NCF Nation: Pat Muldoon

Wisconsin Badgers season preview

August, 21, 2014
8/21/14
10:30
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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.
Let's take a quick look at the two Big Ten contests on tap this afternoon:

Illinois (2-3, 0-1 Big Ten) at Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1), 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC regional/ESPN2 mirror: Both of these teams already have reached a critical juncture in their seasons after shaky starts. Things certainly are more dire for Illinois, which has been blown out in three of its past four games by a combined score of 132-45. The Illini rank last in the Big Ten in points allowed (27.8 ppg) after ranking 15th nationally in scoring defense (15.8 ppg) in 2011. Next to Illinois' defense, Wisconsin's offense has been the league's biggest surprise from a production standpoint, as the Badgers still rank last in the league in yards per game (309.2 ypg). Wisconsin showed some improvement last week at Nebraska and once again will turn to redshirt freshman Joel Stave at quarterback. The Badgers are getting healthy and will get defensive ends Brendan Kelly (hamstring) and Pat Muldoon (thumb) back for the game. Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan will play, while linebacker Jonathan Brown (leg) is a game-time decision. The Illini haven't won in Madison since 2002.

Michigan (2-2) at Purdue (3-1), 4 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: Although Nebraska-Ohio State and maybe even Northwestern-Penn State are getting more attention, the Michigan-Purdue game could be the most intriguing of the Big Ten's Week 6 slate. Michigan returns to the field for the first time since its turnover train derailment at Notre Dame. Purdue begins its defining stretch of the season -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State -- with a game some Boiler fans think is the team's biggest since the 2004 clash with Wisconsin at Ross-Ade Stadium. Speaking of Ross-Ade, the Boilers have been a juggernaut on their home field, averaging 51 points through the first three games. Michigan's defense appeared to turn a corner at Notre Dame but must contend with Purdue weapons like Antavian Edison, Gary Bush, O.J. Ross, Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt. On the other side, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson goes up against a talented Purdue defense led by Kawann Short, although the unit struggled to contain Marshall last week. Purdue has won 12 of its past 15 Big Ten openers.
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball has been cleared to play Saturday night at No. 22 Nebraska after sustaining a concussion last week against UTEP.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema told local reporters Thursday that Ball is "cleared 100 percent full-go." As long as nothing changes in the next 48 hours, he'll play against the Huskers. The concussion is Ball's second in as many months after he was attacked by a group of men Aug. 1 in downtown Madison. Bielema said the second concussion wasn't as severe as the first, and Ball vowed to play earlier this week.

Wisconsin certainly will benefit from having a full complement of offensive weapons against Nebraska, which boasts the Big Ten's top offense. Although James White and Melvin Gordon also are good options, Ball lit up the Huskers in last year's win. Ball has 360 rush yards and three touchdowns on 93 carries this season.

Bielema also said defensive end David Gilbert won't start after Gilbert made critical comments Wednesday about Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez.

"He'll be skipping rocks on the sideline with me for the first play," Bielema said Thursday, referring to Gilbert's comment about how Martinez throws passes.

Tyler Dippel and Konrad Zagzebski will start at the defensive end spots for the Badgers, who will be without ends Brendan Kelly and Pat Muldoon because of injuries.

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