Wisconsin Football: What You Need to Know About Badgers' Top Seniors
Seniors need to wear many hats on a college football team. They are the coaches on the field and the elder statesmen in the locker room. They need to run faster and lift harder while allowing their younger counterparts a chance to shine.
Seniors set the tempo, pace and example for the rest of the team to follow. A core of senior leadership can be a force multiplier for a squad, as youth and maturity tend to all flow together in that last year of school. Talent and flash are tempered by experience and poise.
Wisconsin is a very young team, which makes its seniors a powerful asset on game day.
Both defensive and offensive units have players that need to avoid "senioritis" and stay focused on the path ahead or walk away with regrets on graduation day.
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Devin Smith's ears must be burning with all of the press his head coach has been giving him.
In fact, Bret Bielema looks at the senior cornerback as the difference between a Rose Bowl and a national championship, if Smith would have stayed healthy after sustaining an ankle injury early last season.
In an interview with ESPN Madison, Bielema explained Smith's impact on the team:
I honestly think if Devin Smith had played the entire year at the way he was playing at the time he got hurt, we probably never would have lost ... those plays that hit, they were going after his backup, Marcus Cromartie. 'Cro' did a nice job, did a lot of good things, but you potentially have the difference between maybe a Big Ten championship vs. a national championship opportunity based on one guy's injury.
While the Texas native missed most of the 2011 season, he gets a second chance at his senior season this year. Wisconsin fans will hope that Smith took the time off as an opportunity to learn the finer points of Hail Mary defenses.
The state of Wisconsin let out a simultaneous cheer when Montee Ball made the decision to return to school after a prolific 2011 season. The celebrated tailback will have to live up to the hype while simultaneously living down a small altercation with the police during the spring.
Ball ate up 1,923 yards of turf last year and crossed the plane 39 times. He got a ticket to New York as a Heisman finalist and all the expectations that go along with it.
Ball is also constantly tweaking his weight after dropping close to 25 pounds the year before, and then putting 10 pounds back on his frame this offseason. With more competition than ever, expect Ball to put the Badgers on his back.
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Mike Taylor's university profile notes he likes "hunting."
As a linebacker, that would be a severe understatement.
The redshirt senior makes up one half of the most productive linebacking corps in the conference. Taylor is responsible for 60 solo tackles, 90 assisted tackles and two interceptions. Along with his partner in crime, Chris Borland, he proved to be an instinctual player with excellent pursuit.
Like so many linebackers, Taylor sat out the spring with an injury but coaches expect him to be completely recovered by the time summer camp starts.
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If Wisconsin fans are wondering who the next NFL first-rounder will be, they should take a long look at Ricky Wagner.
The 6'6", 322-pound offensive lineman is considered one of the best around, and NFL scouts are already licking their chops.
Wagner has already been named a preseason All-American by Phil Steele and is expected to be another product of Wisconsin's famed lineman legacy.
Shelton Johnson has a nose for the ball, and hands for it as well. The senior safety has prototypical measurements at 6' and 200 pounds and will need to anchor a secondary that includes both inexperience and uncertain health.
However, in 2011 he had no problem making difficult interceptions look easy, while some blame Johnson for blowing an assignment on the crucial Ohio State bomb that broke the hearts of Wisconsin fans everywhere.
Johnson will have to toughen up mentally, but his unit may prove to be a bright spot for the Badgers in 2012.