The dog days are coming, and that’s a good thing. With Big Ten Media Days kicking off on Monday, Land Of 10 is breaking down the three biggest questions each team is hoping to answer coming out of Chicago. We’ll post two per day, with one from each division, turning this time in the Big Ten West to ….
1. Was anyone missed more than Corey Clement?
The senior-to-be tailback suffered a sports hernia in the opener against Alabama and never quite got back on track. And neither, for that matter, did the Badgers, who saw their trademark rushing numbers land on the wrong side of the wood-chipper.
Wisconsin’s 3.8-yards-per-carry average was the program’s lowest since the They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named 4-5-2 Badgers of 1995, and a dip of more than three yards per tote — three! — off the previous autumn’s clip of 6.9. (Where have you gone, Melvin Gordon?)
After Clement rushed for nearly 950 yards and nine scores as Gordon’s understudy in 2014, the New Jersey native appeared sporadically (48 carries, 221 yards, five scores), and was mostly a non-factor. It also didn’t help matters that he reportedly instigated a fight at his apartment that led to a cut on his hand and $848 in fines.
In all, it was a bizarre four months, a stretch Clement understandably has no desire to live through again, even going so far as to change his number from 6 to 24 in the off-season to try to bury all that lousy mojo.
A green offensive line a year ago — Bucky started four redshirt freshmen up front at the Holiday Bowl — returns with more scar tissue and a point to prove. Pass-protection pains (11 sacks surrendered in three defeats) figure to be reduced, with or without veteran Bart Houston under center, while wideout Robert Wheelright has the frame (6-3, 202) and the goods (416 receiving yards, four touchdowns) to be a top-flight perimeter threat for whoever happens to be behind the wheel.
Regardless, it starts on the ground. When the Badgers ran for at least 87 yards as a team in 2015, they were 10-0. In Madison, the formula for success is the same as it ever was.
2. So can we fall in love with this defense too?
With three studs returning at linebacker in last year’s 3-4 set, including all-league second-teamer Vince Biegel (66 tackles, eight sacks), the parts are there, even if former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda — now at LSU, the Badgers’ date for the season opener — isn’t.
Plus, the front seven return largely intact. It might be a bridge too far to expect a repeat of the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense (13.7 points allowed per contest), but if the new faces in three of the four secondary spots mesh, there’s no reason to think the Badgers won’t be stingy again.
3. Who drew up this schedule, anyway — Stephen King?
All nine of the Badgers’ first nine foes — yes, that includes Akron and Georgia State — bowled in 2015. The curtain lifts with a neutral-site test at Lambeau Field against LSU that will probably tell quite a bit about both rosters.
And when you see the first six league tilts, hide the women and children. It’s a Murderer’s Row that includes games at Michigan State, at Michigan, home versus Ohio State, at Iowa, home against Nebraska and at Northwestern.
Defense and a run game always travel well, so a healthy Clement could very well put the Badgers into position to steal one they shouldn’t.
Not all 10-win seasons are necessarily alike, and If Chryst comes out of this meat-grinder at the end of November with double-digit victories in his back pocket, the man probably deserves a medal.
To say nothing of a hug.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler