Wisconsin Football: 3 Underclassmen Who Will Be Stars by Thanksgiving 2014
As we approach Thanksgiving and the final regular-season game for Wisconsin football, we have seen several underclassmen come a long way in 2013 for the Badgers.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda hasn't been afraid to rotate in younger players with less experience. His 3-4 defense involves a flurry of substituting, which has allowed plenty of underclassmen to receive playing time that otherwise would not have been available under the previous coaching staff.
Getting some limited and, at times, extended looks at these freshmen and sophomores has given us a glimpse of what the future will look like in Madison. And it's not just on defense where some underclassmen could emerge as key contributors next season—with stars like James White and Jared Abbrederis graduating after this season, younger players will be asked to step up.
With so much talent leaving from the front seven on defense and from the skill positions on offense, stars will need to emerge for the Badgers to remain a force. Luckily for Wisconsin, some of them are already beginning to surface. Here are three underclassmen who will be stars by Thanksgiving 2014.
Vince Biegel (OLB, FR)
It looks like Vince Biegel is getting ready for takeoff in the accompanying picture, and that's what he will be doing next season after Wisconsin loses its entire starting front seven to graduation.
Biegel is basically assured a starting spot at outside linebacker in place of either Brendan Kelly or Ethan Armstrong, and after a foot injury forced him to redshirt in 2012, Biegel has received his fair share of playing time in Aranda's defense.
A 4-star recruit and one of the Badgers' most prized commits from the class of 2012, according to 247Sports, there's no question Biegel has the talent to become something special for Wisconsin. This season, he is the leading tackler among backup outside linebackers with 21, and he has also recorded two sacks and two pass breakups.
Not even two years removed from high school, Biegel already has great size at 6'4" and 233 pounds, and he has plenty of room to add strength and improve as a pass-rusher as well as in pass coverage.
There are other underclassmen who could emerge in the front seven, such as Joe Schobert (SO, OLB), Alec James (FR, OLB), Leon Jacobs (FR, OLB) and Chikwe Obasih (FR, DE), just to name a few. But among those players, nobody possesses Biegel's combination of experience and ability, and if he becomes a starter in 2014, he should grow into a playmaker for this Wisconsin defense.
Corey Clement (RB, FR)
The Badgers know they will be losing James White to the NFL draft following the season, but they can't be so sure that sophomore tailback Melvin Gordon, who is an underclassman that has already emerged as a star, will stick around, either.
Even if Gordon returns for his junior season, he has yet to be an every-down back for Wisconsin. This season, he has split carries with White, and next season, Gordon can expect to share the backfield with Corey Clement should he return next year.
The true freshman running back was elevated to the No. 3 role after Vonte Jackson suffered a season-ending knee injury during the offseason and Jeff Lewis experimented with playing defense. While that still doesn't leave him with many opportunities outside of garbage time, Clement has made the most of his chances this season.
On just 66 carries, Clement has racked up 523 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, good for an average of 7.8 yards per carry. From the opening game against Massachusetts, it was apparent Clement was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school for a reason, and whether he is the No. 1 or the No. 2 tailback next season, he will reach a level of stardom.
After all, he's a Wisconsin running back.
Sojourn Shelton (CB, FR)
It would have been a little more surprising that Sojourn Shelton earned a starting job at cornerback as a true freshman if he weren't undeniably deserving of such a role. But since enrolling early last winter at Wisconsin, Shelton has simply performed too well not be on the field for the Badgers.
Not only does Shelton lead the team in interceptions—he has four while nobody else has more than one—but he has also let a few slip through his fingers and leads the Badgers in passes defended with nine.
Even though Shelton measures in at just 5'9" and 172 pounds, he makes up for his small stature with great speed and recovery, which has helped Shelton become the best cover corner on Wisconsin. As with the entire secondary, Shelton has had his issues throughout the season, but his ball skills have been better than anyone could have imagined.
With the lack of turnover in the secondary, Shelton will have to keep up his stellar play to retain his job. But for how much he's accomplished so early in his career, there's no reason to believe Shelton won't continue to grow as a player, especially with Aranda's aggressive defensive philosophy.