Wide receiver Jordan Fredrick was one of three freshmen who saw legitimate playing time last season.
As a freshman in college football, it's difficult to earn a starting spot right off the bat, let alone after redshirting when a coach decides to sit you down for your first season.
The same goes at Wisconsin, where only two freshman started for the Badgers in 2012: wide receiver Jordan Fredrick and fullback Derek Watt. Melvin Gordon also saw his playing time increase toward the end of the season, but all three of these contributors were redshirt freshmen.
This season, there are several departing seniors who started on both offense and defense, creating a few opportunities for true freshmen to contribute right off the bat. Let's take a look at the three incoming recruits most likely to start for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Keefer could replace potential early round draft pick Rick Wagner.
The Badgers' offensive line this season was noticeably weaker than those of years past, as the running game struggled to become cohesive and the quarterback was under more pressure than we were used to seeing at Wisconsin.
Two of the five starters on the O-line have declared for the NFL Draft: senior left tackle Rick Wagner and junior center Travis Frederick.
One of the Badgers' most coveted commits happens to be an offensive tackle in Jack Keeler. Coming out of Barrington High School in Illinois, Keeler is rated as an 81 by ESPN Recruiting Nation Football and weighs in at 6'7" 285 pounds.
With an opening at left tackle, it's possible Keeler could step in and compete for the starting job right away.
He played a lot of guard in high school, but his playing style and size seems to fit the mold of a tackle. We'll see how head coach Gary Andersen and his new coaching staff evaluate Keeler as he kicks off his playing career at Wisconsin.
Two spots have opened up at cornerback with Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie departing.
There are plenty of openings in the secondary next season at Wisconsin, including both of the starting cornerback positions as Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie's eligibility has run out at Madison.
That gives several new players an opportunity to start at corner in 2013, including incoming recruit Sojourn Shelton from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., ranked as the No. 26 cornerback of his class by ESPN.
Shelton will have to go up against names like Peniel Jean, Darius Hillary, Hugs Etienne and Devin Gaulden, but with three openings in the secondary, some of those players may end up competing for a starting safety spot rather than the cornerback position.
Listed at only 5'10" 152 pounds, Shelton needs to bulk up in order to have a chance at starting next season, but his leaping ability, quickness and confidence all bode well for his chances to make an impact right off the bat for the Badgers.
Who will start opposite of David Gilbert at defensive end?
Even with DE Brendan Kelly's successful petition for a sixth year of eligibility, there could be an opportunity for incoming recruit Alec James to have an immediate impact for the Badgers.
Several players who saw playing time at defensive end this season will be returning in 2013, including juniors Tyler Dippel and Pat Muldoon, but one of Wisconsin's most talented incoming recruits is James out of Brookfield East High School in Wisconsin.
James is ranked as the No. 30 defensive end in his class and the second-best incoming Wisconsin recruit by ESPN. At 6'3", James has good height for his position, but like most freshmen, he has to put on some more weight as he comes in at 219 pounds.
What makes James an enticing prospect is his ability to rush the passer and play as kind of a hybrid defender. Aside from David Gilbert, Wisconsin didn't really have anyone who could get to the quarterback on a semi-consistent basis.
He will need time to develop his technique and strength, but even so, James has the potential to see some playing time—if not start—for Wisconsin next season.