New look Badgers have same old-school feel
Nearly nine months have passed since that stunning December day when Bret Bielema, Barry Alvarez's hand-picked commander of the University of Wisconsin football program, jumped on the Southeastern Conference money train and bolted to Arkansas.
A few weeks after that, Gary Andersen was hired by Alvarez to succeed Bielema.
It's been a proper gestation period, and by the looks of things not much has changed.
As one veteran observer of Wisconsin football told me, "Alvarez wouldn't hire someone who would drop the running game."
"We've got to have three quality running backs," Andersen said in early August. "This is a running offense. It's a powerful offense. It's a grind."
The Badgers enter the 2013 season as the No. 23 team in the country in both the Associated Press and USA Today polls, due in large part to who is filling the shoes of Montee Ball in the backfield.
James White is the veteran tailback and has earned his carries and preseason lead-dog status. But then there's burner Melvin Gordon, whom Sports Illustrated predicts will rush for over 1,000 yards and become the Big Ten Conference's "breakout star."
"They're both going to get a ton of reps," Andersen said Monday. "We have running back A and B or running back one and one, however you want to put it. They'll be effective in the offense and be a big part of the offense and both have big play capability."
Then there's freshman bruiser Corey Clement, a 5-foot, 11-inch, 210-pounder out of Glassboro, N.J., who came to the Badgers as ESPN's No. 14 running back recruit in the country. He is the number three running back, and those that have seen him this offseason can't see how he doesn't see the ball, and often.
"He has a purpose; he came here for a reason," Andersen said of Clement. "We're never going to play a young man when he's not ready, but that's the guy right now. We're looking to jump in there and say, are you going to be that third guy? If he can, he can. If he can't, then, again, as always, you will adjust. That may require a position move.
"That's what all those long staff meetings we have is to make sure we're putting the right kids in the right spots. But right now we're expecting that to be Corey's show, and we'll see if the young freshman is ready to handle it. It's a lot of pressure, but that's one of the reasons he came to Wisconsin.
"I think there's enough room for three backs to get reps at times. If there's two highlighted kids, if they stay fresh all year long, what a great opportunity for Corey to learn watching those kids go through it, and if he can get the travel experience, if it was warranted to give him that, and get in on some special teams and get into some offense, that would be, in my opinion, a productive year."
As it stands, the Badgers only have two ranked teams on their schedule – No. 2 Ohio State and No. 22 Northwestern. But, Arizona State did receive plenty of consideration in both polls and there is a thought Penn State and BYU might be tougher plays than anticipated late in the season.
New coach, new team, no matter.
To get back to where we want to be – and everybody in the Big Ten wants to get to the same place. They all want to get back to the Rose Bowl," Andersen said. "To get there, you're going to have to play at a high level, and.500 in the league, I don't think, is going to get you back to the Rose Bowl.
"The bottom line is last year that championship game was an unbelievable football game. They were physical. They were tough. They were well-prepared. They did what they had to do. But to get back into that game is the challenge. You've got to win. You've got to win on the road. You've got to protect your home turf. You've got to play at a high level."
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