Wisconsin Badgers: Joel Stave the key to doing more than winning West


The last time we saw the Wisconsin Badgers football team play in a meaningful game, they took a 59-0 shellacking by the eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.  That game could easily be considered one of the most embarrassing losses for the Badger program.

If that loss wasn’t bad enough, Badger fans had to watch multiple players leave, whether it was to the NFL or graduation.  Most notably, the Badgers lost Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon and the offensive line trio of Rob Havenstein, Dallas Lewallen, and Kyle Costigan.

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Yet despite the 59-0 blowout and the loss of some key players, the 2015 outlook for Wisconsin is very bright.

The main reason behind the optimistic outlook is the cupcake of a schedule the Badgers have this year.  Despite opening the season against NFL-caliber Alabama, Wisconsin has 11 very winnable games after that; the most difficult being at Nebraska on Oct. 10 and closing the regular season out at Minnesota on Nov. 28.

After Wisconsin’s Dallas showdown with Alabama, their next three non-conference games are against Miami of Ohio, Troy, and Hawaii, all at home.  In a soft Big Ten West and with an even softer schedule, it’s extremely plausible to picture Wisconsin finishing with another 10-2 record and returning to the Big Ten title game; even if that means another potential beat down by Ohio State.

Nov 29, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Joel Stave (2) during the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 34-24. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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On the offensive side of the ball, the Badgers will be fielding the best running back nobody talked about last year in Corey Clement.  Clement showed bursts of speed and explosiveness similar to Gordon last season, and while it’s impossible to expect Corey to replicate what Gordon did, the drop off between the two may be smaller than you think.

Past the running game, Wisconsin’s offense will be a bit of a question mark heading into the season.  Quarterback Joel Stave has a great opportunity being able to learn from head coach Paul Chryst, who has a reputation of getting the most out of his quarterbacks.  Stave has the chance to get over those “yips” he’s been having the past few seasons and be the true leader of this offense.

It won’t be easy for Joel though, losing many parts of his offense including three offensive linemen, and returning limited outside weapons.  Wisconsin will still have Dan Voltz and Tyler Marz on their line, but will have to plug in three new starters.  The Badgers will have to rely on their long history of big, talented offensive linemen along with good coaching to continue their production.

Stave’s weapons on the outside are a different story however.  The Badgers will be returning their top receiver, senior Alex Erickson, but lose weapons like Kenzel Doe and Sam Arneson.

The formula for how Wisconsin runs its offense won’t change this season, as they will continue to look to pound the ball with their offensive line and see what Stave can do for them in the air.  The pressure has undoubtedly grown on Stave entering this season if not solely for the fact that he doesn’t have much to work with.

If Wisconsin wants to make a legitimate push for a Big Ten title, Stave’s going to need to play the best season of his Badger football career.

Aug 30, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) rushes during the first quarter as Wisconsin Badgers safety Michael Caputo (7) makes a tackle at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While the offense has a healthy amount of uncertainty surrounding them heading into the season, Dave Aranda’s defense should continue to dominate.  The Badgers are returning seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including safety and captain Michael Caputo.

There’s no arguing that the strength of this top notch defense is their secondary.  Bringing back Caputo along with corners Darius Hilary and Sojourn Shelton should be more than enough to argue that Wisconsin has one of the best secondaries in the league.

The combination of a talented defense with a coordinator who will be fielding NFL head coaching offers until he decides to leave makes the Badgers a threat.

If the Badgers want to make more noise than a Big Ten West title, it lies on the shoulders of Joel Stave.

Next: Offense Stumbles In Saturday Scrimmage

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