Weâ€™re under a month until the Wisconsin Badgers put the pads on and begin the journey to Houston, Texas to take on LSU. After ending the 2013 season on a two-game losing streak, this spring and summer has been all about forging a new path forward under Gary Andersen.
UW faces life without James White, Jared Abbrederis, Chris Borland, Beau Allen and a host of other major contributors heading in to 2014. That means finding new playmakers and relying on Andersenâ€™s systems starting to take over, and that means turning to the players he has recruited.
However, what makes this incoming class of freshman even more important is the fact that it is Gary Andersenâ€™s first class that is all his own. No left overs from the Bret Bielema era, the class of 26 players are all Andersenâ€™s guys and that means the crutch of not having “his” players is now gone.
Given the big holes left by departure and the need to transform into the full image of Andersenâ€™s style, it will be on this class to make an impact early on in their Badger lives. So, who are the ones most likely to make an impact?
Here are the five freshman x-factor players for 2014:
1. Michael Deiter, C/OG
Deiter stepped in to a situation most freshman would fold under, as he enrolled early and was immediately thrust in to a starting role at the most important position along the offensive lineâ€”center. Deiter also slid over to left guard in the starting rotation when not playing center and by all accounts more than held his own. Given the injury history of Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen, he could be called on often this season. Having depth along the offensive line is something UW is just finally rebuilding and Deiter could be the biggest building block to that in 2014.
2. Krenwick Sanders, WR
When you hear about a receiver going off for 279 yards and six touchdowns in a state playoff game it grabs your attention. When that state is Georgia it better really grab your attention. Taking a look at Sandersâ€™ tape one sees a ton of potential to be great, and given the fact that Wisconsinâ€™s wide receivers either canâ€™t stay healthy, are inconsistent or both Sanders and the other four receivers signed in this class have a great chance to contribute right from the start. Of all five signed, Sanders looks the part already and I fully expect him to make his mark right away.
3. Jeremy Patterson, DTÂ
Georgia was very kind to the Badgers in the 2014 class, and by a lot of accounts itâ€™s already paying off in the form of Jeremy Patterson. If reports from summer workouts are to be believed, Patterson should have a major impact on the defensive line in 2014 and beyond.
#Wisconsin DL Jeremy Patterson is "doing things that other guys on the team can't do" per @Evan_Flood http://t.co/VMwQY4aSrJ @GroomsJody
— Ryan Bartow (@RyanBartow) July 3, 2014
His quick emergence will really help the Badgers be able to do some different things along the line in 2014 that they werenâ€™t able to do in 2013 given the personnel available. In fact, look for the defense to look a lot different as a whole because of the versatility the defensive linemen in this class bring to the table.
4. RafaelÂ Gaglianone
Itâ€™s not exactly a state secret that Wisconsinâ€™s place kicking game hasnâ€™t been good over the past two years. Last season it got so bad that Jack Russell replaced Kyle French, who in turn couldnâ€™t be trusted outside of 40 yards and made life difficult for the offense during the latter half of the season. At least Russell was capable inside 40 yards, making nine of his last 11 field goals on the year.
However, thereâ€™s a reason UW went after big-time kickers in the class of 2014 and Gaglianone is one of the strongest legs Iâ€™ve seen at his level in a very long time. One doesnâ€™t hit three 57-yard field goals as a fluke at a camp.
It helps Gaglianoneâ€™s case that Russell was shaky in the spring game, however coaches also said Russell was great in spring practice outside of the game. Thatâ€™s the problem though, when everyone sees him he hasnâ€™t performed up to snuff. Look for this to be a big battle in camp and if Gaglianone can be consistent heâ€™ll win the job.
5. Tawain Deal, RB
Yes, Wisconsin has two great running backs already in the fold in junior Melvin Gordon and true sophomore Corey Clement, but thatâ€™s all UW has on the depth chart heading in to the fall. Tawain Deal represents the pure power back the Badgers need to add to the mix. At 6â€™2″, 225 pounds Deal could be the future workhorse back for UW, but in 2014 he could be the guy that pounds you in to submission after Gordon and Clement have you gasping for air. Deal looks like the real deal (pun intended) and thereâ€™s little doubt his body is ready to go, camp will tell us if heâ€™s picking up the offense fast enough to be a major player out the gate.