Wisconsin Football: Ranking the 5 Best Offensive Weapons for the Badgers
During the 2012 season, the Wisconsin football offense wasn't exactly a juggernaut—withholding a few routs of inferior opponents and a 70-point outburst in the Big Ten Championship Game. Early season struggles running the football, a fluctuating quarterback situation and a lack of threats in the passing game didn't help the matter.
But new head coach Gary Andersen is looking to change all that. He'll keep the power running game intact, but Andersen would also like to have a mobile quarterback under center to give the Badgers offense a little more diversity.
The quarterback position, while still up for grabs, has a much better feel to it, and Wisconsin brings back several offensive weapons from a season ago. We'll count down the five most prolific playmakers on offense and analyze what each one brings to the table.
5. Jacob Pedersen, TE
Entering his third season as a starter at tight end for Wisconsin, Jacob Pedersen is hoping to be next in line when it comes to Wisconsin tight ends making a career of it in the NFL. While Pedersen has been one of the top threats in the offense, there is still more work to be done for the incoming senior.
Last season, Pedersen was the second-leading receiver on the team with 27 receptions for 355 yards and four touchdowns, but he didn't do enough to take the pressure off wideout Jared Abbrederis. In 2011, Pedersen was slightly more involved despite the presence of Nick Toon, but let's just say that Russell Wilson wasn't throwing him the football in 2012.
All signs point to Pedersen taking a step forward in 2013 with a stronger group of quarterbacks at the ready, as well as the natural progression Pedersen should make entering his senior season. He should be the second option in the passing game and a nice red-zone option for whoever winds up throwing him the ball next season.
4. Joel Stave, QB
We're making two assumptions with the selection of the No. 4 offensive weapon for the Badgers—Joel Stave will beat out Curt Phillips, and he will be able to hold off junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy this summer.
Regardless of who wins the job come the start of the season, they would likely fall into this slot. While McEvoy appears to offer the Badgers the best dual-threat option under center, there are still plenty of questions regarding how he will perform at the FBS level.
We've seen what Stave can do, and had he avoided a broken collarbone in late October last season, there would be little doubt that he would be the starting quarterback in 2013. His performance in the spring game indicated that he would be a better fit than sixth-year senior Curt Phillips despite lacking the mobility Andersen would like to see at quarterback.
Last season, Stave completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 1,104 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions, and Wisconsin won every game that he completed. He possesses a big arm, has a calming influence on the offense and simply knows how to find a way to win.
3. James White, RB
He's waited three years, but finally, James White will assume the role of starting tailback in his senior season at Madison. Last year, White was used as a receiver, a Wildcat-style quarterback and of course, at running back to occasionally spell Montee Ball.
Now, with Ball out of the picture, White will likely split carries with breakout sophomore Melvin Gordon. White himself knows all about making an impact in his first year of college, as he topped 1,000 yards rushing while averaging 6.7 yards-per-carry and scoring 14 times. Since then, White has topped 700 yards in each of the past two seasons and racked up 19 total touchdowns.
He should expect to see an increase in carries after averaging just over 140 rushes through his first three years at Wisconsin. It's a great opportunity for White to get more national recognition after playing behind Ball during his sophomore and junior seasons, and his versatility should help him adjust to some of the read-option looks expected next season.
2. Melvin Gordon, RB
James White is a proven commodity in the Badger backfield and a great weapon in his own right, but nobody should be surprised to see Melvin Gordon ahead of his elder on this list.
Early on during the 2012 season, Gordon didn't see many meaningful minutes, but as the season progressed, head coach Bret Bielema quickly realized he had something special in the freshman phenom. Gordon's coming out party came in the B1G Championship Game against Nebraska where he ran for 216 yards on just nine carries.
On the season, Gordon averaged a ridiculous 10 yards a carry, showing how he had the ability to break a big play almost every time he touched the pigskin. Gordon did a lot of his damage on the end-around, so it will be interesting to see if Andersen utilizes him the same way or mainly keeps him in the backfield.
Either way, the two-headed monster of White and Gordon in the backfield ought to make some waves.
1. Jared Abbrederis, WR
For as much as Wisconsin has relied on the run game over the years, there isn't a single player on the offense who requires more attention than senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.
When you consider the almost nonexistent help Abbrederis received in the passing game along with who was throwing him the football, the fact that he still managed to put up 837 yards and get behind the defense so often was pretty remarkable.
Like Pedersen, Abbrederis took a small step back as far as production is concerned, and unless another receiver steps up, it could continue to be difficult for him to be effective week in and week out. But somehow, Abbrederis always seems to find a way to get open. In his first eight games of the 2012 season, Abby's long reception was at least 25 yards, and in five of those games, he had a long of over 40.
Consistency and continuity at the quarterback position and the emergence of Pedersen, along with a No. 2 receiver, will allow Abbrederis to be the biggest offensive weapon for the Badgers in 2013.