TOP 25 COUNTDOWN
No. 20 Wisconsin
9-4, 5-3 Big Ten (lost to Tennessee, 21-17, in the Outback Bowl)
8 offense, 9 defense
at Fresno State, Sept. 13
Player to Watch
Travis Beckum, senior tight end
Almost everyone has heard of running back P.J. Hill. What about Beckum? Perhaps he lacks star power, but he is the nation's top tight end, with the size (6 feet 4) and sure hands that helped him make 75 catches for 982 yards last season.
Why They're Worth Watching
The Badgers won't blow away anyone by doing the spectacular; they just wear down opponents by doing everything solidly. How balanced are they? Wisconsin rushed for 200.8 yards per game, passed for 208.0 yards per game and ranked 38th nationally in total defense last season. That could be why the Badgers made their fourth consecutive January bowl appearance. After the departure of just a handful of key players, Wisconsin should be in the same position this year. A veteran line anchors a sound offense that features the bruising Hill and the athletic Beckum, which should help ease the transition at quarterback. Losing cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu is a hit, but Matt Shaughnessy, a tall (6-6) and powerful pass rusher, and Jonathan Casillas, leader of a talented corps of linebackers, should bolster the entire unit. A schedule that includes home games against Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois and a fairly lax nonconference slate also could ease the Badgers' path.
Why They're Vulnerable
Sure, Beckum is back, and Hill is also a big asset. But Wisconsin has questions at quarterback after the departure of the efficient and heady Tyler Donovan, who limited mistakes in an offense that asked him simply to manage the game. Senior Allan Evridge, whom Donovan beat out last year to earn the starting job, is the likely candidate to become the starter. The wide receivers around him also are relatively inexperienced. If Evridge struggles to shift into the role and relies too heavily on one receiver (Beckum) or the rushing game (Hill), it will burden an offense that was productive last season because of its balance. Evridge has been working with teammates this summer in order to smooth the transition, but it will be vastly different when he's staring down Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis or throwing into coverage against Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis.
-- Mark Viera
No. 19 Tennessee.
No. 25 Arizona State, No. 24 Alabama, No. 23 Cal, No. 22 Penn State, No. 21 Wake Forest.