Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jesse Temple will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Badgers’ success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find every report here.
Note: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Wisconsin will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered. The list does not include incoming freshmen because their potential impact is unknown at this time.
No. 3 — Corey Clement, running back
Why he’s No. 3
The highest-ranked sophomore on the list is a player capable of producing electric runs at any moment and someone who would be the featured tailback at almost any college football program in America this season. Corey Clement is in line to be the next great Wisconsin running back, and if he and starter Melvin Gordon play at the level many expect, the pair could be the best 1-2 tandem in college football this season.
Clement came to Wisconsin as one of the most highly decorated high school tailbacks the Badgers ever had. In his freshman season, he didn’t disappoint, averaging 8.2 yards per carry. He finished the year with 547 yards rushing and seven touchdowns as the team’s third-string running back. How many third-stringers have you ever seen rush for more than 100 yards in three different games, all in the second half?
For a player that only ran the ball 67 times last season, expectations for Clement are immense — in much the same way as expectations were high for Gordon a year ago. If Clement comes close to splitting carries with Gordon, it won’t be a surprise if he eclipses the 1,000-yard mark.
"We have a lot of weight on our shoulders," Clement said in April. "We know what Wisconsin actually represents. It’s Running Back U. So we just have to show that each week we come out. I don’t really see anybody else hopefully being a competition to us in the regular season. Because I believe this offseason we will put in a lot of work. Nobody should really be able to touch us this year."
Clement, at 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, possesses both power and speed. And with James White now in the NFL with the New England Patriots, Clement recognizes this year is his time to shine.
"I think my biggest thing was just being patient," Clement said. "I knew I was going to have mop-up duty or whatever. I tried to be naive to it, just be like I want to try to work hard this offseason and try to possibly get in the mix early in the game. But it’s hard with James and Melvin still playing in front of you. So I was just being patient."
Both Gordon and Clement said they wanted to develop as all-around running backs, with an ability to pass protect, line up at receiver or catch passes out of the backfield on screens. Last year, White was the primary receiver out of the backfield, catching 39 passes for 300 yards with two touchdowns. Gordon and Clement combined for two catches for 19 yards.
"I have hands," Clement said. "I’ll say that. I have hands. I would like to capitalize on my pass protection and my speed as well. The game is only going to get faster. In this day and age, I want to get faster, have the next gear just to break away, just to become a speedy threat. I’m a downhill threat, but I also want to be a speedy back as well."
Let the excitement and expectations for a Gordon-Clement duo commence.
What would they do without him?
If Clement wasn’t a factor this season, Melvin Gordon likely would wind up garnering the Montee Ball treatment from two seasons ago. In other words, Gordon would carry the ball 30 times per game and wind up with some of the best statistics in the country. It’s best for Wisconsin — and for Gordon and Clement — that the Badgers don’t need to rely on a single player. In the current setup, Gordon and Clement can essentially share carries so neither player exhausts himself.
It worked last season for White and Gordon, who set an FBS record by combining to rush for 3,053 yards. Expect it to work again in 2014.