Top five positive developments:
No. 1 – The defensive line goes from huge question mark to potential strength. With the emergence of Kurt Ware and Jason Chapman, who can play both end and tackle, and the continued development of end Jamal Cooper and tackles Justin Ostrowski and Nick Hayden, UW's front four may once again serve as the backbone of its defense.
No. 2 – Brian Calhoun. Anthony Davis who? Okay, UW will not soon forget its second-leading all-time rusher, but Calhoun will make it tough to lament his departure. Few tailbacks can match the Oak Creek native's athleticism, skill and versatility.
No. 3 – Booker Stanley's revival. The Badgers are still in desperate need of more depth at tailback, but Stanley's strong play this spring as a co-No. 1 gives UW reason to be rather excited about its running game. Stanley is an able pass catcher who can run well between the tackles, making him a good compliment to Calhoun.
No. 4 – Stability in the offensive line. Losing four of their top six offensive linemen should not be too precarious for the Badgers. Fifth-year seniors Matt Lawrence and Jason Palermo should be competent at the left and right guard spots and true freshman Andy Kemp will remain in the mix in the fall. The right tackle tandem of Danny Kaye and Kraig Urbik struggled at times in pass protection but had a solid spring on balance.
No. 5 – Walk-ons rejoice. Among the most impressive players this spring were walk-ons free safety Zach Hampton (who will go on scholarship in the fall), punter Ken DeBauche (ditto), sam linebacker Casey Hogan and cornerback Ben Strickland. Hogan and Strickland made probably the biggest jumps of any players this spring and substantially bolstered the depth at their respective positions.
Top five causes for concern:
No. 1 – Depth, depth, depth. There is quality depth at tight end, wide receiver and fullback, but otherwise the Badgers are extremely thin. There may be an inordinate number of true freshman in the three-deep this fall.
No. 2 – Quarterback play. John Stocco improved this spring, but not enough to silence his critics. Tyler Donovan made a big jump, but still is not quite ready to challenge Stocco. The Badgers have elite talent at tight end, tailback, fullback and possibly wide receiver, but it will look pedestrian if the signal callers cannot take advantage of it.
No. 3 – Calling all kickers. This feels like déjà vu, but the Badgers are again dreaming of John Hall, Matt Davenport and Vitaly Pisetsky. Taylor Mehlhaff and Adam Schober are strong-legged young kickers, but they need to be more accurate or else UW will be going for it on fourth down all too often this fall.
No. 4 – Questions at linebacker. Mark Zalewski will be a star but the rest is up in the air. After a tough spring, the Badgers need Andy Crooks to rebound this summer and hit the ground running in fall camp. They also need a healthy Dontez Sanders to reclaim the will linebacker spot. Despite the plethora of scholarship linebackers on campus only the offensive line has more questionable depth. But that position has better talent at the top of the chart than linebacker does. Hogan and redshirt freshman Jammar Crane will be players to watch in the fall. Their continued development could dramatically bolster this position.
No. 5 – Replacing leadership. There are a number of players who could command leadership roles this fall, including John Stocco, Joe Thomas, Matt Bernstein, Brandon Williams, Owen Daniels, Donovan Raiola, Dontez Sanders, Brett Bell, Mark Zalewski and Jamal Cooper, among others. But after losing 13 starters on offense and defense, including some players who were considered the heart and soul of last season's 9-3 squad, this is a team still in need of an identity. Raiola said this spring that a team usually establishes its personality in fall camp, and it is then that this drastically reworked Badger team will have to find its leadership pulse.
At this point the Badgers look like a fringe team for a postseason bowl game, a squad that will likely hover around .500, with health and those happenstance bounces of the ball determining whether this team finishes 5-7, 6-6 or 7-5 (once the Sept. 10 hole on the schedule is filled).
Wisconsin benefits from a schedule that does not include Ohio State or Michigan State, both teams that would probably give the Badgers fits if they played this fall. They also get Michigan, Purdue and Iowa at home, but non-conference games with Bowling Green and at North Carolina will be a very tough way to start the season for a young team. And conference road games at Northwestern, Minnesota and Penn State will be tougher than advertised.
BadgerNation.com's post spring projection, with the current 11-game slate, is a 5-6 season, with wins over Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue and Hawaii and losses to Bowling Green, North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa.