First-year head coach Gary Andersen inherits a program coming off three straight Rose Bowl appearances with three different quarterbacks. But the 2013 Badgers will look completely different than past years.
At Utah State, Andersen built a solid program in just a few seasons. For the first time since 1990, Wisconsin hired a coach outside the program. But Anderson is well-schooled in projects. He doesn't have to rebuild the UW program, just maintain the recent success while adding his own touch to the program as he replaces highly successful Bret Bielema, who left to take the head job at Arkansas.
"I'm not interested in comparing what was different, whether that may have been what we deem as being great, good or indifferent," Andersen said. "There's going to be differences when you take over a program. It's important to put your own stamp on it. So I've never asked the question of how things work. There's a lot of different ways to do it. And there was a lot of success."
Despite a revolving door of quarterbacks in 2012, the Badgers maintained their excellence and arrived in Pasadena again. Once again, quarterback is one of the central positions to watch for the Badgers. Joel Stave, Curt Phillips, who started in last year's Rose Bowl, and maybe even Tanner McEvoy are the main players vying for the starting quarterback position. Losing Montee Ball hurts, but James White is an unsung player ready for the spotlight and handling the bulk of the carries at tailback, along with Melvin Gordon.
"James and Melvin (are) very complementary to each other, very different in their styles," Andersen said. "Those two packaged together, whether they're on the field at the same time or separately, cause a lot of problems. You saw it last year when there was times when Melvin got out there and lined up and the fly sweep was very effective in some games for them, and James was in the backfield sometimes. Montee was there a lot obviously, but James was in there, too. So it will be hopefully a very powerful 1-2 punch."
The Badgers have some big question marks in the secondary, with safety Dezmen Southward the lone returning starter. Linebacker Chris Borland returns as the centerpiece of the defense, while linemen Beau Allen, Brendan Kelly and others try to mask the holes in the secondary until some newcomers develop.
"All defenses come with challenges," Andersen said. "But we've done it enough to make it fit.
The Badgers' path to a fourth straight Big Ten title rests on a favorable schedule, with a key game of the year coming on Sept. 28 at Ohio State. Andersen gets a couple of games to adapt to his new players, and vice versa. The Badgers open with two straight home games against UMass and Tennessee Tech, both being pushovers for the Badgers. A Sept. 14 game at Arizona State is one of the more intriguing non-conference games for a Big Ten team this season. The Badgers host Purdue before traveling to Ohio State, which finished with an undefeated mark last season.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Besides their first two games, both at home against UMass and Tennessee Tech, the Badgers have a mix of games with some challenges. The third game, at Arizona State, is a tough match for any Big Ten team. In the heat and against a fast and improving ASU squad, the Badgers will experience their first true test of the new regime. Closing out the month at perhaps the league's top team, Ohio State, might further determine if the Badgers are a true threat for a fourth straight Big Ten title.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: A steady and healthy offensive line. It's strange to say the Badgers' offensive line struggled last season, considering the success of the unit the last several years. But Wisconsin's offensive line was in constant flux, much like the quarterback spot, during the 2012 season. The loss of Andy Frederick further complicates things.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The quarterback and secondary positions. The Badgers have a QB battle early in fall camp between Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and Tanner McEvoy. Phillips has the most experience due to his time at Wisconsin battling through several injuries. Stave has the best arm, but he lacks good footwork to run the offense. McEvoy is a dark horse. The secondary returns just one starter in S Dezmen Southward. In the pass-happy world of college football, the secondary took a big hit with the denial of junior-college transfer Donnell Vercher. Several young players will have to grow up in a hurry to help the defense avoid allowing big points early in the season.