Spring football has completed at the University of Wisconsin. And clearly the biggest question in Madison is if any player can fill the very big shoes of the departed Melvin Gordon. Here's a look at UW this season with 5Dimes futures odds.
Paul Chryst Era Begins
This was the first spring session under coach Paul Chryst. He took over for Gary Andersen, who shocked many by leaving Wisconsin for the Oregon State job -- a job that really isn't as good as the Wisconsin gig is. Andersen left on Dec. 10, the same day that star running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Gordon announced he was skipping his senior season to enter the NFL draft. Chryst, a former Wisconsin offensive coordinator and alum of UW, was 19-19 in three seasons at Pitt. Athletic director Barry Alvarez called Chryst first when the job became open. Alvarez wanted someone with deep Wisconsin ties so he wouldn't leave like Andersen and Bret Bielema did before him for Arkansas. Alvarez reportedly wanted to tab Chryst for the position when Bielema left in 2012, but Chryst had been on the job at Pitt just a year at that time and Alvarez helped him get that job so it would have been in poor taste to hire him away so soon.
Clement Showed Signs Of Stardom
Wisconsin always seems to trot out good running backs, but Gordon will be tough to replace. He was chosen in the first round of the draft by the Chargers, who moved up two spots to get him. Last season, Gordon rushed for 2,587 yards, a Big Ten record and the second-most in FBS history (trailing only Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders with 2,628 in 1988). Gordon averaged 184.8 yards per game, the most in the FBS since LaDanian Tomlinson of TCU averaged 196.2 yards per game in 2000. Gordon became the fastest player to 2,000 yards, doing it on his 241st carry. He set the FBS record for career rushing average with 7.79 yards per carry and his total of 4,915 rushing yards ranks No. 3 all time at Wisconsin and No. 6 on Big Ten career list.
The guy who projects as the featured back is 5-foot-11 Corey Clement. He ran for 949 yards and nine touchdowns on 147 carries (6.5 yards per carry) last season behind Gordon. Wisconsin has recorded a 1,000-yard rusher in 10 consecutive seasons, and barring injury Clement is a lock to make it 11 straight.
The quarterback will be Joel Stave, who it seems has been at Wisconsin for about 10 years. He arrived at Wisconsin in the spring of 2011, the year Russell Wilson had the best season by a QB in school history. Stave has been battling for the job ever since. Last year, former receiver Tanner McEvoy opened as the starter but struggled and Stave won the job back after five games. Stave completed just 53.4 percent of his passes -- the lowest mark of his career -- and threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine). But it's clearly his job now. He didn't play much in the spring game and Clement didn't at all.
The Badgers bring back 13 starters overall, five on offense.
2015 Schedule/Futures Odds
Wisconsin opens the season at AT&T Stadium in Arlington against Alabama, which will be a Top-5 preseason team again despite losing the likes of quarterback Blake Sims, receiver Amari Cooper and running back T.Y. Yeldon. But the Tide never rebuild, they only reload under Nick Saban. Thus to no surprise, the Crimson Tide have opened as 12.5-point favorites on college football odds. Last season, Wisconsin also opened with a very tough game against an SEC power in Texas. LSU beat the Badgers 28-24 in Houston, scoring 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
The rest of Wisconsin's non-conference schedule are lock wins: home to Miami (Ohio), Troy and Hawaii. I would ridicule that schedule but facing Alabama makes those three cupcakes acceptable. The Big Ten opener is Oct. 3 at home against Iowa, which should challenge UW and Nebraska for the Big Ten West title. The Badgers visit Nebraska the next week. Their other road games: Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota. Wisconsin doesn't have to face Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State from the Big Ten East, a huge break. So it conceivably could go unbeaten in the regular season with an upset of Alabama.
The Badgers are +6600 to win the national title at sportsbooks, +825 third-favorites to win the Big Ten Championship Game and Clement is +5000 to win the Heisman.
NCAAF Free Picks: Wisconsin loses to Alabama and at Nebraska to finish the regular season at 10-2. With just one conference loss, that should be enough to win the West Division and a spot in the Big Ten title game.