They come naturally for a winning program that suddenly loses its coach before a BCS bowl game. The storylines that tantalize you as soon as the black of the college football offseason sets in, get you through the rest of basketball season and then drive you mad by the early portion of the summer. After all, spring football and summer conditioning workouts are really just that -- exhibitions not even of importance as exhibition games.
Now, with the 2013 college football season starting Thursday night for some teams -- B1G bros Indiana and Minnesota included -- we can finally cut that all out. Saturday, Wisconsin faces UMass, and by all rational expectations, there'll be big numbers on one side of the scoreboard and very on the other. The same probably (better) hold true the following week, when FCS squad Tennessee Tech comes to town.
But then the Badgers travel to Arizona State, and then Big Ten season starts. Can Wisconsin upend the Big Ten landscape with a road upset over Ohio State? What about wins over Northwestern and BYU? Is a crap-the-bed game inevitable somewhere, perhaps at Iowa?
With so much time to ponder that and more, our B5Q staff finally gets a chance to sound off below. We'd love to hear your thoughts on all or some of the following topics, so please do drop us a line in the comments below. You should consider this your roundtable as well. Thanks for reading, and let's get this on.
|Jake Kocorowski||10-2 (7-1)||They'll play close games versus Arizona State, Ohio State, Northwestern and BYU (although BYU is not as concerning as the other 3), and I think they'll split those four contests, with losses to a tough ASU team and to OSU.|
|Zack Miler||10-2 (7-1)||Everyone seems to be overlooking the Sun Devils of Arizona State and I think that is a mistake; expect that to be the ugliest game of the season for the Badgers. A win at Ohio State will be offset by a loss at home against Northwestern. No Pasadena trip this year means a visit to another sunny location in Tampa, Fla., for the Outback Bowl.
|Nick Korger||12-2 (postseason included)||There's a reason Bret Bielema talked about the 2013 Badgers before the 2012 season even started. A stacked defense carries Wisconsin after losses to ASU and OSU.|
|Jackson Dahlquist||10-2||Winning in the Horseshoe is one of the toughest feats to accomplish in college football, and the Badgers didn't even do it during the Russell Wilson season.|
|Louis Bien||9-3||Going to Arizona State just seems like it's going to be a bad time, and as much as I think Ohio State is over-hyped, winning in Columbus at night is a big proposition. There'll be another loss somewhere. If Wisconsin beats Ohio State, I'm chalking Northwestern up as an automatic let-down loss, but that game is going to be really tough regardless. Iowa shouldn't be tough, but maybe at Kinnick?|
|Mike Fiammetta||11-1||I'm on record with this one, so I'll keep myself honest. I see Wisconsin winning every game but Ohio State, and even that one's tempting. I can't rationally predict an undefeated season, though, for a team undergoing a drastic coaching change, still settling its quarterback situation and facing a secondary that, while confident, is entirely uproven, right?|
Most pressing question on offense:
Jake: Some say who the No. 2 receiver to compliment senior Jared Abbrederis will be; others ask who will lead the offense at quarterback. It has to be if the offensive line can stay healthy, though. We've seen Badgers linemen go down with injuries in camp with redshirt freshmen center Dan Voltz and junior guard Kyle Costigan, the former leading to a reshuffling of the line through camp. Coach Andersen did say recently he's happy they have eight "pretty good" linemen due to the extra reps from injuries and the emergence of sophomore Tyler Marz at left tackle is nice, but continuity and health are key for a front five that's produced three straight years of first-round draft picks and is the backbone of the offense and its running game.
Zack: Who is going to be "the other receiver"? Regardless of who the QB is, if there is no other option down the field other than Jared Abbrederis then the offense will fail to move the ball against opposing defenses. Will it be Duckworth? Love? Erickson? Wheelwright? What about this "McEvoy package"? It doesn't matter whom, but it needs to be someone.
Nick: The offensive line. Replacing two starters from a year ago, especially at the positions of center (blitz pickups) and left tackle (blind side protection), the Badgers will have to build a new chemistry in the trenches. We all saw last year what happens when you don't have a consistent run game (think 3rd and 1), so offensive line play is priority número uno.
Jackson: The quarterback situation needs definitive answering and the wide receiver position, as good as it has looked at times during fall camp, needs to show consistency during the actual season. But I think the most pressing question for me, is whether or not the O-Line can get back to the old, dominant style of play we saw from the unit prior to its underwhelming performance last year. There are new faces aplenty with guys like Dan Voltz, Tyler Marz and Dallas Lewallen slated to get major minutes for the first time in their careers. Gary Andersen talked about having eight offensive linemen that he can rely on, which is all well and good as long the group produces collectively. I want to see this group pile driving the opposing defensive lines on 3rd and 4th and short, something we didn't see for much of last season.
Louis: Easily the offensive line, specifically its ability to weather injury. There is depth everywhere else. I'm even okay with the lack of a proven second receiver given how many pass-catching backs and tight ends Wisconsin has available. The line is just seven-ish deep, however, and that's only because camp reports have just recently been high on Tyler Marz
The good news is that Wisconsin has a couple versatile players. Ryan Groy and Dallas Lewallen have played every spot along the line, so T.J. Woods will be able to get creative should a rash of injuries set in. Unfortunately, the versatility of Groy and Lewallen makes those two all the more indispensable. Specifically Groy. I think him, more than anyone else on the offense, needs to stay upright if Wisconsin is going to move the ball this season.
Andrew: The thing that worries me most? A slow rushing start to a team that on paper should let Corey Clement get quarters of action.
Mike: We've covered this at length by now, so I'll keep it short. I'm not necessarily worried about the quarterbacks, but I'm intrigued and hope to gain some early clarity as to how different the offense will run with Joel Stave running Andersen's offense.
Most pressing question on defense:
Jake: Can the secondary adjust to the more aggressive play-calling of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda? During media day, coach Andersen mentioned how he was happy with a "two-deep" depth of the front seven, which showed during fall camp (especially outside linebacker and the defensive line). The secondary was not as deep, especially with it losing three of four starters. From what I saw at practices, though, junior Peniel Jean and sophomore Darius Hillary stood out and solidified their spots, and with the various sub packages involving three, four safeties on the field at once, I'm not that concerned as once was. I really like sophomore Michael Caputo and redshirt freshman Leo Musso to compliment senior Dez Southward. Everyone will see how they handle more challenging opponents, though, starting with Arizona State in week three.
Zack: Is the experience of the front-seven enough to offset the inexperience of the secondary? Chris Borland, Conor O'Neill, and Beau Allen have the experience and the tools capable of causing havoc upfront, but all it takes is one quick three-step-drop for an opposing QB to get the ball into the hands of his wide receivers and then it could be game over. The secondary has performed better than expected throughout training camp, but when the curtain is pulled on the 2013 season will this young group be able to handle the pressure?
Nick: Pass rush. Forget the secondary, Wisconsin failed to make plays on big passing downs because nobody could get to the quarterback. The Badgers don't need another JJ Watt (it'd be nice if there was one), but they do need to consistently apply pressure on playmaking quarterbacks like OSU's Braxton Miller if they hope to make a fourth Rose Bowl.
Jackson: Unequivocally and without hesitation, I'll say the most pressing question on defense is whether or not the young secondary will produce alongside senior Dezmen Southward. I expect to see quite a few early season blunders from the back end of Wisconsin's defense, but can the group show continual improvement throughout the season? That will be a question I'll be eager to have answered. We're all expecting big things out of the Badgers' versatile and skilled front seven, but if the secondary steps up and performs beyond what people are currently expecting, I think you could see one of the top defenses in the country in 2013.
Louis: Same answer as above, just replace "offensive line" with "secondary." I like the depth and talent in the front seven. I feel like we have all dropped the ball for not hyping Beau Allen more, and Chris Borland is an animal. However, the youth in the defensive backfield has the potential to undo all of the good work those two young men will be putting in this season.
The good news, again, is that camp reports have been bullish on the young players. I'm cautiously optimistic about Sojourn Shelton and Leo Musso in reserve roles, and I believe the starters will be serviceable. Unfortunately, "serviceable" is about the most we should hope for from the group this season, with worst-case scenario being that all of the reports we read were fluff and the unit is an unmitigated disaster. I can't wait to finally see the secondary with my own eyes.
Curse you Reggie Mitchell.
Jake: Can the secondary adjust to the more aggressive play-calling of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda? During media day, coach Andersen mentioned how he was happy with a "two-deep" depth of the front seven, which showed during fall camp (especially outside linebacker and the defensive line). The secondary was not as deep, especially with it losing three of four starters. From what I saw at practices, though, junior Peniel Jean, sophomore Darius Hillary, and true freshman Sojourn Shelton stood out and solidified their spots, and with the various sub packages involving three, four safeties on the field at once, I'm not that concerned as once was. I really like sophomore Michael Caputo and redshirt freshman Leo Musso to compliment senior Dez Southward. Everyone will see how they handle more challenging opponents, though, starting with Arizona State in week three.
Andrew: Forgive the brevity, but it's the secondary.
Mike: Like Andrew, I'll keep it short with the secondary.
Rational best- and worst-case scenarios for the season:
Jake: Best: 12-0; regular season and BCS TITLE! Worst: 8-4.
Zack: Best: Trip to the Rose Bowl: Worst: Two losses at home.
Nick: Best: Undefeated. Worst: 8-5 (including bowl-game loss).
Jackson: Best: 11-1. Worst: 8-4.
Louis: Best: Undefeated. Worst: Probably a year like last season, except Wisconsin doesn't go to the Rose Bowl this time.
Andrew: Best: Rationally, split the big road games and hold serve at home and enjoy a BCS at-large game. Worst: Get trapped by Purdue, tripped up by Northwestern, go 2-4 to start the season and get massacred by a decent SEC team for another B1G bowl embarrassment.
Mike: Best: 12-0. Worst: 8-4.
One bold prediction:
Jake: Southward and the defense will force 25 turnovers this year. They had 15 last year (8 interceptions, 7 fumbles), but with the transition to an aggressive style of a 3-4 defense, an increase to 20 should be in store at the very least, so why not 25 with a force of nature like Borland leading your defense? Either that, or Borland kicks at least 5 extra points.
Zack: The Badgers will enjoy a high after defeating Ohio State in Columbus only to have their hearts broken by a disappointing performance at home against a dangerous Northwestern team. The Wildcats will come into Camp Randall and hand Gary Andersen his first loss in front of the Badger faithful.
Nick: Wisconsin goes to the national championship game. What Andersen did out in the middle of friggen nowhere in Logan, Utah is nothing short of incredible. Pair a great defensive minded coach with a team that already has the opportunity to be one of the best defenses in the country? Stranger things have happened.
Jackson: For some reason I've had this in my head since the Big Ten Championship Game throttling of Nebraska last season, and it doesn't seem to want to go away... Melvin Gordon will go pro after this season. I think he eventually becomes the workhorse, feature back over James White at some point during the season and accumulates monster numbers en route to a late first/early second round draft selection. He has the size, speed and ability to be special on Sundays, and we all know that the shelf life of a running back in the NFL is scary short. Now I obviously hope this "bold" prediction doesn't come to fruition, but all I'm saying folks, is enjoy this youngster while you can. You might not get to admire his talent in Madison for very long.
Louis: I'll take a cue from B5Q commenter MelvinGordon4Heisman and say that Melvin Gordon will win the Heisman.
Actually, screw that, I'm calling Wisconsin beating Ohio State on Sept. 28. A young front seven won't be ready for the speed of White and Gordon, and I can't wait to see what Dave Aranda is going to unleash against Braxton Miller in all of his mad scientist glory. That game is going to be so much fun.
Andrew: I'm doubling down on the unbeaten season. The schedule gets a lot easier in the later stages, NCAA Football 14 believes us better than Arizona State. And the thing about Gary Andersen? He gets his teams ready for big games. THE TABLE WILL BE RUN.
Mike: James White -- no, not Melvin Gordon -- finishes as a top-five Heisman finalist.
Thanks for reading this far! As a reward, you'll find my favorite Badgers-related .GIF below. Please also share any predictions in this vein or of another below. On Wisconsin, y'all.