Biggest Storylines Heading into Wisconsin Football Fall Camp
Coming off of a 9-4 season, the Wisconsin football team looks to build off of last season's successes and learn from its mistakes. With a series of very winnable games coming after the opener against LSU, the Badgers have a chance to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff. But to do that, they have a lot to figure out by opening day.
Gone is the entire starting front seven and then some, along with the two receivers who did anything last season. Just to make things more interesting, even in positions where the incumbent is still on the roster, there is a position battle at both quarterback and kicker.
Without further ado, let's look at four of the biggest storylines heading into the Badgers' fall camp.
Who Will Be the Starting Quarterback on Opening Day?
This is the biggest storyline headed into the season. With the calendar flipping to August, the game against LSU is really right around the corner with no additional clarity at arguably the most important position: the quarterback.
Can Joel Stave become Brooks Bollinger or Scott Tolzien? Maybe, but that's a big jump from where he was last season to where he would need to go. Stave gets a worse rap than his numbers suggest (almost 2,500 yards to go along with 22 touchdowns), but Stave far from excels in other areas.
To compare Stave to Tolzien, let's compare each player's first full season as a starter, which was Stave's sophomore season and Tolzien's junior year.
|Player (Season)||Yards||Touchdowns||Interceptions||Completion Percentage|
|Scott Tolzien ('09)||2,705||16||11||64.3|
|Joel Stave ('13)||2,494||22||13||61.9|
As you can see, their numbers are actually fairly similar, with Stave throwing for more touchdowns but Tolzien holding the edge in every other statistical category. In terms of supporting casts, both had an excellent line in front of them, a great rushing attack and a clear No. 1 wide receiver, making the comparison even clearer.
Now, let's take a look at Tolzien's numbers the following season:
|Player (Season)||Yards||Touchdowns||Interceptions||Completion Percentage|
|Scott Tolzien ('10)||2,459||16||6||72.9|
While one could argue that the Badgers featured the best rushing attack they've seen in 2010, with the terrific trio of John Clay, James White and Montee Ball, all of whom rushed for at least 996 yards and 14 touchdowns. Beyond that, the Badgers also had a strong cast of wide receivers and tight ends. Stave can certainly aim for the consistency when it comes to completing passes and cutting his turnovers down significantly.
But Stave may never get the chance to show that he is the next Tolzien because Tanner McEvoy is gunning for that starting quarterback spot as well.
McEvoy, originally a South Carolina recruit turned star junior college quarterback out of New Jersey, brings things to the table that Stave just can't. While he has a very unconventional delivery and statistics against Mesa Community College (a team his Arizona Western team dispatched 78-20) don't really serve as a good comparison, McEvoy very well could be a big upgrade over the mistake-prone Stave.
In eight games, McEvoy threw for 24 touchdowns against just five interceptions and compiled a completion percentage of 68.1 while also running for 252 yards on 49 carries (5.1 yards per attempt), according to the NJCAA.
If McEvoy can keep teams honest with his legs while completing 65 or so percent of his passes, he should be the preferred option to be running the Badgers offense.
One clue as to who will be chosen is Gary Andersen's preference for mobile quarterbacks, as seen in who he has recruited in his time with the Badgers. Coming in this season is D.J. Gillins, a dual-threat quarterback, and coming in next year is Austin Kafentzis, another dual-threat quarterback.
Between who he has recruited and his history of utilizing a quarterback's legs as well as their arm, I'd say McEvoy has more than a fair shot at taking the starting job from the incumbent Stave.
Will He Have Anyone to Throw To?
With both Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Duckworth graduating, the Badgers have a serious hole at wide receiver. Abbrederis was phenomenal, and Duckworth had a knack for making catches in big spots. Behind those two, the cupboard is left pretty bare coming into this season.
Last week, I looked at the depth chart at the position and there's a lot of semi-familiar faces,such as Kenzel Doe, who has been excellent in the return game but was less than stellar as a receiver last season (seven catches for 57 yards).
The top dog at the position is currently Robert Wheelwright, a sophomore who comes in with a lot of potential but not a lot to show for it thus far in his Badger career (two catches for nine yards last season).
Joining those two is Jordan Fredrick, who is the team's leading returning receiver—he had 10 grabs last season—and should provide good help underneath. Also returning are Reggie Love and Alex Erickson, the latter of whom earned a scholarship in April after starting three games last season and playing in all 13.
Furthermore, the three freshmen who recently joined the program—Krenwick Sanders, Natrell Jamerson and George Rushing—all will look to compete for snaps throughout the season.
While the receiving corps has the best names of any position group on the team, they deeply lack experience, something that will probably come in fits and starts as the coaching staff figures out who should be getting the majority of the first-team snaps.
How Quickly Can the Front Seven Come Together?
Here's a non-exhaustive list of players in the front seven from last year's team who graduated: Pat Muldoon, Tyler Dippel, Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer, Ethan Armstrong, Conor O'Neill, Brendan Kelly and of course Chris Borland. If you weren't counting, that's all seven starters plus the third defensive end.
That is a lot of experience to replace, not to mention talent. But the Badgers bring talent in and do have some experience. Warren Herring and Derek Landisch will be called upon to be leaders of the front seven, as they both come in with starts under their belt, albeit nowhere close to the amount Borland or Allen racked up over their Badger careers.
At defensive end, Konrad Zagzebski comes in with experience in the defensive end rotation and will be paired with either Alec James or Chikwe Obasih, both of whom have mountains of talent but no FBS experience.
In the linebacking corps, on the outside, the Badgers feature the dynamic duo of Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel. Both Schobert and Biegel played quite a bit last season; however, they were never asked to play every down. That transition may take a bit of the steam out of their pass-rushing legs.
On the inside, paired with Landisch is Marcus Trotter. Trotter filled in more than admirably when Borland went down with a hamstring injury during the Badgers' contest at Illinois. He then started the following game at Iowa, playing inarguably the best game of his Badger career (nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss).
The Badgers have two problems at hand. The first is how quickly can they grow up. Trotter, Landisch, Zagzebski and Herring are all seniors, but only Landisch and Herring have seen real playing time. James and Obasih are both redshirt freshmen and will be called upon to play a lot of snaps in high-leverage situations.
Schobert and Biegel are both upperclassmen now; however, making the transition into becoming full-time players is tough, though the Badgers should see the smallest drop-off from last season to this year at the outside linebacker spot.
The second problem is the lack of depth. Save Obasih and James, who were redshirting, the other six members of the Badgers' starting front seven last season made up the depth. This season, the Badgers have numerous unproven commodities in a reserve role.
This problem was further exacerbated by the departure of Bryce Gilbert, who graduated from Wisconsin and is looking for a smaller school to play at. It will be interesting to see if any players off of everyone's radar now will be able to step up in case of injury or to give the starters a breather.
Who Will Be the Starting Kicker?
Fans seem to be clamoring for anyone but who the Badgers have trotted out over the course of the past two years. Kyle French is gone, Jack Russell is adequate on cheap shots and didn't miss an extra point last season, but he wasn't even brought on the field for anything remotely resembling a long field goal.
This season, the Badgers brought in Rafael Gaglianone, a 3-star recruit, according to 247 Sports, a rare scholarship kicker from day one. That is not to say that most FBS kickers don't end up on scholarship once they've won the job, but giving a scholarship to Gaglianone is a sign from the coaching staff that he should be "the guy" from the get-go.
Gaglianone should have more than a fair chance to win the job but also in the hunt is Andrew Endicott, who handled kickoffs last season. Endicott came to campus as a preferred walk-on last season after decommitting from the University of Nevada in the same situation. Endicott handled kickoffs last season and certainly has his hat in the ring for a chance to be the team's starting kicker.
With all of that being said, I'd look for this to be a race between Russell and Gaglianone. Gaglianone is probably the better kicker, but experience could give Russell the edge, at least at the beginning.
Wisconsin kickers have gone 4-of-9 on field goals of 40 yards or greater and have to go all the way back to 2011 to see a 50-plus-yarder made, when Philip Welch drilled a 52-yard field goal. This video of Gaglianone hitting a 57-yard field goal should make all Badgers fans excited about the prospect of seeing a kicker run onto the field and not bury their heads in their arms as they watch another wayward attempt.