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Friday, August 2, 2013
Early look at the Wisconsin Badgers

By Josh Moyer

Every day this week, NittanyNation took a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacked up for PSU. Today is the final day of the series, but you can read all the other previews right here. Up today: Wisconsin.

Remember everything we wrote about Nebraska yesterday? About how it boasts a great offense, a decent secondary and a terrible front seven?

Well, reverse that completely -- and then you'll get Wisconsin.

The Badgers are the bizzaro Huskers, a team that will have to rely on defense to win and won't threaten with its passing attack. James White and Jared Abbrederis will spearhead the offense, but there's still no telling who the quarterback might be.

“[W]e may jog out there the first play of the game with two quarterbacks on the field and see what happens from there,” new head coach Gary Andersen said. “So who knows? It will be interesting.”

Andersen has big shoes -- and a big mouth -- to fill after Bret Bielema's surprise departure. Wisconsin earned three straight invitations to the Rose Bowl under Bielema. Granted, the Badgers lost every one -- but that's still an impressive streak that will likely be broken in 2013 because of offensive question marks.

Wisconsin will be a good team in 2013, easily the No. 2 or No. 3 team in the Leaders Division. But like Nebraska, it's far from perfect.

When: Time TBA on Nov. 30 at Camp Randall Stadium

Last season: Wisconsin (8-6, 4-4 Big Ten); lost Rose Bowl vs. Stanford, 20-14

Series history: Wisconsin 9-7-0

Joel Stave
Joel Stave is one of three players vying for Wisconsin's starting quarterback job.
Biggest question marks: Quarterback and wide receiver. Andersen said during Big Ten media days that QB remains a three-man race between Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and juco Tanner McEvoy. Unlike Bill O'Brien, he doesn't have a timetable to name a starter.

Another question mark is just what receivers that signal-caller will be throwing to outside of Abbrederis. Jordan Fredrick is the projected No. 2, but he's far from solid and finished with just 17 catches last season.

Wisconsin had the No. 111 passing offense last season, putting it behind the likes of Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green. That ranking might actually increase now, but the best Wisconsin can probably hope for is mediocrity in the pass game.

On defense, the secondary returns just one starter and will struggle matching or bettering its No. 18 pass defense from 2012. The defensive backfield is the lone weakness of the defense, but it's clearly a big one. If it slides down too much in this area, Wisconsin could be in for a long season.

Strengths: This front seven is the strength of the entire team. Although Wisconsin is now utilizing a 3-4, four starting defensive linemen return and one -- 6-foot-6, 250-pound Brendan Kelly -- will play one of the linebacker positions.

All-Big Ten linebacker Chris Borland is the star of the defense and will be in the conversation for many of the top defensive awards. He's already on just about every watch list right now and is probably the best Big Ten 'backer outside of Ohio State's Ryan Shazier. Ethan Armstrong is also a very strong linebacker -- he and Borland will likely finish 1-2 on the team in tackles.

On offense, Montee Ball is gone and nobody else can really carry the ball 39 times in one game like Ball did against Ohio State. But White is a nice changeup, a quick tailback who actually averaged more yards per carry (6.4) than Ball (5.1). And White carried the ball 125 times, so it's not as if that average is a complete anomaly. Running back remains a strength for Wisconsin, and the ground game should once again drive the offense -- even if the so-called driver is different.

Who to watch: LB Borland. One of the Big Ten's best linebackers missed last season's PSU game with a hamstring injury. He could've been the difference in the Lions' 24-21 overtime victory, and he'll undoubtedly play a big role this season.

This matchup will be the four-year starter's final home game. That motivated PSU DT Jordan Hill quite a bit in 2012 and, if Borland plays anywhere close to that level, PSU's offense could be in for some trouble. Borland's production last season was pretty similar to Gerald Hodges, so imagine if Hodges came back for one more season.

What you might not know: Bielema was the subject of quite a bit of controversy over the offseason, both because of what was said about him and because of what he said.

Former OSU president Gordon Gee said the following about Bielema back in December (the audio came to light in May): "Someone was saying to me, well, you know, Bret Bielema is leaving ... that was a blessing for Wisconsin and they knew it. Because he was under tremendous pressure. They didn't like him. Barry Alvarez thought he was a thug. And he left just ahead of the sheriff."

Of course, once that became public, Gee fervently apologized. And Bielema tweeted his apology.

And, in April, Bielema then said the following about Nick Saban: "You can take Saban's record when he was at Michigan State and when he was a coach in the Big Ten and put it against mine, and he can't compare." Of course, there was also this incident. And this one, too.

Early prediction: Wisconsin 24-20. The Badgers avenge last season's loss as their defense comes up big in the victory.