Big Ten: Joe Schobert

Melvin GordonJeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsBy winning the Paul Bunyan Axe for the 11th straight time, Wisconsin reaches the Big Ten title game for the third time the event's four-year history.

MADISON, Wis. -- The celebrations might have felt a little familiar for Wisconsin, but that didn't take away any of the enthusiasm.

The Badgers beat Minnesota 34-24 on Saturday to win the Paul Bunyan Axe trophy for the 11th straight year. They also clinched the West Division title and a spot in next week's Big Ten championship, which is also a recurring theme. Wisconsin will be playing in that game for the third time in the event's four-year history.

Still, players and coaches giddily ran around Camp Randall Stadium with the axe after grinding out a physical, hard-fought win over the No. 18 Gophers. And they put on hats and T-shirts declaring themselves the West Division champs following an on-field, postgame presentation that seemed more fitting for a postseason game.

"That was a cool feeling for us, a cool experience," quarterback Joel Stave said. "Being under the lights, on the stage, the crowd sticking around -- it was just very cool."

The No. 14 Badgers might not be done hoisting trophies or standing on triumphant platforms, either. Not long ago, they would have been considered significant underdogs against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. But with Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett out for the season after he suffered a broken ankle against Michigan, Wisconsin just might be the favorite in Indianapolis.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Melvin Gordon
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsMelvin Gordon earned every bit of his 151 yards rushing against Minnesota.
At the very least, Buckeyes backup quarterback Cardale Jones will have his hands full trying to deal with what has statistically been the best defense in the Big Ten, one that offers confusing looks with its aggressive 3-4 scheme.

"If he hasn't played that much, maybe we can get him flustered and get him off balance," Wisconsin linebacker Joe Schobert said. "But we've got to prepare like we're playing J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller. You can't take a guy lightly, because they have a lot of good athletes over there."

Badgers players expressed empathy about Barrett's injury -- "He's such a valuable asset, and you always want to play against the best players," linebacker Marcus Trotter said -- and they can relate to the need to overcome adversity.

This is a team that had to replace eight defensive starters in the offseason and whose starting quarterback battled a case of the yips in August and September. They blew a big lead in a loss to LSU in the opener and dropped a head-scratcher against Northwestern early in conference play.

Yet they won their final seven games of the regular season and might be peaking here at the end.

"It's been a heck of a journey," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "I feel great about taking this team to Indy. They're resilient and tough-minded."

Wisconsin needed that resiliency to clear its final hurdle toward a division title.

For the second time in three weeks, it let a road opponent go ahead 17-3 in the first half. Unlike Nebraska, however, Minnesota was not going to let Melvin Gordon simply run wild all over the place. The Gophers kept their safeties in the box and hit Gordon early and often with sure tackling. The Badgers' Heisman Trophy candidate finished with 151 yards but had to earn every bit of it. He had only two 20-plus-yard runs (none longer than 24) and did his most impressive work turning nothing into 4- or 5-yard gains.

"I knew I was going to have to grind it out today," said Gordon, who pronounced himself healthy despite limping off the field late. "The games that you have to push out and grind out, those are the games you love the best. You get hit, you get knocked down to the ground and you get back up and you keep fighting.

Andersen said offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig knew he'd have to dial up some downfield throws to loosen up the Gophers' defense. That's been a shaky proposition for Wisconsin's offense for a couple of years. But Stave, getting better every week after overcoming those mental issues at the beginning of the season, turned in an efficient performance in going 11-for-18 for 218 yards and 2 touchdowns, with no interceptions.

The Badgers also got a career day from receiver Alex Erickson (5 catches for 160 yards) and clinched the victory on Stave's 17-yard touchdown strike to Robert Wheelwright, who had only two career catches and none this season before Saturday. It was those kinds of unlikely contributions -- plus an 89-yard effort from backup tailback Corey Clement, who was playing with one healthy shoulder -- that Andersen said made him the proudest.

Wisconsin wasn't perfect against Minnesota and committed a lot of mistakes in the first half, allowing the Gophers some short fields and quick scoring drives. Despite dealing with a hamstring injury that made him doubtful for the game, Minnesota's David Cobb ripped off some big runs in the first half. Many more offensive playmakers will confront the defense next week, even with Barrett out.

"To beat Ohio State, we can't miss as many tackles as we did today," Trotter said.

But much the way their season has gone, the Badgers finished out strong, scoring 31 of the game's final 38 points. Now they have a solid chance to derail Ohio State's playoff chase and claim the Big Ten title for themselves.

"We don't want to just go there," Gordon said, "we want to win it."

Don't be surprised if they're celebrating on an even bigger stage next Saturday night.
Like most people, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen wasn't sure what to expect from his linebackers coming into this season.

[+] EnlargeVince Biegel
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin's Vince Biegel makes up part of a group of linebackers that flew under the radar to lead the nation's top defense.
The Badgers had to replace all four starters from their 3-4 scheme, including Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Borland. There was good athleticism in the group but precious little experience and no household names.

Well, it's way past time to get to know these Wisconsin linebackers, because they've formed the core of the nation's No. 1 defense and are a major reason why the Badgers could clinch the Big Ten West Division as early as Saturday if they beat Iowa and Minnesota loses to Nebraska.

"They've been over the top, as far as my expectation level," Andersen said this week.

They are inside linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch and outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert. Or you can just call them the "Chevy Bad Boys."

That's the nickname that Trotter bestowed on the group at the beginning of the season as a nod to their rural roots -- all are from smallish towns in Wisconsin -- and their unflashy dependability.

"We have a lot of guys from the country," Trotter said. "We love Chevys and country music and wear only flannel all day long."

It took some time for the nickname to stick, but now the players are embracing it. So much so, in fact, that Biegel got a Chevy logo shaved into the side of his head this week, bookending the motion "W" on the other side of his Mohawk/mullet.

The linebackers are starting to get more national recognition, too, as Wisconsin's defense keeps piling up impressive numbers. But that's not really what this group is about.

"Not a lot of people really looked at us as being a big-time defense going into the season," Biegel said. "Being able to have that chip on our shoulder and approach every game with that chip has been the difference for us this year.

"We're a bunch of smart football guys who weren't necessarily four- and five-star recruits. We're just hard-working Wisconsin dudes."

Biegel, who leads the team with 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, was actually a four-star recruit out of high school. But Trotter and Schobert, the latter of whom was named Big Ten defensive player of the week for his performance against Nebraska, walked on to the Badgers. The 5-foot-11 Landisch was lightly recruited, with interest from MAC schools, and viewed by some as too small to stay at linebacker.

All four bided their time while waiting for the opportunity to become full-time starters, especially seniors Trotter and Landisch.

"We were all very eager for our chance," Trotter said. "We were excited to finally prove people wrong."

Each of the four have different personalities, but that meshes into a cohesive bond. Trotter is the motormouth leader who wears bear-themed shirts and sometimes only answers to the name "Mookie Blaylock."

Biegel is also talkative and energetic. "If you looked inside his mind," Trotter said, "you'd see a hamster spinning on a wheel. He's just all over the place, all the time. He's a goofy guy who likes to mess with people."

Landisch, who has six sacks and 12 tackles for loss, is quiet and often needs his nerves calmed before games. "I feel like I'm his psychiatrist sometimes," Trotter said.

Schobert is also reserved but in a much more relaxed way. Trotter said while the Nebraska game was still close last week, Schobert cracked a joke to him about missing a fumble recovery right before the snap.

"I was like, 'Joe, be quiet, I'm trying to get the call,'" Trotter said. "But he's just very calm and confident in his technique."

What the quartet lacked in starting experience, they have made up for in pass-rushing ability and football savvy. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda uses his linebackers in all sorts of ways, lining them up in different spots and bringing pressure from a variety of angles. As Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this week, Wisconsin's defense looks pretty normal on first and second downs. On third down, though, "who knows what you're going to get," Ferentz said.

Andersen said he wasn't confident that the group would be able to master the complicated scheme and take the information from the meeting room to the field. But the Chevy Bad Boys have had no trouble doing just that.

"I've played all kinds of positions this year -- with my hand in the dirt, at standup outside linebacker, even inside linebacker in a couple different packages," Biegel said. "Coach Aranda asks a lot of us mentally. It's fun, because you never know what you'll be doing each week, what your technique and assignment will be."

Wisconsin now knows that it will get elite production from its linebackers every week. And it's way past time that everyone else gets to know who these guys are.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 4

September, 24, 2014
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A few teams have already played a third of the season. The nonconference action is winding down. Big Ten play is about to really kick off in earnest this weekend -- and the battles for individual awards are starting to come into better focus.

There is still plenty of football to be played and more than enough opportunities to shake up the ballots. But our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races to take the pulse of the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track record.

Here's where it stands after Week 4:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (six first-place votes): Another prolific performance in a win for the unbeaten Huskers and another unanimous selection as the top offensive player in the league. Abdullah has set the bar high in the early going and could be tough to chase down if Nebraska keeps rolling.

2. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Still something of an unknown nationally, Coleman helped get his name out last weekend in the upset at Missouri. He's actually averaging more rushing yards per game than Abdullah.

3. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: Fresh off a bye, Cook was able to take even more time off after carving up Eastern Michigan early and and then calling it a day after six attempts last weekend. He's completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and is clearly building on his strong finish to last season.

4. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: One of the preseason favorites has finally arrived in the rankings after a slow start. Gordon made up for some lost time with a ridiculous outing against Bowling Green, steamrolling to 5 touchdowns and 253 yards on just 13 carries.

5. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: Massachusetts didn't pose much of a threat to the Nittany Lions, and the sophomore didn't need to do much to secure another victory. He still leads the Big Ten in passing yardage, but he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns at this point.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb and Michigan State WR Tony Lippett.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (six first-place votes): The clear-cut leader for the second week in a row, the defensive tackle continues to lead the league in tackles for loss. His emergence has been invaluable during the perfect start for the Nittany Lions.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: The Buckeyes were off this week, but that didn't hurt the pass-rushing dynamo any in the rankings. Bosa isn't likely to get his sidekick Noah Spence back any time soon, so his production will be even more critical moving forward for Ohio State.

T-3. Maryland CB Will Likely: The talented defensive back is breaking up at least one pass per game, and he's already nabbed a pair of interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Even better for the Terrapins, he's a willing tackler averaging nearly 7 takedowns from his spot in the secondary.

T-3. Minnesota LB Damien Wilson: The senior sits on top of the tackling leader board after four games having already piled up 44 of them. The Gophers could use another solid outing as they head to Michigan with a chance to claim the Little Brown Jug.

5. Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The defensive race has been relatively wide open and full of surprising names, perhaps none as head-turning as Turay. Through four games, the freshman's four sacks are tied for the league lead.

Also receiving votes: Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Iowa DE Drew Ott and Wisconsin LB Joe Schobert.

Wisconsin Badgers season preview

August, 21, 2014
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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.

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. -- Wisconsin's defense appeared to offer a series of new looks, pressures and personnel groupings in coach Gary Andersen's first season.

Turns out, the reveal is just beginning.

Although the Badgers in 2013 showcased certain elements they hadn't under the previous coaching staff, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who inherited a strong and dominant line, catered his scheme to the players' power. The front seven is almost completely new this spring, which has brought different emphasis points, namely speed and versatility.

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Patrick S Blood/Icon SMICB Sojourn Shelton is one of the few Badgers on defense not switching positions this spring.
The Badgers' 2014 defense will more closely resemble the units Aranda and Andersen directed at Utah State than last year's at Wisconsin.

"When you look at the people we've got, they're best when they're in space and on the move," Aranda told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "So we've moved some of the linebackers to defensive end, we've moved some of the safeties to linebacker, some of the defensive ends to nose [tackle]. Everyone's kind of moved down a spot to try to maximize speed."

Michael Caputo, who started at safety last season, moved to linebacker earlier this spring and then back to the safety spot. Michael Trotter moved from safety to join his twin brother, Marcus, as an inside linebacker. Promising redshirt freshman Alec James shifted from outside linebacker to defensive end. Joe Schobert has worked at both inside and outside linebacker, and Leon Jacobs moved from the outside to the inside. Vonte Jackson, whose recurring knee injuries have prevented him from entering the mix at running back, will get a shot at safety.

Aranda used Schobert and Ethan Armstrong in versatile roles last season, but most players stayed in one spot. He now has "an abundance" of players with flexibility.

"We wanted to see how guys fit in other places, and then they decided to move a couple guys around more," Caputo said.

Other than a few exceptions -- top cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary are staying put -- the coaches are shuffling players through different positions to see who best fits. For the most part, it's working.

"We're famous for taking guys and moving them to a different spot," Andersen said. "That has been invaluable in my career. Does it always work? No. But you never know if you don't try it. That's what you do as a coach.

"There is no free agency. It's college football."

Wisconsin hasn't abandoned the power element and boasts some size up front with Warren Herring, Konrad Zagzebski and others. Aranda likes practicing against the Badgers offense, which boasts a massive line and has always excelled at the power game, while incorporating a few more spread elements than in the past.

"There's a tendency to want to get big and strong, and we are that," Aranda said. "But to win some of the games we want to win and can win, and take that next step, being as fast as we can and as athletic as we can would be the goal.

"If you can have your cake and eat it, too, let's try it."
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the linebackers.

Illinois: The Illini lose an All-Big Ten player in Jonathan Brown but still have decent overall depth at linebacker. Mason Monheim started every game at middle linebacker in 2013, and Mike Svetina started all but one game at the star position. Both players return as juniors. Svetina will move into Brown's spot on the weak side, while the other position could be filled by T.J. Neal, who recorded 38 tackles last season. Ralph Cooper has logged significant reps as a reserve, and Eric Finney gives Illinois some flexibility after playing the star position (safety/outside linebacker).

Indiana: This becomes a more significant position under coordinator Brian Knorr, who plans to use a 3-4 alignment. Indiana should have enough depth to make the transition as it returns two full-time starters from 2013 -- David Cooper and T.J. Simmons -- as well as two part-time starters in Forisse Hardin and Clyde Newton, who started the final four games of his freshman season. Like Simmons and Newton, Marcus Oliver played a lot as a freshman and provides some depth. The key here will be converting all the experience into sharper, more consistent play.

Iowa: If you're of the mindset that Iowa always reloads at linebacker, you can rest easy this spring. If not, keep a very close eye on what happens as the Hawkeyes begin replacing one of the more productive linebacker groups in team history: James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. There are high hopes for sophomore Reggie Spearman, who played in 10 games as a freshman last fall. Spearman, junior Travis Perry and senior Quinton Alston enter the spring as the front-runners to take over the top spots. The biggest challenge could be building depth behind them with Cole Fisher and others.

Maryland: The good news is the Terrapins return three productive starters from 2013 in Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Matt Robinson, who combined for 233 tackles, including 19 for loss. The bad news is Maryland loses its top playmaker at the position in Marcus Whitfield, who recorded nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss last season. But the overall picture is favorable, and the depth should be strong when Alex Twine and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil return from their injuries. Young players such as Abner Logan (37 tackles in 2013) will push for more time.

Michigan: There are a lot of familiar faces in new positions as Michigan not only has shuffled the roles of its defensive assistant coaches, but also its top linebackers. Standout Jake Ryan moves from strong-side linebacker to the middle, while junior James Ross III moves from the weak side to the strong side and Desmond Morgan shifts from the middle to the weak side. Joe Bolden, who had 54 tackles last season, can play both outside and inside, and players such as Ben Gedeon, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Allen Gant add depth. The talent is there for a big year if the position switches pan out.

Michigan State: It won't be easy to replace the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, not to mention Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth, but Michigan State has some promising options. Ed Davis appears ready to step in for Allen after recording four sacks as a sophomore. Junior Darien Harris and two redshirt freshmen, Shane Jones and Jon Reschke, will compete at middle linebacker. Returning starter Taiwan Jones is back at the star position, and Mylan Hicks should be in the rotation. Depth is a bit of a question mark here entering the spring.

Minnesota: The Gophers lose key pieces in all three areas of the defense, and linebacker is no exception as two starters (Aaron Hill and James Manuel) depart. Minnesota will lean on Damien Wilson, who started in 12 games at middle linebacker in his first season with the Gophers and recorded 78 tackles. Junior De'Vondre Campbell seems ready to claim a starting spot after backing up Manuel last season. There will be plenty of competition at the strong-side linebacker spot, as Nick Rallis, De'Niro Laster and others are in the mix. Jack Lynn is backing up Wilson at middle linebacker but could work his way into a starting spot on the outside with a good spring.

Nebraska: Optimism is building for the Blackshirts in 2014, thanks in large part to the returning linebackers. The three players who finished last season as the starters -- David Santos, Michael Rose and Zaire Anderson -- all are back, as Rose will lead the way in the middle. Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry also have starting experience and return for 2014. If younger players such as Marcus Newby develop this spring, Nebraska could have the Big Ten's deepest group of linebackers, a dramatic departure from the Huskers' first few years in the conference. Good things are happening here.

Northwestern: The top two playmakers return here in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who combined for seven interceptions and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2014. Northwestern's challenge is replacing the leadership Damien Proby provided in the middle. Ellis has shifted from the strong side to the middle, and Northwestern has moved safety Jimmy Hall from safety to strong-side linebacker. Drew Smith and Hall will compete for the third starting spot throughout the offseason. Sophomores Jaylen Prater and Joseph Jones should provide some depth.

Ohio State: Coach Urban Meyer has made it clear that Ohio State needs more from the linebackers, so it's a huge offseason for this crew, which loses superstar Ryan Shazier. The Buckeyes return starters at the outside spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, although competition will continue throughout the spring and summer. Redshirt freshman Darron Lee surprisingly opened spring practice Tuesday working with Grant and Perry on the first-team defense. Camren Williams appeared in all 13 games as a reserve and will be part of the rotation, along with Trey Johnson. Meyer said last month that the incoming linebacker recruits won't redshirt, which means an opportunity for mid-year enrollee Raekwon McMillan.

Penn State: Linebacker U is looking for more bodies at the position after struggling with depth issues throughout 2013. The Lions lose leading tackler Glenn Carson but bring back two players, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman, who started most of the season. The new coaching staff is counting on Hull to become a star as a senior. Brandon Bell, who appeared in nine games and recorded 24 tackles as a freshman, will compete for a starting spot along with Gary Wooten. Penn State hopes Ben Kline can stay healthy as he provides some experience, and incoming freshman Troy Reeder could enter the rotation right away.

Purdue: Expect plenty of competition here as Purdue loses leading tackler Will Lucas and must get more consistent play from the group. Joe Gilliam started for most of the 2013 season and should occupy a top spot this fall. Sean Robinson also brings experience to the field, and Ryan Russell could fill more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role this season. Redshirt freshman Danny Ezechukwu is an intriguing prospect to watch this spring as he aims for a bigger role. Ezechukwu is just one of several younger players, including decorated incoming recruit Gelen Robinson, who have opportunities to make a splash.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights return a good deal of production here with Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder, who combined for 219 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five sacks. Quentin Gause also is back after racking up 53 tackles (8.5 for loss) in a mostly reserve role last season. Gause likely will claim the starting strong-side linebacker spot as Jamal Merrell departs. The starting spots are seemingly set, so Rutgers will look to build depth with Davon Jacobs, who had 30 tackles as a reserve last season, and L.J. Liston, both sophomores.

Wisconsin: Do-it-all linebacker Chris Borland is gone, along with Ethan Armstrong and Conor O'Neill, so Wisconsin must replace three of its top four tacklers from 2013. Derek Landisch and Joe Schobert can be penciled in as starters, along with Michael Caputo, who played mostly safety last season but should slide into one of the outside spots. Marcus Trotter brings experience to the rotation. The spotlight will be on younger linebackers such as Vince Biegel, who had 25 tackles last season, as well as dynamic sophomore Leon Jacobs and Alec James, a decorated recruit who redshirted in 2013.
Wisconsin signed a big class of 25 scholarship players, plus four preferred walk-ons, on Wednesday. I caught up with Badgers head coach Gary Andersen for this Q&A about the class:

With one of the larger classes the Badgers have signed in a while, how did that affect your strategy?

Gary Andersen: The mindset walking into it, when we knew we would have a pretty big number with so many seniors leaving, was simply to look and see what position groups we needed and even our numbers. We wanted to even up our numbers in the classes as much as we could, but still use the opportunity to take care of what we need in our deficiencies. We got that done.

We got five wide receivers, five defensive backs and six offensive linemen -- those were tagged early on as we've got to get quality kids in that area. From there we just kind of fit in where we needed. We had to solidify the youth at the running back position and we needed to get an athletic quarterback who can do some things that we may want to move to as we go forward. We had inside linebacker tagged as taking two or three, but with the walk-ons we got and the ability to move Joe Schobert inside, we just took one inside linebacker. Which in turn gave us a chance to get another defensive tackle, and we got three of those kids.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
AP Photo/David StlukaWisconsin coach Gary Anderson was all smiles after the recruiting class he brought in this year.
The offensive line depth concerned you last year. Does this class now allow you to sleep better at night?

GA: It does. The numbers are better. But they're not going to be better in spring ball. We're down both our centers in spring ball, so Michael Deiter will walk in here as a true freshman and line up as the starting center for Wisconsin, and that's a unique opportunity. But we're evening out those numbers. Our goal is to be at 16 scholarship offensive linemen. We should be at 14 next year. So the waters are calming, but we've still got work to do. The challenge now is to find at least a couple of those young men who can challenge and back up next season. That will be big part of the 2014 season for us.

With Jared Abbrederis gone, do you expect some of these incoming receivers to play right away?

GA: I do. This group is very competitive. They're tough-minded kids. You're going to get the same-old from other people recruiting them, "Oh, why would you go to Wisconsin? They don't throw the ball." But they showed us their toughness and want-to and belief in the direction we want to head offensively by sticking with us, and I respect those kids for that. In turn, they're going to have that opportunity to compete.

But we all know that. Anybody who watched Wisconsin football last year can say Jared ended up getting double-teamed, and they ganged up on us in the box and wanted to stop the run and our offense became very difficult at times. Hopefully, a couple of those kids can come in here and help us. We're counting on that.

Will D.J. Gillins get a chance to compete right away at quarterback?

GA: That is the goal. We're walking into spring practice with a bunch of quarterbacks who we're going to try and get reps. That's a tremendous challenge for us as coaches to give them all an opportunity to compete, and we'll tweak some practice schedules. We want D.J. to be able to compete. That was the mindset of getting him in early, to give him an opportunity to compete in spring ball. Joel [Stave] is the starter, he started all our games last year. But you want to create competition at the quarterback spot just like you want to at every position. So it will be a competitive spring.

What do you like about the defensive backs you brought in?

GA: As a whole, I would use the word competitive, and I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but they are. And we need three of those five to come in and compete and play as freshman. I'm not going to say they're going to come in and start, but they've got to come in and compete. Austin [Hudson] is here, and he's really the one I'd look at and say he's definitely a true, true safety. Lubern [Figaro] and Serge [Trezy] are tabbed as safeties, but they have the ability to play corner. With [Tanner] McEvoy moving back to quarterback and obviously Dez Southward moving on in his career to hopefully play in the NFL, the safety spot is wide open, so Austin will have some opportunities this spring.

All the kids can run, all are good athletes and I think they all have good ball skills. Hopefully they can all break into what Sojourn [Shelton] did a year ago. Of course, the kids in our program here are working hard to make sure that doesn't happen, and that's what you want.

Do you feel like you've added speed to the perimeter with this class?

GA: That really was one of our major goals, and I think we've accomplished that at the wide receiver and the corner spot. And I feel really good about the speed and the versatility of the three running backs we've signed. I'd also say on the defensive line, they're all very talented athletes that run very well. So hopefully our athleticism shows up next year on the field and in years to come, that we're a team that can make those special plays that really flip a season upside down. That doesn't have one ounce to do with coaching, it has to do with athletic ability. I think we've made progress there, but time will tell.

It seems like you cast a wide net in this class, with players from Hawaii, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee ...

GA: We did. I think when you're at Wisconsin and you walk into any high school in the country or any junior college, and you walk in with motion "W" on your chest, they understand where you're from, understand who you are. Recruiting nationally is something we will do, but we still have our core areas -- which are No. 1, right here in Wisconsin and in the Midwest. But we will branch out nationally when we do have the right kid in the right spot, for sure.

Lastly, running backs coach Thomas Hammock left for the NFL today. Was that a surprise, and what's the plan there moving forward?

GA: We'll make it very peaceful and move through the process I always go through. It's important for me to find a coach that No. 1 is going to take care of the kids and No. 2 is a tremendous recruiter. Thomas was coaching the running backs here at 6:30 in the morning, and he had a decision to make and obviously he made that decision. He wanted to communicate first with the kids, and I think that's so important. It's a decision he and his family made, and I support it. We wish him all the best, but we'll go through the process and get another quality coach here to take care of these kids.
The 2013 college football season sadly is over, and the seemingly interminable offseason is upon us. To get started on the lonely months ahead, we're taking a look at three items each Big Ten team must address before the 2014 season kicks off in August.

Wisconsin is up next.

1. Settle on a quarterback: What would the offseason be without a quarterback competition at Wisconsin? Although Joel Stave started every game in the 2013 season and has two more years of eligibility, he won't simply be handed the top job. Stave, who left the Capital One Bowl with a right shoulder injury, will be pushed by Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and early enrollee D.J. Gillins. Quarterback play has limited Wisconsin in each of the past two seasons, and it seems like coach Gary Andersen and his staff want a different type of quarterback (more mobility).

2. Find help at receiver: No position has less depth for Wisconsin, which loses standout Jared Abbrederis to graduation. Abbrederis led the team with 78 receptions this fall, and no other wide receiver had more than 12 catches. No returning receiver had more than 10 receptions in 2013, and Wisconsin loses reliable pass catchers at both tight end (Jacob Pedersen) and running back (James White). This is a fairly desperate situation, and the Badgers need young players such as Robert Wheelwright to blossom in a hurry.

3. Bolster the defensive front: Talented defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has some work ahead as Wisconsin loses five senior linemen along with linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year. The Badgers struggled to generate pressure in their final two games, losses to Penn State and South Carolina, and haven't been the same up front since losing All-American J.J. Watt. The development of the defensive ends and outside linebackers such as Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert will be critical for UW.

More to-do lists

Q&A: Wisconsin NT Beau Allen

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
2:00
PM ET
Jet-sweeping running back Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin offense have garnered most of the attention so far this season, but some good things are happening on the defensive side as well. New head coach Gary Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda employ a multifaceted, 3-4 scheme that has helped Wisconsin rank sixth nationally in both points allowed (15.9 ppg) and yards allowed (285 ypg). Among the players adjusting to new roles and responsibilities is senior nose tackle Beau Allen, who will try to slow down Iowa's power run game Saturday as Wisconsin and Iowa renew their rivalry for the first time since 2010.

ESPN.com caught up with Allen this week to discuss the season, the matchup and, of course, Halloween.

What does Beau Allen do on a bye week?

Beau Allen: Absolutely nothing. I went home (to Minnetonka, Minn.) actually for the weekend because it was my mom's birthday. My dad's birthday is actually on Halloween. I watched a lot of football and ate a lot of football. It was glorious.

Do you have a Halloween costume picked out?

[+] EnlargeMiley Cyrus
AP Photo/Evan Agostini/InvisionCan't imagine a 300-pound male version of Miley Cyrus? Well, if Beau Allen had his way, that's what he'd be for Halloween.
Allen: This year? No. I was thinking about doing some crazy things, maybe being a bearded lady, or I was going to be Miley Cyrus, but I'm actually not going to go trick-or-treating this year, which is kind of too bad. But if I was, I'd probably be one of those two.

Is it just too close to a game?

Allen: Yeah, just too close to a game. I've got a lot of schoolwork to do, and I'm actually going to see a movie, "Ender's Game" comes out, and I'm pretty fired up about that, because that was my favorite book.

So if you guys get a win on Saturday against Iowa, will you do a late Halloween celebration?

Allen: Yeah, probably. To be honest, I'll probably head over to the store and buy all the discounted candy. I'm trying to be frugal.

You haven't faced Iowa since your freshman year. What are you looking forward to going against the Hawkeyes again?

Allen: Obviously, it's a trophy game, and we've held the trophy the past couple years, so that's a big thing. But me personally, I'm excited because it's Big Ten football. They're a smashmouth team, they run the ball a lot, they've got powerful running backs and a good offensive line, so it's definitely a good challenge for our D-line. It's something we've been excited about.

Does Iowa remind you of your team a bit, going against your offense in practice?

Allen: Yeah, definitely. The way they run the zone is a little different, but just the philosophy of wanting to pound the ball, and then hitting the tight ends on boot and play-action and stuff like that, is definitely very similar.

Did they recruit you at all?

Allen: Yeah, I was recruited by [former Iowa defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski], who's at Nebraska now. They've had some talented D-linemen in the past. They were probably in my last four or five schools.

What put Wisconsin over the top?

Allen: I've had a lot of family connections here over the years, and I really liked the business school and the academics that I'm in right now. And just the atmosphere on game day. I felt really at home with the players.

[+] EnlargeBeau Allen
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinBeau Allen and the Wisconsin defense has been celebrating a lot this season, as they are in the top 20 of scoring and overall defense.
You've had two months to play in this defense. What have you learned about the scheme, and how comfortable are you in what they're asking you to do?

Allen: I feel great with that. I love it our scheme. One thing I really like that is a little different from what we've done in the past is we have a lot of different personnel groupings. Coach Aranda does a great job of getting our personnel to match up with what the opposing offense likes to do. On game day, we'll have anywhere from five to eight different personnel groups. That puts the best players on our defense in the best positions to win. So I like that a lot.

Are there certain guys you're playing alongside now who you never did before?

Allen: So in one of our peso groups, where I'm an end, I'm playing next to a stand-up linebacker, like Joe Schobert or Vince Biegel, where I haven't played with them before. But then I'm still playing with a lot of guys I've played with in the past, like Brendan Kelly, Ethan Hemer, Tyler Dippel, Pat Muldoon, so it's a good combination of some new faces and some familiar ones.

Does what they're asking you to do change depending on the personnel grouping?

Allen: For most of the time when I'm lined up in base at nose guard, I've got my job role cut out for me, which is occupy blockers and try to keep our linebackers free. But then when we get into passing downs and stuff like that, sometimes they'll put me out into a pass rush role, which is kind of nice and refreshing for me.

Do you have any pass-rush moves you've been saving for this game?

Allen: Well, I don't want to tell you because the word might get out. But I've been saving up a spin move. I used it against Northwestern. Some people are surprised when big men hit spin moves, so been saving that bad boy.

Have you named it?

Allen: No, I haven't. Maybe I should. Got anything good? I'll work on that. Maybe the hair tornado or something like that.

You mentioned the Iowa running backs and Mark Weisman is a big guy. What will be the key to slowing him down?

Allen: I love playing bigger running backs like that. It's just getting back to tackling fundamentals. You can't really arm-tackle guys like that, especially me, if I'm on a blocker, I can't just try to reach out or he'll probably rip my arm off. You can't just expect to bring him down just by hitting him. You've got to wrap him up and get your defenders to rally and pursue the ball.

What are the keys to finishing the season strong, and what are the goals for your team? You need some help to get to the Big Ten championship.

Allen: Some of us are a little upset because we feel like we're not getting the recognition we deserve, but we can't think of it that way. We've got to practice every day the right way and play every game the right way and not try to look ahead to the end of the year. Just focus on the small daily things, and if we do that, we'll get to where we want to be at the end of the year.

Were you surprised when Wisconsin wasn't in the initial BCS standings? Has it been hard to get recognition?

Allen: Yeah, but if we just take care of our business and practice and play the way we know that we can, that will all sort itself out.

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
12:00
PM ET
Don't go camping near a lake today ...

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
12:00
PM ET
Something about this weekend smells like a rose.
2012 record: 8-6

2012 conference record: 4-4 (third in Leaders Division, Big Ten champions)

Returning starters

Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

LB Chris Borland, S Dezmen Southward, LB Ethan Armstrong, RB James White, RB Melvin Gordon, G/T Ryan Groy, WR Jared Abbrederis, QB Joel Stave, QB Curt Phillips

Key losses

LB Mike Taylor, CB Devin Smith, CB Marcus Cromartie, RB Montee Ball, C Travis Frederick, T Ricky Wagner

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Montee Ball (1,830 yards)
Passing: Joel Stave* (1,104)
Receiving: Jared Abbrederis* (837 yards)
Tackles: Mike Taylor (123)
Sacks: Brendan Kelly* and Tyler Dippel* (5)
Interceptions: Devin Smith (4)

Spring answers

1. Separation at quarterback: Wisconsin entered the spring with a four-man quarterback competition and reduced the pool by 50 percent, as senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave separated themselves midway through the session. Phillips, who ended last season as the starter, showed veteran leadership in grasping the offense, while Stave stood out in the spring game and might have more upside as a passer. Although redshirt freshman Bart Houston boasts tremendous natural ability, he's not ready to start in the Big Ten just yet. Danny O'Brien, who started the opener in 2012, has fallen back in the pack.

2. Front seven depth: The defense will go through more dramatic scheme changes under new coach Gary Andersen and his staff, but the front seven should be solid by Aug. 31. Inside linebacker Chris Borland is a tremendous leader at the nucleus of the defense. Several players who will be in the rotation -- Beau Allen, Tyler Dippel, Ethan Armstrong, Brendan Kelly -- missed part or all of the spring, which gave increased opportunities to players like tackle Warren Herring and linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert. The result should be good depth at both the line and linebacker spots.

3. Center of attention: Wisconsin's last two centers -- Peter Konz and Travis Frederick -- jumped to the NFL a year early, but the team once again appears ready to fill big shoes. Redshirt freshman Dan Voltz, who backed up Frederick last season, impressed the new coaches this spring and solidified the top center spot. Although overall line depth remains a concern entering the summer, Wisconsin feels good about the man snapping the ball.

Fall questions

1. Clarity at quarterback: The race is down to two, and actually three, as junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy arrives this summer and, according to Andersen, will get a fair chance to compete for the starting job. But Wisconsin needs a starter to emerge and take control of the team. Both Phillips and Stave have started games and should be able to win over a locker room. Phillips will be closer to full strength after suffering a knee injury in the Rose Bowl that limited his mobility this spring. If Stave continues to answer Andersen's challenge about improving the passing game, he could once again occupy the top job.

2. Secondary a primary concern: The Badgers return only one secondary starter in safety Dezmen Southward, and they lack overall depth in the back four. Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary took most of the reps as the first-team cornerbacks this spring, but they'll need to make more progress as young players like Sojourn Shelton and Reggie Mitchell have impressed the coaching staff. The bottom line is Wisconsin needs more bodies and more options to surround Southward.

3. Depth at receiver, offensive line: One area has lacked depth for a while, while the other has been a hallmark of the Wisconsin program. The Badgers need more reliable options to emerge around All-Big Ten candidate Jared Abbrederis at receiver. Kenzel Doe delivered a strong performance in the spring game and could complement Abbrederis, but there are opportunities for others to step up. The offensive line needs guards Dallas Lewallen and Kyle Costigan to stay healthy and for reserves to emerge to fill out the two-deep.

Spring game recap: Wisconsin

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
9:00
AM ET
Three Big Ten programs wrapped up spring ball Saturday with spring games, and we're taking a look at each one.

First up, the Wisconsin Badgers, who held their first spring game under new coach Gary Andersen at Camp Randall Stadium.

You can find coverage of Wisconsin's spring game here and here and here and here.

Star of the game: Quarterback Joel Stave. The redshirt sophomore ended a solid spring by completing 15 of 20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. Along with senior Curt Phillips, Stave already had separated himself in the competition for the starting job, and he heeded Andersen's challenge to upgrade the passing game. "Joel was poised today," Andersen said. "I thought he it wasn't perfect, but it doesn't have to be perfect."

How it went down: The defense played without six starters, held out because of injury or as a precaution, but still won the scrimmage 61-47 thanks to a scoring system that appeared to favor the defense. Wisconsin's personnel situation both on defense and with the offensive line made it tough to get an accurate gauge on the team, although several players certainly helped themselves.

Stave played very well and Phillips (8-for-13 passing, 82 yards) had a good day. With top receiver Jared Abbrederis held out, junior Kenzel Doe stepped up to record eight receptions for 93 yards. Doe, who had 16 catches last season but has been used mainly on returns, put himself in position to contend for the No. 2 receiver spot.

"Kenzel had a really good spring all around," Stave said. "He just continues to get better. He's a very athletic kid, so when he can get the ball in a space he can really make some good things happen."

The offense finished with 250 pass yards -- quarterbacks Danny O'Brien and Bart Houston played sparingly -- and Andersen called the passing game progress "very encouraging."

Sophomore running back Melvin Gordon took the bulk of the carries with James White held out and finished with 74 rush yards and a touchdown on 17 attempts. Doe had a 9-yard rush, while fullback Derek Watt had 22 rush yards and 22 receiving yards, plus a receiving touchdown.

Linebacker Vince Biegel, who has been in and out of the first-team defense this spring, ended the session with a strong performance, recording two sacks, including a safety. Walk-on Joe Schobert completed a strong spring with seven tackles and a sack. He's also in the mix for a starting outside linebacker spot.

The secondary will continue to be a story line throughout fall camp as Wisconsin returns only one starter (safety Dezmen Southward). Cornerback Sojourn Shelton, an early enrollee who has drawn praise from the coaches all spring, recorded four tackles, including a tackle for loss, and broke up a few passes in the scrimmage. Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary, who are working as the top corners, had mixed results Saturday.

"The list is not real long with those kids," Andersen said, "but I think they have competed day in and day out, and techniques, moving to man coverage, moving to playing dog coverage, blitzing sometimes doesn't sound like a lot, but it's a lot to put on a kid's plate. They've got better every single day."

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