With only 12 starters returning for the 2012 season, the Wisconsin Badgers will have to rely on a handful of guys to step up their game if the team is to return to the Rose Bowl in 2013.
We can assume the likes of linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor and running back Montee Ball and his offensive line will continue, if not elevate, their high-level of play.
What's of concern is who else is going to fill the voids. Here are five Badgers who must elevate their game to attain success in 2012.
As is obvious and mentioned in an earlier article, someone at the quarterback position has to emerge as "the guy" to lead this offense.
If there's one position in football where a team doesn't want to split reps, it's at quarterback. As they say, if you have two starting quarterbacks, you have no starting quarterbacks.
It's important to note, the offensive helmer doesn't have to replace Russell Wilson. Wilson was a special, gifted player whose combination of smarts, speed, and skill, may not be matched for a long time. Next season's starting quarterback must be a strong game manager and solid leader like the Wisconsin Badger quarterbacks of past Rose Bowl teams—Scott Tolzien, Mike Samuel, Brooks Bollinger.
Big shoes to fill, for someone to step in and step up.
Pardon the pun, last season defensive end David Gilbert, caught a bad break, the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot.
He still has two seasons left as he was granted a medical redshirt last season. The upside is he got some nice playing time in the non-conference schedule without it counting against his eligibility. in just three games before his injury last season, Gilbert had 10 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.
At 6'4", 255 pounds, Gilbert is a bit undersized for a defensive end but his speed and agility make him a dangerous force for any offense to contend with.
The Wisconsin defensive line struggled to get any pressure on the quarterback and made very few big plays last season. This fall, Gilbert needs to change that and lead the surge, right through opposing offensive lines.
Junior wide receiver Jeff Duckworth grabbed the spotlight with a huge, 4th-and-long catch over two Spartan defenders in the final quarter of the Big Ten championship game.
One play does not a career make but it does prove Duckworth can come through in the clutch and that's an intangible the Badgers will find critical next year.
Jared Abbrederis will be his usual dependable, workhorse self on special teams as a returner and on offense as a starting receiver. But he can't go it alone and if Duckworth can play well and make big plays when necessary, the Badgers offense will be a formidable one again.
Starting cornerback Devin Smith was injured in the second game last season and granted a medical redshirt for the season.
The Badgers missed his senior leadership especially in a secondary that gave up way too many big plays—oh, Hail Mary times two!
Smith is an Academic All-Big Ten performer and a fifth year senior so I'm sure he understands how critical he is in filling the gap in a porous defensive secondary.
Will his injured foot allow him to step firmly into a defensive leadership role in 2012? Badgers fans sure hope so.