MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon very well may be a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014. But when asked this week about his individual goals for the season, Gordon instead raised a few eyebrows with his declaration of team goals.
"I didn’t come back to win this or that, to win the Heisman," Gordon said Wednesday on a teleconference previewing Big Ten spring football games. "People talk about that. I don’t really feel like that’s important. The goal right now is really a national championship. Wisconsin has never had one before. That’s my goal and that’s our team goal."
No player, of course, would ever issue a goal to be on a team that lost all of its games. Still, it remains to be seen whether Gordon’s confidence in his team is based in reality. Gordon said he kept a poster of the inaugural College Football Playoffs on a wall in his apartment, which served as his own motivation to reach the sport’s first final four.
For what it’s worth, the betting site Bovada listed Wisconsin at 40/1 odds to win the College Football Playoffs — tied for the 19th-best odds among all teams. Ohio State (10/1) and Michigan State (20/1) were the only Big Ten teams given better odds to win the title. But with questions abounding for Wisconsin — at quarterback and wide receiver on offense, in the secondary and the front seven on defense — the Badgers certainly don’t appear to have their best team in recent memory.
"I didn’t know that was coming," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said of Gordon’s comments Thursday after spring practice. "It doesn’t surprise me from Melvin, though. Melvin is one that expects to play at the highest level and be the best of the best. I guess I would say this: I’m sure glad he said that and then he followed that up by the comment of simply saying ‘I’m not looking to go out and have to win the Heisman’ and things like that. That says a lot about what Melvin is about. But he is driven to be the best of the best, and that’s the way I think those comments bring out.
"Some may deem those as, ‘Wow that’s a wow statement a little bit.’ But to me, I deem that as Melvin speaking his expectations. What’s wrong with that at the end? People may look at that in different ways, but I don’t. I look at that as a competitive kid who has greatness on his mind. It’s an exciting time for him and his life. He has high expectations. So, we’re not going to come out and say that as a team. We’re not going to jump around and make T-shirts that say that. But that’s his goals and his objectives."
Wisconsin plays its most difficult season opener in years when it squares off against LSU on Aug. 30 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. If Wisconsin can win the game — and that’s a big if right now — the Badgers could have an opportunity to put together a special season.
Wisconsin’s remaining three nonconference games are at home against Western Illinois, Bowling Green and South Florida. And the Badgers do not play Big Ten foes Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State in 2014. Wisconsin, then, could be favored in the rest of its regular-season games.
Stave update: Andersen said quarterback Joel Stave’s rehab on his injured right shoulder began Thursday — two days after Stave said he would miss the team’s final three practices. Stave has been dealing with soreness in his throwing shoulder from an AC joint injury sustained Jan. 1 in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina.
Andersen noted the injury would not require any type of surgery.
"I’m confident that he’s going to be fine," Andersen said. "I’m confident that he’s going to be ready to go as early as June when the kids return for their summer workouts. It’s just that 10 days that he’s going to gain right now. Some may say it’s just a week. He’s already been evaluated, where we would have been evaluating next Monday or Tuesday. Why wait? So that’s why I had a sense of urgency to get it started."
Obasih impresses: Andersen said that, if the season began today, redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih would be a starter at defensive end.
Obasih, a 6-foot-2, 245-pounder from Brookfield, Wis., was a three-star Scout.com recruit who finished with 101 tackles and 24.5 tackles for a loss as a senior in high school. He could be a vital piece to the front seven, which lost six starters off last year’s team.
"High school kids, a lot of time at defensive line when they’re so dominant and they’re so strong, they have a tendency to really play high because they can," Andersen said. "They can get away with it. But he’s developed pad level. He’s developed the ability to play with his hands. He controls his feet very well. And now his mind has cleared. The waters have calmed.
"His ability to react to what’s coming his way after spring break just kind of really developed and gave him the opportunity to get in position to make plays. And then he was the toughest guy last year on the scout team day in and day out as far as just coming out and knocking around. As light as he was then he just kept on fighting and battling. So he has a toughness that we learned he had a year ago and that’s just continued to grow."