On the heels of a disappointing finish to the 2013 season, the Wisconsin football team looks to return to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship Game in 2014. From receiver to the front seven, the Badgers have plenty of holes on both sides of the ball.
But even when the Badgers have returning starters and plenty of skill, there are still freshmen who can come in and contribute with a strong showing during fall practice. The Badgers will only be able to win the Big Ten West and have a shot at the inaugural playoff if these five freshmen shine in fall practices.
1. Krenwick Sanders
Even though the Badgers lose a number of key pieces on the defensive side of the ball, it is receiver where the Badgers need the most help from the freshmen. Sanders, a 4-star recruit according to 247Sports, has the complete package to play right away.
Sanders will likely be in the mix with Kenzel Doe, Jordan Frederick and Robert Wheelwright for the spots on the outside, with Sanders having as good a shot as any of them to be playing on day one. Sanders stands at 6'2" and has the ability to make all the tough catches and then some. From what's been seen on tape of him, it'd be surprising if he didn't emerge as an impact player early in his Badger career.
2. Natrell Jamerson
That's right. There's not one, but two wide receivers on this list. The Badgers have a lot of holes in their receiving corps, and both Sanders and Jamerson can contribute right away if they play well enough in fall practices. While Dareian Watkins may end up being the most talented of the bunch, it is Jamerson's speed that will get him on the field quickly.
If Jamerson can establish himself as a kick and punt returner, and can maybe work in the slot, it will take the pressure off battery mate Kenzel Doe, who has been an excellent kick returner himself but has struggled fielding punts.
Jamerson supposedly ran the 100-meter dash in 10.6 seconds, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, and that straight-line speed will help the Badgers immeasurably in the return game along with incoming transfer Serge Trezy.
3. Jeremy Patterson
Dipping into Georgia was a huge step for the Badgers recruiting effort. But the Badgers didn't settle for just establishing a pipeline with lesser players. Bringing in Patterson was huge for them as the departure of Beau Allen leaves a chasm at nose guard that only a man of Patterson's size could fill.
Patterson, a 3-star recruit according to 247Sports, is at 310 pounds with room to grow. Patterson also has a remarkably quick first step for someone of his size and can really move the pile. Furthermore, if Patterson can develop quickly, it would give defensive coordinator Dave Aranda flexibility with Warren Herring, as he could then move back to a 3-4 end and would create a massive problem for opposing offensive lines.
4. Rafael Gaglianone
The kicking game for the Badgers has been a nightmare for the past two seasons. Even though Jack Russell hit nine of his last 11 field-goal attempts, he only hit 2-of-4 during the spring game while also never looking particularly confident in any of his attempts.
In walks Gaglianone, who has the strongest leg of any Wisconsin kicker I've seen. The 3-star kicker, according to ESPN, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, will provide much-needed competition for Russell and should be able to take the job with a strong showing in the fall.
Gaglianone's ESPN scouting report (subscription required) calls him "a young Sebastian Janikowski" and goes on to say that he is an "FBS kicker who should start four years in college." After a season and a half of Kyle French, Badgers fans will rejoice at the concept of having a young Sebastian Janikowski on their team, a freshman or otherwise.
5. Taiwan Deal
Last but not least, while running back is not a position of need in the slightest, the third-string back on the Badgers has been a spot for up-and-coming stars to showcase their talents. Corey Clement picked up 547 yards on only 67 carries in that spot in 2013, Melvin Gordon picked up 621 yards on 62 carries in 2012 and in 2010, the Badgers were four Montee Ball yards away from having three 1,000-yard rushers.
With that in mind, Deal, a 4-star back according to 247Sports, could fill the hole of between-the-tackles mop-up rusher. Deal, who sits at 225 pounds, looks to be one of the best hidden gems, though at four stars, he shouldn't really be under the radar.
Deal is a powerful runner who evokes memories of past Wisconsin power backs. With a strong showing during the fall practices, Deal could grab that third running back spot behind Gordon and Clement, and see the field quite a bit as the season progresses.