This is the 11th in a series of 11 previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team’s Aug. 4 start of practice. You can find the entire series here.
Today’s position: Coaches
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 8
Head coach: Gary Andersen (second season with Badgers), 35-28 overall at Utah State and Wisconsin, 9-4 at Wisconsin
Coordinators: Andy Ludwig, offensive coordinator (second season with Badgers), Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator (second season with Badgers)
Position coaches: Chris Beatty, wide receivers; Thomas Brown, running backs; Bill Busch, safeties; Jeff Genyk, tight ends/special teams coordinator; Chad Kauha’aha’a, defensive line; Ben Strickland, cornerbacks; T.J. Woods, offensive line; Andy Ludwig, quarterbacks
From the top down: Year 1 of the Gary Andersen era at Wisconsin was deemed a success by virtually every pundit across the college football landscape. It’s no easy task taking over a program that has come to expect 10-win seasons and Big Ten championship game appearances. And while Andersen’s team didn’t quite possess all the parts necessary to reach that goal, the Badgers came close. Some might choose to remember Wisconsin’s two losses in its final two games, but Andersen proved up to the task of being a coach at the highest level of college football, and hope for the future abounds.
Andersen and his coaches have now had more than a year to implement their philosophies and recruit players to fit their scheme. Defensively, that means quicker, more athletic players that could make the Badgers more exciting in the big-play department. The offense, meanwhile, continues to evolve, as well, with the inclusion of dual-threat quarterbacks on the roster.
Unlike past seasons, Wisconsin’s coaching staff remains almost entirely intact. The only loss was running backs coach Thomas Hammock, who accepted a position in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. The importance of continuity on the coaching staff cannot be overstated, particularly with a group of players used to having new position coaches seemingly every year. Consider that the offensive line went through four coaches in the span of just a couple seasons, while the team had three offensive coordinators in the same span.
On defense, coordinator Dave Aranda continues to gain respect in the college football world for his knowledge and execution. In his first season at Wisconsin, Aranda installed a 3-4 defense and helped guide the Badgers to a top-20 defense in all four major defensive statistical categories: rushing defense (fifth), scoring defense (sixth), total defense (seventh) and passing defense (17th). Much of the team’s success, Aranda said, was because he had veteran players that played the same base defense as they did under the previous coaching staff. Still, Aranda deserves credit for sustaining that success. And with a retooled front seven in 2014, expect to see more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Offensively, coordinator Andy Ludwig will have to continue to be creative, particularly as the team searches for more consistent wide receivers. Ludwig has running backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement at his disposal, and it remains to be seen which quarterback — Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy — emerges as the starter. But given the talent in the backfield, on the offensive line and at tight end, the Badgers should put together an exciting offense.
Some may forget just how successful Wisconsin’s offense was in 2013 because the Badgers didn’t win a conference title or a bowl game. But in Ludwig’s first season in charge of the offense, Wisconsin amassed more than 500 yards of total offense five times and set a school record by averaging 480.4 yards per game. UW also averaged 34.8 points per game, which was the third-best mark in program history. It should also be noted Wisconsin finished the year as one of only four FBS teams to surpass 3,500 rushing yards and 2,500 passing yards, joining Oregon, Northern Illinois and Ohio State.
Wisconsin’s knowledgeable position coaches, coupled with continuity of staff and leadership from the top makes the Badgers one of the top staffs in the Big Ten.
Best of the Big Ten: 1. Ohio State; 2. Michigan State; 3. Nebraska
All Urban Meyer has done in his first two seasons at Ohio State is go 24-2, including a perfect 24-0 during the regular season. By his standards, he’d probably consider that mark a disappointment since neither season included a national championship game appearance. The Buckeyes were on postseason probation in 2012, and they faltered in the Big Ten title game and Orange Bowl last season. Still, Meyer has the Buckeyes primed to be the cream of the Big Ten crop once again, with quarterback Braxton Miller leading the way.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio helped his program take a significant leap last season, finishing 13-1 with a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl victory. Without an early loss to Notre Dame, perhaps the Spartans would have contended for a national title. In seven seasons at Michigan State, Dantonio is 64-29 with a 38-18 conference mark. He’s also won his last three bowl games.
Coming in at No. 3 on this list is Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, and though some may deem such a spot too high for a man without a conference title, Pelini’s overall body of work is worth noting. In six seasons, his teams have never won fewer than nine games, and he’s 58-24 overall. Few cities in America have a college football fan base as ravenous as that in Lincoln, and it seems Pelini has been on the brink of being ousted at least a couple of times. But he continues to persevere and win games. He’ll have to take a step up and make a run at a conference title, but you’d expect the Cornhuskers to be a favorite in the Big Ten West for years to come.
Dave Aranda says: "This year’s team is not last year’s team. We will be slanting, stunting and blitzing more. Smaller. I think we’ll be more athletic. We’ll be quicker and faster. The stoutness and everything is not going to be there just because that was a special group of guys. You ID what you have and then you try to maximize as best you can."