It's not official just yet, but with a new coaching staff in place at Wisconsin, the Badgers' defense appears poised to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 formation on defense beginning next season.
The move is a result of new head coach Gary Andersen bringing over his defensive coordinator from Utah State, Dave Aranda, who instituted the 3-4 defense last season with the Aggies.
What Aranda was able to accomplish in just one season at Utah State was pretty remarkable, as he was nominated for the Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant in college football. The Aggies also had the No. 15 defense in the FBS, just two spots behind Wisconsin, a dramatic improvement from 2011 when Utah State ranked 53rd in total defense.
The argument could end right there that Aranda's 3-4 defense is the right move going forward in Madison, but it also takes a certain group of personnel in order to pull off the scheme. Wisconsin football fans should know that by now, as they have seen the transformation from a 4-3 to a 3-4 up in Green Bay under Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Fans would have reasons to be objective about Wisconsin using a 3-4 defense due to some of the recent struggles the Packers have gone through, but while you can prepare during the week leading up to a game all you want, it comes down to the execution on the field.
One philosophy Aranda shares with Capers is that he preaches forcing turnovers and getting to the quarterback, something the Badgers weren't exactly known for last season. When Aranda coached at Hawaii in 2010, his defense led the nation in forced turnovers—an astounding 38 takeaways.
Wisconsin's defense has been no slouch in recent years, but it's been an inability to force turnovers that has been lacking, especially last season when the offense struggled to generate points.
Ball-hawking and blitzing tendencies would create more opportunities to affect the game at Wisconsin, and out of the 3-4 defense, linebackers (and even defensive backs) tend to rush more from the outside while linemen plug up the middle.
But do the Badgers currently have the right players in place to run a 3-4 defense? Aranda has said that the biggest strength of Wisconsin is its defensive line, so to remove a lineman and replace him with a linebacker might not be in the Badgers' best interest right away.
Or, perhaps defensive end David Gilbert could make the switch to outside linebacker, seeing how he was the team's best pass-rusher from a season ago. There are still several unknowns about what Wisconsin's defense will look like in 2013, but for the sake of transition, it would be smart for Aranda to institute the 3-4 as soon as possible, even if it requires some shuffling around.
Who knows? Maybe Gilbert would excel even more standing up rather than having a hand in the ground, but Aranda didn't rule out running a 4-3 next season so as not to interrupt the stout Wisconsin front seven while occasionally using some 3-4 tactics.
Should the Badgers eventually make the full-time switch to the 3-4, they will have to adjust how they recruit. While Andersen won't have an opportunity to make much of an impact on the front for the 2013 class, there has already been talk revolving around the role Alec James will play, a 4-star defensive end recruit via ESPN who recently reaffirmed his commitment to Madison (Sports Madison.com).
Aranda and new defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a sold James on becoming somewhat of a hybrid-type defender (somewhere between defensive lineman or outside linebacker), something that convinced James to stay in Madison. That "hybrid" defender could be one of the biggest recruiting priorities for Wisconsin moving forward.
Among recruits from the state of Wisconsin in the class of 2013, the top three recruits were defensive ends according to rivals.com. The Badgers' No.1 selling point to those recruits could be the opportunity to be that hybrid-type defender.
Wisconsin's conservative approach on defense has come and gone—Dave Aranda's desire to blitz more, force turnovers and use his defensive ends in unique ways will create more excitement in Madison and make the switch to the 3-4 defense the right decision moving forward.
All that's left to do is to commit to it, make a smooth transition and sell this new strategy to his senior-laden defense—something easier said than done. But judging by his track record, Aranda has what it takes to get the job done.