Front Seven - UTEP

One week after all eyes were on the offensive line, the focus of Badger Nation this week will be on the quarterback position, making whoever lines up under center all that more important. Badger Nation's popular feature - the Front Seven - is back, rankings the top seven players based on performance, expectations and need.

MADISON-After Wisconsin fired Mike Markuson last week, a lot of Badgers fans were wondering how the offensive line would play under interim offensive line coach Bart Miller. As many fans watched the game, they saw improvements along the offensive line after a disastrous performance, but they also could tell the Badgers still have a lot to work on.

Even though fans didn't see the dominant offensive line they have known for the last three seasons, fans will be interested to see if the offensive line takes a jump this coming week. Although people will have to wait on that answer, many want the answer to who will start at quarterback for the Badgers final nonconference game.

Starting quarterback Danny O'Brienwas pulled at halftime for redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave. O'Brien was pulled because, like in past games, he was struggling to drive the football. But the main reason was he fumbled the football late in the first half in Badgers territory, which led to a Utah State touchdown that put them up 14-3.

Who ever does start for the Badgers on Saturday knows that the quarterback play will have to be better then what it was the past two weeks. If it's not the offense could struggle again.

The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week, and need. It was not easy determining who would be important in helping the Badgers to a victory who want to end there non-conference season on a strong note.

Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses

1, Joel Stave, QB (NR): If Stave does get the start it will be interesting to see how he plays and how much of the playbook will be open to him considering he only attempted six passes in the second half. Stave would have had a better game if his receivers didn't drop two of his passes. Stave supposedly has a stronger arm then O'Brien and if Stave does get the start it will be interesting to see if the offense tries and open up the passing game with some longer throws. During fall camp Stave had trouble taking care of the football. Maybe since fall camp has ended, Stave has started to take care of the football.

2, Danny O'Brien, QB (2): In Bret Bielema's press conference on Monday he knew who was going to start on Saturday but wouldn't reveal who it was. Even though Bielema declined to name a starting quarterback I think O'Brien will get the start, but you can also expect that he'll have a short leash. O'Brien has turned the football over three times in the last two games. It could have been four if his interception wasn't nullified due to a late hit. The main reason O'Brien was named the starting quarterback after fall camp was due to the fact that he didn't turn the football over. Well O'Brien is going to have to get that fixed and fast if he wants to remain the starter for the rest of the season.

3, Montee Ball, RB (NR):Who ever does start for the Badgers at quarterback, fans can expect to see Ball getting a lot of touches. Through three games last season, Ball had only carried the football 48 times for 272 yards. This season, Ball has carried the football 84 times for 320 yards. I know the Badgers have needed Ball to carry the load in order to win there close games but you have to worry about how he'll be at the end of the season. Ball still hasn't been able to find a rhythm offensively yet but hopefully if the line's play progresses throughout the season, Ball can get into a rhythm.

4, Mike Taylor, LB (NR):Taylor had a great game on Saturday against Utah State, although Taylor will remember the touchdown he gave up on a wheel route opposed to his 15 tackles. Even though he gave up the first touchdown, Taylor made up for it by helping the defense shut out the Aggies in the second half. Taylor will need to work on his pass defense and it will be important that the rest of the defense helps him to not put him in an exposed position.

5, Kenzel Doe, WR (NR): Doe was able to spark the Badgers in a big way last week - returning a punt 82 yards for his first collegiate touchdown. When the Badgers were recruiting Doe out of North Carolina, they figured he could come in and help the Badgers return game when David Gilreath departed. That was not the case last year with the emergence of Jared Abbrederis. With Abbrederis getting injured during the Oregon State game, Doe got his chance as a punt returner, and that touchdown may give him confidence not only as a returner but also at receiver.

6, David Gilbert, DE (3): The Badgers' defensive line had yet to produce a sack through two games, but that changed when Gilbert recorded the first sack of the season for the d-line. He also added seven tackles, making Saturday by far Gilbert's best game this season. On the contrary, the Badgers' defensive line could have sacked Chuckie Keeton more then once considering the way they were getting after him in the game. With the way the Badgers were pressuring Keeton, it helped make the defensive backs jobs a lot easier. If Gilbert can play like he did on Saturday night the rest of the year then he can show why the coaches were high on him coming into the season.

7, Melvin Gordon, RB (NR): Gordon had limited touches in the game for only two carries for 18 yards, but you saw that the coaches wanted to get the young talented freshmen out on field in anyway possible. Gordon also filled in for Abbrederis as the kick returner, a role he expects to fill on Saturday even if Abbrederis plays. Even though Gordon only touched the ball twice, the staff had him lined up at receiver and put him in motion. It's safe to say the Badgers coaches want to try and get Gordon in space where he can use his athleticism and speed to make defenders miss. Also something to keep an eye on for Saturday is how many snaps will Gordon get compared to James White. It seemed like the coaches were trying to get Gordon more involved in the game on Saturday then they were with White. White hasn't received a lot of carries so far this year either (15 carries for 69 yards). Either Gordon or White will have to show something in practice so they can earn more carries in the game so the Badgers don't have to rely on Ball so heavily.

Others to Note

WR Jeff Duckworth: I know Duckworth didn't have a catch on Saturday but he's going to have to step his game up. The Badgers maybe able to afford only completing a total of seven passes two of which went to the wide receivers but when conference play starts somebody opposite of Abbrederis will have to step up.

CB Devin Smith: Smith had a very good game this past Saturday and during Bielema's Monday press conference he announced that Smith was the defensive MVP. Smith ended the game with two tackles and two pass break ups. Smith started last season strong before his injury, it has taken him a while to get going this season. Like Gilbert, Smith needs to be able to find that consistency in order for him to have a successful season along with the secondary to be successful.

LT Ricky Wagner: The offensive line played better then it did against Oregon State but besides the improvement, the line still has work to do. The offensive line committed four false start penalties and the line had trouble through out the game converting second and one and third and one situations. Wagner with his linemates will have to continue to improve and make up for their mistakes against the Aggies.

DT Beau Allen: Allen has been putting together a nice season so far for the Badgers. Allen particularly played well on Saturday by clogging up the middle allowing the linebackers to run free and make plays, but I think the most impressive play Allen made on the day was when Doe returned the punt for a touchdown. Allen ended up being Doe's last needed blocker to get him in the end zone. Allen didn't actually block anyone but what was impressive was Allen was able to run in stride with the speedy Doe just in case he needed a block to get him in the end zone. If Allen can continue to do his job, which I think many fans think he will make the linebackers and secondary job a lot easier.

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