Spring practice has already begun and position battles are taking shape all over the nation in college football. In Madison, Wisc., it is no different. So what will the 2008 season bring to all the Bucky faithful?
Wisconsin is coming off a tough loss to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl last year in a game the Badgers should have won. The Badgers return plenty of starters from '07, but also need to fill some holes.
One of those positions that needs filling is the quarterback spot. Tyler Donovan (who will play in Canada next year) graduated and now the offense will rely on the arm of Allan Evridge or Dustin Sherer. Many thought Evridge would be the obvious choice, but he hasn't played to his potential and Sherer has been giving him some competition this spring. Either one has the ability to lead the Badgers in the BCS hunt in 2008.
P.J. Hill will once again be the force in the backfield and has solid backups in Zack Brown and John Clay. Hill is coming off another year in which he was banged up on occasion, but he still managed 1,200 yards and 14 TDs. Hill's 5 yards per carry average make him dangerous every time he touches the ball.
Tight end Travis Beckum decided to return for his senior year and can set the school record for receptions. He needs 67 catches to break Brandon Williams' mark of 202, and he needs 40 catches to pass Lee Evans for second place. Sophomore Kyle Jefferson needs to step up and take some pressure off of Beckum this year.
The offensive line isn't great, but Wisconsin always manages to put together a good group of guys to protect the quarterback.
Head coach Bret Bielema prides himself on defense, and the Badgers' will be pretty good. There are several leaders on this side of the ball, and it probably starts with Matt Shaughnessy, who is already on the Bronco Nagurski watch list.
Corners Aubrey Pleasant and Allen Langford will try to fill the hole left by Jack Ikeguonu. Both played well towards the end of last year, and they both have the potential to be shut-down corners.
The strongest part of their defense has got to be the linebackers. Two seniors lead the charge in Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy. Junior Elijah Hodge is a playmaker who will help stop plays at the line of scrimmage.
Casillas had 96 tackles (nine for a loss) in 2007. Levy had 70 (10 for a loss) and Hodge made 67 (7.5 for a loss). Opponents may get past the D-line, but these linebackers know how to find the ball and stop runners in their tracks.
Wisconsin's biggest problem is its special teams play, which has always been the Achilles' heel of this team. The Badgers lost both their placekicker (Taylor Mehlhaff) and punter (Ken DeBauche) to the draft and really have no one to replace them.
The only punter on the Badger roster is DeBauche's younger brother, Brad. Brad has never attempted a kick in his Badger career. Neither have Matt Fischer or Philip Welch, the two placekickers on the team. So the Badgers must rely on guys who don't have a single attempt in college. So once again, the special teams will be the weakest point for Wisconsin.
The Badgers start the 2008 season by playing host to Akron and Marshall before visiting Fresno State. They open Big Ten play by going to 'The Big House' in Ann Arbor, Michigan and having "The" Ohio State come to Camp Randall. Their next games are against Penn State, at Iowa, Illinois at home, travelling to East Lansing and Indiana back-to-back and then hosting the Gophers to play the annual battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. The Badgers end the season by playing Cal-Poly at home.
Wisconsin usually gets criticized for a cupcake nonconference schedule, and it hurts them come bowl time. With the exception of Cal-Poly, the Badgers won't have a walk in the park this year (we all have Appalachian State to thank for that).
The Badgers are still on the upper tier of the Big Ten and I see no reason why they can't challenge Michigan and OSU for the conference title in 2008. Even if Wisconsin doesn't come away on top, I can guarantee that they will "go bowling" come New Year's.