WISCONSIN BADGERS Head coach: Bret Bielema Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in the Big Ten; lost 21-17 to Tennessee in the Capital One Bowl. Spring practice: March 8-April 19.
Wisconsin has the potential – thanks to 17 returning starters – to be a surprise team in the Big Ten this season. Still, there are concerns at quarterback, safety and on special teams. Here's a look at the Badgers, who begin spring practice March 8.
P.J. Hill returns after an injury-plagued sophomore campaign.
Hill, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, is All-America-caliber but some may question whether he's the Badgers' best running back. Zach Brown stepped in when Hill suffered a leg injury and rushed for 568 yards. Lance Smith, who couldn't play in road games, averaged 6 yards per carry last season. And just for good measure, the Badgers also have redshirt freshman John Clay, a five-star prospect in 2007. Urbik, an All-Big Ten guard, heads a list of four returning starters on an offensive line that paved the way for Wisconsin's 21st-ranked running game in 2007. The Badgers need to improve in pass protection, though. Wisconsin was solid against the run and had a decent pass rush last season. Three starters return on the defensive line, most notably Shaughnessy - an All-Big Ten performer who had 18 tackles for losses last season.
HELP IS NEEDED
Pleasant and Carter return as starters at safety, but both struggled at times in 2007 and need to raise their performance or risk being ousted from the starting lineup. The special teams are a mystery. An All-Big Ten kicker and a consistent punter are gone. The roster has several possible replacements with good high school credentials, but no college action.
KEEP AN EYE ON
OL John Moffitt: He made six starts at three positions – left tackle, left guard and right guard – when other starters were hurt. This season, look for him to settle into a position of his own.
WR Nick Toon: Already a big target when he was a four-star recruit, Toon bulked up even more in his redshirt year and figures to challenge sophomore David Gilreath for a starting job. Toon also could be used at tight end.
SS Jay Valai: The former three-star prospect redshirted in '06 and played a reserve role last season. But he could challenge for a starting job at safety.
HIS TIME IS NOW
The Badgers appear loaded everywhere except at quarterback, where senior Allan Evridge is expected to step in. Evridge started six games at Kansas State in 2005, but has played little since transferring to Wisconsin. He sat out the '06 season and threw 12 passes as Tyler Donovan's backup last season.
Defensively, the Badgers didn't play up to expectations in '07, so showing improvement there is a priority - especially with Wisconsin expecting to start a seldom-used quarterback in '08. Getting comfortable with that quarterback also will be a key element of the spring. So is settling on a kicker and punter.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.