Last season, the Wisconsin football program was set up for a decline after it reaped the spoils of having Russell Wilson under center in 2011. Wilson, to use a phrase coined in college basketball, was one-and-done at Madison, and no matter what, the Badgers weren't going to find a worthy replacement for the now rising NFL star.
For as remarkable as Wilson was in cardinal and white—he put up the best single-season quarterback numbers in Wisconsin history—the Badgers still lost three games, largely due to their defense, and bowed out in the Rose Bowl.
There was hope entering the 2012 season that a refined approach and veteran leadership would turn things around on defense, but there was still the issue of replacing Russell Wilson.
The defense did its part, keeping Wisconsin in every game, but opening week starter Danny O'Brien didn't even last three games. Then, it was former walk-on Joel Stave who helped right the ship, only to see a fractured clavicle end his season prematurely. Fifth-year senior Curt Phillips managed to do enough to get the Badgers back to the Rose Bowl, but not enough to avoid a third consecutive loss in Pasadena and a disappointing 8-6 finish.
There was also the coaching change, the timing of which caught just about everyone off-guard. Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas after seven years at Wisconsin and immediately following the Badgers' lopsided victory in the B1G Championship Game over Nebraska.
That ended one era and began another as Gary Andersen, formerly of Utah State, was named as the next head coach at Wisconsin. Over four years, Andersen built the Aggies from the ground up, leading them to an 11-2 record last season and the school's first bowl victory in 19 years.
After defensive coordinator Dave Aranda followed him from Utah State and San Diego State offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was named to the same position at Wisconsin, we should expect to see a different kind of team in 2013. Aranda will run a 3-4 defensive formation, and the offense will keep its power running style while also implementing some read option among other new looks.
The adjustment for both the offense and defense will certainly be something to watch as we move closer toward September. No matter how much the new coaching regime attempts to pound these new philosophies into the heads of its players, it's on the players to make the transition, and to play well, for that matter.
Wisconsin returns 14 starters—eight on offense and six on defense—but at least 15 players with starting experience are expected to see significant playing time in 2013. Areas of focus this summer aside from the new schemes are the quarterback battle (of course), whether a No. 2 receiver will emerge and the inexperienced secondary after it lost three starters.
The Badgers also lost two starting offensive linemen, and the line was an area of concern throughout the 2012 season. How the newcomers at center and left tackle perform will go a long way in determining how much success Wisconsin is able to have on offense.
No matter how talented the Badgers may be, sometimes the schedule has to fall your way. It does to a certain degree, as the absence of Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska, three of the top teams in the Legends Division, plays in Wisconsin's favor, but trips to Arizona State and Ohio State along with games at home against Northwestern, Penn State and BYU bumps up the strength of schedule.
A November matchup at Iowa could be considered a trap game, but we’ll file it as a victory along with games at home versus Massachusetts, Tennessee Tech, Purdue and Indiana, and road games against Illinois and Minnesota.
Back in February, we took a stab at game-by-game predictions for the Badgers and settled on 11 wins, but considering how there are five games on the slate that Wisconsin could legitimately drop, as well as the coaching change and uncertainty at several positions…
Over/under: 9 wins