(As Fall Camp approaches us faster than you’d think, we take a look at what to expect from each position group heading in to camp in our “Fall Camp Preview” series)
Sometimes you don’t know how good you had something until its gone. Wisconsin Badgers fans were treated to perhaps the single greatest season by a running back in college football history last season. Yet, given the moniker of “Running Back U,” many expect things to hum along just fine in 2015.
However, that could be a bit premature thanks to a few things happening in the offseason and a running back room that lacks a certain amount of experience heading in to this upcoming season than it did a year ago.
One thing is for sure, this team is now Corey Clement’s to take over. Will that happen and what will transpire behind him?
Let’s take a look at the most important position on the Badgers offensive roster.
What We Know: Corey Clement appears to be a stud, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Badgers. With Melvin Gordon gone this offseason will revolve around Clement in a way it has never before. There’s also little doubt that Clement can handle an increased workload or be a star back for this team.
Clement burst on to the scene in 2013, rushing for 547 yards on just 67 attempts. His 8.2 yards per carry average was tops in the Big Ten that year. Things didn’t change much in his sophomore season either, as the primary backup to Gordon went off for 949 yards and ranked 8th overall in rushing yards in the Big Ten. He also added nine touchdowns to his name on just 147 carries.
This season he’s “the guy” and there’s little question about his star potential. He’s been named to multiple first-team All-Big Ten lists in the preseason and is on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list as well.
Clement’s biggest need is to show up on the big stage, as he hasn’t really been counted on against tough defenses or in huge games during his career so far. Outside of the Auburn game, where he went over the 100-yard mark, most of Clement’s yardage and 100-yard games have come against the likes of Illinois, Indiana, Bowling Green, South Florida and UMass — a.k.a. the worst defenses UW has faced over the last two years.
There’s little to suggest he won’t be able to do it against better defenses or on a big stage, its just that we need to see it before crowning him so to speak.
What We Need to Find Out: Who is the second running back behind Clement?
For the first time in nearly a decade there isn’t a clear-cut second running back in the Badgers backfield. Gordon leaving a year early cemented that, as did a roster that has tilted much younger in the past two offseasons.
The contest for the backup job was one that was hardly over by the end of spring ball, but it appeared three main contenders did emerge. Converted cornerback Dare Ogunbowale was a pleasant surprise in 2014, rushing for 193 yards on 34 carries in very limited duty. Then there is the more bruising and punishing, but deceptively fast redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal showed up big time as spring went on and JUCO transfer Serge Trezy also began to be more comfortable as the spring went on.
Wisconsin is also adding two freshmen to the mix in 2015 with Bradrick Shaw out of the famed Hoover High School program in Alabama and the speedster Jordan Stevenson out of Dallas (Texas) South Oak Cliff. It leaves a mix of players with limited at best experience a ton of potential, basically a coaches dream heading in to a camp like this one.
Who will emerge to get playing time? Don’t be surprised to see a mix of Ogunbowale, Deal, Trezy and possibly Stevenson early on. All four bring something different and specialized to the table right now and could be useful as the season goes on.
Guessing at the one who gets the most carries? Given the progression from beginning of camp to end of it, don’t be surprised to see Deal end up with the most carries. He’s more of the classic Wisconsin back, able to bruise and punish his way down the field while also running past people when needed.
Player to Watch: Jordan Stevenson
Wisconsin and speed backs haven’t exactly gone hand-in-hand since Barry Alvarez came in to the picture. However, the Badgers found themselves one of the best backs in the 2015 class and easily one of the fastest. There was some worry about him not being on campus for workouts this summer, but head coach Paul Chryst made it know he would be here for the fall.
No doubt he’ll be behind the eight-ball in the learning department, but Stevenson is one talented individual and UW has no one like him in the running back group. His skill set could really mix well with Clement’s all-purpose look, Deal’s power and the speed that Stevenson can bring. I’m personally anxious to see how he fits in, even if he redshirts along with expected redshirt Bradrick Shaw.
*Update — It was announced on Thursday night (just one day after our preview went up) that Stevenson had been denied admission to UW. Obviously that makes this null & void. We’re going with Shaw then, as he’s got that combination of size, speed and vision that makes UW running backs so dangerous.
Projected Starter(s): Corey Clement