Big Ten: Chris Borland

Take Two: Big Ten's best defense?

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
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Our crew of Big Ten reporters will periodically offer takes on burning questions that face the league. We’ll have strong opinions, though not the same view. We’ll let you decide who’s right.

Wednesday's topic: What team has the conference's best defense? At this point, the answer certainly seems to be either Penn State or Wisconsin. So who has the leg up?

Take 1: Josh Moyer

We can both agree these defenses are among the best in the country but, however you want to weigh these two, I feel as if Penn State has to come out on top. The Nittany Lions’ defense is out on an island in Happy Valley -- surrounded by an ocean of struggles, with the No. 109 total offense on one side and the No. 111 punting game on the other -- so it has to work a little harder to put up the same numbers as Wisconsin. It’s dealing with shorter fields and more offensive plays, but it still comes out on top in just about every statistical category.

Penn State boasts the better rush defense, I think that much is beyond debate. Offenses have run the ball against PSU 16 more times than Wisconsin, but the Badgers have allowed 79 more yards. And Penn State just broke Tevin Coleman’s streak of 100-yard rushing games, so I won’t harp on this point.

So let’s move on to pass defense. Yes, Wisconsin is ranked ahead of Penn State here; it’s No. 3 in the nation, while PSU is No. 13. But passing yards per game is just a little misleading since the Nittany Lions’ defense has been faced with 40 more pass plays than Wisconsin. So, of course, they’ve allowed a few more yards. But PSU has still allowed fewer passing TDs, fewer passing yards per attempt and fewer passing yards per completion. In other words, if offenses threw against each defense the same amount, Penn State would come out on top every time.

It’s not just limiting yards that makes Penn State’s defense so impressive either. It has put this entire team on its back; it’s the reason these Lions have won five games. In six Big Ten games, the defense has allowed just nine touchdowns in regulation -- and only two TD drives have gone longer than 60 yards. In Wisconsin’s five conference games, the defense has allowed eight TDs in regulation -- and four TD drives have gone longer than 60 yards. On average, regarding those TD drives, Penn State’s opponents started 10 yards closer to the end zone compared to Wisconsin’s.

Penn State boasts the top linebacker in the conference (Mike Hull), the top defensive tackle in the Big Ten (Anthony Zettel) and, arguably, the best defensive coordinator (Bob Shoop). Plus, its defense has actually been tested -- since Wisconsin hasn't once faced a Power Five team with a top-60 offense, and PSU nearly upset Ohio State. So, when you combine all of that, I think it’s obvious: Penn State boasts the best defense.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

There's no doubt these are two outstanding units led by two underrated coordinators in Shoop and Wisconsin's Dave Aranda, who are good friends who trade ideas in the offseason. Both are among the more creative defensive play-callers in the country, and both have taken over units with significant question marks and made them much, much better.

Penn State might have more star power and superior numbers in certain categories, but Wisconsin is my pick for its overall team performance. There's no weakness in this unit, which is amazing as only three starters returned from 2013 and the Badgers lost linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year. Aranda has done one of the best coaching jobs in the country, as has Shoop.

I look at common opponents, and Wisconsin has been superior. The Badgers shut out Rutgers (Penn State allowed 10 points), held Maryland to seven points (Penn State allowed 20) and gave up 20 to Northwestern (Penn State allowed 22 offensive points to the Wildcats). These aren't huge differences, but we're talking about two very good, very even defenses here.

You outline Penn State's offensive struggles, which are significant and have put the defense in tough situations. Wisconsin has had its own offensive issues, especially early on as the quarterback situation was a real mess. The Badgers lead the nation in fewest yards allowed (251.1), fewest first downs allowed (118) and goal-to-go efficiency (37.5 percent touchdowns on goal-to-go attempts).

Wisconsin also has limited 72.9 percent of opponents’ drives to six plays or fewer, the best mark in the FBS. Only Ole Miss' Landshark defense has done so on at least 70 percent of opponents' possessions.

Penn State's defense might jump out more because of players such as Zettel and Hull, but Wisconsin just locks you down every time you step on the field. The Badgers also are receiving tremendous production from players like linebacker Derek Landisch and safety Michael Caputo.

I agree the Badgers need to prove more, beginning Saturday against Nebraska's offense, by far the best unit they've faced. But I'm continually impressed with Aranda's group and give Wisconsin a slight edge over Penn State.

Wisconsin Badgers season preview

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Wisconsin Badgers:

2013 overall record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten)

Key losses: RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, OG Ryan Groy, DE Pat Muldoon, DT Beau Allen, LB Chris Borland, S Dezmen Southward

Key returnees: RB Melvin Gordon, OT Rob Havenstein, OG Kyle Costigan, OT Tyler Marz, CB Sojourn Shelton, S Michael Caputo

Instant impact newcomer: Safety Lubern Figaro. If you're from outside the Badger State, you're probably asking, "Who?" After all, Figaro was just a three-star recruit and enrolled over the summer -- but he's already projected to start in the opener. Part of the reason is reportedly an injury to safety Leo Musso, but Figaro has already done plenty to separate himself. In the first scrimmage this preseason, he returned a pick for a touchdown. DB Sojourn Shelton made an impact last season when he was a true freshman; now it looks as if it's Figaro's turn.

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsSojourn Shelton and the Badgers' defense will have their hands full against teams in the West Division.
Projected starters

Offense: QB: Joel Stave, RS Jr., 6-5, 220; RB: Melvin Gordon, RS Jr., 6-1, 213; FB: Derek Watt, RS Jr., 6-2, 236; WR: Alex Erickson, RS So., 6-0, 196; WR: Reggie Love, RS So., 6-3, 214; TE: Sam Arneson, Sr., 6-4, 244; OT: Tyler Marz, RS Jr., 6-5, 321; OG: Dallas Lewallen, RS Sr., 6-6, 321: C: Dan Voltz, RS So., 6-3, 311; OG: Kyle Costigan, RS Sr., 6-5, 319; OT: Rob Havenstein, RS Sr., 6-8, 333

Defense: DE: Chikwe Obasih, RS Fr., 6-2, 268; DT: Warren Herring, RS Sr., 6-3, 294; DE: Konrad Zagzebski, RS Sr., 6-3, 277; OLB: Joe Schobert, Jr., 6-2, 240; ILB: Marcus Trotter, RS Sr., 6-0, 226; ILB: Derek Landisch, Sr., 6-0, 231; OLB: Vince Biegel, RS So., 6-4, 244; CB: Darius Hillary, RS Jr., 5-11, 188; CB: Sojourn Shelton, So., 5-9, 178; S: Michael Caputo, RS Jr., 6-1, 212; S: Lubern Figaro, Fr., 6-0, 179

Specialists: P: Drew Meyer, RS Jr., 6-3, 187; PK: Rafael Gaglianone, Fr., 5-11, 231

Biggest question mark: Can this front seven recover from so many key departures? Of the seven players who started in the Badgers' bowl game last season, only one returns. That leaves quite a few holes, especially when considering the departures of Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Borland and two All-Big Ten honorable mentions (Beau Allen, Pat Muldoon). Wisconsin's front seven dominated in 2013, as they helped the Badgers rank No. 5 nationally in rush defense (102.5 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring defense (16.3 points per game). Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is solid, but he's not a magician. Those defensive numbers will almost certainly drop from last season -- but just how much?

Most important game: Nov. 15 versus Nebraska. It's basically a three-team race in the West Division, so this is a must-win if Wisconsin wants a spot in the Big Ten championship game. There's no Ohio State or Michigan State on the schedule this season, so the Huskers and Iowa Hawkeyes are the teams to beat. Iowa is just as important, but that contest comes a week later, and that won't mean a thing if Wisconsin first can't get past this contest.

Upset special: Nov. 29 versus Minnesota. A lot could be on the line when the Badgers square off against Minnesota in the final game of the regular season. And, depending how Wisconsin's defense progresses, this could be an interesting one. Wisconsin's run defense is a wild card right now, and the Gophers could boast the second-toughest rushing attack on Wisconsin's schedule (outside of Nebraska). No team held Wisconsin to fewer points (20) last season than Minnesota, so there is some potential here. Plus, one has to think the Gophers will be able to manage better than a seven-point offensive effort this time around.

Key stat: Sure, everyone knows the departure of Jared Abbrederis will hurt Wisconsin. But the Badgers actually lost their top four targets, and only one (Jordan Fredrick) recorded catches in the double-digits. And he had just 10. Overall, Wisconsin lost 81 percent of its receiving production, as this year's returners had just 42 combined receptions last season compared with the 217 total catches.

What they're wearing: Wisconsin has come a long way since 2010, because it basically went from rotating between two uniform combinations to doing photo shoots with more than 20 combinations.

One possible new look includes an all-red, jersey-pant combo (not to be confused with Nebraska's all-red getup):

Team's top Twitter follows: Head coach Gary Andersen (@UWCoachAndersen) joined Twitter just a few weeks ago, but he pumps out unique tweets and is a great follow. The official Wisconsin football account (@BadgerFootball) tweets like crazy and is always on the ball. As far as players, running back Melvin Gordon (@Melvingordon25) is a no-brainer, while cornerback Sojourn Shelton (@SDS1_) definitely deserves a few more follows. There are quite a few good follows for your coverage needs -- besides us, of course -- including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) and SB Nation blog Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q).

They said it: "No question there's a temptation to run him every time." – Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen on running back Melvin Gordon

Stats & Info projection: 9.29 wins

Wise guys over/under: 9.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Ten wins. Wisconsin has a lot of question marks, but it also has a lot of talent. The rushing offense should be one of the nation's best and, while this defense will undoubtedly take a step back from last season, it shouldn't free-fall with Dave Aranda at the helm. Wisconsin's schedule is pretty favorable, as it doesn't play any of the big names from the East, and it's possible it could be favored in every game from Week 2 on. Wisconsin's getting the benefit of the doubt here, but if it can manage a win against LSU in the opener, that bandwagon is going to get big in a hurry.

Big Ten's lunch links

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
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Pre-fireworks links:
Melvin Gordon passed up the NFL draft, where he likely would have been the first running back selected, in order to lead Wisconsin to the first College Football Playoff.

It's an admirable pursuit and one that endears Gordon to Badgers fans even more than his electrifying runs. But is Wisconsin really a playoff candidate? Not now. Honestly, the Badgers aren't that close at this point.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesMelvin Gordon and the run game are proven commodities, but the Badgers have questions at QB and on defense.
The playoff candidate lists are coming out seemingly every day, and most of them include Wisconsin. Fox's list of 20 playoff contenders includes Wisconsin at No. 8. The Badgers also appear in ESPN.com's list of 16 playoff contenders. Wisconsin makes the preseason top 15 for all five of these publications.

Am I missing something? Wisconsin returns just nine starters from the 2013 team, which went 9-4. Only Utah State -- ironically, Badgers coach Gary Andersen's former squad -- returns fewer starters than the Badgers. Wisconsin has quarterback issues, wide receiver issues and defensive star-power issues. It spent the spring practicing with four or five healthy wideouts and shifting around almost every player on defense. Its only experienced quarterback, Joel Stave, is battling a throwing shoulder injury and coming off a shaky season. Its potential starting signal-caller, Tanner McEvoy, played safety and wide receiver for the team last season. Its potential defensive leader, linebacker Derek Landisch, has three career starts.

What exactly about this team screams playoff contender or preseason top 15? It's easy to buy into Gordon, a bona fide national star after rushing for 1,609 yards on only 206 carries in 2013. His backup, Corey Clement, is pretty darn good, too. And the offensive line could resemble the dominant units Wisconsin is known for, although the group also dealt with injuries this spring.

History also helps Wisconsin and shouldn't be dismissed. This has been one of the more consistent programs in the country, averaging 9.6 wins per season during the past decade. It's a pretty good bet that in most seasons Wisconsin will be, well, pretty good.

And then there's the schedule, the single biggest reason fueling the Wisconsin playoff hype (either that, or folks simply aren't doing their homework on the roster). After the big-event opener against LSU in Houston, the Badgers face the following teams: Western Illinois, Bowling Green, South Florida, Northwestern, Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue. All should be wins (Northwestern might be tricky, as Wisconsin hasn't won at Ryan Field since 1999). Wisconsin finishes with Nebraska (home), Iowa (road) and Minnesota (home), but doesn't play any of the big four in the East Division -- Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.

Everyone agrees it's an extremely favorable slate. Here's the thing: Wisconsin has had good running backs before. It has received some breaks in the schedule. And it never finished in the top four of the final BCS standings, despite teams that entered the season with far more answers than this one.

Could the Badgers make the field of four? If they upset LSU in the opener, it's certainly possible. But people shouldn't discount who this team has lost: five NFL draft picks -- linebacker Chris Borland, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, running back James White, safety Dezmen Southward and defensive tackle Beau Allen -- along with key complementary pieces such as tight end Jacob Pedersen, offensive lineman Ryan Groy and defensive end Brendan Kelly.

I really like Andersen. I like his staff, too, especially defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. But they have a ton of work to do and questions to answer before the opener Aug. 30 in Houston.

As I've written before, this feels more like their first season in Madison than their second. Wisconsin could evolve into a playoff contender. It is not one at this point.
Northwestern’s coming off an unusual 2013 season -- losing four straight games by one score -- and has endured quite the unique offseason with the unionization vote.

Through it all, redshirt senior Trevor Siemian has been a constant for the Wildcats. He’s a team leader, the starting quarterback -- and a big reason this team isn’t overly concerned with Kain Colter's graduation.

ESPN.com checked in with Siemian recently to chat about some hypotheticals, the goals for this season -- and about his unhealthy obsession with a certain rock band that formed in the '90s.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Siemian
Byron Hetzler/USA TODAY SportsThere are very few things that Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian values more than a Dave Matthews Band concert.
Important first question for you, Trevor. It’s fourth-and-goal. You’re on the 5-yard-line. There’s one second left, and you’re down by five. What play do you call?

Trevor Siemian: Four verticals, and pick a matchup -- and let one of our receivers make a play, give him a chance. Yeah, I don’t think I’d go wrong there. At that point in time, it’s just a matter of who’s going to step up and make a big play for us. Maybe throw a fade or an inside vertical to Christian [Jones] or Dan Vitale.

You didn’t really have to think about that -- at all. Is that just because you always have to be ready for something like that, in case you’re in a no-huddle or there are no timeouts?

TS: We play fast as heck anyway. [Laughs] So a play’s over, and I’m already thinking most of the time what we’re running before our guys are even tackled. I just think it’s instinctive because when you try to push the tempo, you see down and distance and, from there, what the game plan is, so you’re just trying not to be surprised by the call when it comes in. I’ve been here for four-and-a-half, five years so I kind of have a good feel for what they’re thinking and vice versa. It’s good that we’re on the same page.

Good answer -- so let me shoot another hypothetical your way. Tomorrow, a new NCAA rule says Northwestern can pick any player in the Big Ten and add him to the roster. Who are you taking?

TS: Oh man, that’s still playing? I’m trying to think. I got to be careful here. ... I don’t know, maybe that running back from Wisconsin -- Melvin Gordon's pretty good. I’m trying to think of who else but, you know, I’m really not sure.

It seemed like you had an answer waiting if I said you could’ve picked a guy from last year. You have someone in mind there?

TS: You know, I was going to tell you Chris Borland. I thought he was pretty good when he played us.

You said before that fans recognize you around campus and will ask for a photo or autograph every now and then. But let me flip that around: What’s one celebrity that’d make you go fan-boy crazy if you met them?

TS: Probably Dave Matthews. I’m a big Dave Matthews fan; that’d be pretty cool to meet him. And maybe like the president would be pretty cool, too.

I love how Dave Matthews was your first choice, and Barack Obama was No. 2. Why such a big DMB fan?

TS: I don’t know. I think with Dave fans, it’s like if you’re a fan of Dave Matthews, you’re in this community. It’s like everyone is beaucoup crazy for Dave Matthews. I am to a certain extent -- I don’t have any Dave tattoos or anything, like I see at his concerts with some people going a little overboard with. But I think it’s a little different from most other bands; the following seems to be almost more dedicated.

Well, if I have to ask since you’re such a big Dave fan, what’s your favorite song?

TS: That’s a tough question. I don’t know if it’s my favorite song, but here’s a funny story: One of my roommates used to always play, ‘You and Me’ with his girlfriend in high school. So whenever I’m with him, I’ll try to sneak in and play ‘You and Me’ loudly on my phone. But, for me, maybe ‘Funny the Way It Is.’ I don’t know, picking a Dave song is like ... I don’t know. I’m actually going to see them July 5, I want to say.

We’ve covered your favorite musician, so I feel like it’s only natural to ask -- what’s your favorite movie?

TS: I like Shawshank Redemption, but my favorite movie is Sandlot for sure. I must’ve watched it 600 times when I was a kid, and I just dig it. I’m a big Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez fan. I thought the characters were pretty cool -- like Squints, the Ham -- I just thought it was a cool movie. They have to turn it back on sometime soon here.

I haven’t seen that movie in FOR-EV-ER. But let’s switch gears here a minute. There’s been quite a bit of talk about unionization, and I know you don’t want to dwell on that. But you and your teammates didn’t all agree here -- how is that going to affect you guys when the season starts?

TS: I think it was tough to say going through it all when it happened. But I actually think, looking back, I think it was good for us in a sense -- just for guys talking about things that matter to us and guys had beliefs one way or another and overcoming all that. It was kind of a point for us to rally around and get over. And, looking back now, our guys were so mature handling that whole ordeal. It’s not even an issue now. I think it’ll help us out in the long-term.

Finish this sentence: Northwestern’s 2014 season will be a success if __________.

TS: We win the Rose Bowl.

I should've seen that coming. Anyway, we’re in World Cup mode, and I asked Rutgers’ tight end this. So final question: Who’s going to win it all this year?

TS: My heart wants to say USA, man. Big time. And we got a chance. I thought going into it, before we beat Ghana -- I’m not going to lie -- I thought Argentina was going to run away with it. And Brazil tied Mexico, so I don’t know how strong they look either. But, in a perfect world, USA wins on a Clint Dempsey 89th-minute goal to seal the deal.
Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton doesn't talk like a freshman or act like a freshman. Last season, he often didn't play like a freshman, recording four interceptions, three more than any other Badger, and a team-high seven pass breakups.

One of two early enrollees in Wisconsin's 2013 recruiting class, Shelton displays an uncommon maturity. Most players his age at a position known for bravado would beam about four interceptions in their first college season. Shelton thinks he should have had eight.

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIAfter a freshman season with four interceptions, defensive back Sojourn Shelton is taking on a leadership role for the Badgers.
Most Wisconsin fans can't bear to watch last season's game at Ohio State because of the what-ifs in a 31-24 loss. Arguably no play brought more pain than a dropped interception by Shelton just before halftime. On the next play, Ohio State fired a 40-yard touchdown pass with one second left on the clock.

Shelton watches that play a lot. He also watches Wisconsin's regular-season finale against Penn State, a stunning home loss in which the Badgers surrendered 339 pass yards, four touchdowns and their three longest plays allowed all season.

"I watch the bad games, honestly," Shelton told ESPN.com this spring. "You talk to my coaches and they'll tell you I'm probably my worst critic. When I look back, I definitely see the opportunities that I had. Everybody brings up Ohio State. There's a couple other plays that, instead of PBUs, I could turn them into interceptions.

"But the best part about it is it gives me something else to push forward to this year."

Shelton's approach is exactly what coaches want from players who had success as freshmen. But just to make sure, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen met with the 5-foot-9, 172-pound cornerback about a week into spring practice, just before Shelton and his teammates left for spring break.

I don't want to see a sophomore slump, Andersen told Shelton.

The directive probably had more to do with Andersen than Shelton.

"I'm paranoid when it comes to stuff like that," Andersen admitted. "So I bring it up and we talk about it and I did not see it, which was a great thing. To his credit, he kept on going. He's got high expectations for himself, and he handles them in the right way."

After Wisconsin lost seven defensive starters from 2013, including three players selected in the NFL draft -- safety Dezmen Southward, linebacker Chris Borland and nose guard Beau Allen -- the coaches spent the spring shifting players from position to position. The goal: to upgrade the unit's speed. Two of the only players who stayed put were the cornerbacks: Shelton and junior Darius Hillary.

Shelton spent the session sharpening his game. He worked on 50-50 balls, an area opponents with tall receivers could try to exploit because of Shelton's frame, and improved his pre-snap recognition with wide receiver splits, potential coverage changes and more.

"I give credit to [cornerbacks coach] Ben Strickland," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "Ben's a stickler for details and Sojourn's been brought up that way and doesn't know anything different. He's searching for those little details that can put him over the top.

"He's not one to rest on his laurels."

Junior safety Mike Caputo sees Shelton as a veteran and a leader, noting that age isn't as big a factor as experience, of which Shelton received plenty in 2013. With Borland and others no longer around, the Badgers defense needs some new voices.

Shelton, who started 12 games in 2013, is happy to speak up.

"Coach always talks about playing with juice and swagger and when you make a play, be excited about it," he said. "That's one of my strengths. People don't understand how hard it is to play corner in college football against so many good receivers. You have to play with the confidence that you can go out there and shut these guys down.

"It is difficult, but at the same time, that's what makes it fun."

Many talented young players struggle to grow up. Shelton embraces his accelerated evolution at Wisconsin.

He sets high standards for himself, both in the immediate and the long term.

"I want to be the best corner in the Big Ten," he said. "It's something I’m pursuing. If I continue to move forward and that becomes the role, I'll be excited to take it on."

Big Ten Monday mailblog

May, 12, 2014
May 12
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Filling in for the vacationing Brian Bennett on today's mailblog. Because of Big Ten athletic directors' meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, my next mailblog will come to you at the usual time Friday afternoon. Send questions here or tweet 'em at me here.

Let's get going ...

Glenn from Vancouver writes: What the heck happened to Max Bullough? Four on the draft depth chart and eight ILBs taken in the draft. Presumably everyone interested in him asked what happened with the Rose Bowl suspension so either he refused to answer the question or the answer was unacceptable. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Always great to hear from one of my favorite North American cities, Glenn. The Rose Bowl suspension undoubtedly hurt Bullough, but he also showed up to the East-West Shrine Game much heavier than he played during the season. It seems like NFL teams went for speed and versatility at linebacker more than college production. Wisconsin's Chris Borland also went later than expected, and Iowa's James Morris, like Bullough, wasn't drafted. But not to see Bullough anywhere in seven rounds of the draft was a shock.




Jim from Baton Rouge, La., writes: Your commentary about Coach Tressel becoming YSU's President seems trite to me. At face value, it succeeds only by reducing the role of the Office to one of fundraising. And, Tressel is not a professional fundraiser, e.g., a certified one. He is not even a successful previously employed fundraiser. I find your consideration of the role of an accredited university president embarrassing, of the office, the school, the reader, and the writer.

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, university presidents obviously do much more than fundraising, but to think fundraising isn't the main thrust of their jobs is naive. That's how schools grow and, in some cases, how they survive. You say Tressel has no professional fundraising experience. You think football coaches don't schmooze university donors? C'mon, Jim. Tressel is an instantly recognizable figure, especially in northeast Ohio. He knows how to connect with large groups and, in my opinion, will be able to reach out to more potential donors than a standard university president whom many don't know.

Also, Tressel gained important experience in the university setting the past two years at Akron. From my story on him in November:
Tressel oversees areas like admissions and recruitment, academic support, retention, financial aid and the career center.

He made major changes to the way Akron attracts, admits, educates and advises students. As of last week, Akron had received about 3,000 more freshman applications than it had the previous year, an increase of 52 percent. Tressel moved the career center from a far-flung location to the middle of the student union. He set up the Roo Crew, which connects alumni and others around the university community with current students to assist with job placement. More than 700 alumni are part of the group.

Tressel isn't a traditional hire, but he can succeed in this role, whether folks want to admit it or not.




Matt from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: In Friday's mailbag, Shane from Maine asked about Iowa’s schedule and the opportunity to run the table. In your response, which as an honest fan I totally agree with, you said they will lose some close games and have a 9-10 win season. So looking through the schedule and your prediction, and obviously before that one if two losses is coming from either Nebraska or Wisconsin. My question for you is which of those two is more likely to beat the Hawks this year? And lastly, one team aside from these two to beat the Hawks?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, both games will be tough for Iowa, but I'm going to go with Nebraska because there are more certainties about the Huskers than the Badgers at this point. Nebraska will be out to avenge last year's blowout home loss to Iowa, and the Huskers should be able to match up better with Iowa at the line of scrimmage. I'm not knocking Wisconsin, but I just have a lot of questions about the Badgers right now. They should figure things out by the Nov. 22 trip to Kinnick, but we'll see. Pitt could be a tough early season trip for Iowa, as the Panthers are on the rise. Northwestern always plays Iowa tough and easily could have won last year's game. The Minnesota trip is another tricky game, although Iowa dominated at TCF Bank Stadium last year.




@HoosierHolmes via Twitter asks: How do you see IU's offense adjusting to losing 3 of its top WR's and top TE?

Adam Rittenberg: It feels odd that wide receiver/tight end will be a question mark for the Hoosiers, as the program has been good at both spots, but there are some major voids right now. IU needs a huge year from Shane Wynn, who has explosive ability. The key will be filling spots on the outside, whether it's a veteran like Nick Stoner or Isaiah Roundtree, or a younger player like freshman Dominique Booth. Also, keep an eye on Isaac Griffith, who was impressing people before his swimming accident and could become a great story this season.




Shelby from Dallas writes: How important is the App. State game this year for Michigan? Will a win just suffice or do they need to dominate from wire to wire to erase the bad taste in their mouth from last time they met?

Adam Rittenberg: Shelby, none of the current Michigan players or coaches was part of the Appalachian State game in 2007, so I don't know if the revenge factor matters. But the Wolverines absolutely need a strong showing in the opener, especially with the questions about the offense that persisted during spring practice. The offensive line needs to dominate, Derrick Green and others need to run the ball and quarterback Devin Gardner needs to play a smart game. Michigan has a Week 2 trip to Notre Dame and needs to head there with some confidence. Keep in mind, too, that this Appalachian State team isn't nearly as strong as the 2007 version.
Tired of NFL draft rewind posts? Well, it's nearly over. And besides, not much else is happening in mid-May.

We're taking a closer look, roundtable-style, at the Big Ten's draft: how certain teams did, the risers, the falls and more. Noted draft hater Brian Bennett is somewhere in Italy, so Big Ten reporters Mitch Sherman, Josh Moyer and Austin Ward are kind enough to join me in breaking down the draft.

The draft roundtable is on the clock ...

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Elsa/Getty ImagesRyan Shazier ended a three-year drought without a Buckeye in the first round.
Let's start off with individual teams you cover -- Nebraska (Sherman), Penn State (Moyer) and Ohio State (Ward), for those who need a refresher. What stood out to you most about each team's draft showing?

Moyer: Penn State had just three players drafted, so what really stood out to me was how divided the opinion was on Allen Robinson, who was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round. At times, he was a projected first-rounder. At other times, he wasn't projected to go until Day 3. Some lauded the Jags' pick; others labeled it a reach. Let me add my two cents: He's going to succeed in the NFL. I spoke with two former PSU and NFL wideouts, O.J. McDuffie and Kenny Jackson, and they both said last season that A-Rob boasts more physical skills than they ever did. That has to count for something.

Sherman: NFL organizations continue to rate Nebraska defensive backs highly. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second round to the Saints) was the 11th draftee from the secondary in the past 10 years. Since 2003, though, just two Nebraska offensive players, including new Redskins guard Spencer Long, have landed in the top three rounds. Receiver Quincy Enunwa, despite technical shortcomings, offers value to the Jets as a sixth-round pick. As expected, all others, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, had to take the free-agency route.

Ward: Ohio State has long been a pipeline for the next level, but it had actually been three years since it had produced any first-round picks until Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby on Thursday night. The Buckeyes followed that up with four more players being selected, which suggests the talent level is starting to get back to the level the program is accustomed to after going through a bit of a down stretch. It seems a bit backward that two guys from a beleaguered defense were the top picks while the record-setting offense wasn't represented until Carlos Hyde and Jack Mewhort were grabbed in the second round, but either way the Buckeyes appear to be back as a favored target for NFL organizations.

Turning our attention to the entire Big Ten, which player surprised you by how high he was drafted, and which player surprised you with how far he fell in the draft?

Rittenberg: I was a little surprised to see Michael Schofield go before the end of Day 2. We knew Michigan’s poor offensive line play wouldn’t impact Taylor Lewan, but I thought it might make teams hesitant about selecting Schofield. He’s a good player who enters a great situation in Denver. Another Big Ten offensive lineman on a struggling unit, Purdue’s Kevin Pamphile, surprised me with how early he went. I didn't see Darqueze Dennard, the nation’s most decorated cornerback on arguably the nation’s best defense last season, dropping to No. 24 overall. Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Ohio State’s Hyde went later than I thought they would.

Sherman: Long's rise to the third round surprised me after he missed the final six games of his senior season with a knee injury that kept him out of the combine and limited him at Nebraska's pro day. I pegged the former walk-on as a fifth- or sixth-round pick. And I thought Lewan might slip past the first 15 picks because of character questions from a pair of off-field incidents at Michigan. Conversely, I thought Borland’s exemplary résumé at Wisconsin might propel him into the top 50 picks. At No. 77 to the 49ers he's a steal.

Ward: There really weren't guys who made shocking jumps up the board in my mind, though Ohio State safety Christian Bryant sneaking into the seventh round was a feel-good story after he missed the majority of his senior season with a fractured ankle. The Big Ten also had a handful of first-round caliber players slide to the second day, so Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, Indiana's Cody Latimer, Hyde or Penn State's Robinson all qualified as minor surprises -- and great values for their new teams.

Moyer: How many people thought Dezmen Southward would be the first Badger drafted? I sure didn't. The Atlanta Falcons scooped him up early in the third round, and they probably could've snagged him two rounds later. As far as guys who fell, I expected both Latimer and Dennard to go sooner. They didn't free-fall, but you kept hearing before the draft how those two improved their stock -- and then Latimer nearly fell to the third round, anyway.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis went in the fifth round to the Green Bay Packers.
Which Big Ten players will be the biggest sleepers/best values in the draft?

Ward: General managers and coaches might view running backs as easily replaceable in this new era in the NFL, but the league’s most recent champion offered another reminder of how important it is to have a productive rushing attack and an elite tailback. Hyde hasn’t proven anything at the next level yet, so comparing him with Seattle's Marshawn Lynch is a bit premature. But Hyde has all the physical tools to be a star, from his well-built frame to his often overlooked speed, and he's going to a team in San Francisco that has a system that will put him in position to thrive.

Rittenberg: Southward’s high selection surprised me, too, but the other four Wisconsin players -- Borland, Jared Abbrederis, running back James White and nose tackle Beau Allen -- all are good value pickups. White is an extremely versatile player who might never be a featured back but can block, catch passes and do whatever his coaches need. Allen gained great experience as a nose tackle last fall. I think the New York Jets get a sixth-round steal in Enunwa, whose blocking skills should help him get on the field. Big Ten coaches loved DaQuan Jones, who looks like a nice value pickup for Tennessee in the fourth round.

Sherman: I'll place Robinson (second round to Jacksonville) and Abbrederis (fifth to Green Bay) together in a category of undervalued Big Ten receivers. Perhaps it illustrates a general stigma about offensive skill players from the conference; throw second-rounders Latimer and Hyde into the discussion, too. NFL decision-makers might not respect the competition these players face on a weekly basis and count it against them in evaluations. If so, that’s a big problem for the Big Ten.

The Big Ten had eight more players drafted this year than in 2013, but its champion, Michigan State, had only one selection. What does this say about the league and its trajectory?

Sherman: After 2012, the Big Ten presumably had nowhere to go but up in producing quality prospects. The influx of Urban Meyer-recruited talent will soon impact the Big Ten in the draft. Same goes for Brady Hoke, even if he’s not making gains in the standings. Penn State and Nebraska, too, are upgrading their talent, so the trajectory figures to continue upward. As for Michigan State, it was young on offense and clearly better than the sum of its parts on defense, a testament to Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi. The absence in the draft of Max Bullough and Denicos Allen caught me off guard.

Moyer: Having more picks shows the Big Ten is on the right track ... but it still has a long way to go. Yes, it improved on last year -- but it still finished behind the SEC (49), ACC (42) and Pac-12 (34) this year, in terms of players drafted. As far as Michigan State, I think their success serves as a reminder that the right coaching and the right schemes can still trump a roster full of NFL-caliber players. Penn State's success during the sanctions also helps to reinforce that.

Ward: It's another reminder of how well-coached the Spartans were a year ago, particularly in turning a defense that had just one player drafted into the nation’s best unit. Dantonio deserves another bow for the job he and his staff did a year ago, even if they didn’t have much to celebrate during the draft. The league does seem to be on the rise again in the minds of top athletes around the country with Meyer, Hoke and now James Franklin upping the ante on the recruiting trail. Those efforts should produce even better weekends than the one that just wrapped up.

Rittenberg: It says something when arguably the best Big Ten team in the past seven or eight years -- MSU had nine double-digit league wins plus the Rose Bowl triumph -- produces only one draft pick. Still, I think the arrow is pointed up after a horrendous 2013 draft. The Big Ten has struggled to produce elite prospects at both cornerback and wide receiver in recent years. This year, the league had three corners drafted in the first two rounds, and while I agree the Big Ten's wide receivers were undervalued, the league still produced five picks. The next step is obvious: generating better quarterback play as no Big Ten QBs were drafted this year.
The biggest non-game on the American sporting calendar is all done, as the 2014 NFL draft wrapped up Saturday afternoon in New York. After arguably its worst draft in the modern era in 2013, the Big Ten performed better this year with 30 picks. Still, the league finished fourth among conferences in selections, trailing the SEC (49), ACC (42) and Pac-12 (34).

After a big Friday night with six second-round selections -- including four in a row -- and six third-round selections, the Big Ten's momentum slowed a bit Saturday in the final four rounds. The league had only one sixth-round pick and only four in the seventh round.

Let's start the breakdown by listing Big Ten draftees by round (with comments below). Maryland and Rutgers players aren't included here because neither group competed in the Big Ten (Terrapins CB Dexter McDougle went in the third round; Rutgers had no players drafted).

FIRST ROUND (4)
[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyTaylor Lewan was the first Big Ten player selected, going 11th overall to the Tennessee Titans.
Analysis: Click here for my first-round thoughts

SECOND ROUND (6)
Analysis: Hageman ends up in a really good spot with the Falcons. Although Latimer had an excellent pre-draft performance, it wasn't surprising to see him end up in the middle of the second round. Hyde waited longer than many anticipated, but he enters a great situation with a team that loves to play power football. Robinson joins a new-look Jaguars passing attack featuring quarterback Blake Bortles and wideout Marqise Lee.

THIRD ROUND (6)
Analysis: Everyone had Southward going before Borland, right? Borland, the 2013 Big Ten defensive player of the year, had an exceptional college career, but concerns about his height and perhaps his injury history moved him down the draft boards. The Iowa Effect shows up here as both Fiedorowicz and Kirksey were swept up by teams that respect what the Hawkeyes do. What does it say that Michigan's offensive line struggled mightily in 2013 but had two tackles drafted in the first three rounds? Those young Wolverines linemen had better step up this fall.

FOURTH ROUND (4)
Analysis: Some really good pickups in this round, especially White, who will fit in very well with New England's offense. Although James Morris received the most accolades among Iowa's linebackers at the college level, both Kirksey and Hitchens were mid-round selections, while Morris went undrafted and signed with New England as a free agent. As a Chicago Bears fan, I love the Vereen pick. He's a smart, athletic versatile player who knows from his older brother what it takes to succeed in the NFL.

FIFTH ROUND (5)
[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsJared Abbrederis isn't venturing far from Madison as he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
Analysis: Like his teammate Borland, Abbrederis had a much longer wait than expected but lands in a very familiar spot with Green Bay. I think he's a steal and will surprise people with his ability to make plays despite less-than-ideal measurables. Pamphile had a fairly quiet college career but is seen as a project and could develop into a better pro. Urschel is another player who lacks the ideal physical traits sought in the NFL, but could make up for it with exceptional intelligence.

SIXTH ROUND (1)
Analysis: Enunwa complemented his superb blocking skills with big-play ability in the pass game as a senior. He's a good value for a Jets team that needs to boost the league's 31st-ranked pass offense.

SEVENTH ROUND (4)
Analysis: All four players could be very good values. Bolser is an athletic tight end who had 15 career touchdown catches. Allen showed versatility as a senior, transitioning to a 3-4 scheme. Gallon heads to a Patriots team that has had success with smaller, productive receivers. Bryant likely would have been selected higher if not for major leg and ankle injuries last season.

Here are the draft picks per B1G team:

Ohio State: 6
Wisconsin: 5
Michigan: 3
Penn State: 3
Nebraska: 3
Iowa: 3
Purdue: 2
Minnesota: 2
Indiana: 2
Michigan State: 1

The big surprise is a Michigan State team that dominated Big Ten play and won the Rose Bowl had just one player selected, as standout linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen didn't have their names called. Only four teams -- LSU, Alabama, Notre Dame and Florida State -- had more selections than Ohio State. Illinois, which led the Big Ten in draft picks last season (4) and had 18 picks between 2009-13, had no selections. Northwestern also went without a draft pick for the second straight year.

Curious about the Big Ten's undrafted free-agent signings? Check back in a bit as we take a look.

Big Ten lunch links

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Fourteen Big Ten programs combined to produce four first-round NFL draft picks. Louisville, Northern Illinois and Buffalo together had five. Eleven of 32 came from the SEC. Discuss.
  • A big night at the NFL draft for Michigan's Taylor Lewan, who landed with the Titans at No. 11 to lead off a better opening day for the league.
  • Ohio State's defensive duo, Ryan Shazier at No. 15 to the Steelers and Bradley Roby at No. 31, went to the Broncos.
  • And Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard found a home with the Bengals at No. 24.
  • Michigan’s other offensive tackle, Michael Schofield, has used a family struggle as his motivation to prepare for this draft.
  • Former Indiana receiver Cody Latimer went to New York to hear his name called at the draft. He’s still waiting.
  • Also waiting, defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hagemen of Minnesota, which hasn’t had a player drafted since Eric Decker in 2010. And the wait is almost over, too, for Wisconsin’s Chris Borland.
  • Tracking the Maryland prospects for the second through seventh rounds.
  • Meanwhile, Purdue’s 15-year streak of landing at least one player in the draft is in jeopardy.
  • Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel lands the presidency at Youngstown State after he was bypassedat the University of Akron.
  • What to do this offseason? Shane Morris can play catch ... with himself.
  • Michigan State appears interested in the younger brother of tight end Dylan Chmura.
  • James Franklin and the Penn State coaches continue their 17-stop caravan in Pittsburgh. Can the grayshirting of recruits help PSU overcome its scholarship limitations.
  • Former Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage earns the endorsement of ex-coach Greg Schiano.
  • Former Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz will remain on staff in 2014 as a graduate assistant. An appeal is deniedfor the summer jail sentence in Colorado for offensive tackle Alex Lewis is denied.
  • Minnesota loses a backup defensive lineman to North Dakota.
  • Kirk Ferentz marches to the beat of his own drum in recruiting, but even he occasionally extends a scholarship offer to a high school freshman.
SportsNation

Which Big Ten school produces the most NFL draft picks?

  •  
    18%
  •  
    14%
  •  
    45%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,960)

Ready or not -- and seriously, you should be ready by now -- the 2014 NFL draft is almost here. The Big Ten is poised to have a much stronger overall draft showing than it did a year ago.

But which Big Ten team will produce the most picks during the seven rounds? That's the subject of today's poll question.

Illinois led Big Ten teams with only four draft picks in 2013, followed by four teams with three selections. I'd be surprised if this year's Big Ten leader has only four players selected, but we'll see.

The candidates ...

Iowa: The Hawkeyes lack top-line prospects, but they typically do well in the NFL draft. Iowa produced six picks in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts -- only one, cornerback Micah Hyde, last year -- and has generated 52 picks during the Kirk Ferentz era. Linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey, and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz lead Iowa's draft contingent.

Michigan State: Cornerback Darqueze Dennard might be the first Big Ten player off the board, but he won't be the only Spartan. Several other Michigan State defenders, including linebacker Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, are likely draft picks.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes have had at least three players drafted in every draft since 1999, and they could produce a large haul this year. Linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby are potential first-rounders, and bruising running back Carlos Hyde -- plus several offensive linemen -- should follow.

Penn State: Since being shut out of the 2005 draft, Penn State has had multiple selections in each subsequent draft and three or more selections six times. Wide receiver Allen Robinson and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones are likely second-day picks, and others, like guard John Urschel, should hear their names called as well.

Wisconsin: The Badgers have had multiple players selected in each of the past six drafts and at least four players picked 10 times since 2000. Although Wisconsin's streak of first-round picks likely will end at three tonight, linebacker Chris Borland and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis lead a group that could add up by the end of the week.

It's time to vote.
Allen Robinson, Chris BorlandAP Photo, Getty ImagesProductions isn't a question when looking at Penn State's Allen Robinson and Wisconsin's Chris Borland.

Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett occasionally will give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

The 2014 NFL draft is rapidly approaching, and we have some thoughts on the Big Ten's draft class. We each weighed in on the league's top future pro earlier this week. Today's Take Two topic: Who will be the Big Ten's top draft sleeper this year?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

It's weird to describe Allen Robinson as a sleeper, as the Penn State product won the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award both in 2012 and 2013. But this year's draft is loaded at wideout, and some have questioned Robinson's decision to skip his final college season and turn pro. His speed could be an issue for some NFL teams, and he's projected in the second or third round. If he falls to the third round, he would be a major steal.

I like three things about Robinson:

  • He was extremely productive at Penn State despite working with two different quarterbacks, an unheralded senior in Matt McGloin and a decorated true freshman in Christian Hackenberg. He recorded 174 receptions and 17 touchdowns the last two seasons
  • He excelled in an NFL-style offense with former Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, now with the Houston Texans
  • He's very effective in the red zone and can make tough catches, like this one against Michigan last year. He's not afraid of traffic and can find space to make plays where there isn't much real estate.

Other receivers might have better measurables, but Robinson has gotten it done between the lines. He'll be a good pro receiver.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

I'm going to choose another player who really shouldn't be considered a sleeper: Wisconsin's Chris Borland. Big Ten fans know all about Borland, as he spent a long and productive career making big plays at linebacker for the Badgers, winning league defensive player of the year honors last year.

Many scouts who came through Madison and who have watched his game film say Borland deserves to be a first-rounder. But it's highly unlikely he'll go that high, and I've seen him projected some places in the third round or lower. The problems, for some, begin with the measurables. Borland stands only 5-foot-11. He ran a subpar 4.83 40-second draft at the NFL combine. He has short arms and a shoulder that has gone under the knife twice.

But Borland has never been a conventional-looking player, and you can't measure the size of his passion or understanding of the game. He's an outstanding all-around athlete who shouldn't be judged on the basis of some workout runs but rather what he does on the field. My biggest concern with Borland is that his body won't be able to withstand the rigors of the NFL. But if he can stay healthy, I have no doubt he'll be a terrific pro and a valuable addition to somebody's team -- perhaps at a real bargain price.

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 30, 2014
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Everything's coming up Milhouse!

Wisconsin spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
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The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for each Big Ten team.

We begin with Wisconsin.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • The quarterback race is down to two: Wisconsin entered spring practice with four candidates and reduced the pool by 50 percent. Joel Stave, who has started 19 games the past two seasons, missed much of the session with a throwing shoulder injury. Stave will compete this summer with Tanner McEvoy, a junior-college transfer who played safety and wide receiver for parts of last season. McEvoy looked sharper this spring at quarterback and brings a run threat to the pocket. D.J. Gillins likely will redshirt, while Bart Houston remains in a reserve role.
  • The coaches aren't afraid to take chances: Gary Andersen and his staff shuffled pieces on both sides of the ball, especially on defense, where they want more speed on the field. Most players saw time at multiple positions, and several young players put themselves in position for significant playing time, including redshirt freshmen defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, safety Austin Hudson and center Michael Deiter.
  • Melvin Gordon and Derek Landisch are the leaders: Gordon, the All-Big Ten running back who turned down the NFL for another year at Wisconsin, not only is the team's best player, but much more of a leader. He talked openly this spring about elevating Wisconsin to elite status and the initial College Football Playoff. Landisch, the only returning starter in the defensive front seven, is the undisputed leader of the defense and takes the torch from Chris Borland.
Three questions for the fall

  • Who emerges at wide receiver?: The Badgers lose a huge piece in Jared Abbrederis and went through most of the spring with only four healthy wide receivers. Although senior Kenzel Doe is stepping up, many others must emerge in the summer. Alex Erickson returns from injury and Jordan Frederick and Robert Wheelwright will be in the mix, but Wisconsin needs at least two of its five incoming freshmen wideouts to contribute. Keep an eye on Dareian Watkins.
  • The starting quarterback: Unlike other Big Ten spring quarterback competitions, Wisconsin ended the session with no obvious leader. Stave's injury made it tough to gauge his progress, and the limited number of receivers made the passing game look worse than it probably will be. McEvoy has a great opportunity to win the job, especially with the coaches looking for more mobility at the position. This race likely will last well into camp.
  • Defensive playmakers: Borland's loss not only hurts Wisconsin in production, but playmaking ability. No one defender can replace what Borland brought, so the Badgers need several to improve during the summer months. Leon Jacobs moved from outside linebacker to inside and has the speed to be a difference-maker. Cornerback Sojourn Shelton had four interceptions as a freshman, and the coaches are counting on players such as linebacker Joe Schobert and linemen Obasih, James, Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring.
One way-too-early prediction

McEvoy will be the starter by Big Ten play, if not earlier. Andersen's recruiting suggests he values dual-threat quarterbacks more than his Wisconsin predecessors, and the potential concerns at wide receiver accentuate the need for another backfield weapon alongside Gordon and Corey Clement. McEvoy must continue to develop as a passer, but his athleticism trumps Stave, who struggled for stretches last season despite having an elite target in Abbrederis.

MADISON, Wis. -- Gary Andersen's current job description looks a lot like that of a first-year coach. Here's the thing: Andersen is entering his second season at Wisconsin.

Andersen's inheritance with the Badgers last year, in coaching currency, rivaled that of a Walton, a Bloomberg or Prince George. Most new coaches are saddled with teams plagued by youth, discontent or a culture of losing. Andersen stepped into a locker room filled with 25 seniors, including stars such as Chris Borland and Jared Abbrederis. Wisconsin had won three consecutive Big Ten championships. It had an identity and a proven path to success.

The Badgers needed a leader after Bret Bielema spurned them for Arkansas, but Andersen's primary task could be reduced to four words: Don't screw it up. To his credit, he didn't, guiding Wisconsin to a 9-2 start before the year ended with losses to both Penn State and South Carolina. He also provided a calm, stabilizing presence that resonated both with players and Badgers fans. Wisconsin has recorded better seasons, but Andersen's first made a strong enough impression on the Cleveland Browns, who reached out to him about their coaching vacancy, and on Barry Alvarez, who awarded Andersen a raise and a new contract.

But it's fair to wonder about Andersen. Program maintenance, while challenging, isn't the same as program building. Wisconsin doesn't lack a foundation -- Alvarez provided one and Bielema kept it from cracking -- but there's a lot of hard labor ahead for Andersen and his assistants as their roster turns over significantly.

"We are a very youthful crew," Andersen told ESPN.com. "It's like my second year at Utah State. We were youthful, we were excited, but our coaching was so important to be able to put the kids in the proper positions, which is the ultimate goal. It's not how much offense you have or how much defense you have. It's how well you’re performing the basics: how many missed assignments, how are we tackling, how are our administrative penalties.

"You want to do everything you can to make sure you're teaching them how to play football the right way."

Utah State went 4-7 in Andersen's second year before reaching bowls the next two seasons. Wisconsin's expectations are much higher despite its new-look depth chart.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
Keith Gillett/Icon SMIGary Andersen sees the opener against LSU as a factor that should push his team through the summer and fall camp.
The Big Ten West Division is a collection of flawed teams and Wisconsin, with more recent success than the others and a favorable cross-division schedule -- no Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State -- will be a popular pick to reach Indianapolis. Running back Melvin Gordon turned down the NFL draft for a chance to lead the Badgers to the initial College Football Playoff.

Wisconsin is not rebuilding, but it faces an unusually high number of questions on a depth chart that shouldn't be written in anything permanent.

"It's a reset, you're starting at ground zero," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "Even with the veteran O-line, a couple guys are out, you're mixing and matching, so you can't assume or take anything for granted. Even with [quarterback Joel Stave], it's a chance to reteach things that he's had hundreds of reps on, because there's always a new way to look at it."

Stave is part of the mystery at Wisconsin. Despite starting 19 games the past two seasons, he must outshine Tanner McEvoy in camp to keep his job, especially after missing much of the spring with a pesky throwing shoulder injury. McEvoy, a gifted athlete who played both safety and wide receiver last season, could represent a shift in what Wisconsin wants from its quarterbacks.

Andersen's first two quarterback recruits, McEvoy and D.J. Gillins, both are true dual threats.

"He's got a tremendous skill set, obviously," Ludwig said of McEvoy. "An athletic guy, starting as a safety last year. The weapons he brings to the quarterback position, it's a huge asset for us."

The quarterback run threat, when paired with dynamic backs in Gordon and Corey Clement, becomes even more critical if Wisconsin can't bolster the wide receiver spot. The team's leading returning receiver, Jordan Fredrick, had only 10 receptions in 2013. Fredrick, Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright all missed part or all of the spring with injuries.

Wisconsin had only four receivers for most of the 15 practices.

"It's pretty tiring," senior Kenzel Doe said. "You're basically taking every rep."

The Badgers defense had fewer injuries this spring but went through a more substantial facelift. Inside linebacker Derek Landisch is the only returning starter in the front seven.

Most defenders spent spring ball working at multiple positions as the coaches looked for ways to upgrade speed. Michael Caputo, a starting free safety last season, went to linebacker and then back to safety before the spring ended.

"We definitely wanted to see how guys fit in other places," Caputo said. "The goal is to be a mean, aggressive, fast defense. We're slowly getting to that, but it's definitely a transition with a lot of the younger guys and playing different positions."

There have been positive developments already. Andersen points to players such as Chikwe Obasih, a redshirt freshman who ended the spring as a starting defensive end.

Andersen When you've got young kids, you've got to get them reps if you want them to get better.

-- Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen
"You look how far Chikwe has come," Andersen said. "If you put on Day 1 of spring ball and Day 13 of spring ball, it's an unbelievable difference in his pad level, the use of his hands, his understanding and knowledge of the defense.

"When you've got young kids, you've got to get them reps if you want them to get better."

The summer takes on added importance for these Badgers. As Ludwig said, Wisconsin's first workout in August must be Practice 16, not Practice 1.

If all the uncertainty and opportunity in practice doesn't drive players, the season opener against LSU certainly will. Last year, Wisconsin thumped Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech to open the season before its infamous trip to Arizona State. This time, the test comes sooner.

"I really like that opener for this team," Andersen said. "It's got to be a driving force."

Which Badgers team shows up at Houston's NRG Stadium remains to be seen. But it will have more of Andersen's fingerprints on it.

The big reveal at Wisconsin is still to come.

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