New coach, same goals at Wisconsin
New coach, same high expectations at Wisconsin.
It’s up to Gary Andersen now to keep the Badgers’ streak of three straight Big Ten titles going after Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas last December.
Not many coaches get the opportunity to take over a major college program in the middle of such a successful run. Andersen, 49, arrives in Madison after four seasons at Utah State, which went from 4-8 to 11-2 during Andersen’s tenure.
“It’s awesome to walk into a program and these kids expect to win. When they jog out of the tunnel every single day … there’s not one ounce of them that’s intimidated by anybody in the country,” Andersen said at Wisconsin media day. “And we expect to win.”
The key test will come at Leaders Division foe Ohio State on Sept. 28. If the Badgers can pull out a win on the road against the powerhouse Buckeyes, then Wisconsin could be in the running for a fourth Big Ten crown.
In fact, the Ohio State game is the start of a tricky four-game conference stretch that also includes Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium and visits to Illinois and Iowa. The Badgers also travel to Arizona State on Sept. 14.
Five things to watch for the Badgers heading into season:
1. QB COMPETITION: Returnees Curt Phillips and Joel Stave appear to have the early edge after the first major scrimmage of camp Monday. Stave was 4-1 as a starter before breaking his collarbone Oct. 27 against Michigan State. Phillips, a sixth-year senior, started the season’s final five games, including the 70-31 romp over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. “I think there’s been some slight separation at this point,” Anderson said about the quarterback race without running down the depth chart. A third QB candidate, junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy, was mired in “turbulent waters right now,” Andersen said after the scrimmage, though he was hopeful the newcomer would bounce back.
2. ONE GUY … FOR NOW?: Andersen seems to prefer sticking with just one quarterback. Maybe. Perhaps it’s just a matter of giving opposing defensive coordinators something to think about, but Andersen didn’t entirely rule out using multiple quarterbacks after Monday’s scrimmage. “I’m not interested in platooning, but if you’ve got a young man who’s got a set of skills who can really cause some issues for the defense as far as their preparation time and can still give you an advantage, I think it’s something we would always look at,” he said. “But right now, that is not the plan.”
3. REPLACING MONTEE: That blowout of the Cornhuskers? It was more due to the dominant running game that featured FBS record-holder Montee Ball, who is now taking NFL training camp handoffs win Denver from Peyton Manning. But the Badgers backfield is still stocked between James White and Melvin Gordon, who combined for more than 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns backing up Ball. Andersen wouldn’t mind having a starting quarterback who can throw deep to help keep opposing defenses from packing the box.
4. SHAKE IT UP: Andersen plans to mix up the looks on defense, which has six starters returning. “We’re going to cause deception, we’re going to cause miscommunication,” Andersen said. He’s hoping for turnovers, too. After adjusting to a 3-4 scheme in spring ball, Andersen said this week the unit is playing appears to be displaying the aggressive attitude he’s hoping it will display. “I felt we kind of caught fire a little bit with emotion,” Andersen said after the scrimmage. It helps that senior linebackers Chris Borland (104 tackles in 2012) and Ethan Armstrong (93 tackles) are back, though Armstrong has been sidelined by a left leg injury. He hopes to return for the season opener Aug. 31 against Massachusetts.
5. MAIN MAN: Speaking of Borland, the linebacker already has a big fan in his new coach. “Tremendous kid, tremendous leader, and I believe he’s the best linebacker in the country,” Andersen said at Big Ten media days. The senior from Kettering, Ohio has the credentials to make a run at the Bednarik Award for college football’s top defensive player, including 13 career forced fumbles — one shy of tying the FBS record. The transition to a different defense has been aided by having familiar faces on the field. “We’ve got enough older guys, enough leaders where it’s been pretty seamless, the transition itself. Schematically, it works for us, too,” Borland said.