Wisconsin Football: Coach Andersen's Biggest Challenges for Badgers in 2013
It's already been four and a half months since the 2012 college football season came to a close as we near the end of May, and nobody is more eager to push through summer and begin the 2013 season than first-year Wisconsin football head coach Gary Andersen.
There is plenty to settle before the Badgers kick off the season against Massachusetts at Camp Randall Stadium on Aug. 31. Several positions have yet to be appointed, new schemes are being implemented and the majority of the 2013 class—including a few junior college recruits—hasn't arrived.
Since Andersen was hired in December, the move has been greeted with generally positive reviews because of how he built Utah State from the ground up, his straightforward approach and essentially because his name isn't Bret Bielema.
But the rave reviews will really kick in if Andersen can win ball games, and that will come easier if he can overcome three distinct challenges.
Making Up for Lost Time
Badgers fans were faced with a no-win situation in regards to the spring game being televised on the Big Ten Network this year. Either the game wouldn't be televised so fans wouldn't get a chance to see the game without actually attending, or it would be televised and Andersen wouldn't reveal the new wrinkles on offense and defense.
Therefore, the read-option and aggressive approach on defense are still being kept under wraps, but we're assuming spring practice consisted of a rather dramatic adjustment period. That is, for players healthy enough to suit up.
Several players who will be instrumental in Wisconsin's 2013 campaign were forced to sit out the entire spring with injuries, including Brendan Kelly, Tyler Dippel, Beau Allen, Ethan Armstrong and Kyle Costigan. While it gave some younger players a chance to receive some meaningful reps, it also delayed the learning process, so Andersen will have to make up for lost time during summer practice.
What especially makes this a challenge for Andersen is how most players out with injury play defense, which is making a switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 formation. Not to mention how Dippel and Kelly are moving from defensive end to outside linebacker as Allen will assume nose tackle duties.
But these three players are seniors and have starting experience, so the Badgers hope that makes for a smooth transition and that mistakes are minimized during the regular season as a result.
Selecting the Right Quarterback
So much of Wisconsin's success last season was predicated on who was under center for the Badgers.
This is odd because normally when we think of Wisconsin, we think of pounding the rock and letting its monstrous offensive linemen pave the way. However, the running game struggled in the early portion of the 2012 season, and therefore more responsibility fell on the Badgers signal caller.
Transfer Danny O'Brien was unable to handle this unexpected burden, but Joel Stave, a former walk-on and redshirt freshman, shouldered the load and turned Wisconsin's season around. But his broken collarbone, along with the injury history of Curt Phillips and Bart Houston, created some uncertainly at the position in the eyes of Andersen heading into next season, so the quarterback battle is wide open.
Another player, JUCO recruit Tanner McEvoy, will also throw his name into the hat when he arrives this summer, and he possesses the dual-threat ability that Andersen so desperately wants from his quarterback considering his desire to move the quarterback around and implement some read-option. Still, that doesn't automatically mean McEvoy will be the starter opening week, as Phillips also has plus mobility and Stave has the best throwing arm at Wisconsin.
It'll be a tough call for Andersen, as the last thing the Badgers need is a slow start out of the gates, especially with Ohio State—now postseason eligible, by the way—on the schedule in late September.
Living Up to Expectations
Back-to-back-to-back Big Ten titles. That's Bret Bielema's lasting legacy whether Badgers fans want to admit it or not, and even though Wisconsin failed to win the Rose Bowl after three straight appearances, no other coach, not even Barry Alvarez, can claim they strung together three B1G championships at Wisconsin.
Still, Bielema wasn't well liked in Madison despite his success, and he didn't exactly rub fans the right way when he bolted for Arkansas immediately after the B1G Championship Game last season. While Andersen's hire was kind of out of the blue considering the bevy of coaches with Wisconsin ties seemingly available, his no-nonsense attitude and strong desire to keep the program at the top has made him a well-liked figure among Badgers fans.
As great as three consecutive trips to Pasadena were, the disappointment of losing those games in such heartbreaking fashion still lingers. That disappointment won't go away until the Badgers get over the hump and win their first Rose Bowl since 2000, and that will be no easy task with Urban Meyer and Ohio State standing in the way.
Wisconsin may not have to worry about having the Buckeyes in their division following the 2013 season thanks to realignment, but Nebraska will continue to be a pest moving forward and there will always be a huge challenge awaiting in the championship game, whether it be Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or eventually Penn State, who is currently serving a postseason ban.
In other words, Andersen has the tall task of leading the Badgers to an unprecedented fourth consecutive Rose Bowl, but if and when he gets there, the pressure will be on to finally bring home the hardware.