2012 record: 8-6 (4-4 Big Ten); lost Rose Bowl 20-14 to Stanford
Returning offensive starters (8): QB Joel Stave, FB Derek Watt, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, TE Brian Wozniak, T Rob Havenstein, G Ryan Groy, G Kyle Costigan
Projected starting offense: QB Joel Stave, so., 6-5, 220; RB James White, sr., 5-10, 197 OR Melvin Gordon, jr., 6-1, 206; TE Jacob Pedersen, sr., 6-4, 237; TE Brian Wozniak, sr., 6-4, 255 OR FB Derek Watt, so., 6-2, 230; WR Jared Abbrederis, sr., 6-2, 188; WR Jordan Frederick, so., 6-3, 215; T Rob Havenstein, jr., 6-8, 345; T Ryan Groy, sr., 6-5, 315; G Dallas Lewallen, jr., 6-6, 310; G Kyle Costigan, jr., 6-4, 313; C Dan Voltz, fr., 6-4, 300
Returning defensive starters (7): DE David Gilbert, DT Beau Allen, DT Ethan Hemer, DE Pat Muldoon, LB Chris Borland, LB Ethan Armstrong, S Dezmen Southward
Projected starting defense: DE Ethan Hemer, sr., 6-6, 295; NT Beau Allen, sr., 6-3, 335; DE Pat Muldoon, sr., 6-3, 258; LB Chris Borland, sr., 6-0, 242; LB Ethan Armstrong, sr., 6-2, 216; LB Brendan Kelly, sr., 6-6, 258; LB Vince Biegel, fr., 6-3, 225; CB Sojourn Shelton, fr., 5-9, 162; CB Darius Hillary, so., 5-11, 190; S Dezman Southward, sr., 6-2, 213; S Michael Trotter, jr., 6-0, 210
Return specialists: (2): K Kyle French, jr., 6-1, 200; P Drew Meyer, so., 6-2, 180
Key losses: RB Montee Ball, T Ricky Wagner, LB Mike Taylor, C Travis Frederick, CB Marcus Cromartie, CB Devin Smith, QB Danny O’Brien
Key additions: TE T.J. Watt, 6-4, 215; QB Tanner McEvoy, 6-6, 215; RB Corey Clement, 5-11, 210; WR Rob Wheelright, 6-1, 180; T Jackson Keeler, 6-7, 290
2012 review: No team experienced a more up-and-down Big Ten season — perhaps in all of college football — than the Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin’s offense was impotent early in the season, edging Northern Iowa, Utah State and UTEP and losing 10-7 at Oregon State. The loss cost offensive line coach Mike Markuson his job. Only once in the Badgers’ first five games did they run for better than 3.6 yards per carry.
But as anemic as Wisconsin’s early offense, the team settled in quickly and rolled for massive ground yardage in four other games. Wisconsin pulverized Purdue for 467 rushing yards, then battered Minnesota for 337. In a Leaders Division showdown with Indiana, the Badgers rolled up a school-record 594 rushing yards. In the Big Ten championship game, Wisconsin blasted Nebraska for 539 yards at 10.8 yards per carry.
Wisconsin picked up the Leaders Division title-game bid by default with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible. The Badgers finished 4-4 in league play but steamrolled to the automatic Rose Bowl berth with a 70-31 beatdown of Nebraska.
Among the highs last year was the performance of running back Montee Ball, who set the league record for most career touchdowns. But days after the Nebraska win, Coach Bret Bielema bolted Dairyland for Arkansas. Athletics director Barry Alvarez, himself a Hall of Fame coach, took over for the Rose Bowl, which the Badgers lost to Stanford 20-14. It was Wisconsin’s third straight Rose Bowl defeat.
The Badgers hired Utah State’s Gary Andersen, whose team nearly upset the Badgers in week three last year, to replace Bielema. On offense Andersen has mixed some zone read option with Wisconsin’s traditional power base. Defensively, Wisconsin will switch to a hybrid 3-4 alignment.
2013 schedule: A31 Massachusetts; S7 Tennessee Tech; S14 at Arizona State; S21 Purdue; S28 at Ohio State; O12 Northwestern; O19 at Illinois; N2 at Iowa; N9 BYU; N16 Indiana; N23 at Minnesota; N30 Penn State
Key stretch: Wisconsin opens Big Ten play against three 2012 bowl teams and wins in all three could vault the Badgers back to the Rose Bowl for an unprecedented fourth straight year. Wisconsin overpowered Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium last year, but the Boilermakers have a new coach. The Leaders Division title could be decided on Sept. 28 when Wisconsin travels to Ohio State. Two weeks later the Badgers host explosive Northwestern.
Trap game: Minnesota. At first blush a rivalry game like this never should constitute a “trap” for teams, but Wisconsin has beaten its western neighbors nine years in a row. Minnesota is improving and the game is held in Minneapolis in late November. Depending on the Badgers’ frame of mind, they could be either too high or too low, one week before the season finale against Penn State. New Coach Gary Andersen possesses neither the history nor the animosity for the Gophers that former Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema enjoyed (7-0) in the series. Sometimes that prevents teams from mental overkill during rivalry weeks. Other times, not enough emphasis is placed to placate the fans.
Glass half-full: With two of the league’s best running backs and perhaps its best wide receiver and tight end, the Badgers scoot into their showdown with Ohio State unbeaten. Behind veteran linebacker Chris Borland, the defense stabilizes and sophomore quarterback Joel Stave continues to grow from caretaker to playmaker. The Badgers navigate through rivalry games at Iowa and Minnesota, take care of business against Indiana, Purdue and Illinois and play mistake-free football against upper-echelon squads Ohio State, Northwestern and Penn State. A 10- or 11-win season, even without a division title, could vault the Badgers into a BCS bowl, possibly the Rose, if Ohio State goes undefeated.
Glass half-empty: Wisconsin’s offense fails to gain traction with Andersen’s subtle changes and stalls similar to last year’s slow start. An early road loss at Arizona State stunts their growth, and team fails to recover against Ohio State and Northwestern. Road trips to Iowa and Minnesota prove brutal, and the Badgers self-destruct in rivalry games. Wisconsin barely finishes with a winning record (similar to last year’s 7-5 mark) and nets a lower-tier bowl.
The Iowa angle: We’ve discussed this ad nauseum from mid-2010 through this spring. The Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry was collateral damage during the Big Ten’s first crack at radical realignment in 2011. The schools had played in 72 of the previous 74 seasons before the schedule revamp, which placed Iowa in the Legends Division and Wisconsin in the Leaders Division. It was difficult for both schools to accept.
Wisconsin won the last meeting 31-30 in 2010, an epic clash that stands like a fork in the road of the two programs. Wisconsin since has advanced to three straight Rose Bowls, while Iowa twice was jettisoned to the Insight Bowl. Last year the Hawkeyes hit rock bottom with a 4-8 campaign and are 14-17 since that game.
But the rivalry is back on the fast track, thanks to realignment No. 2. With Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten in 2014, the league divided its football programs based on geography. That means the 3-hour drive between Iowa City and Madison once again will become an annual trip. Oddly enough, the Badgers must play in Kinnick Stadium three times (2010, 2013, 2014) before the Hawkeyes return to Camp Randall.
But there no longer will be Iowa overtones to this football series. Athletics Director and former coach Barry Alvarez was a former assistant under Hayden Fry. Bielema was an Iowa team captain, a former Iowa assistant and famously has a Tiger-Hawk stitched to his leg. Andersen has no ties to the state. That doesn’t mean the fans will think less of the series, however. It stands tied 42-42-2 after 86 meetings. (Iowa leads the basketball series 79-78, so the rivalry is strong in other sports, too.)
Quotable: “We’re in a good spot. You’re never going to get everything you want. You’re never going to have it perfect. We wanted consistency. I think we got that. We wanted effort. I think we got that. .” — Wisconsin Coach Gary Andersen