After leading Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls, head coach Bret Bielema surprised the college football establishment by leaving to take the Arkansas job. Bielema’s unexpected departure is not terrible news for the Badgers as Gary Andersen arrives after leading Utah State to eleven wins last season. Andersen will have fourteen returning starters to work with (8 on offense; 6 on defense), which is three more than the Badgers had in 2012. More importantly, Wisconsin was +115.4 yards per game in conference play last season, which indicates that the Badgers’ 8-6 record was grossly misleading. I’m calling for Wisconsin to reach ten wins this season and possibly reach the Rose Bowl for the fourth consecutive year.
- Wisconsin’s offense is led by a powerful ground attack that could match last year’s numbers (5.2 yards per carry) despite losing Montee Ball to the NFL. James White enters the season ranked No. 2 in college football with 2,571 career yards, while former head coach Bielema suggested over the summer that Melvin Gordon could be the team’s best running back in 2013.
- Wisconsin also boasts an outstanding offensive line that returns three starters (48 career starts). As usual, the Badgers will field one of the strongest and most productive offensive lines in the nation.
- The biggest question mark with Wisconsin is its quarterback situation as the battle during spring appears to be between Joel Stave, who threw for 1,104 yards last season (58.8%; 6-3 ratio) and Curt Phillips, who threw for 540 yards in 2012 (56.8%; 5-2 ratio). Former head coach Bielema indicated that Stave has the best arm and excellent composure behind center, and I expect him to get the starting nod this season under coach Andersen.
- The Badgers have allowed less than 20.0 points per game in each of the past two seasons, and I expect similar success in 2013 behind one of the nations best linebacking units. Wisconsin returns two of its top three tacklers from last season, including Chris Borland, who is only 144 tackles away from setting an all-time record.
- Wisconsin will once again field a very strong defensive line that is switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme under new coordinator Dave Aranda, who served as Utah State’s defensive coordinator last year.
- The biggest question mark on the defensive side of the ball is Wisconsin’s secondary as the Badgers lose three starters from last year, including Devin Smith (14 starts; #6 tackler). However, the secondary’s leading tackler returns in Dezmen Southward, but that won’t be enough to keep Wisconsin from dropping in my rankings this season.
Negative variance certainly played a role in last year’s 8-6 finish for Wisconsin as the Badgers suffered six close losses! With an excellent head coach in Gary Andersen, together with improved quarterback play and one of college football’s best backfields, I expect the Badgers to find themselves in the Rose Bowl in January, 2014.