Badgers preseason watch list breakdown

Last season, Michael Caputo led the Badgers in tackles with 106 and also posted six tackles for loss, one sack, six passes broken up, an interception, four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

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The college football season doesn’t start for over another month, but the past two weeks have been another season of sorts: the announcement of award watch lists.

These lists are, by and large, irrelevant. Players can make the watch list and flame out. Or not make the watch list and end up winning the award (which does happen). Also, some lists are quite inclusive — the Bednarik Award, for example, had 80 players on its watch list.

However, here’s what the watch list accomplish: they set expectations for certain players and also provide confirmation that they are highly regarded around the country.

Take a look at last year’s Badgers who were on watch lists, for example: Melvin Gordon, Rob Havenstein, Dan Voltz and . . . Joel Stave.

If my math is correct, that’s four players. This year, Wisconsin has six players on watch lists. Take that to mean whatever you wish.

Clearly one of the most important players on Wisconsin this season is senior safety Michael Caputo, who made his way to four award watch lists: Bednarik (defensive player of the year), Bronko Nagurski (another defensive player of year), Jim Thrope (defensive back) and Lott IMPACT (character and performance). Last season, Caputo led the Badgers in tackles with 106 and also posted six tackles for loss, one sack, six passes broken up, an interception, four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

Caputo is hardly the only Badgers player on multiple watch lists.

Defensive mate Vince Biegel made three lists. The junior linebacker joined Caputo on the Bednarik and Nagurski lists and also is on the Rotary Linebacker (lineman/linebacker) list (but, interestingly, not the Butkus, given to the top linebacker). In 2014, Biegel had 56 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

Junior running back Corey Clement is on two lists — and could well be on three if he makes Friday’s Walter Camp watch list. If that doesn’t speak not only to Clement’s talent but also the running back tradition at Wisconsin, I don’t know what does. Clement made these lists despite not having rushed for 1,000 yards in a season. He had 547 yards as a freshman and 949 as a sophomore. Now, as a junior, he inherits the starting role. Here are the rushing yards for Wisconsin’s starting running back in the past few years: 2014 –Gordon, 2,587; 2013 — Gordon, 1,609 (206 carries) and James White, 1,444 (221 carries); 2012 — Montee Ball, 1,830; 2011 — Ball, 1,923.

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Another reason for Wisconsin’s productivity at running the ball is the offensive line and Voltz, a junior, made two watch lists: Rimington (again) and Outland (interior lineman).

Alex Erickson was Wisconsin’s top receiving option last season — and some might say only option. He was included on the Biletnikoff watch list coming off his 55-catch, 772-yard season. (It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Erickson is a finalist for the Bulsworth Trophy as well, given to the nation’s top player who started out as a walk-on).

After all the kicking issues Wisconsin had in recent years, that was solidified last year thanks to Rafael Gaglianone. The sophomore was included on the Lou Groza Award watch list, given to the nation’s top kicker. He made 19 of 22 field-goal attempts last season, including two of 50-plus yards.

Wisconsin is well represented on the watch lists. The Badgers don’t have anyone listed on the Mackey (tight end), Ray Guy (punter), Butkus (linebacker) and Wuerffel (community service) awards.

Of course, that doesn’t mean a Badgers player still couldn’t win one of those (could a tight end emerge in Paul Chryst’s offense?).

Welcome to watch list season.

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