MADISON, Wis. (AP) — To those Wisconsin fans worried about what the defense might look like this year without linebacker Chris Borland and seven other starters, the returnees would like to send a message.
"We're still here!"
Coach Gary Andersen likes that this team feels as if it has something to prove going into his second year in Madison.
"You know a lot of guys have played a lot of games here, but they may not have been labeled 'starter,'" senior inside linebacker Derek Landisch said. "So I think people come out here with a chip on their shoulders, and they're ready to prove something."
The Badgers finished 9-4 last season in Andersen's successful debut season. He had built-in experience with a senior-laden defense, though Wisconsin did rotate players in and out at a fairly regular frequency.
That gave guys such as Landisch and nose guard Warren Herring, another key player in this year's front seven, valuable experience in what had been a newly-installed 3-4 scheme. Landisch noted that having a full year of grasping Andersen's defense should help.
"A lot of people don't recognize that. I think that's something that's really going to help us, the familiarity with the defense, with the scheme," Landisch said.
There is star power on offense with 1,600-yard rusher Melvin Gordon carrying on the tradition of strong Badgers backs. Andersen is still sorting through a quarterback competition between incumbent Joel Stave and dual-threat challenger Tanner McEvoy. The readiness of the young or inexperienced receivers remains in question, though the offensive line appears to be as bullish as ever.
Wisconsin is a favorite in the newly-realigned Big Ten West division. The first test doesn't get any tougher — against LSU in the season opener Aug. 30 in Houston.
Five things to watch ahead of the showdown with the Tigers:
GO-GO GORDON: The junior bypassed a chance to enter the NFL draft — bad news for the rest of the Big Ten. Gordon is the nation's active career leader in rushing average with 8.1 yards per carry. He has also grown more polished in interviews and taken on more leadership off the field — perhaps in preparation to compete for some shiny individual postseason trophies.
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