It's the beginning of the Paul Chryst era at Wisconsin, officially, and his first game as head coach is against Alabama. In a paragraph, give me your initial thoughts to the 2015 season for Wisconsin.
Neal Olson: Chryst took over a program in shambles and helped put them back on track toward respectability. That first year was up and down, but there was significant reduction in scholarship players due to all the coaching turmoil. Sure he stumbled out of the blocks but they were competitive in every other game that year, including a three point loss in triple overtime on the road to National Championship Game participant Notre Dame. The Badgers have way more talent returning than Pitt did in 2012. And while a .500 record will not cut it in Madison, Chyrst has shown more than capable of getting the most out of his players. With the schedule set up such as it is, consider me cautiously optimistic for 2015.
Curtis Hogg: Chryst returning to Madison was the hire that a program in coaching disarray needed. He could endear himself to the Badger faithful with an upset over Alabama, but don't get too excited for that one, yet. Wisconsin could pull off the win, but it's much more likely that they come out victorious in the Big Ten West division. The book is still out on Chryst's abilities as a head coach, but he sure seems to get the most out of his players and we all know he can run an offense. Initially, I'm looking at a Big Ten Championship game appearance for the Badgers again in 2015.
Jim Dayton: After some high-profile coaching turmoil these past few seasons, it seems Badger lifer Paul Chryst is here to stay for some time. He was a brilliant innovator while coordinating the Wisconsin offense from 2005-'11, but his underwhelming tenure at Pittsburgh (career record of 19-19 in three seasons) leaves his head coaching abilities up for debate. Chryst has inherited some strong talent on this roster and on his coaching staff. With more resources and tradition at Wisconsin than Pitt, it's likely he will have a better opportunity to succeed. While this first season won't be make-or-break, it will serve as an early indicator of whether Chryst can take the Badgers from a good program to one among the nation's elite.
Drew Hamm: Can I just link to that dumb Grantland article about coaching at Wisconsin for what I don't think? I won't, but I could (ed. note, we did). Anyways, the schedule for Wisconsin is incredibly favorable after the opening weekend and the Badgers should get back to the Big Ten championship game fairly easily. I want to see improved and consistent quarterback play, the same running game and an attacking, varied defense. It that so much to ask?
Who and what are you most excited about with the 2015 Wisconsin Badgers?
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Neal: Joel Stave. Perhaps no other Badger play has ever been more polarizing in the history of the program. With all he has endured, Stave deserves to get at least one season under Chryst the quarterback guru. While it's unlikely he will rocket to the top of the Heisman list, Stave will at least be put into the best position to succeed. Picking his spots and making the offense more consistently two dimensional will be huge deciding factor in the success of this season.
Curt: I cannot just pick one player for this question. Sorry guys, it's just not happening. Junior running back Corey Clement is the first name that comes to mind, as watching him become the next great Badgers running back will be entertaining. Stave in his final year as "Mr. Polarization' has a chance to cement his final legacy. Redshirt senior Tanner McEvoy is playing on both sides of the ball (supposedly), so color me excited. Redshirt senior cornerback Darius Hillary had a great fall camp. Sophomore kicker Rafael Gaglianone will make Badgers fans happy quite often. Pick any of the guys above, really.
Jim: How about the remaining members of the Chevy Bad Boys crew? Starting outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert combined for 10.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss last season, and with the loss of departing seniors Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter, they'll be relied upon for their experience and explosiveness up front. We've seen Schobert's athleticism through his insane offseason dunks, and Biegel has one of the most energetic personalities on the defense. The Badgers haven't had a player record 10 or more sacks since O'Brien Schofield had 12 in 2009 (that's right, not even J.J. Watt). Considering Biegel's monstrous impact last season as a first-year starter, expect him to reach that plateau and fill the role of dynamic pass rusher that has been missing for awhile.
Drew: I'm obviously most excited about Gaglianone kicking multiple 60-yard field goals this year and also to compare mustaches with him in Dallas, but I'll pick someone else. Actually, I'll pick a position. I'm most excited for the reemergence of the tight end in Wisconsin's passing attack. Chryst will use redshirt senior Austin Traylor and redshirt sophomore Troy Fumagalli well, and they'll provide an outlet for Stave if he's under pressure. With this patchwork offensive line, I see that happening often.
What concerns you the most about this year's team?
Neal: I can't believe I'm going here, but offensive line has to be leader in this spot. For a combination of reasons, the one group that can usually be counted at Wisconsin has the most question marks entering the season. Sure, the receiver group is still waiting for someone to step up, but they do not have the tradition of success like offensive line. By most accounts there will be three redshirt freshman starting against Alabama this week. Going up against that front seven filled with future NFLers is a tall task for the most experienced group, let alone when it's your first collegiate start. Best case scenario is after some initial growing pains, this group gels and rounds into form during the latter half of the season. Worst case is a revolving door along the line due to injuries or underperformance.
Curt: The run defense. Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel return at outside linebacker, but the Badgers are putting a lot of new pieces together in the front seven. Arthur Goldberg, Chikwe Obasih and Alec James (ed. note, nose guard Conor Sheehy, too) could be a sound defensive line, but that is yet to be seen. I like to consider it more of a question than a concern.
Jim: It has to be the passing game. I've been a Stave apologist for some time now, and I'm (begrudgingly) not going to stop this year. Though some will clamor for redshirt junior Bart Houston or redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins, it's clear Stave is the best man for the starting quarterback job. However, his limitations with deep ball accuracy—or, just accuracy in general -- and susceptibility to turnovers could be backbreakers for this team, just like they were at times last season. Besides that, redshirt senior wide receiver Alex Erickson is really the only proven threat on the outside. If Stave continues his mediocrity and nobody emerges as a secondary target to complement Erickson, the offense could become one-dimensional.
Drew: Neal is right. The offensive line is extremely concerning against Alabama's genetically modified (I'm assuming Saban has these capabilities) front seven, but will then get time to gel/get healthy before conference play. Having McEvoy only play one position concerns me too -- he really should have Stave on his shoulders at some point this season.