Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 6 Wisconsin.
Okay, this one is a bit of surprise. Wisconsin at No. 6 is a bold move, readers, and I commend you cheese-curd-loving goofballs for showing out for your team like this. That being said, the Badgers are in no way a top-10 team.
There are plenty of reasons why Wisconsin will probably repeat last season’s result of winning its division, getting backhanded in the conference title game, and probably winning its bowl game. But before we get to that, let’s step back from the roster and look at the new man running the show.
Given that athletic director Barry Alvarez has a knack for bringing in and driving out excellent coaching talent, this past offseason’s events really shouldn’t have been a surprise. The Badgers’ head coaching position has been a bit of a revolving door the past four years, with Bret Bielema, Gary Anderson, and current head coach Paul Chryst taking up the mantle. But there was still something bizarre about Anderson leaving the program for Oregon State, a team that really doesn’t register as a much of a competitor in the Pac-12.
But the team now belongs to Chryst, who comes in from Pittsburgh. Chryst was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, most famously during the Russel Wilson year, before taking the Panthers’ head coaching job. He did alright at Pitt, and with his background as an offensive mastermind who led players like Wilson, Tyler Boyd, and 2014 ACC Player of the Year James Conner to break-out seasons, he was a solid candidate for the job. Unfortunately, it seems Chryst is a year too late for us to consider him lucky.
Running back Melvin Gordon is gone, and with that, we pause for a moment so that all of Madison can stop weeping and collect itself, because you really can’t overstate how mesmerizing Gordon was last year. He rushed for 2,587 yards, scored 32 touchdowns, and averaged 7.2 yards per carry. Chances are we aren’t going to see a back get close to putting those numbers again for a very, very long time—the last person to run for more than 2,587 yards was Barry Sanders in 1988.
With Gordon gone, the Badgers will look to Corey Clement, who almost cracked 1,000 yards himself last year, rushing for 959 yards and nine scores. As the next guy up, he will have some big shoes to fill, but if he can come in and bump his yardage up to around 1,600 and provide the passing game some relief, then I think we can count his season a success.
Of course, that’s going to be easier said than done. Center Dan Voltz and left tackle Tyler Marz are all that remain of last year’s offensive line. The Badgers lost two All-Americans, and the new guys aren’t exactly grizzled vets filling in. Past Voltz and Marz, the rest of Wisconsin’s offensive line has combined for zero starts. I’m sure learning from some of the nation’s best linemen has helped them prepare, but so does game experience, and these guys have very little.
Under center is limp-noodle senior quarterback Joel Stave, who somehow won the starting job again this year. Last year, Stave threw more interceptions than touchdowns (10 to 9), completed just 53.9 percent of his passes, and rushed for -70 yards. I understand Wisconsin didn’t really need him with Gordon in the backfield, but damn man, a few more touchdown passes would have been nice. With Stave as the starter, no Gordon, an inexperienced line, and a weak receiving corps, this offense isn’t exciting anyone.
There is some good news, though. Namely that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is still in town to do what he does best: put together a stifling defense full of mullet-adorned white dudes. The Badgers return six starters from last year’s unit, which ranked fourth in total defense, 18th in points allowed per game, and 23rd in defensive FEI. The secondary is going to have to step up its game after a weak year in 2014, but expect the front seven to be ferocious as ever, with ends Arthur Goldberg and Chikwe Obasih joining linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert as the group’s top returnees.
There are many reasons you should know Vince Biegel. He led one of the nation’s best defenses last year in tackles for loss with 16.5, and was second on the team with 7.5 sacks. He’s the sole defensive Badger to consistently make preseason All-Big Ten rosters. Oh yea, he also had an honest-to-God mullet! The mullet is probably the most resistant haircut of all time. It should have died out years ago, along with the popularity of Billy Ray, Kid Rock, and Joe Dirt, and yet, it lives on. I commend you, mullet. Unfortunately/fortunately, Biegel chopped his lettuce to support childhood cancer. RIP Mullet.
No. The Badgers, no matter how much secret mullet voodoo they muster, cannot make the playoff. In order to make it there, Wisconsin has to beat either Michigan State or Ohio State, and that, my friend, is not happening.
The Badgers’ running game will be a shell of its former self with three offensive linemen and Melvin Gordon now departed from Madison. Corey Clement will probably do very well, and hit those numbers I talked about earlier, but what Gordon did transcended anything that Clement can accomplish, and allowed for Wisconsin to confidently give him the rock on pretty much every play. Stave is once again going to be very unwatchable as the starting quarterback, and Chryst, though a miracle worker, ain’t God. Winning the West should serve as enough for the Badgers this season.
Nope. The Badgers are still the surest thing in the Big Ten West, but when Ohio State or Michigan State are waiting for them in the Big Ten title game, doing it will have to mean winning their division and bowl game this year.
Sept. 5: Alabama
Sept. 12: Miami (OH)
Sept. 19: Troy
Sept. 26: Hawaii
Oct. 3: Iowa
Oct. 10: @ Nebraska
Oct. 17: Purdue
Oct. 24: @ Illinois
Nov. 7: @ Maryland
Nov. 14: Arkansas
Nov. 21: Northwestern
Nov. 28: @ Minnesota