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2014 Big Ten Media Days: Gary Andersen talks expectations for Wisconsin

Wisconsin's lack of proven wide receivers was a common thread at Big Ten media day, though Gary Andersen did his best to present the situation as an opportunity for several young players.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Wisconsin's loss against Arizona State was a "let's get the pitchforks ready for the Pac-12 officials" game. The loss against Penn State was a flat-out disappointment. And the Capital One Bowl loss against South Carolina felt like, "Eh, the Badgers missed some opportunities."

Even if Wisconsin registers a similar record to 2013's 9-4 mark, frustration might be evident. Badgers fans were spoiled by three straight Rose Bowl appearances and two consecutive victories in the Big Ten championship, with Russell Wilson, J.J. Watt and other NFL stars stepping foot on the UW campus in between. Plus, the combination of this year's non-conference and Big Ten matchups should, on paper, yield a 10-win season. In fact, the de facto preseason Big Ten media poll yielded Wisconsin as the favorite to win the West Division.

Yet at Big Ten media day Monday in the Hilton Chicago, Andersen was quick to strike back against the notion of the Badgers having an easy schedule.

"First of all, I think the schedule is challenging; people can say what they want about this or that," Andersen said. "But we have a great schedule that's highly competitive and we're playing very good teams out of our [conference]. LSU is LSU, one of the best in the country year in, year out. Bowling Green is picked to take their conference and was a great team last year, then we get into the Big Ten. So there is no easy Big Ten game."

Stemming from that and combined with Wisconsin's youth, Andersen is limiting expectations already. For one, there are key questions marks at quarterback and wide receiver.

"We have to replace [wide receiver Jared Abbrederis] with two of three players," Andersen said. "The challenge is for the youth to step up. If those kids that are in the program that have experience at wide receiver have made the strides I believe they've made, and we can have three of those five youthful kids that I talked about, the ones in the program and the ones that are just new to the program, we can replace Jared by the numbers."

Chief among those key wide receivers are Kenzel Doe, the lone senior at the position expected to get playing time, and junior Jordan Fredrick. Andersen praised Doe for having an "unbelievable" spring and a very good spring, though the 5'8 speedster has yet to steadily prove himself on the field. In his three seasons at Wisconsin, Doe's caught 25 receptions for 182 yards (7.3 per reception) and his best year came in 2012, when he hauled in 16 passes for 121 yards. Fredrick, meanwhile, has been steady in supporting roles (10 receptions in 13 games last season; 17 receptions in 14 games in 2012) but remains unproven in a larger capacity.

The younger group of receivers, meanwhile, includes sophomores Alex Erickson and Rob Wheelwright (11 combined receptions, nine from Erickson) and redshirt freshman Jazz Peavy. Furthermore, Wisconsin was burned by the departures of two incoming freshman receivers who could've made early impacts at the position in Chris Jones and Dareian Watkins. Andersen said Monday that Watkins has yet to be released from his scholarship, but is unsure if he will return to the team after returning home following summer workouts.

Meanwhile, in talking Wisconsin's unsettled quarterback situation, Andersen noted there is no timetable for naming a starter. He did, however, have positive remarks for Tanner McEvoy.

"I would say he's an elite athlete," Andersen said. "But the way he moves around in his size, his ability to -- the speed he runs with, I think he runs very, very well. He's elusive and he's smart. He's got the ball in his hands. So he's a very talented athlete, allows you to do some things offensively to force defenses to understand that if you make a mistake, he's more than willing to take off and make you pay."