Next month, the Wisconsin Badgers play their first game of the 2013 season, which seems pretty crazy. Granted, that game isn't until Aug. 31 and is against Massachusetts, but it's college football nonetheless and means that fall practice is just weeks away.
Wisconsin endured a significant change last winter when Gary Andersen became just the third coach for the Badgers in the last two decades. Nearly the entire coaching staff was overhauled, and the result will be a whole new scheme on defense and some new wrinkles on offense as well.
All those changes aside, it will be in Andersen's best interest to identify the strengths and weaknesses of his group and plan accordingly. A lot of Wisconsin's success, or lack thereof, in 2013 will come down to not only putting the best players on the field but also utilizing those strengths and figuring out how to hide or fix its deficiencies.
This is a perennial area of strength for the Badgers, and even though they are losing Montee Ball to the NFL, the backfield remains loaded with talent.
Senior and former 1,000-yard rusher James White is expected to become the new starter, and he will split carries with sophomore Melvin Gordon, who had the 200-yard game in the B1G Championship Game last season. Fans are especially excited about Gordon and what he could become over the next three years, and his upside and talent is complimented nicely by White’s reliability and veteran presence.
Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen
A fluctuating quarterback situation had a lot to do with the inability to move the football through the air in 2012, but that doesn't mean Wisconsin doesn't have some talent in the passing game.
Senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis was the unquestionable No. 1 target of all three of his quarterbacks last season, but the Badgers also have Jacob Pedersen, who is considered to be one of the top tight end prospects for the 2014 NFL draft.
While Abbrederis had nearly 500 more yards than Pedersen last season, that was largely due to him being a deep threat. With Abbrederis stretching the field, that should open up more opportunities for Pedersen underneath and make the two a solid tandem for the Badgers.
The Front Seven
How the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 formation on defense goes is one thing, but the fact that Wisconsin has seven players with starting experience who played either on the defensive lineman or at linebacker last season can't hurt.
And this is even after the retirement and ensuing transfer of David Gilbert.
A few of them—most notably Brendan Kelly and Tyler Dippel—will move from defensive end to outside linebacker, and while it may be difficult to adjust to playing the pass, they will primarily rush the quarterback, and standing up may help their cause. With Chris Borland and Beau Allen anchoring the middle of the field, it will be difficult for opponents to run on the Badgers.
Wide receiver depth
Wisconsin may have some weapons in the passing game, but one of them is the aforementioned Pedersen, who is a tight end. As far as wide receivers go, it's Jared Abbrederis—and then everyone else.
Perhaps one of the two receiver commits from the 2013 class can change that, but it appears that sophomore Jordan Fredrick, who was the No. 2 wideout last season and only caught 17 passes for 196 yards, will once again assume that role.
Those aren't the kind of numbers the Badgers are looking for, and if someone doesn't step up and aid Abbrederis and Pedersen, it could be difficult for Wisconsin to move the football next season.
Inexperience in the secondary
There isn't much left from the Badgers' secondary from a season ago. Only senior Dezmen Southward returns from what was an all-around solid defensive backfield, and the task of replacing Marcus Cromartie, Devin Smith and especially Shelton Johnson is ongoing.
True freshman corner Sojourn Shelton has offered a glimmer of hope with his quick progression through Wisconsin's depth chart and his performance in the spring game. He should at the very least assume the nickel role. But it's been a tumultuous offseason at safety, as Reggie Mitchell is transferring to Pitt and junior college recruit Donnell Vercher was denied admission to the university.
The offensive line (gasp)
The Badgers' offensive line probably isn't going to be its typical dominant self in 2013, and we saw that decline begin last season as the big uglies up front struggled to protect the quarterback. They failed numerous times to provide a push, leading to a stagnant running attack—a foreign language in Madison.
Now, that line no longer has the services of left tackle Rick Wagner and center Travis Frederick. A redshirt freshman in Dan Voltz will likely replace Frederick, and Ryan Groy will be trusted to shift from guard to left tackle.
Will the line end up being below average? Maybe not, but it let down Wisconsin far too often last season and is counting on a few players to really step up to avoid another disappointing year.
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