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Monday, August 11, 2008
Three questions for Wisconsin


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll be taking a look at Wisconsin throughout the day. Here are three key questions facing the Badgers this fall:

Can fifth-year senior quarterback Allan Evridge effectively lead the offense?

Evridge is distancing himself in the quarterback competition and will likely start the opener Aug. 30 against Akron. He's not a first-timer at this, having started six games as a redshirt freshman at Kansas State in 2005. He'll have help, thanks to a veteran offensive line, three capable running backs and an All-American tight end in Travis Beckum. Evridge looked good on rollouts in Saturday's scrimmage but occasionally forced throws, which he can't do this fall. Wisconsin doesn't need a hero under center, but rather a game manager with the ability to periodically punish defenses cheating up to the line. Evridge seems to have the right makeup, but it has been three seasons since he last received meaningful playing time.

How will the Badgers' special teams fare without All-Big Ten performers Taylor Mehlhaff and Ken DeBauche?

The kicking game has been a huge part of Wisconsin's success, as the Badgers tied for the Big Ten lead in field goals with 21 last season and DeBauche ranked third in the league in punting average [41.6 ypp). The offense likely won't surge right away, so field goals and field position will loom large. Freshman punter Brad Nortman has performed well in preseason practice, but his age is a mini concern. The bigger questions are at kicker, where coach Bret Bielema hopes to see some separation soon. Matt Fischer has a slight edge over Philip Welch coming out of the first week, but the junior has yet to attempt a kick in a game.

How will the secondary fare against some of the Big Ten's spread offenses?

This unit worries me a bit. The Badgers lost their top cover corner in Jack Ikegwuonu, and two potential starters at cornerback, Allen Langford and Aaron Henry, are coming off ACL surgeries. Free safety Shane Carter led the Big Ten in interceptions last season, but he'll have to improve his tackling this fall. Like many Big Ten secondaries, the Badgers struggled against spread teams last fall, allowing 501 yards against Minnesota and 410 yards to Illinois. Young defensive backs Mario Goins and Jay Valai look promising, and the Badgers will look for help from junior Chris Maragos, who should contribute at nickelback.