Melvin Gordon watched the Heisman Trophy ceremony last year and envisioned having his own front-row seat. To reach that perch, he's set his sights on a big number—2,000 yards. "It's definitely a goal I want to reach," Gordon says. The entire Badgers roster should share the desire. A Heisman-worthy campaign from the 6'1", 213-pound junior would indicate the team has found the answers needed to push for a playoff berth.
Gordon's appearance in New York City will mean redshirt junior quarterback Joel Stave has successfully returned from a right-shoulder injury suffered in the Capital One Bowl last January and kept opponents from loading up against the run by bettering his 2013 performance when he became only the third QB in school history to complete more than 200 passes (208 for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns). It will also mean viable receiving options have emerged besides junior wideout Jordan Fredrick, who's the Badgers' leading returning pass catcher after pulling down all of 10 balls last year. And it will mean Wisconsin has controlled the clock, keeping a defense that lost five starters off the field.
Gordon ran for 1,609 yards last year, and if his fellow Badgers can provide balance, he should do better this season. If it all coalesces, Wisconsin will have a shot at sneaking into the Playoff.
The 6'2", 268-pound freshman Chikwe Obasih rose up the depth chart at defensive end this spring and should start on a defense looking for speed. If the undersized Obasih delivers outsized results on the pass rush—or simply setting the edge—the Badgers won't get pushed around. That will allow an experienced secondary to jump throws made under pressure and improve on the nine picks they snared in '13.
Big Ten expansion and realignment shoved Ohio State and Penn State out of the Badgers' division and brought in Nebraska and Iowa. The result is a series of games that are winnable but won't do much to impress the playoff committee. If it beats LSU in a taxing Week 1 showdown in Houston, Wisconsin might cruise until November matchups with the Cornhuskers (at home) and at Iowa. "We try to make a statement when we play anybody," senior noseguard Warren Herring says. "LSU is no different."
SI POWER RANKINGS / By Rotowire.com
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SPECIAL TEAMS 81%
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
I don't know of a program in the last 20 years that has won as many games as they have without a quarterback that anyone has heard of. They have guys that just manage the game, to use a cliché. They're going to find the three to five throws that [Joel Stave] can make and stick with those. They'll say, Hey, you know what, he shoots a 12-foot jump shot really well. Let's not make him shoot 18-footers. They need just enough of a threat at receiver to loosen up the defense. But they've made a living on the ground. When they break the huddle, everyone knows what they're going to have up front with those five big dudes and the tight end. You think you have enough guys in there to stop the run, and they still run it. You leave a game with Wisconsin after getting your face kicked in and go, Who were those guys?
Defensively, their 3--4 scheme presents some problems. They're really good at it. It's not too flashy, but they never make a bunch of mistakes.
MICHAEL HICKEY/GETTY IMAGES (GORDON)
COURTESY OF BRIAN MASON/WISCONSIN ATHLETICS (OBASIH)