We’re entering the final stages of countdown to the start of the 2014 Wisconsin Badgers football season, and with that there have been a lot of changes to the thoughts we’ve all had over the course of the summer.
Players we thought would rise up the depth chart haven’t, others we didn’t see coming have and some battles appear to be going right down to the wire. Having said that, there are some players who are likely to have bigger impacts on the 2014 season than others.
After three weeks of camp things are becoming clearer for how the Badgers are going to line up, and that means a clearer picture on who will have an influence on the 2014 season.
So, here is a look at the 10 players that will be the most important for UW to have success in 2014.
10. Lubern Figaro, S
Few saw Figaro as a likely candidate to start at safety next to Michael Caputo, especially given fellow freshman Austin Hudson got a head start by enrolling early. Yet, here we are just nine days away from the start of the Badgers season and Figaro sits atop the depth chart.
He’ll have to likely hold off Leo Musso when he returns to full health, but the fact that the coaching staff trust him enough to start against LSU speaks volumes as to his potential and his athletic ability. Given the way the defensive staff likes to use Michael Caputo, there’s even more emphasis on whomever is next to him being an athletic player able to range across the field quickly.
It doesn’t hurt that Figaro has already gained a reputation for being a film-study guru or that he’s also gained a reputation of not being afraid to stick his nose in on plays either. If Wisconsin’s secondary is to take a jump from good to great, Figaro’s ability has to shine in 2014.
9. George Rushing, WR
There hasn’t been a more talked about position group coming in to fall camp than wide receiver. What good is an accurate quarterback if his receivers aren’t getting open, right? That’s where true freshman George Rushing comes in to play.
Andersen and his staff were hoping to see him emerge as a potential playmaker this season, and over the course of three weeks that’s exactly what Rushing has done…and then some. He’s arguably been the most impressive of all three freshmen wide receivers, and it’s likely earned him some major minutes.
He’s showed sure hands, an ability to get off the line of scrimmage and most importantly, the ability to attack the football in the air when he’s going deep. Wisconsin needs a quality deep threat, and Rushing appears to be in line for that role in 2014.
If he comes up in games like he’s done in practice so far, the Badgers are going to be a lot deeper at wide receiver than some give them credit for.
8. Corey Clement, RB
All the national focus will be on Melvin Gordon, but the real secret to Wisconsin’s success has been a solid 1-2 punch at running back. Heck, some years it’s been a 1-2-3 punch. In 2014 it is up to Clement to be the No. 2 to Gordon’s No. 1. Considering the combo of James White and Gordon ended up setting the all-time record for most yards by a pair of running backs, Clement has a big role to fill. If he can produce his own 1,000-yard season it likely means Wisconsin is doing some serious damage on its schedule.
Regardless, the Badgers may only be two deep at running back in 2014, which make Clement nearly invaluable
7. Chikwe Obasih, DE
There may not have been a player who shot up quicker on the depth chart this spring than Chikwe Obasih. He went from a potential replacement at defensive end to a definitive starter. Nothing has really changed over the course of fall camp, other than a minor nagging injury that has kept him away for some of camp.
Heading in to the season, Obasih is expected to be a primary pass-rushing end and given the lack of pass rush from the line last season, it’s something badly needed for this team. Obasih has been a pain for the Badgers offensive line throughout spring and fall, so imagine what he’ll do against other left tackles in the league. Look for him to be vital to Wisconsin being able to attack the line of scrimmage instead of reading and reacting.
6. Vince Biegel, OLB
Just as Obasih is vital to the Badgers attack of the line of scrimmage off the right side of the defense, Biegel needs to be that on the opposite side. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but the redshirt sophomore will need to become “the man” at linebacker in 2014.
Wisconsin isn’t deep with pass-rushing talent and that means Biegel’s abilities are at a premium. He needs to stay healthy and be a name we hear every week for this defense to be a success this year, and that’s not hyperbole.
5. Reggie Love, WR
It’s safe to say Reggie Love had fallen down the peeking order of wide receivers fans took notice of entering the 2014 offseason. That can’t be the case anymore though, as Love has arguably been the biggest revelation of fall camp.
He’s gone from deep on the depth chart to a likely starter against LSU. The change has been part attitude and part being able to stay on the field for longer periods of time. Love has all the physical tools and anyone that’s seen this team practice prior to this year could see that, but it was mentally changing things up that has made the difference.
Putting those two pieces of the puzzle together could make him a scary receiving threat and Love could be the Badgers biggest threat in the red zone passing game. That is something that was completely missing outside of Abby last season, and now there are multiple options…with Love at the top of that list.
4. Dan Voltz, C
Voltz hasn’t been 100 percent healthy as of late, and it seems like that’s been the case since he walked on to the UW campus. However, after a spring without him, Wisconsin’s offensive line appears 100 percent ready to go in 2014. Those who have seen camp also have taken note of just how good a center he is, with some suggesting he’s one of the three best in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin’s offensive line could use that kind of talent, especially if Voltz can stay on the field for a full season. His athletic ability and command of the line make him invaluable. Lose him and Wisconsin is looking at putting a true freshman in to the mix, and as good as Michael Deiter has been — that’s a less than ideal situation to say the least.
3. Warren Herring, DT
Normally a nose guard isn’t one of the most counted on players on a football team. He’s also usually not one of the most talked about players either. Such is the life of Warren Herring and the fact that he’s one of, if not the most experienced defensive lineman the Badgers have (Konrad Zagzebski may have more starts but not more experience).
Herring’s ability to play stout at the point and to attack up the middle of an offense is a rare thing for a Wisconsin defensive tackle. At 285 pounds, Herring also appears to have the ability to play on the outside in certain situations. His ability to play all along the defensive line gives the Badgers so many options they didn’t have in 2013, and it means this defense can be more of the version Aranda envisioned upon arriving.
Buckle up, because this could be a very fun season watching the defense and a lot of it will have to do with the play of Herring.
2. Melvin Gordon, RB
All this guy has done is average 8.1 yards per carry…for his career at Wisconsin. Gordon has also already racked up 2,328 yards and had 16 touchdowns — all while sharing time with the likes of Montee Ball and James White.
Entering 2014, Gordon is the Badgers biggest offensive weapon, and he’ll be the featured back by himself for the first time in his career. That’s got to scare opposing defenses, and so does having an offensive line that returns healthy and intact from last season. We all know Gordon’s big play ability, but we are likely to see him more involved in the pass game this season too.
We say, give him the ball in open space and let him do his thing…perhaps all the way to the Heisman Trophy and the College Football Playoff? We’re not sayin’, we’re just sayin….
1. Joel Stave, QB
Some may say without Melvin Gordon running wild on opponents every week the Badgers are screwed. However, the truth is, we all saw what an inconsistent quarterback can do to derail an otherwise potent offense. Such was the case with Stave last season, and that was despite him putting up some of the best single season numbers of any Badger quarterback in history. All that does is speak to the potential Stave has and how few people realize he’s just a junior in 2014.
He appears to have won the battle with fellow junior Tanner McEvoy, and he may have become a better quarterback because of the constant competition. The fact that he won this battle should also give fans comfort that he’s better than he was last season. Without progress from Stave there’s no way McEvoy isn’t the quarterback in 2014.
That said, Wisconsin needs a vertical passing game that works if they are to really be a force on the national scene. Stave has the arm, now it’s about showing the good decision-making and consistency to make opposing teams pay for over-committing to the run.
It’s that part of the game that makes Stave the most important player the Badgers have in 2014.