Front Seven - Northwestern

Badger Nation's popular feature - the Front Seven - is back, ranking the top seven players based on performance, expectations and need for this week's game against No.19 Northwestern.

The bye week came at a good time for the Badgers. Losing two of its last three games gave Wisconsin a chance to heal and refocus its attention on its upcoming game.

They'll need to be prepared for a talented Northwestern team coming to Madison. After Northwestern's tough loss at home against Ohio State it will be key for the Badgers to start quickly on offense to try and take control of the game.

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 on Saturday.

Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses

1, Joel Stave QB (1): Stave put together his best game this season by throwing for a career-high 295 yards against the Buckeyes. Stave once again will have to put together another solid game against Northwestern, as he will be key in helping the Badgers get off to a quick start. The Badgers will likely attempt to get the running game going first, but Stave will have to make plays when his number is called. He also needs to eliminate the turnovers, as he's thrown a pick in four of five games this season.

2, Chris Borland ILB (NR): It's not surprising to any Badgers fan but Borland may be the best linebacker in college football. Borland backed up what head coach Gary Andersen has been saying all year about him by tying for a career-high 16 tackles against Ohio State. Borland, like always, will be flying around the field against Northwestern trying to help slow down a talented Wildcats offense. Borland will be key in keeping containment and not allowing any big plays on offense.

3, James White RB (5): White finished the game with 32 yards on eight carries and a touchdown, but should see his carries and yards increase against Northwestern with the Buckeyes rushing for 248 yards last weekend. Look for Wisconsin to do the same against Northwestern to help open up the passing game. With Melvin Gordon suffering a minor injury against Ohio State, the coaching staff may be cautious with his carries. White could have a pretty heavy workload.

4, Sojourn Shelton CB (4): Shelton had an up-and-down game against Ohio State; finishing with five tackles, two pass breakups and one forced fumble. Shelton obviously would like to have back his dropped interception at the end of the first half that opened the door for the Buckeyes to score with a second remaining in the half. Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian will likely test Shelton to test him often. One thing Shelton does well is he gives himself a chance at making a play for the defense. If Shelton can take care of his side of the field he'll help shut down a solid Northwestern passing game.

5, Jared Abbrederis WR (7): Abbrederis came up huge against Ohio State but unfortunately his efforts weren't enough. Abbrederis will be asked to do the same against Northwestern and likely all season with UW still struggling to develop a number two receiver. Even with the little help he's received in the passing game, Abbrederis continually comes up big and finds ways to get open. Abbrederis will need to gain separation or get behind his defender to give Stave a chance to get him the football so he can make plays happen.

6, Brendan Kelly OLB (6): One of Kelly's assignments will likely be to shadow Wildcats dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter. Kelly can't give up any big plays and could need some help from the safeties. Like Borland, Kelly will be key in keeping contain and making sure nothing bounces to the outside. If he can keep things in front of him he has a chance to put together a solid game.

7, Michael Caputo S (NR): Showing the ability to play in an outside linebacker role against Ohio State, Caputo could be key in helping Wisconsin's defense shut down Colter and tailback Vernic Mack. Caputo has enough speed to keep up with Colter and help prevent any big plays from happening. The Badgers will use Caputo in multiple spots on defense because of his size and versatility.

Others to Note

Safety Dezmen Southward: Southward struggled against the Buckeyes with only one tackle and making mistakes in coverage, surprising considering his experience on the field. Southward has to do a better job because Northwestern has the capability of busting a big play just like Ohio State.

RB Melvin Gordon: Gordon had an injury scare against Ohio State but should be ready to go against Northwestern. Depending on where he's at with his injury, Andersen or running back coach Thomas Hammock may limit his carries. After being held to under 100 yards for the first time all season, Gordon will look to have a bounce back game.

LG Ryan Groy: Groy is going to have to play better to help the running game, needing to be able to pull effectively and help either White or Gordon get to the next level. Groy started off the season strong, but appeared to take a step back against Ohio State and needs to become more consistent in blocking.

ILB Conor O'Neill: O'Neill continues to put together his best season of his college career. Regardless if he starts or not, he'll see plenty of snaps on defense because of his ability thus far to keep up his play, maintain containment and not let anything get behind him. If the defensive line can win their battles in the trenches Borland and O'Neill will make plays in the backfield.

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