2012 Record: 8-6, 4-4 Big Ten. 3rd in Leaders Division.
Head Coach: Gary Andersen, first year. 26-24 in five seasons overall (FBS).
Offensive Starters Returning: 8
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
In 2012, Bret (a.k.a “Bert”) Bielema guided Wisconsin to its third straight Big Ten championship and the Badgers became the first team to represent the Big Ten in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan qualified following the 1976-78 seasons.
Of course, we all know that wouldn’t have happened if Ohio State was eligible last season.
But then Bielema bolted for Arkansas and the SEC.
To replace Bielema, athletic director Barry Alvarez introduced Gary Andersen as the 29th head coach in Wisconsin football history on Dec. 20, 2012. He comes to Madison after four seasons as the head coach at Utah State, where he led a program that had just six wins in the previous three seasons to a 26-24 record in his four years at the helm.
Most recently, Andersen guided Utah State to its most successful season in history in 2012. The Aggies won a school-record 11 games, went undefeated in the Western Athletic Conference and captured their first outright league title since 1936. To cap the season, USU defeated Toledo, 41-15, to win the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
For guiding Utah State to double-digit victories for the first time in history, Andersen was named WAC Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award. In addition to their first bowl win since 1993, the Aggies defeated three teams that finished the season with at least nine wins, with all of those victories coming away from home. That included a win at No. 20 Louisiana Tech, the first road win over a ranked team in the program’s history. Utah State also defeated in-state rival Utah for the first time since 1997.
Utah State finished the season ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 and was ranked in the AP poll in the each of the last three weeks of the regular season. The Aggies also made their first-ever appearance in the BCS standings, checking in at No. 22 in the final edition of the season.
Utah State was 4-8 in Andersen’s first two seasons, but improved to 7-6 overall in 2011.
Before taking the job the head coaching job at Utah State, Andersen was an assistant with stops at Utah, Northern Arizona, Park City High School, Idaho State, Ricks College and Southeastern Louisiana. Andersen was also the head coach at Southern Utah during the 2004 season going 4-7.
This season under Andersen, Wisconsin returns 14 of its 22 starters from 2012, with eight on offense, and six on defense.
Coach Andersen has yet to decide who his starting quarterback will be, and that decision will likely be made later in the week right before Wisconsin’s season-opener vs. Massachusetts on Aug. 31. His choices are between senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave. Phillips is more mobile, rushing for 99 yards on 27 carries while completing 56.8 percent (46-81) of his passes for 540 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Stave was 70-of-119 (58.8%) passing for 1,104 yards with six TDs and three INTs, but had minus-51 rushing yards in 19 attempts.
While Montee Ball and his 1,830 rushing yards with 22 touchdowns are gone, the Badgers still have two very capable running backs with senior James White and sophomore Melvin Gordon. White was second on the team last year with 806 yards rushing on 125 carries and 12 touchdowns. Gordon was third toting the rock 62 times for 621 yards and three scores.
All of Wisconsin’s top pass catchers return with senior WR Jared Abbrederis (49 rec., 837 yds., 5 TDs), senior TE Jacob Pedersen (27 rec., 355 yds., 4 TDs), sophomore WR Jordan Fredrick (17 rec., 196 yds., 1 TD), and sophomore FB Derek Watt (12 rec., 150 yds.), J.J.’s brother.
Three starting offensive linemen return with senior LT Ryan Groy, junior RT Rob Havenstein, and junior RG Kyle Costigan.
The Badgers return six starters on defense that includes three of the top four tacklers from a year ago with senior ILB Chris Borland, who registered 104 total tackles 4.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss. Other top stoppers are senior ILB Ethan Armstrong (93 tackles, 2 TFLs), and the only returning starter in the secondary, senior FS Dezmen Southward (69 tackles, 8 TFLs).
Conclusion and Prediction:
On paper, Wisconsin has the makings of being better this season with the possibility of posting nine or more wins, but the offense has to be more consistent and the inexperienced secondary has to play well.
Not surprisingly, the Badgers were third in the Big Ten in rushing offense (236.4 ypg.), but were dead-last in passing offense (156.9 ypg.). Wisconsin will need to be more balanced in hopes of a higher win total this season.
In 2012, UW was sixth in the Big Ten in scoring offense averaging 29.6 points per game, though that’s a bit skewed since the Badgers lit up the scoreboard for 70 points against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game and 62 against Indiana. But Wisconsin’s offense was also held to 14 points or less four times in losses to Oregon State, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Stanford.
The schedule is very favorable for the Badgers as they don’t have to play Michigan or Nebraska from the Legends Division. With that, going 9-3 or even 10-2 is possible, though they won’t make it to another Big Ten title game.