2015 Wisconsin Badgers Football Preview
Head Coach: Paul Chryst – (1st at Wisconsin and 4th overall: 19-19 overall)
2014 Record: 11-3 overall, 7-1 Big 10
Bowl Result: Outback Bowl: 1/1/15: Wisconsin 34 Auburn 31 (OT)
For nearly a quarter century—23 years to be exact, there was little turnover at the helm of the Wisconsin football program as current athletic director Barry Alvarez led the Badgers for 16 seasons before giving away to assistant Bret Bielema for the next seven.
With Gary Andersen’s surprising departure to Oregon State after just two successful seasons, new head coach Paul Chryst is the program’s third boss in four years.
However, the hiring of Chryst—a Madison-native and Wisconsin letterwinner—will likely bring the stability the program is accustomed to should the Badgers be able to continue the success they’ve experienced over the last couple decades. He was offensive coordinator during some of the most successful years in the program’s history.
He will have the benefit of working with a fifth-year senior quarterback in Joel Stave. Stave, who attempted just 206 passes in the ten games he played last year, threw for 1,350 and nine scores; however, he was picked off ten times and must become more consistent this season.
Senior Alex Erickson (6’0”, 199), Stave’s top target from a season ago, is back to highlight what will otherwise be an unproven receiving corps.
Chryst’s attack typically emphasizes using the tight end and he has good one in sophomore Troy Fumagalli. Fumagalli was fifth on the team in receptions, as he hauled in 14 balls for 187 yards.
Despite Gordon being the feature back, Corey Clement had a stellar sophomore campaign that saw him nearly eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. The 5’11”, 219-pounder, who ran for 949 yards and nine scores, averaged 6.5 yards per carry in 2014 and will become the primary ball carrier this year.
Over the last couple decades, Wisconsin has been known for its ability to run the football—the Badgers were third nationally a season ago at 320 yards per game—and enabling it to do so have been some terrific offensive lines.
This year’s unit features only two returning starters in senior left tackle Tyler Marz and junior center Dan Voltz so the lack of experience in the trenches is cause for concern and something to keep an eye on.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who directed the nation’s fourth best unit in 2014, returns to guide the Wisconsin defense under Chryst.
The Badgers, who allowed just 20 points and a scant 294 yards last year, return seven starters on defense.
Outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert hightlight a front seven that has some gaps to fill. Biegel, who was sixth on the team with 56 tackles, had a team-high 16.5 tackles for losses and was second in sacks (7.5). Schobert was third in tackles for losses with 13.5.
On the back end, the Badgers are very experienced and proven. Senior safety Michael Caputo, the team’s top tackler (106) in ’14, returns to lead a unit that was stellar versus the pass (168.0). However, after picking off just six passes a season ago, Wisconsin’s talented defensive backfield will look to become ball hawks.
The kicking game could be the difference that helps Wisconsin collect wins in close games. Kicker Rafael Gaglianone converted 19 of his 22 attempts in his freshman campaign and made 14 straight to close the year. He was 5-of-7 from 40 yards or more and had a long of 51.
Senior punter Drew Meyer, who averaged 41.5 yards and consistently pinned the opposition inside its own 20 as a freshman, needs to return to that form after averaging just 37.4 yards per boot last year.
Who will handle the punt and kick returns? That remains to be seen since Kenzel Doe, who did both last year, is gone.
Division games at Nebraska—which will be looking to avenge last season’s 59-24 beat down at Camp Randall—and at Minnesota will be challenges if Wisconsin is going to represent the West again in the Big 10 Championship Game. Additionally, the Badgers get Rutgers and Maryland from the East Division and will avoid what will arguably be the league’s top two teams in Ohio State and Michigan State.
By Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum
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