B1G shoes to fill: Wisconsin Badgers

Spring practice provides an opportunity for teams to hash out which players will take over for departed seniors or early NFL draft entrants. Wisconsin won 10 games last season in Paul Chryst's first season in charge, but a Big Ten West title proved elusive. The Badgers will reload at several key position groups, and the rest of the starters will be determined over the coming weeks and months. Here is a look at a few important positions that will feature new faces.


Why: Some Badgers fans may have been fed up with Stave's perceived lack of improvement during his career, but he still started -- and won -- games in each of the last four seasons. In 41 starts, Stave's record was 31-10, which eclipsed the previous career wins mark established by Brooks Bollinger. Last season, Stave completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,687 yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He saved one of his best performances for last, when he completed 18 of 27 passes for 217 yards with a touchdown in a bowl victory against USC. He also returned from a broken nose to help lead the game-winning scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

Replacement candidates: Bart Houston (6-foot-4, 232 pounds, senior), Alex Hornibrook (6-4, 216, freshman)

The skinny: Houston enters spring practice with a slight edge based on his experience. He has appeared in 15 career games and is the only quarterback on the roster to have thrown a pass in a college game. He replaced an injured Stave against Illinois last season and helped lead Wisconsin to a 24-13 victory. Hornibrook could be the answer if he can prove to be a more consistent passer than Houston in practice. Even if Hornibrook loses out on the starting job, he would become the backup and the likely candidate to start in 2017.

B1G SHOES TO FILL: Michael Caputo, S

Why: Wisconsin loses three of its four starters in the secondary. But perhaps no player is more valuable than Caputo because of his intelligence, toughness and leadership. He finished fourth on the team with 65 tackles and led the Badgers with eight pass breakups. But consider that he ranked second in tackles in 2013 and first in 2014. He has been a staple in the back end for quite a while, and replacing all his intangibles could be difficult.

Replacement candidates: Leo Musso (5-10, 186, senior), D'Cota Dixon (5-10, 202, junior), Arrington Farrar (6-2, 208, sophomore)

The skinny: Musso and Dixon both worked with the first-team defense during last Thursday's spring practice, but Farrar could emerge as a viable starter as well. Musso and Dixon each played in all 13 games last season in backup roles. Farrar played in 12 games. Badgers defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard expressed confidence in his cornerbacks and safeties because of their playing time last season, but it remains to be seen how they will take to a more prominent role.

B1G SHOES TO FILL: Joe Schobert, LB

Why: Schobert was spectacular last season, a disruptive force who was named the Big Ten linebacker of the year and an ESPN.com All-American. He ranked second on the team with 79 tackles and led the Badgers in tackles for loss (19.5), sacks (9.5), quarterback hurries (14) and forced fumbles (five). He and Vince Biegel formed a powerful duo as pass rushers off the edge, and it was a big reason the Badgers finished first in the nation in scoring defense and second in total defense.

Replacement candidates: T.J. Watt (6-5, 243, junior), Jack Cichy (6-2, 221 junior)

The skinny: Watt began spring practice as the man tasked with filling Schobert's shoes at outside linebacker. He played in all 13 games and recorded eight tackles with three pass breakups and four quarterback hurries. Despite limited action, his QB-hurries mark ranked third on the team. There was some thought that perhaps Cichy would step in at outside linebacker, but he has spent time in spring rotating at inside linebacker. Shoring up this spot early in spring practice can only be beneficial for the Badgers, whose front seven should be especially stout with so many returning starters.

B1G SHOES TO FILL: Alex Erickson, WR

Why: Over the past two seasons, Erickson caught more passes than any other player on the team, and it wasn't even close. Erickson finished with 132 catches during that span for 1,750 yards and six touchdowns. The next-closest reception total in that time belongs to running back Dare Ogunbowale (36). Receiver Rob Wheelwright has the next-highest yardage total (433). Erickson provided a stabilizing No. 1 receiver threat as Wisconsin struggled to find consistent depth at the position.

Replacement candidates: Rob Wheelwright (6-3, 203 senior), Jazz Peavy (6-0, 182 junior)

The skinny: Wheelwright and Peavy are the receivers this team is banking on most to replicate some of Erickson's success. Wheelwright was in the midst of his best stretch in a Wisconsin uniform when he suffered a leg injury against Illinois in Week 8 last season. He could be the Badgers' No. 1 threat in 2016. Peavy caught 20 passes for 268 yards and appeared to catch the game-winning touchdown with time waning against Northwestern before it was overturned by referees in a controversial decision. Wisconsin is still looking for a third receiver to emerge from a pool that includes Krenwick Sanders, George Rushing and Reggie Love.