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Badger Bits: Pedersen primed for monster season

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John Mackey award finalist, Jacob Pedersen, will be one of the top threats in Wisconsin's passing game this season.
John Mackey award finalist, Jacob Pedersen, will be one of the top threats in Wisconsin's passing game this season.

While the Badgers continue to sort out the rest of their wide receiver positions, it is easy to overlook a returning playmaker in tight end Jacob Pedersen. Last season Pedersen finished the year as a finalist for the John Mackey award, given annually to the best tight end in college football. He caught eight touchdown passes - tied for second best nationally - along with 365 yards on 30 catches.

The great part is that Pederson will just be a redshirt junior next season, meaning one of Wisconsin's biggest playmakers still has another two years of eligibility. As great a season as Pedersen had last year, do not be surprised if his numbers increase significantly in 2012. With a new quarterback entering the system in Danny O'Brien and the loss of Nick Toon, the Badgers offense will surely feature a different look this season.

Last season Russell Wilson quickly developed a solid connection on the field with wide receiver Nick Toon, who caught 64 passes for 926 yards. Although Toon missed just one game, injuries hampered his production at times, so Wilson often found his No. 2 receiver, Jared Abbrederis, as another favorite option. Abbrederis caught 11 fewer passes than Toon, but still finished the season with 933 yards - at an impressive 17 yards per catch.

Assuming O'Brien will start in the fall, he will not have the luxury of Toon lining up a wideout, and with Montee Ball and James White returning, look for the Badgers to run the ball even more in 2012. Even with Toon and Abbrederis last season, UW lacked production out of its No. 3 and 4 wide receiver options. Abbrederis is the only reliable option returning this season, but even he is still recovering from a foot injury.

O'Brien will find favorite targets on the Badgers, similar to Wilson last year, but as a less mobile quarterback and someone who will rely heavily on the run game early on, Pedersen will likely be one of those targets. Wisconsin's formidable run game will also open up plenty of playaction opportunities for O'Brien to hit Pedersen across the middle of the field. It will also be difficult for Abbrederis to build off last year's production without Toon lining up on the opposite side of the field as another threat, so Pedersen could take away from some of Abbrederis' receptions from a year ago.

It is still early in the offseason and it is possible more reliable options will emerge at wide receiver, but until then, look for Pedersen to have his best season yet at Wisconsin.

Wednesday's Links:

Brian Bennett believes that not just Jacob Pedersen will have a major season, but it could be a big year for many tight ends in the Big Ten.

Adam Rittenberg is disappointed by Wisconsin's lack of games in the future against Michigan State and Iowa.

Five former Big Ten stars were invited to the NBA combine and Jordan Taylor was not one of them.'s Reggie Rankin gives the Bo Ryan and the Badgers a B+ for their 2012 recruiting class. Here is what he had to say about top recruit, Sam Dekker:

"The five-star recruit has the talent, skill and athletic ability to score in the post with his back to the basket, facing the hoop and on the perimeter in pick-and-pop situations, thanks to his ability to drive or knock down open three-pointers," Rankin said. "Coach Bo Ryan will have fun moving Dekker around the offense to create matchup problems."

Tom Dienhart says the coordinator matchup to watch in week 2 will come from the Wisconsin-Oregon State game.