Replacing now-Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and moving forward into the "Coach A" era will be the easiest task ahead of coach Gary Andersen, who can only stare as he looks at his glaring hole once occupied by now-Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball. However, it isn't as if the cupboards were left bare when Bielema left town for the SEC.
Andersen will have a very solid stable of backs to rotate in senior James White, sophomore Melvin Gordon and freshman Corey Clement.
White, the starter, is among the Doak Walker Award watch list nominees for 2013.
He'll look to improve his 2012-13 season numbers of 806 yards, 6.4 YPC and 12 touchdowns as Andersen will likely lean more heavily on the run with questions at quarterback. This bodes well for White's outlook, as an increase in usage (126 carries in 2012) would make the most sense to transition the team into a new offense and coaching staff.
If Wisconsin is to reach a BCS bowl this season, James White will have a big role in getting the team there.
As long as James White has been on campus at Wisconsin, there has been a running back over his head, a more established player whom he needed to to take scraps off the table from to get his carries.
In 2013, though, Montee Ball is gone (to the NFL's Denver Broncos) and he's no longer below the likes of John Clay either.
Sitting alone atop, the RB No.1 spot on the Wisconsin Week 1 depth chart is James White.
In this starting role, expect White to flourish. As he plays well, the safe bet is on him and the run game while coach Andersen figures out where his quarterbacks (namely, Week 1 starter junior Joel Stave and backup sixth year senior Curt Phillips) can take the team in the passing game.
As the Badgers and Andersen define more of a team identity under his staff, watch for the leadership of White and the trademark Wisconsin running game to pace the offense.
One of the potential luxuries coach Andersen must have liked about the job at Wisconsin when talking terms with the school is the program's penchant for seemingly always having a top tier rushing attack, usually featuring more than one back (i.e White and Montee Ball last year; Ball, White and Clay the year before that; and so on.) Wisconsin (and this could and probably does have a lot to do with its penchant for sending NFL-worthy linemen through its program as well) has been a consistent running attack for the better part of the last decade.
Much like a billionaire walking into his secure garage to choose between his Ferrari or his Mercedes, having a few starters capable running back options is a good problem to have.
Sophomore Melvin Gordon figures to be in the mix plenty in the backfield. He's too talented and productive (10.0 yards per carry last season, good for 621 yards and three scores) to keep off it.
In the first game under former Utah State coach Gary Andersen, expect the team to feature the run game more prominently than in conference play, or at least until quarterback is no longer a concern with regards to play consistency and production at the position.
Facing a soft team such as UMass (1-12 in 2012) in their opener, the Badgers and White will not struggle to see the red zone, having plenty of chances to put Badgers in the end zone and points on the board.
With that said, look for White to have a shot at besting his career high 181 rushing yards, which came in 2011 against Michigan and earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
Last season, UMass allowed Ohio running back Beau Blankenship to run wild for 269 yards, their worst defensive effort all season. White could threaten that mark even, depending on the division of carries between himself and Gordon.
In his past three seasons at Wisconsin, it would appear White isn't used much in the passing game (34 catches, 370 yards, 10.9 YPC) though that doesn't mean he can't be a featured part in the passing game when not running the ball.
His athleticism, ability to go from first to third gear quickly and top level anticipation to cut and change directions to take what the defense is giving him for cushion are all notable attributes. These attributes will go a long way in him catching the ball out of the backfield, a role Bielema shied away from mostly, and one Coach Anderson seems to like his backs to fit, based on his time at Utah State.
As bold as any prediction on this slideshow, admittedly, but the Badgers new coaching staff may be well served to explore making the so called "Barge Formation" a staple in the Wisconsin running game.
The formation, which is non-traditional, uses seven offensive linemen, two tailbacks and two tight ends, creating defensive confusion and matchup problems along the mammoth line ahead of White.
“It’s an easy way to get a couple yards,” White said. “It’s hard to see who you want to put on the field. Do you want to put more D-linemen, more linebackers?
“(The Gophers) were all looking toward the sideline and by the time they looked back, we snapped the ball. It just keeps them off balance," White told Madison.com.
The Badgers scored a touchdown against Minnesota using the formation last year, en route to retaining their border war rivalry trophy, Paul Bunyan's axe. Look for the formation to see continued use, as long as White and company are producing well in it.