1, Getting used to the new 3-4 defense of head coach Gary Andersen
There are many angles to consider. Will the new scheme make best use of the returning heart of the defensive line up, linebackers Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong? Will Andersen's use of a 3-4 be significantly better than former Michigan coach Rich Rodriquez' attempt to run the scheme in the Big Ten? Can it succeed against power running teams? Can Beau Allen emerge as a playmaker in his new position at nose tackle? Can senior Brendan Kelly, transitioning to a new position, prosper as a 6-6 outside linebacker? Will the Badgers get enough pressure on QBs to help out a very young secondary?
In theory the strongest part of the Badger team in 2013 should be the defensive front seven. This is where the experience and playmakers reside. But if there are snags in adapting to a new alignment, the defense might look shaky, no matter the opponent, early in 2013.
2, A very young secondary
Will the group gain enough experience come the third game of the year, at Arizona State in two weeks, or the fifth game of the year, against Ohio State on September 28th? Senior Dezmen Southward is the only member of the secondary with experience. The cornerbacks will be Peniel Jean and Sojourn Shelton and the free safety is Michael Caputo. Neither have started a game, though Caputo and Jean have playing experience. Shelton has shown promise, Jean has smarts and Caputo is a gamer, if a bit undersized. They will be tested at the Horseshoe. The earlier test at Arizona State can be instructive.
3, The game against Ohio State
Losing to OSU will not decide the overall success of the Badgers season, but it will severely restrict the odds of repeating as champions. The tie breakers to decide representation at the championship game in Indianapolis will heavily favor the winner of the OSU / UW game and OSU won't lose many others.
4, Developing a solid QB
At first glance this might seem to be a higher priority, but the truth is the Badgers will score via the run and have, yet again, a trio of superb backs, as James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement will move the ball. Joel Stave improved his throwing motion, but his deep threat at wide receiver is limited to one standout. Jared Abbrederis can expect to be double teamed all year, meaning second starter Jordan Fredrick needs to pick up his game. In 14 games (including five starts) in 2012, Fredrick had 17 catches and one touchdown. The starting quarterback will be asked to manage the game. UW will be in danger if he is expected to win it with limited options currently.
5, The starters on the offensive line
Badgers fans have been terribly spoiled the last five years with the staggering talent that passed through at tackle, guard and center. This year might show a slight drop in ability. A very strong corps of running backs and tight ends will help mask any deficiencies. Even allowing for a slight drop from the apex of 2010-2012, the offensive line will probably be counted a success by the end of 2013.
So how does BadgerNation predict these five points will develop? The new 3-4 defense and the young secondary will be severely tested, and found wanting, in games three through five. A loss at Columbus seems probable. Joel Stave will be an improvement at QB, but not a difference maker, and the O-line will be solid.
All in all: a respectable, but not a championship, season is in the offing. A 9-3 record seems a safe bet.