I was perusing the Wisconsin football page as well as the team's Twitter account last night trying to collect a few more tidbits of knowledge before fall camp officially begins today. Finally, football has arrived! That feels great to say.
The photo below on secondary coach Ben Strickland's Twitter page caught my attention, and aside from it being a pretty nifty shot, I found myself pondering this question: Which senior starter is most integral to Wisconsin's success this year?
According to our projected depth chart, the Badgers will start five seniors on offense and seven on defense. But of those 12 players, there are really only four guys you could make a legitimate case for in terms of their importance.
The former walk-on has become a fan favorite in Madison, and for good reason. He's productive and plays the game with the utmost efficiency, but he absolutely must stay healthy in 2013. Every time wide receivers coach Chris Beatty steps in front of the media, he bluntly says that all options after Abby continue to be inconsistent. The receiving corps' depth is frighteningly thin, and if Abby goes down for an extended period of time, the Badgers will likely become run-obsessed like they did when Curt Phillips took over for Joel Stave last season.
But even if Abbrederis puts up monster numbers to carry the production load at wide receiver, I still don't think him having a huge year necessarily translates into wins. Wisconsin will still have outstanding running backs to rely on when crucial yards are needed, and the Badgers proved last year they could dominate games on the ground. Sure, Wisconsin will need Abbrederis to have a bigger year than last to improve on its disappointing 8-6 record, but one of the other three guys below is even more inextricably linked to wins.
The senior from Middleton is now the unquestioned leader of Wisconsin's offensive line after Rick Wagner and Travis Frederick moved on to the NFL after last season. Groy's biggest strength is his versatility, which he showed last year by starting games at both left guard and left tackle. He'll have to be an anchor at left tackle this year for the Badgers' once vaunted offensive line that's now in transition.
Gary Andersen acknowledged that numbers are thin at the position. Offensive line coach T.J. Woods would love more scholarship linemen to work with, and he'll have a big challenge this fall getting better production from guys like Rob Havenstein and Kyle Costigan. But for whatever reason, I never worry about the offensive line when considering the Badgers' biggest weaknesses. Even last year, I thought the unit would eventually figure things out, which it did for the most part. Groy is the one sure thing on a unit filled with uncertainty in 2013, but again, I think the offensive line will do enough to be successful. It's a close call, but Groy is not my most important senior starter.
Team leader, most productive player, Butkus Award candidate and according to Andersen, "the best linebacker in the country." Yeah, the guy is just a little bit important. When he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year back in 2009, everybody knew Borland was bound to be special. He's done nothing but live up to that billing.
Coming off a first-team All-Big Ten campaign last year, Borland will be counted on to lead defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's new 3-4 scheme, which will undoubtedly be an adjustment for the entire defense. But the coaches continue to reiterate that the front seven is likely the strongest unit on the field right now. There is depth at every position, and while it would be crippling to lose the ball-hawking skills and star-power of Borland, it wouldn't be the end of the world. There is enough production across the unit that would be capable of filling any void left by Borland, but let's just pray nothing happens to the bowling ball from Kettering, Ohio.
A Wisconsin front seven with Borland at the helm will give opponents fits and goes from solid to possibly dominant with him on the field. Still, though, there is one senior starter who I consider more crucial to this season's success.
This may be a little surprising to some, but have you seen the other guys who Southward will be playing with in the secondary? He's a thoroughbred playing with a bunch of ponies on the back end. Wisconsin's secondary already had much cause for concern before Reggie Mitchell jumped ship for Pitt and Donnell Vercher was denied admission to UW. Now that both of them are out of the mix, this unit is mired in ambiguity.
In my eyes, the secondary is unequivocally the weakest unit on the field right now for Wisconsin. Does anybody have any real, certifiable idea as to what level of production guys like Michael Trotter or Peniel Jean will give the Badgers this season? Without a healthy Southward in the lineup, Wisconsin would have to replace him with guys like T.J. Reynard or former running back Jeff Lewis. Such a possibility is a scary proposition.
I know the season is still four weeks away, but Strickland is going to have to work some magic to ensure his unit can handle itself appropriately come Aug. 31. Wisconsin's front seven will help hide some of the inexperience and deficiencies in the back end if it can continually bring a pass rush, but I honestly dread watching the Badgers' secondary if Southward happens to go down. He must stay healthy and have a big year if Wisconsin wants a legitimate shot at Rose Bowl number four. Thus, he's my most important senior starter.