(Over the next few weeks we’ll be giving you some good old fashioned Badgers opposition research…aka a look at the 2015 schedule after the 2014 season)
As signing day took over our coverage, we’ve got to get back to looking at Wisconsin’s opposition heading in to the depths of the 2015 offseason. So, what better way to get back in the swing of things than by getting it started with the team everyone is going to focus on for the next six months — the Alabama Crimson Tide.
2014 Record: 12-2
2014 Billingsley Ranking: No. 5
2014 Team Stats: *courtesy StatMilk.com
Key Losses: QB Blake Sims; WR Amari Cooper; S Landon Collins; RB T.J. Yeldon; LG Arie Kouandjio
Key Returning Players: RB Derrick Henry; LB Reggie Ragland; C Ryan Kelly
Biggest Offseason Storylines:
- Who Plays QB1?
This seems like a cut and dry scenario, as Sims barely beat out FSU-transfer Jacob Cocker for the starting job this season. Coaches liked what Cocker brought to the table but Sims showed he was the right choice as the season went on. However, last season is in the past and Cocker needs to show he can lead the 2015 offense as they must replace the top two wide receivers and also find another back besides Derrick Henry.
Cocker is likely to get a challenge from soon-to-be junior Alec Morris, but there are a gluttony of talent quarterbacks behind them in names like sophomore Cooper Bateman and the No. 1-ranked dual-threat QB in the 2015 class, Blake Barnett.
As long as Alabama solves this question it should be great shape going ahead on the offensive side of the ball.
- Can Offensive Line Step Up?
Just like at Wisconsin, it is usually next man up on the Crimson Tide offensive line and just like at Wisconsin this offseason there are three players to replace on the offensive line heading in to 2015. Combine that with a new quarterback and a newly minted starting running back and the play of the offensive line becomes paramount.
How that group develops over the course of spring is going to be key to making sure they are ready for Wisconsin on opening day.
- How Will Bama’s Defense Adjust?
Anyone that saw the final three games and those games only likely were wondering what happened to the Crimson Tide defense. That group gave up an average of 226 yards per game, the most during the Nick Saban era at Alabama.
It wasn’t just the secondary, who stumbled at times and will lose both safeties Landon Collins and Nick Perry, it was the whole group who had issues down the stretch. That said, the secondary may well be the key to how quickly or if Alabama makes a jump on that side of the football.
Can Geno Smith be a consistent player, something he was far from in 2014. The biggest issue may be the fact that there is no experience behind Smith and they may turn to freshman Deionte Thompson. While Thompson is a 5-star recruit, there is no guarantee he will be the answer to the questions back in the secondary so early in his career.
Way-Too-Early Prediction: Alabama 28, Wisconsin 21
Some fans are bracing for a butt kicking, and that’s fine given the fact that it’s January and most casual fans aren’t looking that hard at the opponent. However, this isn’t the Alabama team of three or four years ago.
In fact, Bama has some of the exact same issues as the Badgers do heading in to the offseason and given that this is the first game of the season that’s a great equalizer for the Badgers. Had this game been in Week 2 or 3 the scenario could be a lot different.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Alabama is able to replace its missing parts with high 4 and 5-star talent nearly everywhere. Talent plus good coaching is hard to beat and Bama has a lot of both. While it’s tempting to pick a butt-kicking, one look at the rosters of these two teams suggest this game is going to be close…so expect some more heartbreak against the biggest teams and let it sink in now.
UW’s Chances for Victory: 30%
Alabama is a dangerous opponent and the history of where the Crimson Tide program has been versus where UW has been could scare a lot of people. However, a more sober look at these two programs and who they could be in 2015 suggests they are much closer than we would’ve thought. Both have to find answers at many of the same positions (quarterback, secondary, offensive line, wide receiver, etc) and that should give Badger fans more hope than when this game was first announced. That’s not to say this will be a 50/50 matchup, but it will be much closer than the history of these programs suggests.