College football is normally an arms race to capture the edge. Teams agonize over new ways to out-think each other in the film room, out-muscle each other in the weight room and outrun each other on the field.
Coaches strategize like generals on how to develop, train and finally employ their 11-man armies to maximize its impact. But every college power needs a little more than the fundamentals. In the military, ancillary advantages are called "force multipliers" and can refer to anything from morale to technology.
When it comes to these techniques and tactics, no source is more referenced than legendary general Sun Tzu. His philosophy on warfare was the ultimate X-factor, and stripped to its barest essence, can help describe Wisconsin's arsenal for 2013.
From personnel to schemes, facilities to fans, the Badgers have a few tricks up their sleeves that won't always show up in their game film.
"Opportunities multiply as they are seized."
The 2013 Wisconsin schedule can be seen as a benefit, or as a huge negative.
Football is a game of momentum first and foremost. With a new coach and new staff, Wisconsin will take as much of that momentum as it can get. That means a non-conference schedule that feels more like a "Who's Who" of second-tier teams than a championship slate.
The Minutemen out of Amherst, Mass, for example, are fresh off a 1-11 record in 2012 and enjoying their second year as a FBS team. The FCS Tennessee Tech Eagles were not much better at 3-8.
When it comes to conference play, the schedule does not get much more sizzle. A big matchup against Ohio State may be the lone marquee game, and may be the only time Wisconsin is not favored all year.
This schedule may be more of an X-factor on paper rather than in practice, because it will allow the Badgers to rack up the wins without too many obstacles. Wisconsin has one priority: win big. The bigger the wins, the stronger the credibility and more momentum for Bucky.
“Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.”
Melvin Gordon is enjoying his fair share of preseason hype. He deserves it only if he is utilized properly by the incoming staff.
The redshirt sophomore showed bursts of brilliance last season despite being the third fiddle in a rock band of running backs. While most people will glaze over at the mention of another talented running back at Wisconsin, Gordon has fans very excited because of that "p" word: potential.
The Badgers have had some very special ball-carriers—that is not up for debate. But they have seldom laid claim to an athletic talent like Gordon. At 6'1" and 203 pounds, he has a gear Wisconsin has not seen for quite a while.
Gordon's best case for X-factor status was his jaw-dropping performance in the Big Ten Championship Game against Nebraska. His stat line seemed more at home in a video game than a championship game with 216 yards on only nine carries. His speed off the jet sweep motions had defenders grabbing at air, and Bo Pelini at a rare loss for words.
Expect more of the same in 2013 as his workload will increase by leaps and bounds.
There is plenty of film on presumed starter James White, and the Gordon highlight reel is quickly making the rounds. Regardless, it will be hard to game plan against a raw talent like No. 25.
“All warfare is based on deception.”
Sure, Gary Andersen has been around the block a few times. He is anything but a newcomer to the college football ranks. In the Big Ten though, he is an unknown quantity and unknown quantities scare opponents. There are no tendencies to anticipate yet, no rhythms to predict.Those distractions can breed disaster for schools who had years of intelligence on Bret Bielema. No such luck this year.
Andersen has been candid with his general thoughts and opinions, but cryptic when it comes to the details.
Will Wisconsin run a spread offense? Probably not, but it is in Andersen's wheelhouse. Will the Badgers go no-huddle? Probably not, but given the pace of his practices, it would not surprise anyone. Keeping the other teams guessing will be a huge factor in Andersen's first year as they get used to a new style in Camp Randall.
If his tenure at Utah State is any indication, it will be anything but business as usual in Madison.
"Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack."
Wisconsin will experiment with a brand new defensive scheme this year in a 3-4. The Badgers relied on the trusty inverse counterpart of that system in a 4-3, until now. With four linebackers and three down linemen, confusion is the order of the day.
When a team uses four down linemen, it is pretty straightforward as to its priority: plug the line and sack the quarterback. The offensive line usually only has to really worry about the players in front of them while warding off the odd blitz.
That mentality changes completely with a 3-4. A seventh hybrid player could be attacking the line, or simply lying in wait for a quick pass. Two linebackers could be overloading a play while the other two lock down the middle of the field, causing hesitation in otherwise decisive quarterbacks.
To boot, not many squads in the Big Ten use a 3-4, which makes preparation that much harder. Scout teams have a tough time emulating the formations since it tends to feel pretty foreign. That alone makes the switch a worthwhile move.
"Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
The thousands of Wisconsin fans that come armed with only their voices and energy have caused many visiting teams to lose their focus. A raucous crowd often acts as the 12th man on the field as opposing players can be overwhelmed by the both the volume of the cheering, and its unique creativity.
Slow waves. Jump Around. Swingtown.
If enthusiasm could determine the outcome of games, Wisconsin would be perfect at home for perpetuity.