By knocking off #1 Ohio State, winning a share of the Big 10 title, and making their first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 2000- the Wisconsin Badgers enjoyed their most successful season in at least a decade. Head Coach Bret Bielema went from the hot-seat to becoming a fan favorite by posting an 11-2 record and utilizing his bruising run game to perfection. However, that was all in the past and Bielema and his staff are now looking to the 2011 season with hopes of repeating their success.
The Badgers lose 11 starters (6 on offense, 5 on defense) including QB Scott Tolzein, RB John Clay, All-American TE Lance Kendricks, and 1st round draft picks OT Gabe Carimi and DE J.J. Watt. These are all significant losses, but if the Badgers are known for one thing, its their depth, and there are numerous players all ready to step up and make the most of their chance to start.
So, lets take a look at the projected starters and depth chart for the 2011 Badgers.
Wisconsin quarterbacks are never the main focus of the offense, and they are often asked to manage the game rather than single-handily win a game. Scott Tolzein was the prototypical Wisconsin game-manager- throwing for 2459 yards and 16 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions with a 73% completion percentage. That is the type of production that is needed out of a Badger QB- efficient and accurate, but Tolzein is gone and its time to find the quarterback of the future
Projected Starter- Jon Budmayr- Red Shirt(RS) Sophomore
Jon Budmayr was Tolzein's primary backup last season and saw a handful of snaps during some of the Badgers late season blowouts. Budmayr fits the mold of a Badger quarterback- adequate arm strength, good accuracy, and above average mobility, but his small stature (6'0, 195 lbs) and his inconsistency in spring ball have been big concerns. The only real competition on the Badger's roster comes from Junior Curt Phillips, but Phillips just underwent his third ACL surgery in as many years and he will be unavailable for the 2011 season.
Joel Stave- Freshman
Nate Tice- Senior
Joe Brennan- (RS) Freshman
The Badgers have lots of depth at the quarterback position, but none of the backups are as polished as Budmayr and they do not pose much of a threat to his starting position. The one major exception could be current "free agent" quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson, a three year starter at N.C. State, was granted his release by the Wolfpack and can immediately play at any school he chooses. Wilson has been shown interest in the Badgers, and if he were to transfer to Madison, he would almost certainly be the starter over Jon Budmayr.
The Badger's bread-and-butter is and always will be the running game. From "Crazy Legs" Hirsch to Ron Dayne to Brian Calhoun to John Clay, the Badgers getting 1,000 yards from a running back is about as expected as rain in Seattle- we all know its going to happen. Last season's 3-headed monster of James White, Montee Ball, and John Clay averaged 245 yards per game and combined for an incredible 46 touchdowns. They were so good in fact, that if Ball had gained just 4 more yards they would have been the first team in college football history to have three 1,000 yard rushers in a single season. Clay has gone on to the NFL, but the Badgers will still be dominant on the ground in 2011.
Projected Starter- James White- Sophomore, Montee Ball- Junior
It really makes no difference which one of these two players is the actual "starter" because they will see equal playing time throughout the 2011 season. They are a perfect running back tandem with White's great speed and Ball's bruising power. But don't confuse Ball with John Clay- Ball has done his best to keep his weight down this off-season and has cut almost 20 pounds while maintaining his strength and improving his burst. Barring injury, there is nothing that will keep these two talented backs from eclipsing 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011.
Jeffrey Lewis- (RS) Freshman
Bradie Ewing- Senior
Melvin Gordon- Freshman
Like most positions, the Badgers have good depth at the running back position and all three of the listed backups should see playing time this season. Bradie Ewing sees most of his time at fullback, but he can be utilized as a goal line back if he needs to be. Jeffrey Lewis could have a big impact as a freshman à la James White last season. Lewis has good size (6'2, 210 lbs) and very good speed, evidenced by the fact that he was used as OSU's Terrelle Pryor on last season's scout team in preparation for their game against Ohio State.
Wide receivers are never the most utilized asset on a typical Badgers offense, but they are important nonetheless. Last season was a group rich with experience and depth, but seniors David Gilreath, Kyle Jefferson, and Issac Anderson are gone, and 2011 will be a season of transition for this group of wideouts.
Projected Starters- Nick Toon- Senior, Jared Abbrederis- (RS) Sophomore
Nick Toon headlines a less-than-stellar group of wide receivers that is in desperate need of someone to step up and help him. Toon has the size (6'3, 213 lbs), speed, and hands needed to be a good #1 receiver, which he has been for the last two seasons. Jared Abbrederis broke on to the scene last season with impressive games against Indiana and Minnesota, and he is also a very good candidate to take over the kick/punt return duties from the departed David Gilreath. However, the talent gap between these two and the rest of the wide receivers is significant, as only one other receiver on the roster has seen any playing time.
Jeff Duckworth- (RS) Sophomore
Kenzel Doe- Freshman
A.J. Jordan- Freshman
Manasseh Garner- Sophomore
There is minimal experience in this group, but that does not mean that there isn't any potential. Jeff Duckworth saw a small amount of playing time last season and should see an expanded role in 2011. Kenzel Doe and A.J. Jordan are both touted freshman who could find the field this year if they impress enough in the early fall. If any position was to be considered a "weakness" on the Badger's offense, it would have to be this group.
Lance Kendricks was just another in the long line of great Wisconsin tight ends. The second round pick of the St. Louis Rams enjoyed a breakout senior season grabbing 43 catches for 663 yards and 5 touchdowns despite missing time with a leg injury. Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, and Garrett Graham are just a few of the other tight ends who have made a significant impact on the Badger's offense in the past decade. The tight end position is utilized to perfection in Wisconsin's system and this season, the door is open for a new breakout star.
Projected Starter- Jacob Pedersen- (RS) Sophomore
Pedersen may not have had eye-popping stats in 2010, but 132 yards and 2 touchdowns are not bad for a backup freshman tight end. At 6'4, 244 lbs Pedersen has ideal size for a tight end and he has the ability to go up and grab the ball out of the air. His blocking ability may be a liability at this point, but he has time to work on it going forward.
Jake Byrne- Senior
Brian Wozniak- (RS) Sophomore
Austin Traylor- Freshman
Jake Byrne saw some playing time last season and while he is a better blocker than Pedersen, he does not have the same receiving ability. Brian Wozniak is a solid developmental/depth project, while Austin Traylor is a talented recruit, but he will likely redshirt and may even switch position to defensive end.
I don't know what it is about the state of Wisconsin, but they produce giant offensive linemen like none other. The typical offensive line for the Badgers averages around 6'6 and 320 lbs and use that incredible size to maul defensive linemen and open up gaping holes for the running backs. Despite the loss of All-Americans Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, the 2011 line should be one of the best in the nation.
LT- Ricky Wagner- (RS) Junior
LG- Jake Current- Senior
C- Peter Konz- (RS) Junior
RG- Kevin Zeitler- Senior
RT- Josh Oglesby- (RS) Senior
This group has the potential to be as good as any in recent memory for the Badgers. There may not be a superstar at tackle like a Joe Thomas or Gabe Carimi, but Ricky Wagner and Josh Oglesby are both very solid, and if Oglesby could stay healthy for a full season, he could be a first round pick next year. Oglesby has suffered from numerous knee problems, which opened the door for Wagner to replace him last season, and he took full advantage, completing a great season at right tackle. With Carimi gone, Wagner will move to left tackle and Oglesby will take his spot on the right side.
The most sure-fire player on this line is Peter Konz, the two-year starter at center who should garner some All-American talk in 2011. All of these players are great run blockers and good pass blockers, and with this group up front, the running back corp will not have to worry about open holes to run through this season
Travis Frederick- (RS) Sophomore
Casey Dehn- (RS) Sophomore
Robert Burge- (RS) Junior
Dallas Lewallen- (RS) Freshman
This is as deep of a group of offensive linemen as their is in the country. Don't be surprised to see Travis Frederick making a serious push to become a starter, and if the injury bug strikes Josh Oglesby or someone else again, Frederick will step right in. Dehn and Burge will also provide solid depth in case of injury, and they certainly have starting potential going forward.
While the Badgers have certainly suffered their fair share of losses this offseason, but none are more significant than that of J.J. Watt. By now most people know Watt's story- played tight end at Central Michigan, transferred to Wisconsin and had to sell pizzas to help pay for school before he earned his scholarship, all of which led to him being selected 11th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft by Houston. Watt was the most disruptive force on the Badger line since Erasmus James and he will surely be missed, but despite that loss, the Badgers look to be very solid on the defensive line going into the 2011 season.
DE- Patrick Butrym- (RS) Senior
DT- Jordan Kohout- (RS) Sophomore
DT- Beau Allen- Sophomore (pictured)
DE- Louis Nzegwu- (RS) Senior
Both Patrick Butrym and Louis Nzegwu were regulars on the defensive line last season, racking up 2.5 and 3 sacks respectively. While those two have the experience factor on their side, and are certainly capable of improving on those stats, many see Jordan Kohout and Beau Allen having breakout seasons this year. Both players appeared in at least twelve games last season and began making an impact later in the season, with Kohout earning Freshman All-Big Ten honors by Rivals.com. At 6'3, 285 lbs, Kohout has the size and versatility to play either defensive tackle (which he is listed at) or defensive end, filling in the role vacated by J.J. Watt.
David Gilbert- Junior
Pat Muldoon- (RS) Sophomore
Konrad Zagzebski- (RS) Freshman
James Adeyanju- Freshman
Like the offensive line group, many of these so-called "backups," specifically David Gilbert and Pat Muldoon, could step in and start immediately along the defensive line if called upon. This is a young and talented group that will be a strength for the Badgers for years to come.
One of the bigger question marks surrounding this Wisconsin team is the linebacker corp. Though certainly talented enough, injuries have hampered the development of many of the current Badger's linebackers, an un-ignorable concern going forward.
Chris Borland- (RS) Sophomore
Kevin Claxton- Senior
Mike Taylor- (RS) Junior
This unequivocal star of this defense going forward is linebacker Chris Borland. The 2009 Big Ten freshman of the year did it all- racking up 54 tackles, 5 sacks (10.5 tackles for loss), 5 forced fumbles, 106 kickoff return yards, and (most surprisingly) went 3 for 3 kicking extra points. Unfortunately Borland only played in two games in 2010 before being sidelined for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. His healthy return will be a huge boost to the Badger's defense. Mike Taylor is a very solid linebacker as well, but he missed significant time in 2009 due to a knee injury. If they can stay healthy, along with Kevin Claxton, Wisconsin will have one of the best linebacking groups in the Big Ten.
A.J. Fenton- (RS) Sophomore
Jake Keefer- Freshman
Ethan Armstrong- (RS) Sophomore
Marcus Trotter- (RS) Freshman
If any true freshman is likely to see playing time this season in Madison, its Jake Keefer. Keefer was Wisconsin's most highly touted recruit this offseason and he enters a situation where he could be called on to start if Borland or Taylor go down with injury. Fenton and Armstrong also provide good insurance, but neither are of starting quality at this point.
One of the more glaring weaknesses of the 2010 Badgers was in the defensive backfield. They may not have gotten burned for big stats, but they were maddeningly inconsistent and failed numerous times to make a big stop when they needed to. Exhibit A of this would be the Rose Bowl against TCU- Andy Dalton may have only thrown for 219 yards, but his clutch passing down the stretch is what did the Badgers in. Many starters return with another year of experience under their belt which will hopefully lead to an improved secondary in 2011.
CB- Antonio Fenelus- Senior
SS- Shelton Johnson- (RS) Junior
FS- Aaron Henry- (RS) Senior
CB- Devin Smith- Senior
Antonio Fenelus was the breakout player of the defensive secondary in 2010, providing solid coverage and bringing in a team-high 4 interceptions. Aaron Henry also enjoyed a successful season at safety after switching from the cornerback position, racking up 58 tackles (tied for fourth on the team) and 2 interceptions. Shelton Johnson and Devin Smith have both been inconsistent (more so Smith) and they will both need to take a step forward if they don't want to be replaced over the course of the season.
Marcus Cromartie- (RS) Junior
Dezmen Southward- (RS) Sophomore
Frank Tamakloe- (RS) Freshman
Conor O'Neill- (RS) Sophomore
Despite being listed as a backup, Marcus Cromartie and Conor O'Neill will both see significant playing time this season, even if they never get the chance to start. Southward and Tamakloe are both intriguing young men who will certainly be starters in the future, and provide good support in the present.
Special teams are usually a strength on a typical Badgers team, and this group is no different. The loss of David Gilreath as a kick returner certainly hurts (remember this Buckeye fans?) but starters return at kicker and punter, and a suitable replacement for Gilreath should be found on the roster somewhere.
K- Philip Welch- Senior
P- Brad Nortman- Senior
KR- Jared Abbrederis- (RS) Sophomore
PR- Kenzel Doe- Freshman
Philip Welch has as strong a leg as any kicker in the country, nailing a 61 yard field goal in the 2011 spring game, but his accuracy is and has always been his Achilles Heel and until he can control his kicks, he will continue to miss field goals that should be unmissable. Brad Nortman is coming off a season where he averaged a very respectable 42.7 yards per punt and should only improve on that in 2011.
Jared Abbrederis saw some time last season as a kick returner, and with and the graduation of David Gilreath, Abbrederis should move up into the starting role. While he may not have the raw speed or explosiveness of Gilreath, he is more than capable of filling that void. Some may be surprised to see Kenzel Doe as a starting punt returner, but the true freshman has been timed at 4.40 for a forty-yard dash and he may just have the most speed of any Badger already.
Quarterback- Jon Budmayr
Running Back- James White/Montee Ball
Wide Receiver- Nick Toon
Wide Receiver- Jared Abbrederis
Tight End- Jacob Pedersen
Tight End- Jake Byrne
Left Tackle- Ricky Wagner
Left Guard- Jake Current
Center- Peter Konz
Right Guard- Kevin Zeitler
Right Tackle- Josh Oglesby
Defensive End- Patrick Butrym
Defensive Tackle- Jordan Kohout
Defensive Tackle- Beau Allen
Defensive End- Louis Nzegwu
Weak-Side Linebacker- Chris Borland
Middle Linebacker- Kevin Claxton
Strong-Side Linebacker- Mike Taylor
Cornerback- Antonio Fenelus
Strong Safety- Shelton Johnson
Free Safety- Aaron Henry
Cornerback- Devin Smith
Kicker- Philip Welch
Punter- Brad Nortman
Kick Returner- Jared Abbrederis
Punt Returner- Kenzel Doe