- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's plop back into our series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten squad entering the 2012 season.
We remind you again that this is not necessarily a listing of the best players on each team, but of those whose absence would cause the most pain because of their particular value or a lack of depth at their positions. The Wisconsin Badgers go under the microscope today.
Jared Abbrederis, WR, Jr.
It's been quite a journey for Abbrederis, going from walk-on to indispensable player. But on offense, he is without peer right now. Yes, Montee Ball is the superstar and a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite. But Wisconsin would be able to run the ball without him, thanks to James White and Melvin Gordon. Ricky Wagner and Travis Frederick are extremely valuable on the offensive line, but we've seen over and over again how the Badgers can replace offensive linemen with virtually no dropoff. With Nick Toon graduated, there are no receivers on the roster with nearly as much experience or proven production as Abbrederis, who led the team with 933 receiving yards a year ago. He also was the nation's best punt returner in 2011. Abbrederis' absence from spring practice because of a foot injury exposed the youth and inconsistency of the wideout corps; any extended time missed in the fall would severely hurt the Badgers' chances of repeating as Big Ten champions.
Chris Borland, MLB, Jr.
You could pick Borland or outside linebacker Mike Taylor for this spot, since both are among the best in college football at the position. We're going with Borland because of what he means to the defense as the middle linebacker. He had 143 tackles last year in his first year of playing in the middle and should be better for the experience this season. Head coach Bret Bielema, a former linebacker coach himself, says Borland might be the best middle linebacker he's ever coached. Wisconsin managed to make the Rose Bowl two years ago when Borland missed the season with an injury, but the talent dropoff from him to the next guy in would make it tough for the Badgers to do the same in 2012.