Wisconsin Football: 5 Biggest Holes in the Roster Badgers Must Fill for 2013
The Wisconsin Badgers may have a lot of young talent, but they also have several seniors who are departing the team following the conclusion of the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
Among Wisconsin's regular contributors, eight players will run out of eligibility—pending the appeals of quarterback Curt Phillips and defensive end Brendan Kelly for a sixth year. That still leaves the Badgers with plenty of returning players, but there will be some notable vacancies to fill heading into the 2013 season.
Surprisingly enough, the position manned by the most talented of those leaving at season's end won't even crack this list. That being said, let's look at the biggest holes in the roster the Badgers must fill next season.
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The Badgers will have two returning starters at linebacker, but senior Mike Taylor will likely be suiting up on Sundays, leaving one of the outside linebacker positions up for grabs in 2013.
It's going to be nearly impossible to replicate Taylor's production, who has compiled 120 tackles through 13 games this season, but there are some viable options to take his place next season.
With Chris Borland out for the final two conference games, sophomore Derek Landisch and junior Conor O'Neill filled in nicely as the Wisconsin defense hardly missed a beat. Both will have an opportunity to compete for the position leading up to next season along with redshirt freshman Vince Biegel, a 4-star recruit who was highly regarded coming into this season before aggravating a foot injury.
Still, Taylor is arguably Wisconsin's most valuable player on defense, and it will be on Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong to step up even more as well as on Taylor's replacement to fill a large role on the Badgers' roster.
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Wisconsin will only lose one of its starting offensive linemen heading into 2013, but it happens to be its most important big ugly in left tackle Rick Wagner.
Originally a tight end, Wagner was converted to an offensive lineman, and it wound up being a rather beneficial decision as Wagner evolved into the team's best offensive lineman by the time his senior year rolled around.
He is likely to be selected some time in the first two rounds of the 2013 NFL draft, making left tackle a significant hole to fill for next season. Fortunately, it's almost a given when it comes to Wisconsin producing NFL-caliber offensive linemen, and someone is bound to step in and be at least a serviceable left tackle for the Badgers after Wagner's departure.
Such a player could be freshman Dan Voltz, redshirt freshman Ray Ball or junior Zac Matthias. Sophomore Rob Havenstein, who is an underrated member of the line, could also shift over from right tackle to replace the first-team All-Big Ten performer.
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Wisconsin will lose not one, but two starting cornerbacks in Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie, not to mention safety Shelton Johnson, which will leave the Badgers quite green in the secondary heading into the 2013 season.
While Johnson was pretty solid during his tenure in Madison, he had to sit out three games with a broken arm, and the Badgers managed his absence pretty well by inserting sophomore Michael Trotter, who has plenty of talent and should be in the mix to replace Johnson heading into spring ball.
Cornerback, on the other hand, could be a little more tricky. While Cromartie caught his fair share of flak for failing to live up to expectations throughout his tenure at Wisconsin, Smith stepped up in a big way this season, intercepting four passes as one of the team leaders on defense, and finding a suitable replacement could be a challenge.
Aside from Trotter, possible fill-ins for Cro, Smith and Johnson include freshman Darius Hillary, who saw some action at corner this season, freshman Michael Caputo, who received some buzz during fall practice, sophomore Peniel Jean, who was set back by a broken foot in August, and sophomore Devin Gaulden.
The youth at the position is reason to be optimistic heading into next season, and it should be a very competitive battle for the three openings in the secondary.
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It's no secret that there was a lot left to be desired when it came to Wisconsin's quarterback situation this season.
First came Danny O'Brien. Then it was Joel Stave. Now, it's third-string redshirt senior Curt Phillips. Suffice it to say, the Badgers were in much better shape in 2011 when some guy named Russell Wilson was taking snaps under center.
While it's possible all three return in 2013, there's one other quarterback who figures to enter the fold—freshman Bart Houston.
Houston received plenty of hype after the Badgers landed the 4-star California high school recruit, and after redshirting this season due in part to a shoulder injury, Houston figures to enter the conversation at quarterback to help bring some stability to the position in Madison.
Along with the three secondary openings, the quarterback battle figures to be one of the most compelling competitions heading into the 2013 season.
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The Badgers are losing Montee Ball at running back, and yet, thanks to the depth behind him with James White and Melvin Gordon, wide receiver represents a larger hole for Wisconsin to fill next season.
Obviously, the Badgers are set on one side of the field with Jared Abbrederis, but nobody was able to step up opposite of the all-conference wideout. That could have to do with the instability and inconsistency at quarterback this season, but Abbrederis would be hard-pressed to have a successful senior season without a legit No. 2 receiver stepping up, just as he did on the back end of Nick Toon's tenure at Wisconsin.
Minus tight end Jacob Pedersen, freshman Jordan Fredrick was the team's second leading wide receiver, and he only caught 16 passes for 192 yards. The Badgers simply need more production from that position on the field.
It could be a wide-open battle for who gets extended playing time with Abby in 2013, but for Wisconsin to avoid another five-loss season, it needs more than 192 yards from its No. 2 receiver.