Wisconsin Badgers football preview 2013: Best case, worst case, prediction

Photo: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

We wrap up the predictions for the 2013 Big Ten season with defending champion Wisconsin. The Badgers went off to Pasadena last year despite having suffered a string of incredibly tight losses – including, eventually, the Rose Bowl – which ended their season 8-6. Before their New Year’s Day bowl, however, came the biggest shocker of all: coach Bret Bielema took the vacant Arkansas job. As a result, a veteran-laden team will be led by former Utah State head man Gary Andersen in his first year at the program. Although a popular hire, his offenses at Utah State did not exactly match the ground-and-pound attack Wisconsin is known for.

That segues nicely into the other big question in the off season. Someone has to play quarterback in Andersen’s system. Joel Stave provided a spark last season but got hurt, suffering a broken collarbone. His replacement, Curt Phillips served as much more of a game manager. Finally, Tanner McEvoy choose to transfer to Madison after being rated one of the top junior college passers in the nation in 2012. With only one day before the Badgers’ kickoff against UMass, Andersen tabbed Stave as his starter. It will be interesting to see how long his leash is with two very good players waiting in the wings.

The rest of the roster, however, is filled with answers. Running backs James White and Melvin Gordon return and will have no problem filling the departed Monte Ball’s shoes. One of the best wide receivers in the league, Jared Abbrederis, is back for a final go-around. Elite tight end Jacob Pedersen returns as well. Defensively, a lot of talent also is back, led by one of the best linebackers in the country, Chris Borland.

All in all, if the Badgers quarterbacking situation and a smooth transition to a new coach work out, Wisco should be in contention to defend their belt as back-to-back-to-back B1G champs.

2013 schedule

Massachusetts: 1-11 (1-7) – MAC

Best case: The move up to the FBS level was not kind to the Minutemen last year. Things don’t get any easier out of the gate against one of the Big Ten’s better teams. 1-0

Worst case: Next to impossible to see a scenario in which the Badgers drop this one. 1-0

Prediction: The running game hits pay dirt early and often. W: 63-17, 1-0

Tennessee Tech: 3-8 (1-7) – Ohio Valley (FCS)

Best Case: You saw Tech’s record last year, right? 2-0

Worst Case: Again, not even a nightmare of a season could foresee Bucky dropping either of these first two games. 2-0

Prediction: A lot to a little. Seriously … W: 59-10, 2-0

At Arizona State: 8-5 (5-4) – Pac 12

Best Case: An early season statement on the road against a talented team. 3-0

Worst case: ASU is a popular sleeper way out West. Coach Todd Graham boasts plenty of players on both sides of the ball. Make no mistake, this will be a dog fight. 2-1

Prediction: Tempe has a history of big non-conference wins against the Big Ten. Odds of a loss are very high, so naturally I’m doing the dumb thing and taking Wisconsin. Other than a bowl game beatdown of Navy, the Sun Devils struggled a year ago against teams with good rushing attacks. Wisconsin will win a tight one that could see overtime. W: 35-31, 3-0

Purdue: 6-7 (3-5) – Big Ten

Best Case: A nice soft start to league play. 4-0

Worst Case: Badgers crushed them a year ago and this Boilermaker club looks worse than last year’s so I’ll stick with Andersen and Co. even in the nightmare possibility of worst-case season. 3-1

Prediction: A good rushing team against a club lacking a solid front seven. Uh-oh. W: 35-14, 4-0 (1-0)

At Ohio State: 12-0 (8-0) – Big Ten

Best Case: It won’t be easy on the road, but an upset is possible. Wisconsin took them to overtime in Madison last year. 5-0

Worst Case: When a new coach comes to town the results are usually mixed, some weeks good and some bad. This could easily be one of the bad weeks. 3-2

Prediction: I think later in the season with more quality opponents under their belt, Wisconsin might have been a bit more game, or if it was in Madison. This one’s still a very possible upset special, but OSU comes up big late, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with under five to go. L: 24-20, 4-1 (1-1)

Northwestern: 10-3 (5-3) – Big Ten

Best Case: A great game on paper as both love to run the ball and both are really good at it. I like UW’s defense here and expect it to be the difference. 6-0

Worst Case: Of course, if the “D” gives up a score that is north of 21-to-31 point, there is the fear that with no solid QB, UW might not be able to keep up. 3-3

Prediction: Very even game on paper and I expect it to play out as such. Vegas gives home teams three points so I’ll do the same. W: 24-21, 5-1 (2-1)

At Illinois: 2-10 (0-8) – Big Ten

Best Case: By now, Wisconsin’s defense is looking great and Illinois’ offense had more than its fair share of struggles last year. 7-0

Worst Case: An improved Illinois team catches the Badgers at home thanks to  tough Northwestern game the week before and contiued poor play at the quarterback position. 3-4

Prediction: Too much talent for the Badgers and that running game can shorten the clock once they get a healthy lead. W: 31-3, 6-1 (3-1)

At Iowa: 4-8 (2-6) – Big Ten

Best Case: Iowa has shown zero progress and the Badgers roll through to the top 10 in the national polls – heck, maybe even top five if there is some carnage at the top. 8-0

Worst Case: UW was ranked 115th in passing in 2012. See Iowa fans, someone was worse than the Hawks in the passing game a year ago! 3-5

Prediction: A big upset pick – I needed to make one that shakes up the league race. Iowa has a good front seven thanks to that linebacking corps and somehow shuts down the run without loading the box. This makes UW one-dimensional and the Hawks steal one. L: 20-17, 6-2 (3-2)

BYU: 8-5 – Independent

Best Case: BYU lost the majority of its road games last year and the common thread in all of them was struggling to score. UW has a pretty nice D on paper. 9-0

Worst Case: BYU had one heck of a defense last year and you can expect the same with any Bronco Mendenhall-coached club. The Badgers try find a way to put the game on Stave’s shoulders but he doesn’t respond. 3-6

Prediction: Wisconsin will be at a great record and in the hunt for a BCS bowl. W: 20-13 (each kick FGs), 7-2 (3-2)

Indiana: 4-8 (2-6) – Big Ten

Best Case: UW has absolutely steamrolled the Hoosiers in recent years. The Badgers move all the way up to No. 3 in the polls and are hoping for help. 10-0

Worst Case: Even in a lost season for UW, they should win this one at Camp Randall. 4-6

Prediction: The Badgers will be deeper, more experienced and the home team. Plus, don’t forget this one is in Wisconsin, where the team knows how bad the weather could be this late in the year and how much it may mess with the Hoosiers’ passing attack. W: 42-17, 8-2 (4-3)

At Minnesota: 6-7 (2-6) – Big Ten

Best Case: Title hopes dashed … Kidding!! 11-0

Worst Case: The folks who say Minnesota is breaking out are right and I’m eating a lot of crow after hammering Minnesota in my previews. 4-7

Prediction: Minny’s defense is basically an unknown entity right now. James White likes the idea of going against that type of unit, and he carries the team to a defense of Paul Bunyan’s Axe. W: 42-17, 9-2 (5-2)

Penn State: 8-4 (6-2) – Big Ten

Best Case: The Big Ten has a team go undefeated with a first year coach in consecutive seasons (Urban Meyer last year at Ohio State). UW is 60 minutes away from the title game. 12-0

Worst Case: Sub par quarterback play and Andersen’s new offense never finds its stride. Sconnie Nation endures one of the team’s worst seasons in a long, long time. 4-8

Prediction: On paper these clubs could be the most even in the league. The game plays out as such and we might even see some free football in OT. The win might not get Wisconsin to Indy, but a record good enough to earn an at-large BCS bid is not out of the question. W: 27-24, 10-2, (6-2)

Final thoughts:

With Michigan, MSU and Nebraska off the schedule as well as hosting PSU the Badgers’ 2013 slate sets up very nicely. Despite a new coach, a double-digit win total looks likely. With a QB stepping up and making UW more balanced, a fourth straight Rose Bowl, maybe even more for all we know, is possible.