Granted the Badgers needed to find a quarterback, a new No.1 tight end and a starting running back, but if Wisconsin's didn't have validity on the left side of its offensive line with sophomore right guard Travis Frederick and junior left tackle Ricky Wagner, there's little chance the Badgers head back to Pasadena for the 98th Rose Bowl against Oregon Monday.
"That goes back to our coaches doing a great job of preparing everyone, our second and third string, and making sure we're versatile up front," said junior running back Montee Ball, a Heisman Finalists that enjoyed his linemen so much that he led the country with 1,759 rushing yards and 38 total touchdowns. "Travis has done a great job bouncing from position to position and Ricky has been solid out there all season."
Frederick and Wagner aren't the biggest names among Wisconsin's front five. In fact, one could argue they could be the last two behind first-team All-American center Peter Konz and seniors Josh Oglesby and Kevin Zeitler, both of whom are projected to be playing in the NFL next season.
But the versatility both have showed for Wisconsin's high-powered offense is nothing to be ignored. Frederick, a consensus second team All-Big Ten selection, started at left guard in 10 of the first 11 games only to move to center for the last two-and-a half games when Konz went down with an ankle injury.
"Computer science and computer engineering is a pretty good double major," said UW coach Bret Bielema about Frederick's two areas of study. "I think it does carry over on the field. He really has a grasp of what is going on around him all the time to be able to make the calls at the line of scrimmage. He's pretty conscientious."
Wagner was a consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection after starting the last 10 games at right tackle last season in place of the injured Oglesby. With Gabe Carimi having graduated, offensive line coach Bob Bostad felt confident enough in Wagner to flip him to left tackle and cover quarterback Russell Wilson's blindside.
As a result, Wagner started the first game of his career at left tackle against UNLV, hasn't missed a beat and was named a consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten on the left side.
"There were just minor adjustments I had to make and I have always practiced both sides before," said Wagner. "I think that helped me out a lot."
The path both have taken on this trip to Pasadena is unique. While Wagner blocked blitzing TCU backers from the right side last season, Frederick knew he had no chance of playing after deciding to redshirt prior to the season. While he made sure to enjoy himself to the fullest, he made sure to watch and absorb the experience in case Wisconsin would make it back to a BCS environment in his final three seasons.
"I got to see how our team was going to do things and although things didn't turn out our way, it gave me several lessons on how to do things," Frederick said. "In the back of my head, I thought our team could get back to the Rose Bowl and learn from those lessons."
The credit, according to both of them, goes to Bostad, who will leave after this season with offensive coordinator Paul Chryst for Pittsburgh. From the way they practice to the way he rotates players through his lineup, Bostad has developed four different offensive linemen into first-team All-America the last two seasons.
In terms of Wagner, Bostad developed him from a skinny walk-on tight end from West Allis, Wis., to a player Carimi said could be the school's next Outland Trophy winner.
"I took any advantage I could to get on the field," Wagner said, "and I think it worked out."
Chryst said Wisconsin never intended to try to replace Carimi and All-American left guard John Moffitt with Frederick and Wagner, but it seemingly has worked out that way. Wisconsin's offense is averaging a school record 44.6 points per game and has protected Ball and Wilson enough to allow the duo to have a hand in 88.5 percent of the touchdowns this season (69 of 78).
Even without their position coach next season, consider another year together a huge bonus for Wisconsin.
"Our chemistry developed really fast and Travis has really helped me out," Wagner said. "We communicate great together. We are always talking. We are pretty proud of what we had on the left side. We've had a pretty good year."