After leading Wisconsin to double-digit wins four times and to three Rose Bowls in seven seasons, coach Bret Bielema left for Arkansas. Enter Gary Andersen, who did yeoman's work in turning Utah State into a legitimate program. But winning in the Big Ten is a lot tougher than winning in the WAC, as Andersen will discover. Not that much will change in terms of scheme or offensive emphasis, but the defense will use a 3-4 set far more often now.
Wisconsin has had 20 draftees in the past five drafts, including first-rounders in each of the past three. NFL scouts certainly will make their way to Madison for the next few years, as Bielema left solid talent behind, especially at linebacker and along the offensive line. This season, the Badgers should be fine, assuming a competent quarterback emerges. Quarterback play was spotty last season and must improve. The secondary is an issue, as well, with only one starter back. One projected starter, free safety Reggie Mitchell, left the team in mid-June.
Top senior prospects
WR Jared Abbrederis: Abbrederis (6-foot-1, 188 pounds), entering his third season as a starter after beginning his career as a walk-on quarterback, is an intriguing prospect. He is a good blocker, can get deep (his career average is 16.6 yards per catch) and has good hands. He is not a burner, but he is elusive and also has shown big-play ability as a return man. Abbrederis was bothered by a chest injury last season but still was a first-team All-Big Ten pick. His production this season could be hampered by Wisconsin's quarterback situation and the lack of a proven No. 2 wide receiver.
DT Beau Allen: Allen (6-3, 333) started for the first time last season and responded with 33 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. The Badgers will use some 3-4 looks this season, and Allen's bulk and strength in the middle will be important. He is not overly athletic, but he is physical and stout against the run.
ILB Chris Borland: Meet one of the most productive linebackers in the nation. Borland (5-11, 248) might not have ideal height, which some NFL teams will hold against him, but he is tough, physical, athletic (he can do a standing backflip) and a team leader. He has 307 career tackles to go with 13 forced fumbles, 13 sacks, 41.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups. Borland missed all but two games with a shoulder injury in 2010 but hasn't had any problems the past two seasons.
OT Ryan Groy: Groy (6-5, 317) will start at left tackle this season after starting at guard last fall; he also has started at fullback (fullback!). His athleticism has impressed the new staff, and Groy has admitted that when he was pressed into duty at tackle in two games last season, his athleticism helped him overcome technique issues. He was excellent as a pulling guard last season and could end up inside in the NFL. His pass blocking is what scouts will be watching this fall.
TE Jacob Pedersen: Wisconsin has had five tight ends selected in the past eight drafts, and Pedersen (6-4, 248) seems a lock to make it six in nine. This will be his second season as the full-time starter after starting a combined 11 games in his first two seasons. Pedersen is a good route runner with soft hands, and as with all Badgers tight ends, he is a solid blocker. His 14 career touchdown receptions are tied for 11th-most in school history.
S Dezmen Southward: Southward (6-2, 214), who played only one season of high school football at St. Thomas Aquinas, was a full-time starter for the first time last season. He has good size but lacks elite speed. He can play both safety positions, but likely is better suited for strong safety in the NFL. He is active in run support but his coverage skills are lacking.
RB James White: White (5-10, 197) shared carries with Gio Bernard (a second-round pick of the Bengals in the 2013 draft) in high school at powerhouse Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas and has played second fiddle to Montee Ball and/or John Clay in his first three seasons in Madison. But White still has rushed for 2,571 yards and 32 touchdowns in his career. White has good speed and can turn the corner, but he also is a tough between-the-tackles runner. White has shown some promise as a receiver out of the backfield.
OLB Vince Biegel: Expectations are high for Biegel (6-3, 230), who played in two games last season as a true freshman before a broken foot forced him to redshirt. He is athletic and coaches are high on his pass-rush ability, which will be put to good use when the Badgers use their 3-4 sets this fall. He was a national top-150 recruit out of high school in Wisconsin.
OG Kyle Costigan: Costigan (6-4, 304), a junior, started at right guard last season, and though he missed spring practice with a knee injury, he should start there again this fall. He was a defensive lineman in his first two seasons on campus and struggled early last season after making the switch. While his pass blocking must improve, he has maintained his aggressiveness from his days as a defensive lineman and became a better run blocker as last season progressed.
RB Melvin Gordon: With Montee Ball in the NFL, White now will share carries with Gordon (6-1, 203), a sophomore. Gordon ran for 621 yards last season, but 328 of those came in two games (UTEP and Nebraska in the league title game). He's a physical runner with a burst and might have more upside than White.
OT Rob Havenstein: Wisconsin is known for big offensive linemen, but Havenstein (6-8, 338 -- and he has dropped almost 50 pounds since enrolling) is huge. This will be his second season as the starter at right tackle. Havenstein has surprisingly good feet -- not surprising when you consider he played lacrosse in high school in Maryland. Still, he plays too high at times and is more advanced as a run blocker than pass protector. His twin, Jeff, plays basketball at Division I Longwood; he also is 6-8 -- but weighs only 225.
OG Dallas Lewallen: He has seen action in only six games in his first two seasons (various injuries are one reason), but Lewallen (6-6, 318) is expected to start at guard this season. As with all Badgers linemen, he is a physical specimen who is expected to be a big-time run blocker.
C Dan Voltz: Last season's starting center, Travis Frederick, left school a year early and was a first-round pick; Voltz (6-4, 310), a redshirt freshman, has that kind of potential. He graduated early from high school and went through spring drills in 2012 before redshirting. He has gained a bit more than 40 pounds since his arrival in Madison and is expected to be a road grader as a run blocker. Coaches also have praised his ability to quickly learn the offense. His pass protection is a concern -- but, remember, he is only a redshirt freshman.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 14 at Arizona State: The Sun Devils might be the best team in the Pac-12 South, and their quick front seven on defense will pose a test for the Badgers' beefy offensive line. It will be especially interesting to see if Wisconsin's interior linemen can handle cat-quick Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton.
Sept. 28 at Ohio State: The best teams in the Leaders Division get together for a key early-season contest. Can Wisconsin's linebackers handle Ohio State's spread attack? And will Wisconsin's offensive line win the battle against Ohio State's rebuilt defensive line? The Buckeyes have two good defensive ends, meaning Groy and Havenstein will be in the spotlight.
Nov. 30 vs. Penn State: The regular-season finale for both teams. Two excellent groups of linebackers will be on display; can either offensive line make sure the running backs have room to roam? And Groy vs. Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes will be fun to watch.