Last year was injury-riddled across the board for the Wisconsin Badgers. That injury bug affected very few positions more than at running back.
Junior running back Corey Clement was the heir apparent to the long lineage of great Wisconsin backs. There isn't any reason to think that he would not have taken the reins had he stayed healthy. The issue, however, was that Clement just could not stay on the field.
In the week of the season opener against Alabama, Clement injured his groin. He exited that contest with the Crimson Tide early and required sports hernia surgery. He returned against Rutgers, giving glimpses of what could have been. Things once again took a turn for the worse when Clement was suspended for the Minnesota regular-season finale due to a a previous altercation. Then, in the third quarter of the Badgers' Holiday Bowl win over USC, Clement tweaked his left ankle and missed the rest of the game.
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Missing Clement, things got even thinner when Taiwan Deal went down and missed three games mid-season. In his two games after returning, Deal only racked up 12 carries.
Thus, the Badgers were left with a former defensive back walk-on in Dare Ogunbowale as the go-to back and had to move true freshman linebacker Alec Ingold into a significant role toting the rock, as well.
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Coming into the picture are a hand full of backs. Ingold expects to move to fullback, where he will compete with Austin Ramesh, and former linebacker Leon Jacobs will move to running back, running backs coach John Settle told B5Q in February.
Wisconsin also adds Bradrick Shaw, a former three-star recruit out of Alabama, who redshirted his freshman season in 2015. Illinois state player of the year Sam Brodner brings a tough running style with him as the only running back from the Badgers' recruiting class.
Coming into 2016, the running back position looks promising and, better yet, deep.
Leaders at position (2015 stats)
Dare Ogunbowale: 194 carries, 819 yards, 4.2 YPC, 7 TD
Taiwan Deal: 117 carries, 503 yards, 4.3 YPC, 6 TD
Corey Clement: 48 carries, 221 yards, 4.6 YPC, 5 TD
Alec Ingold: 49 carries, 131 yards, 2.7 YPC, 6 TD
Serge Trezy: 6 carries, 18 yards, 3 YPC, 0 TD
Ogunbowale (RS SR)
Deal (RS SO)
Trezy (RS SR)
Fullback Derek Watt
Additions to position
Leon Jacobs (SR, Converted from linebacker)
Bradrick Shaw (RS FR)
Sam Brodner (FR, Glen Elynn, Ill.)
X-factor: Corey Clement
It's hard to go against Clement, easily the most talented player on the offensive side of the ball, for this category -- particularly after his frustrating 2015 season. At his best, Clement is a serious Doak Walker Award contender and first-team All-Big Ten player. While the injuries and off-field issues were unfortunate in what was supposed to be his breakout season, there is a silver lining: at least he didn't let down on the field. If Clement had just laid a dud in the primary role, then there would be legitimate concerns.
The battle for who will spell Clement will be interesting to watch. Ogunbowale is the front-runner for the backup spot and third-down back after an impressive campaign that helped salvage an injury-riddled season on offense. Deal could file in next, but Shaw and Jacobs will be pushing for playing time. Watch for Jacobs to take over Ingold's former role of power back, but with much more speed and agility.
An honorable mention for X-factor is actually the loss of Watt, who was the top fullback in the nation. Ramesh and Ingold will have large shoes to fill.