The surprising departure of Gary Anderson to Oregon State brings in new head coach Paul Chryst to Madison. Chryst was 19-20 as Pittsburgh’s head coach, but he lands his dream job with Wisconsin where he played quarterback (1986-1988) and also served as the the Badgers’ offensive coordinator between 2005 and 2011.
Wisconsin’s success this season will be predicated upon its defense, which returns six starters and boasts one of the nation’s best secondaries. Dave Aranda enters his third season as the Badgers’ defensive coordinator, and he cannot say enough about his secondary that welcomes back nine of its top 11 players.
Seniors Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy will give opposing quarterbacks nightmares, and I am calling for Wisconsin’s secondary to finish in the Top 5 nationally at the end of the regular season. The Badgers’ defensive line is also much more experienced heading into 2015, and Aranda is very high on the freshman duo of Chikwe Obasih and Alec James. Also keep an eye on Jeremy Patterson, who was the Scout Team Defensive MVP in 2014.
It’s worth noting that Wisconsin’s defense allowed just 294 yards per game last year despite returning only three starters. Now, coordinator Dave Aranda has six returning starters at his disposal which makes me call for another solid campaign for Wisconsin’s stop unit in 2015.
The question surrounding Wisconsin is whether its offense can produce enough points to take the pressure off the defense. Starting quarterback Joel Stave missed the first four games last season before ultimately throwing for 1,350 yards (53.4%; 9-10; -70 rush). Stave’s lack of production came as a surprise in light of the fact that he threw for 2,494 yards (62%; 22-13) in 2013 and seemed to have grown into the position.
The only way to go is up for Stave and Wisconsin’s offense, and he will once again be working behind one of the conference’s best offensive lines. The loss of both Rob Havenstein and Kyle Costigan certainly hurts, but the Badgers offensive line return 48 career starts and should once again produce excellent numbers on the ground.
The biggest loss sustained by Wisconsin was running back Melvin Gordon, who eclipsed 200 yards six times last year and finished with 2,587 yards at 7.5 yards per carry. The Heisman Trophy finalist was drafted by the San Diego Chargers, which leaves the team’s second-leading rusher – Corey Clement – in charge of the backfield this season. Clement compiled 949 rushing yards at 6.5 yards per carry and is primed for a breakout season in 2015.
The only legitimate receiving threat is senior Alex Erickson, who led the team with 772 yards (14.0) last year. Wisconsin led the Big Ten Conference at +215 yards per game in conference play last season and the Badgers’ success in 2015 will once again be defined by their defense. The Badgers are 16-1 in season-openers and have not dropped consecutive openers since 1988-1990.
Wisconsin will win the West and return to its fourth Big Ten Title game in 2015.