

The Badgers are about to be on their third coach in four seasons following the departure of Bret Bielema for Arkansas in 2013 and the shocking departure of Gary Andersen for Oregon State this past offseason. We hear rumors about the heavy-handed rule of athletic director (and sometimes head coach) Barry Alvarez. We hear it's a hard job because of assistant coaching salaries or academic standards or any other reason.

We also see Wisconsin hasn't ranked outside of the F/+ top 25 since 2008. Change and potential discord have reared their heads, and it hasn't in any noticeable way impacted the Badgers' level of play.

Arkansas State has taught us that identity and support go a long way toward surviving coaching changes. The Red Wolves changed coaches for four straight years and averaged more than eight wins per year anyway.

Wisconsin isn't in that territory, but it's clear the Badgers have benefited in the same way. Bielema and Andersen continued Alvarez's vision of power football, and it has allowed UW to continue recruiting at the same level despite change; according to the 247Sports Composite, Wisconsin's class ranked sixth in the Big Ten in 2013 (Andersen's first couple of months on the job), fifth in 2014, and fifth in 2015 (after Andersen left).

That Alvarez replaced Andersen with an experienced coach with a Wisconsin identity might be all you need to know.

Paul Chryst was Wisconsin's quarterback in the late-1980s, served as an assistant for two years under Alvarez, and called the offensive shots during the Bielema era. He is well-versed in Wisconsin football, and he has three years of head coaching experience to go along with his 14 years as a coordinator. He's got a solid offensive mind, and he retained excellent young defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. He knows what it takes to win in Madison, and he will probably do just that.

2. The case against Paul Chryst, kind of

Maybe some head coaching jobs are easier than others, but the wrong hire can still derail the train.

In three years at Pitt, Chryst won just 19 games. He inherited a team that ranked 48th in F/+ and in three seasons ranked 48th, 49th, and 43rd. His teams went 5-10 in one-possession games. His offense took a significant step forward in 2014 just in time for his defense to collapse.

Despite some exciting young talent, he was struggling to move Pitt beyond the disorganized mess he got when, yes, he became the program's third coach in three years. Chryst looks like a Wisconsin prototype, but his three years as a head coach didn't inspire tons of confidence.

Of course, if he only maintains Wisconsin's level, the Badgers will remain quite good. And the Pitt program really was in disarray. The Panthers had gone from Dave Wannstedt's pro-style attack to one year of Todd Graham's attempted spread (with a two-week hire of Michael Haywood in between), and it took Chryst a while to right the ship. He won't have that exact problem in Madison.

Plus, Chryst scored a major victory in retaining Aranda. The Wisconsin defense took a step backwards in 2014 after replacing almost its entire front seven, but in 2012, Aranda improved Utah State's defense from 96th to 12th in Def. S&P+, and in 2013, he engineered a No. 14 ranking for his first Wisconsin defense. Wisconsin's defense is unlikely to fall far with him in charge.

Odds are in Chryst's favor. And while there is more on-the-field turnover to account for -- namely, the loss of all-world running back Melvin Gordon, two All-American offensive linemen, and two outstanding inside linebackers -- he should find the personnel to his liking.

No matter who's wearing the jersey or standing on the sideline, Wisconsin, with its three Big Ten title appearances in four years, is the king of the Big Ten West until proved otherwise.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-3 | Adj. Record: 12-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 25
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
31-Aug vs. LSU 22 24-28 L 52% 1.3 40%
7-Sep Western Illinois N/A 37-3 W 78% 17.9 100%
21-Sep Bowling Green 98 68-17 W 97% 42.8 100%
28-Sep South Florida 123 27-10 W 60% 6.0 91%
5-Oct at Northwestern 71 14-20 L 31% -11.8 28%
12-Oct Illinois 78 38-28 W 76% 16.6 98%
26-Oct Maryland 62 52-7 W 98% 46.8 100%
2-Nov at Rutgers 81 37-0 W 97% 45.5 100%
9-Nov at Purdue 84 34-16 W 92% 33.4 100%
16-Nov Nebraska 30 59-24 W 98% 49.7 100%
23-Nov at Iowa 63 26-24 W 70% 12.1 84%
30-Nov Minnesota 37 34-24 W 77% 17.4 89%
7-Dec vs. Ohio State 1 0-59 L 2% -50.1 0%
2-Jan vs. Auburn 7 34-31 W 58% 5.0 46%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 35.4 29 22.6 29
Points Per Game 33.4 37 20.8 17

3. Running into a buzzsaw

Look at the percentile chart above. "One of these things ... not like the other ones..."

Until the Big Ten title game, Wisconsin's season had taken shape predictably, given personnel changes and quarterback issues. With incumbent Joel Stave battling a case of the yips, converted safety Tanner McEvoy took the QB reins and was inconsistent. The result: a slow start and a fast finish.

  • First 6 games
    Average Percentile Performance
    : 66% (~top 45 | record: 4-2)
    Average Yards Per Play: Wisconsin 7.0, Opponent 4.8 (plus-2.2)
  • Next 6 games
    Average Percentile Performance
    : 89% (~top 15 | record: 6-0)
    Average Yards Per Play: Wisconsin 7.3, Opponent 3.9 (plus-3.4)

Wisconsin was underwhelming in a loss to LSU and a mediocre win over USF, and the Badgers were a major disappointment in a 20-14 loss to Northwestern. But that comes with the territory when you've got a questionable quarterback and new defensive pieces. The blips went away.

Gordon and the run game were so good that the Badgers averaged more than 7 yards per play with a one-dimensional offense. Meanwhile, the defense went from solid to spectacular.

The Badgers advanced to the Big Ten Championship, where they were slaughtered by the eventual national champion.

Wisconsin was awesome over the last half, but there were still ifs, especially the passing game. Ohio State was bound by no ifs; the Buckeyes needed to make a case for the College Football Playoff, and with the pressure on, they played maybe the best game of the season by anybody. Wisconsin obliged by folding. And then Gary Andersen left for Corvallis.

The combination of the egg-laying and escape left a bitter taste in Wisconsin fans' mouths. But a rebound win against Auburn made things a little smoother.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.97 13 IsoPPP+ 126.8 17
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.8% 21 Succ. Rt. + 115.5 21
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.0 71 Def. FP+ 103.0 33
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.6 49 Redzone S&P+ 105.6 52
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.4 ACTUAL 26 +4.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 22 23 26 17
RUSHING 4 10 28 4
PASSING 118 60 35 75
Standard Downs 11 18 10
Passing Downs 63 71 58
Q1 Rk 93 1st Down Rk 9
Q2 Rk 25 2nd Down Rk 13
Q3 Rk 2 3rd Down Rk 13
Q4 Rk 18

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Joel Stave 6'5, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 110 206 1350 9 10 53.4% 10 4.6% 5.8
Tanner McEvoy 6'6, 222 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8690 65 112 709 5 6 58.0% 2 1.8% 6.1
Bart Houston 6'4, 218 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9175 1 3 6 1 0 33.3% 0 0.0% 2.0
D.J. Gillins 6'3, 201 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8922







Alex Hornibrook 6'4, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8281

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Melvin Gordon RB
345 2606 29 7.6 9.3 44.6% 7 6
Corey Clement RB 5'11, 217 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9308 147 949 9 6.5 6.8 42.9% 0 0
Tanner McEvoy QB 6'6, 222 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8690 63 591 6 9.4 7.0 68.3% 5 1
Dare Ogunbowale RB 5'11, 188 Jr. NR NR 34 193 1 5.7 3.1 52.9% 0 0
Kenzel Doe WR
16 149 0 9.3 9.2 62.5% 6 2
George Rushing WR 6'1, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8467 5 33 0 6.6 3.7 60.0% 0 0
Austin Ramesh RB 6'1, 247 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8613
Taiwan Deal RB 6'0, 216 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8789
Caleb Kinlaw RB 5'9, 180 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8593
Jordan Stevenson RB 5'9, 190 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9160
Bradrick Shaw RB 6'1, 205 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8779







4. Plug 'n play

The Badgers must replace the best running back in the country, a guy who rushed for nearly 2,600 yards, caught 19 passes, scored 32 touchdowns, and put together some of the most brilliant performances you'll ever see.

They must also replace the country's best right side of an offensive line, losing guard Kyle Costigan and tackle Rob Havenstein. Both were All-Americans and three-year starters. Left guard and two-year starter Dallas Lewallen is also gone.

What's your reaction? If you're honest, it's probably "Yeah, they'll be fine." It's almost impossible to worry about the Wisconsin run game. It is one of football's quintessential plug-and-play offenses. Gordon was amazing, but Corey Clement will rush for 1,500 yards if healthy. And if Clement's not, redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal will probably be ready.

A new crop of road graders -- sophomore tackle Hayden Biegel, enormous guards Walker Williams, Ray Ball, and Michael Deiter (average size: 6'6, 320) -- will probably step right in without missing more than a beat or two.

No one has a more consistent identity. The Badgers have had 13 thousand-yard rushes in the last 11 seasons, a patently absurd total, and in riding James Conner to more than 1,700 rushing yards at Pitt last year, Chryst proved he knows what to do with a good run game.

Despite the losses, the ceiling for this offense will again be defined by the pass. It was starting to get somewhere in November before falling apart, and we'll see what Chryst and coordinator Joe Rudolph (Wisconsin's tight ends coach from 2008-11 before following Chryst to Pitt) can do to get it going.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Alex Erickson WR 6'0, 196 Sr. NR NR 101 55 772 54.5% 33.7% 67.3% 7.6 84 7.5 93.6
Sam Arneson TE
43 29 387 67.4% 14.3% 46.5% 9.0 40 9.7 47.0
Kenzel Doe WR
29 17 197 58.6% 9.7% 58.6% 6.8 -12 6.8 23.9
Melvin Gordon RB
28 19 153 67.9% 9.3% 71.4% 5.5 -74 5.6 18.6
Troy Fumagalli TE 6'5, 246 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8044 25 14 187 56.0% 8.3% 40.0% 7.5 13 7.5 22.7
Jordan Fredrick WR 6'4, 214 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 19 13 126 68.4% 6.3% 26.3% 6.6 -29 7.6 15.3
Corey Clement RB 5'11, 217 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9308 16 14 119 87.5% 5.3% 37.5% 7.4 -42 8.4 14.4
George Rushing WR 6'1, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8467 10 5 62 50.0% 3.3% 70.0% 6.2 -2 7.0 7.5
Austin Traylor TE 6'3, 248 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8900 9 4 35 44.4% 3.0% 55.6% 3.9 -17 3.8 4.2
Reggie Love WR 6'3, 214 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8316 6 2 15 33.3% 2.0% 50.0% 2.5 -13 2.8 1.8
Derek Watt FB 6'2, 236 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7900 4 0 0 0.0% 1.3% 75.0% 0.0 -6 0.0 0.0
Austin Ramesh RB 6'1, 247 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8613 3 3 18 100.0% 1.0% 100.0% 6.0 -16 N/A 2.2
Robert Wheelwright WR 6'2, 201 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8855 3 1 17 33.3% 1.0% 33.3% 5.7 3 9.8 2.1
Eric Steffes TE 6'3, 259 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8600 2 0 0 0.0% 0.7% 100.0% 0.0 -3 N/A 0.0
Krenwick Sanders WR 6'1, 193 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8740 1 1 10 100.0% 0.3% 0.0% 10.0 -1 N/A 1.2
Jazz Peavy WR 6'0, 187 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8059
Kyle Penniston TE 6'5, 230 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8893
David Edwards TE 6'7, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8767

5. Wringing more out of the passing game

The Badgers had to replace their top two wideouts (Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Duckworth) and starting tight end (Jacob Pedersen), and Wisconsin's Passing S&P+ ranking slipped from 42nd to 60th. Sam Arneson became a lovely weapon at tight end, but Alex Erickson and Kenzel Doe (combined: 7.5 yards per target) couldn't replicate Abbrederis and Duckworth.

Needless to say, the quarterback situation didn't help. Tanner McEvoy, by all accounts a phenomenal athlete (as attested by his 9.4 yards per carry, not including sacks), alternated between good and horrific (against LSU and Northwestern: 12-for-34, 74 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs), then ceded the job to Joel Stave in October. Stave's yips cleared up, and after a shaky start, he found his groove.

  • First 4 games: 48% completion rate, 13.6 yards per completion, 4.7% INT rate
  • Next 4 games: 67% completion rate, 12.9 yards per completion, 1.4% INT rate

And then he lost it against Ohio State and Auburn.

  • Last 2 games: 44% completion rate, 9.9 yards per completion, 8.6% INT rate

Every time you think Stave has turned a corner, he regresses, but it appears he's the man heading into his senior season. McEvoy has moved back to safety (and also got work at receiver in the spring), and Stave fended off backups Bart Houston and D.J. Gillins.

So who will Stave be throwing to? Alex Erickson was hit-and-miss in moving from No. 4 wideout to top dog, but he had his moments -- five catches for 121 yards against Maryland, five for 160 against Minnesota. And senior Jordan Fredrick is a decent possession man. But despite the best play-action potential in the country, the big plays were sorely lacking, and unless someone like junior Robert Wheelwright or sophomore George Rushing can generate more of a threat, last year's problems might be this year's problems.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 116.7 3.37 3.8 47.5% 72.7% 19.7% 124.8 1.3% 7.6%
Rank 12 13 17 8 27 72 34 4 69
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Rob Havenstein RT 42 All-American, 2014 1st All-Big Ten
Kyle Costigan RG
35 All-American, 2014 1st All-Big Ten
Tyler Marz LT 6'5, 321 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7500 27
Dallas Lewallen LG
21
Dan Voltz C 6'3, 311 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9528 20
Walker Williams LG 6'7, 320 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8434 0
Ray Ball LG 6'7, 324 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8600 0
Michael Deiter RG 6'5, 317 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8329 0
Trent Denlinger RG
0
Hayden Biegel RT 6'6, 303 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8292 0
Jaden Gault OL 6'6, 310 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9423 0
George Panos C 6'5, 301 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8849
Beau Benzschawel RT 6'6, 291 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8145
Jacob Maxwell LT 6'6, 295 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7874
Jon Dietzen RG 6'5, 330 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8898
Kevin Estes OL 6'5, 270 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8822
David Moorman OL 6'5, 275 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8798

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.84 62 IsoPPP+ 115.4 30
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 36.1% 16 Succ. Rt. + 113.3 26
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.3 67 Off. FP+ 101.0 51
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.4 70 Redzone S&P+ 103.5 49
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.5 ACTUAL 17.0 -2.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 4 25 25 30
RUSHING 23 28 36 20
PASSING 4 23 20 35
Standard Downs 50 54 54
Passing Downs 7 5 10
Q1 Rk 42 1st Down Rk 17
Q2 Rk 4 2nd Down Rk 50
Q3 Rk 13 3rd Down Rk 48
Q4 Rk 93

6. Keeping Aranda was huge

Last year, Wisconsin had to replace 64 percent of its line tackles and 69 percent of its linebacker tackles. There were some blips (relative to the level of competition) early and against Ohio State, but aside from a few breakdowns against Iowa, the Badgers were magnificent over the final seven games of the regular season, and they kept Auburn mostly in check.

Wisconsin's overall ratings fell because of the early struggles -- from 14th in Def. S&P+ in 2013 to 29th in 2014 -- but Aranda figured out what buttons to press.

Aranda, apparently a player favorite, assures a level of continuity. But he'll also provide a constant while the front seven does more rebuilding. Gone are ends Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring and two outstanding ILBs in Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch. There is talent in the pipeline, however, and Aranda should know what to do with it.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 109.5 2.82 2.56 35.6% 62.9% 20.9% 153.3 11.0% 7.6%
Rank 33 48 17 29 38 44 5 2 62
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Arthur Goldberg DE/NG 6'3, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8407 14 19.0 2.8% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Konrad Zagzebski DE
13 15.0 2.2% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Chikwe Obasih DE 6'2, 268 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8869 14 14.5 2.1% 2.5 1.5 0 1 0 0
Warren Herring DE
9 12.5 1.8% 2.0 0.0 0 1 1 0
Alec James DE 6'3, 259 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8728 14 6.5 1.0% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
James Adeyanju NG 6'2, 262 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8800 10 6.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jake Keefer DE 6'3, 269 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9000 13 5.0 0.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Conor Sheehy NG 6'5, 279 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8857 14 1.5 0.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Garret Dooley DE 6'2, 238 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8687
Billy Hirschfeld DE 6'6, 271 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8731
Jeremy Patterson NG 6'3, 326 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8635
Zander Neuville DE 6'5, 226 RSFr. NR NR
Olive Sagapolu NG 6'2, 295 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8522
Kraig Howe DE 6'3, 253 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8472








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Marcus Trotter ILB
13 73.0 10.7% 12.0 3.5 1 1 0 0
Derek Landisch ILB
14 65.0 9.5% 15.0 8.0 1 3 0 0
Joe Schobert OLB 6'2, 240 Sr. NR 0.7700 14 56.5 8.3% 13.5 3.0 0 7 2 0
Vince Biegel OLB 6'4, 244 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9360 14 47.0 6.9% 16.5 7.5 0 2 2 0
Leon Jacobs ILB 6'2, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8066 14 23.0 3.4% 2.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Michael Trotter ILB
13 11.0 1.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Ben Ruechel ILB
14 7.0 1.0% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Sherard Cadogan OLB
4 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jesse Hayes OLB 6'3, 229 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8800 12 3.0 0.4% 1.5 1.5 0 0 1 0
Keelon Brookins ILB 5'10, 209 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8524 7 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
D'Cota Dixon ILB 5'10, 206 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8453 3 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Garret Dooley OLB 6'2, 238 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8687
Jack Cichy OLB 6'2, 220 So. NR NR
T.J. Edwards ILB 6'1, 229 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7631
Arrington Farrar OLB 6'2, 202 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8994
Nick Thomas ILB 6'2, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8194
Ty DeForest ILB 6'1, 220 Fr. NR NR








Kellen Jones (Clemson) ILB 6'0, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) N/A 13 17
0.5 0 0 0 1 0

7. High expectations for a few sophomores

A 3-4 line isn't usually intended to make many plays; the goal is to occupy blockers and allow linebackers to flow to the ball. But Wisconsin's needed to make a few more plays than it made last year.

Wisconsin linemen combined for 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2013, but those numbers fell to 11.5 and four, respectively, last fall. The pass rush was still a strength thanks to the linebackers, but Wisconsin fell from ninth to 28th in Rushing S&P+.

Aranda will do some retooling. Nose guard Arthur Goldberg moves to end, putting a lot of pressure on high-upside (and relatively undersized) sophomore Connor Sheehy, the new presumptive starter in the middle. If Sheehy holds up and former four-star signee Chikwe Obasih experiences a second-year breakthrough (he evidently had a great spring), the line will improve.

And that could mean great things for the linebackers.

Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch were more disruptive than your normal 3-4 ILBs, combining for 27 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and six passes defensed. Losing them is tough, but new starter Leon Jacobs saw action last year, and the OLBs should bring the hammer again. Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel combined for 30 (!) TFLs, 10.5 sacks, nine passes defensed, and four forced fumbles.

That's incredible production, and if the OLBs hold steady and the line improves, Wisconsin can afford a step backward at ILB.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Caputo SS 6'1, 212 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8700 14 85.0 12.4% 6 1 1 6 2 0
Peniel Jean FS
14 44.5 6.5% 3 1 2 0 0 0
Darius Hillary CB 5'11, 188 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8500 14 31.0 4.5% 3 0 0 5 0 0
Sojourn Shelton CB 5'9, 178 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8672 14 28.5 4.2% 1 0 0 6 0 0
Tanner McEvoy
(2013)
FS 6'6, 222 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8690 11 20.0 3.1% 1 0 1 4 0 0
Lubern Figaro FS 6'0, 179 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8306 13 18.0 2.6% 1.5 0 1 0 1 0
Austin Hudson DB 6'2, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7994 14 16.5 2.4% 1 1 0 0 1 0
Derrick Tindal CB 5'11, 174 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8215 12 10.0 1.5% 1 1 0 1 0 0
Joe Ferguson SS 6'1, 210 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 14 8.5 1.2% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Devin Gaulden CB 5'10, 187 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 14 8.0 1.2% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Leo Musso SS 5'10, 194 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 12 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Jordan CB 6'0, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8500 14 6.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Terrance Floyd CB 5'10, 191 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8400 9 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Serge Trezy CB 6'1, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519
Natrell Jamerson CB 5'11, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8414
Evan Bondoc FS 6'1, 201 RSFr. NR NR
Titus Booker CB 5'11, 176 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8587








8. An underrated secondary returns almost intact

Wisconsin's secondary benefited from a strong pass rush in 2014, but it also benefited from play-making depth of its own. Three DBs recorded at least three tackles for loss, three defensed at least five passes, and seven saw solid playing time. Of those seven, six return, and that doesn't include 2013 contributor Tanner McEvoy, back from his sojourn at QB.

With McEvoy sliding into the role of departed free safety Peniel Jean, it appears this secondary is stable. And while there are seniors at the top, a fun crop of sophomores will serve as understudies. From a recruiting rankings perspective, Wisconsin hasn't signed the most high-upside defensive backs in the world, but Badger DBs were successful in 2014 and should be again.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Drew Meyer 6'3, 187 Sr. 54 37.4 3 16 18 63.0%
Bart Houston 6'4, 218 Jr. 7 34.7 0 0 1 14.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Andrew Endicott 5'9, 175 Jr. 90 61.5 28 1 31.1%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Rafael Gaglianone 5'11, 231 So. 59-61 14-15 93.3% 5-7 71.4%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Kenzel Doe KR 28 22.3 0
Kenzel Doe PR 24 10.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 86
Field Goal Efficiency 9
Punt Return Efficiency 70
Kick Return Efficiency 102
Punt Efficiency 112
Kickoff Efficiency 49
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 125

9. Find a return man

Kenzel Doe's production as a return man was somewhere between decent and below average; in the Big Ten, that's more like bad and dismal. The Big Ten has the best set of return men in the country, and Wisconsin lost field position ground both because of the lack of a return game and the lack of good punt coverage.

With Doe gone, Wisconsin has to roll the dice again. The Badgers have a pretty good place-kicker in Rafael Gaglianone, but special teams might again be a net loss if the new return man isn't efficient enough.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep vs. Alabama 1
12-Sep Miami (Ohio) 113
19-Sep Troy 124
26-Sep Hawaii 118
3-Oct Iowa 57
10-Oct at Nebraska 30
17-Oct Purdue 74
24-Oct at Illinois 63
31-Oct Rutgers 79
7-Nov at Maryland 56
21-Nov Northwestern 62
28-Nov at Minnesota 42
Five-Year F/+ Rk 35.6% (10)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 35 / 36
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -9 / -1.9
2014 TO Luck/Game -2.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (6, 7)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 10.7 (-0.7)

10. The champion until proven otherwise

It's hard to avoid making assumptions. No matter the coach, no matter the personnel, you know the Badgers are going to run well, and thanks to four top-30 defenses in the last six years, you assume they are going to play steady D. There will be power football, there will be "Jump Around," and there will be wins.

We assume this, but turnover makes this less than completely certain.

Still, Wisconsin is the surest bet in the Big Ten West. Minnesota has risen for three straight years, and Nebraska's got new energy and a nice schedule. But the kings are still the kings until they are dethroned. The Badgers have won three of four against Nebraska and 11 straight against Minnesota. That they have to go to Lincoln and Minneapolis is scary, especially since the passing game isn't guaranteed to improve, but they avoid both Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Penn State out of the East and will be favorites in each of their other six conference games.

Paul Chryst isn't a perfect hire, but he seems good enough to keep this ship steered. Wisconsin will have a solid chance of winning the West, and with quite a few high-impact underclassmen, the Badgers set up well for 2016 as well.

Plus, considering his background, Chryst probably isn't going to leave in two years. The pieces are in place for a sustained run, even if there's a non-zero possibility of a 2015 blip.