The shock has long subsided from the surprise departure of coach Gary Andersen in the wake of a third Big Ten championship game appearance in the past four years. Wisconsin, after another Barry Alvarez-coached postseason -- a victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl -- appears unified behind former Wisconsin quarterback and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who returned home from Pitt.
Spring practice marks the next step in this new era for the Badgers, who have won 10 or more games four times in the past six seasons.
Schedule: The Badgers open practice Sunday, followed by two workouts next week and three in the final full week of March. They will break from March 28 to April 7 before the final nine practices of the spring wrap with the April 25 spring game at Camp Randall Stadium.
What’s new? Only defensive coordinator Dave Aranda remains from the Andersen staff. Chryst brought offensive coordinator and line coach Joe Rudolph, defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield, special-teams coach Chris Haering, tight ends coach Mickey Turner and running backs coach John Settle from Pittsburgh. Secondary coach Daronte’ Jones coached at Hawaii; outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar spent last season at Northwestern; receivers coach Ted Gilmore comes from the Oakland Raiders.
Biggest question: Can the offense roll along without Melvin Gordon? History tells us the answer is yes. The Badgers have barely missed a beat at this position since well before the days of 1999 Heisman winner Ron Dayne. Since 2005, in fact, six backs have combined to produce 10 consecutive years with at least one 1,000-yard rusher. And with Corey Clement, who rushed for 949 as a backup last year, the position appears to be in good hands. But Gordon provided an extra dose of star power, rushing for 2,587 yards as a junior under the tutelage of Thomas Brown, the running backs coach whom Chryst retained, but then watched depart for Georgia in February. As the Wisconsin quarterbacks struggled, Gordon put this offense on his back. Can Clement do the same? The Badgers hope it’s not necessary in 2015. Nevertheless, Gordon leaves sizable shoes to fill.
Three things we want to see:
1. Joel Stave taking charge: Chryst’s history with Wisconsin quarterbacks is impressive. You might remember the work in 2011 with Russell Wilson, who set an FBS record for passing efficiency. The previous season, Scott Tolzien won the Unitas Award as he completed 72.9 percent of his throws. The 6-foot-5 Stave needs a bit of that senior-season magic. He fought the yips last year and played in just the final eight games, throwing for 1,104 yards and six touchdowns. This spring is a new start.
2. A rebuilt right side of the offensive line: The Badgers return Dan Voltz at center and Tyler Marz at left tackle to anchor the line. But the loss of guard Kyle Costigan and tackle Rob Havenstein stings on the right side. Ray Ball looks like a solid replacement at guard, and redshirt freshman Michael Deiter ought to be ready to fill a key role. Hayden Biegel is an intriguing option at tackle as a third-year sophomore. Several additional, untested big bodies crowd the roster.
3. Inside linebackers emerging: Wisconsin’s defense carried it through the dark moments of 2014. And even when the offense played better in November, there remained no doubt about this team’s strength -- that is, until the Big Ten title game debacle. From their spots in the heart of Aranda’s unit, Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch served as the Badgers’ unsung heroes. And they’re gone. It’s up to a group led by rising junior Leon Jacobs and sophomore D’Cota Dixon to recreate the production.