Finally, college football is back. As the first game week of 2014 gets underway, we're gearing up to take this site and our Wisconsin Badgers coverage to new heights. One order of business has been to add more staff -- please welcome Sam Brief, Greg and Zach Wingrove into the fold! Sam and Zach will be previewing and recapping games in a variety of ways -- Sam already has a great, in-depth look at Melvin Gordon's Heisman Trophy chances, while Zach put together an awesomely detailed preview of LSU -- and Greg will be tackling a variety of posts, largely of the "color commentary" variety.
There are also a few more newer faces you may or may not have seen: Kyle Vos, who got started with some great position previews during camp, and Maxwell Brusky, who you might recognize from the BuckAround podcast. Finally, regular B5Q contributors Neal Olson, Louis Bien and Lucas Mueller are also all back on board for football season. If you'd like, you can follow everyone on Twitter via the links I included in their names below.
So we're set for a fantastic season. Let's get on with our first roundtable -- we all got together (in a Google Doc) and chatted out our predictions, expectations, observations and more for this season. Unsurprisingly, everyone had a lot to say, and what began as a planned two-part roundtable now has five. We'll be posting one each day this week, beginning with this one below.
1. Game week is finally here. In your mind, how'd this offseason go for Wisconsin? You can take into account everything from recruiting to the spring game, fall camp, Gary Andersen's mullet in "The Camp" and more.
Sam Brief: It's tough to call an offseason "successful" after losing your star wideout and entire front seven to graduation, but the Badgers have dealt with the transitional period relatively well. The young wide receivers have impressed the coaching staff with their strong performances during training camp and scrimmages. And while inexperienced, the front seven appears to be in good hands with linebacker Marcus Trotter and nose guard Warren Herring leading the way.
This recruiting year wasn't the Badgers' strongest, but the program always seems to find a way to win despite lacking a top-tier recruiting class. Their incoming class was ranked 34th in the country and just fifth in the Big Ten, but they did pick up their potential dual-threat quarterback of the future in D.J. Gillins of Jacksonville, Florida, who has been touted as one of the best Wisconsin quarterback commits in decades. The Badgers lost quite a bit of talent and experience this offseason, but their strong core of young players appears both motivated and able to continue Wisconsin football's tradition of playing smash-mouth football at a high level.
Football Is Back
B5Q's 2014 Season Preview Hub
We've made it, friends. College football is back. Kick off the first gameweek of the season with B5Q's Season Preview Hub, full of positional previews, thoughts on Melvin Gordon's Heisman Trophy candidacy, a preview of LSU and much more.
Greg G: Anytime you don't have a crisis in the offseason, you've gotta be happy with the way things have played out. Badgers are still getting recognized for academics, some major recruits gave their [oral] commitments, Montee Ball is getting taken in the first two round of FF drafts and five Badgers were taken in the NFL Draft. There are big expectations for Melvin Gordon, we have a kicker who apparently can actually make field goals and analysts are calling Wisconsin a sleeper for the first College Football Playoff and not only because the schedule softens after LSU. Andersen seems to be playing it cool about his football team this year, but I think he's humble and if he ever gloats about anything, I'll be surprised. The biggest thing I've taken from this offseason and, especially, camp is chemistry. The team seems to be behind its coach more than I ever thought when Bret Bielema was around. They have all survived a major transition together, and I think they're buying into what Andersen is selling. Combine talent and camaraderie, and there is no telling what this team can do. Also, Gary's painted-on "Can't Get Enough" cursive tee shirt is amazing. I want it.
Jake K: It was an alright offseason. On the recruiting trail, the Badgers were in the mix for highly-touted recruits but ultimately lost out (in hindsight, not receiving Joe Mixon's commitment seems like a plus) though the 2014 recruiting class made some buzz with some actually in line to produce this season (Lubern Figaro, Rafael Gaglianone, Austin Hudson and the three wide receivers). If certain pieces would have fallen in place (Jamil Kamara, Craig Evans), people would be talking more about it. Even without them committing and the loss of recruits Dareian Watkins and Chris Jones, you're looking at a freshman class that will make an impact on the field earlier in their careers. Plus, with 19 verbal commits for 2015, there is optimism already for next year's class.
On the field, anytime you lose 20-plus seniors, there's going to be transition and possible growing pains, but it seems Andersen and company are rolling in a younger, stealthier (hint: lighter) defense and ushering in the winds of quarterback change now that reports have surfaced that Tanner McEvoy is the starting quarterback. Spring camp is hard to gauge, as injuries piled up and, really, you didn't see much except for personnel tetris with players at different positions. An emergence of wide receivers both older and younger during this time, which many thought wouldn't come until later this season, could actually become a major asset to the offense. I think the losses of nose guard Bryce Gilbert and safety Nate Hammon could hamper a young defense, especially with Gilbert's departure on that defensive line.
Also, that mullet. One of the highlights of camp -- I plan on asking Andersen if in fact he had a name for it during Monday's press conference.
Max B.: Ah, the Mullet -- it's back all over the place (see Vince Biegel)! In all seriousness, I think my colleagues have painted a pretty accurate picture of the 2014 offseason. The loss of a large senior class looms large as does continuing the philosophical transition from Bielema to Andersen on both sides of the ball. I think the recruiting has taken an uptick and the staff has succeeded -- to a point (Kamara, Evans and Mixon would have been icing on the cake at the time) -- in its stated attempt to broaden the geographical base.
Since there were no off-field issues of any note, and the team at least appears ready for LSU and the regular season (the usual preseason questions of a non-blueblood college football team remain -- "how will so and so hold up?," can player x be adequately replaced?, "etc.), so it's difficult not to label this offseason a success. However, the fact that several recruits in this class didn't make it to the team raises questions that won't be answered until a couple season's worth of games -- questions that rarely came up during the Bielema. Finally, the biggest shocker of the offseason occurred late last week with it being leaked that McEvoy would start against LSU. There's no way to answer any questions about that move right now and it doesn't look like there will be any answers for quite some time.
Zach Wingrove: I think it was a good offseason for the Badgers given all the challenges listed above that they had to face. It's never easy when you're having to replace 20+ seniors on a team that went 9-4 the previous season, butAndersen and company did an excellent job developing inexperienced players across the board in order to fill the shoes of the departing starters and role players. On offense, the receiver position isn't as big of a worry for anyone as it was heading into fall camp. And on defense, we saw young players like Figaro and Chikwe Obasih impress coaches during their position competitions and it now looks like both freshmen could get to start on Saturday. And I agree with what Greg said about the chemistry looking positive. With every coach except Thomas Hammock (running backs) returning, I think we can expect to see less players having to learn the playbook and more players developing even further.
Another positive for the Badgers is the national media attention they've received this offseason. It's clear that Andersen wants his team to be heading into the season under the radar and so far, he's gotten his wish. Most experts are still picking Michigan State to win the Big Ten despite the Badgers having the best odds; although on Saturday, ESPN's Desmond Howard did pick the Badgers to win the Big Ten and grab a spot in the College Football Playoff. It's good to see that the Badgers are being recognized as a contender but also aren't getting too overhyped by the media heading into the start of the season.