With the college football season beginning in earnest on Thursday, now seems like as good a time as any to make bold predictions for Wisconsin's upcoming season.
Questions abound at quarterback with the incumbent Joel Stave being replaced—at least for the first snap of the season, according to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel—by Tanner McEvoy, at receiver with how to replace one of the best in team history in Jared Abbrederis and at linebacker with how to replace one of the best defensive players in history in Chris Borland.
Let's take a look at this year's team and make a handful of bold predictions.
Considerable Increase in Team's Interception Total
Last season, the Badgers had nine interceptions. Of those, four came from true freshman Sojourn Shelton. The Badgers return virtually their whole secondary, and freshman Lubern Figaro looks to be an impact player immediately.
Shelton, Darius Hillary and Devin Gaulden provide a formidable trio along with freshman Derrick Tindal, all of whom have shown an ability to force turnovers.
Replacing Dezmen Southward, a third-round pick who was inconsistent at best while wearing cardinal and white, is Figaro. He should form a terrific tandem at safety alongside Michael Caputo.
Furthermore, while Borland was excellent at diagnosing plays, his coverage skills were not the best.
While I am hardly saying Derek Landisch and Michael Trotter will be better than the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, they could still intercept more passes than Borland did—he didn't record an interception in his junior or senior season.
To put a number on it, I'm going to guess the Badgers will pick off 15 passes this season. With more aggressiveness in their front seven, putting more pressure on the quarterback will lead to more interceptions on the back end.
Melvin Gordon Will Be Invited to New York
He won't win the Heisman Trophy, though. A big game against LSU on Saturday would do a lot to raise his already-high national profile.
One has to go all the way back to 2009 to find a running back who won the Heisman (Mark Ingram), with the last four winners being quarterbacks.
In a year when guys like Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley chose to return along with defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, it will be tough for any running back to break through here. Throw in Georgia's Todd Gurley, and Gordon has a ton of competition for the Heisman.
Even if Walter Football considers Gurley the better pro prospect, I think Gordon has a great chance to grab the most votes of any running back and get a trip to New York.
However, I don't think he will be the third Wisconsin running back—Ron Dayne and Alan Ameche the others—to take home the trophy.
Joel Stave Will Start Multiple Games
This is not an indictment of McEvoy, as I think the coaching staff will give him every chance to succeed.
With that being said, Stave has been very good throughout his collegiate career, though he has been a bit inconsistent at times.
Stave has a bigger arm than McEvoy, and while there were plenty of times when Abbrederis got behind the defense only to have to come back to the ball to catch it, Stave was still able to push the ball down the field on play-action passes time and again.
If McEvoy comes out strongly against LSU, with the coaching staff's seemingly strong preference to play a mobile quarterback—a look through whom they have been recruiting gives a good clue—maybe Stave won't get a chance.
Either way, these are bold predictions. Even without an injury, I still see Stave taking the opening snap of multiple games this season.
At Least 2 Players with 40-Plus Receptions
One needs to go all the way back to 2011 to find a Badgers team that had a pair of guys with more than 40 receptions. This year, with Abbrederis gone, multiple receivers will need to fill the massive void left by his absence.
Three names to watch are tight end Sam Arneson and receivers Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe.
Arneson has gobbled up touchdowns in his limited reps, snaring four on 10 career receptions, and should be a good red-zone threat for the Badgers.
For the receivers, with eight traveling to Houston, it will be interesting to see whether anyone can really separate themselves enough to make four or five receptions a game. If anyone is able to, it will probably be Fredrick or Doe.
Doe has been inconsistent as a receiver but looked really strong throughout both the spring and fall camps. He will be the No. 1 guy when the Badgers line up on Saturday.
As for Fredrick, who stands 6'4" and 214 pounds, he will get a lot of looks in the slot and his blocking ability will keep him on the field.
If I were to pick two guys from this group to reach or surpass the 40-catch mark, I'd go with Arneson and Fredrick. Depending on how things shake out in the early going, however, we could see as many as six or seven players with 10-plus receptions by the end of the season.
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