Losing 11 starters and 18 letterwinners from a team picked to finish second in the Big Ten conference last season, the Badgers' omission from the top three preseason favorites to win the conference wasn't a surprise.
Despite missing key contributors on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, Bret Bielema was anything but shy about talking about the players he expects to be key contributors in the 2009 season.
"Last year, we were predicted to do some special things and all of that didn't go right all the way," Bielema told reporters at the 38th annual Big Ten Media Day Monday. "I think our guys have really taken the year to recover from that. They are hungry, spring football was intense and we're excited about the opportunity in front of us."
Graham, a first team All-Big Ten selection that flirted with the NFL Draft, emerges from the shadow of Travis Beckum to be the primary threat of Wisconsin's receiving corps. Leading UW in receptions (40), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns (5) in ‘08, will be the most experienced, and reliable, target on Wisconsin's roster.
"I am really excited for Garrett that he's finally coming into his own," Bielema said. "He embodies everything we like about Wisconsin."
"Those three guys, in addition to some younger guys, give us a nice package at tight end," Bielema said. "I really believe as a group, our tight ends are going to be a unique package to defend."
One guy that didn't pan out at tight end was McFadden. Coming to UW as a tight end from West Palm Beach five seasons ago, McFadden led the Badgers with 84 tackles from the middle-linebacker position in '08. With the graduation of DeAndre Levy, Bielema and his staff have decided to utilize McFadden's knowledge and knack for reacting to the ball as an outside linebacker.
"For him last year, he played the entire season with a broken hand, with a club on his hand," Bielema said. "(Along with Garrett and Schofield), those three guys embody what this year's team is going to be about. We have a lot of guys coming into the mix." One position where the Badgers are healthy and set at is the running back position, where the Badgers led the Big Ten and ranked 14th in the country in rushing offense last season, averaging 211.2 yards per game. With Wisconsin primarily using a traditional I-formation offense, Bielema feels that will give a young team a good advantage through the early parts of the season.
"A lot of schools we play don't have a fullback and last season, we had two 240-pound guys playing fullback," Bielema said. "A lot of teams don't have one, let alone two guys like that, and that's how we recruit for Wisconsin. Our last three quarterbacks and running backs chose Wisconsin because of the type of offense we run. Montee Ball came to Wisconsin because of what we do, and I think that's a recruiting advantage for us."