Offensive: The Badgers, all about ball control and time of possession, led the Big Ten in total offense (416.9-yard average) and scoring (31.8). The offensive line might be one of the most formidable in recent Wisconsin history — and that’s saying something for a program that routinely cranks out NFL-ready blockers. It’s more good news for junior running back John Clay, an earth-mover who led the league with 1,517 rushing yards. Senior quarterback Scott Tolzien wound up with decent numbers overall, but didn’t produce much in the late season, putting more pressure on the running game. Tolzien has a decent flock of returning receivers, including junior Nick Toon, son of Al Toon, a former NFL star and one of the all-time great Wisconsin players.
Defensive: Wisconsin was the Big Ten’s best team against the run (and fifth nationally) last season, but there are three new starters on the defensive line. The Badgers are hoping to build around junior defensive end J.J. Watt, who must play to his all-conference potential. Quality players return at linebacker, including sophomore Chris Borland, last season’s Big Ten freshman of the year. Big-hitting senior safety Jay Valai is the secondary’s star.
Specialists: The Badgers are set with the return of junior Philip Welch (17 of 24 on field-goal attempts) at place-kicker and junior Brad Nortman (41.9-yard average) at punter. David Gilreath was consistent on kickoff returns (23.7-yard average) and returned a punt for a touchdown. Kickoff coverage set off some alarm bells, finishing 119th nationally last season.
Coaching: Bret Bielema turned things around in his fourth year, just when the program seemed to be sliding into mediocrity. He’s a believer in the mindset of running game and defense, which plays well in Wisconsin.
Heisman hopefuls: There are no realistic hopefuls, although Scott might get some secondary mention if he lives up to expectations.
Next up: No. 11 Texas
CFT: Johnny Manziel nearly transferred out of Texas A&M before the 2012 season after being suspended, according to reports, but he stayed after his successful appeal.
About 325 former Penn State players, among them Kerry Collins and Paul Posluszny, have signed a statement supporting the lawsuit filed by the family of former coach Joe Paterno.
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