There's no way to replace a guy like Chris Borland.
As I detailed before the season, Borland is the type of player you rarely find in today's college football. The Wisconsin sophomore linebacker might have fared better in the leather-helmet era, when men played 60 minutes and participated in all three phases of the game, stiff-arming specialization.
Borland did it all for Wisconsin in 2009, recording just about every statistic you can think of, including PAT conversions, en route to winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. His big-play ability really stood out, as he recorded five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception.
It's why Tuesday's announcement that Borland will miss the remainder of the season because of recurring shoulder problems is such a blow for the Badgers. You could see this coming after Borland reinjured his surgically repaired left shoulder for the second time in three games Saturday against Arizona State. Coach Bret Bielema mentioned after the game that Borland had a redshirt year available, a telltale sign that the standout linebacker might not be back.
Wisconsin is definitely making the right call to preserve Borland's long-term health -- he should have no trouble earning a medical hardship and will retain three years of eligibility -- but the short-term impact is significant.
“After talking with our training staff and with Chris, we decided that the best thing for Chris was to shut him down for the rest of the year,” Bielema said in a prepared statement. “Obviously, Chris is a tremendous player and a ferocious competitor, but after looking at all the options, everyone agreed this was the only option for him.”
Borland's departure places a greater burden on linebackers Culmer St. Jean, Mike Taylor and Blake Sorensen to not only produce, but to stay healthy. Sorensen had a strong preseason and has carried it over into the first three games, recording 16 tackles and an interception. Wisconsin also needs second-stringers like Kevin Claxton to step up.
The Badgers missed Borland for most of the game against Arizona State, which had success running up the middle. Wisconsin is fairly unproven at defensive tackle, so the linebackers and veteran safeties Jay Valai and Aaron Henry really need to help in run-stopping.
Borland also was a major factor on special teams as a freshman, and Wisconsin will miss his presence on those units.
Wisconsin will be a lot better off when Borland returns in 2011. But for a team with legit Big Ten title hopes this season, this really stings.