At the beginning of every football season, most lines of conversation among writers, reporters, radio hosts and even fans sound effectively the same.
All anybody wants to discuss are the hot story lines, and that's understandable, I suppose. Following the intriguing quarterback competition is obviously more entertaining than watching who will emerge on the offensive line to help Ryan Groy. I'll concede that much.
But that doesn't mean we can overshadow the unheralded players that, throughout the course of a season, inevitably contribute in ways we can't foresee at this stage of the game.
Since we're in the midst of the media's prediction season, I'll join the party and contribute, but in a more unconventional manner. Speculating how many games the Badgers win or how many sacks Chris Borland will have -- that's easy. It doesn't take a whole lot of digging into the recesses of your brain.
But trying to pinpoint which player will become the next guy nobody saw producing? Now that's a fun challenge.
The last Badger to really emerge in this realm was Montee Ball, back in 2010. His touchdown run at Iowa will live in Badger lore forever. It set off a chain reaction not just for Ball's own career, but for Wisconsin football, as well. Three Rose Bowl trips ensued, after all.
Is there a guy on this 2013 roster that has the potential to make an impact we aren't aware of? The injury bug bites just about every football team in one crucial way almost every season, and guys must constantly stay ready for when their number is called. Here is a list of names I'll throw out for your deliberation:
Given the endless questions we hear about the lack of depth and production capabilities of the receiver core, I think we expect all of the tight ends to be heavily counted upon this year. But with Jacob Pedersen likely facing double-teams on passing downs, he won't be able to shoulder tight end production alone. Brian Wozniak is more of a blocking tight end with his wide frame and isn't much of a pass-catching threat. That leaves Arneson, who has solid athleticism and hands, to help the offense accumulate yardage and take a little pressure away from Pedersen. He could be a factor down near the goal line, especially.
Kelly has been a solid producer during his time in cardinal and white, but that's about as far as I'd go in my praise for him. Solid play will never be scrutinized, nor will it be celebrated, but at some point you've got to move in one direction or the other off that mold. Kelly is now a sixth-year senior after being granted another year of eligibility and it's time for his play to go to another level. The coaches continually talk about his build and athleticism being perfect for the new 3-4 defense; now I want to see that translate to on-field effectiveness in a big way. If Wisconsin wants to get back to the 10-win threshold this season, the front seven will have to be dominant to alleviate the growing pains and mishaps of a weak secondary. Chris Borland can't put pressure on the opposing quarterback by himself, so somebody has to emerge and wreak havoc alongside him. That guy could be Kelly.
Speaking of that weak secondary, it appears former running back Jeff Lewis is the likely favorite, as of now, to start at free safety opposite Dezmen Southward. As disconcerting as this may seem (it was for me last week), doesn't this just have the makings of a classic, too-good-to-be-true, position-switch success story? Wisconsin already has such a player on their roster in Jared Abbrederis, who came in as an option quarterback out of high school and has turned himself into a standout wide receiver and potential Biletnikoff Award finalist.
I'm not daring to say Lewis will make such a successful transition that he'll have a similar type of impact, but if he somehow becomes a reliable producer on the back end of Wisconsin's fragile secondary... whoa, look out. The Badgers' possibilities for this season would jump to another level.