The Preseason AP Top 25 poll won’t come out until later this month, but here at BangTheBook.com, we’re giving you a Top 25 from a betting perspective. Using power ratings to determine the top 25 teams in college football, readers will have the opportunity to look at what the preseason Top 25 might look like if designed by a bettor. Each article will feature a preview of that team with a write-up for each position and an explanation of why the position group was rated that way and some further insight into the methodology of creating power ratings.
The Methodology: Each team is rated up to 100 with eight different position groups considered. Quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lines, and coaching are graded on a scale of 4 to 15, while running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs are graded on a scale of 4 to 10 in half-point increments.
Groups are rated on returning production, potential, previous performance, and a handful of other variables. Information was gathered from all corners of the college football world, including preseason magazines, websites dedicated to specific teams, national college football websites, and more.
The #15 team on the BangTheBook.com Preseason Top 25 is the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Wisconsin quarterback situation is both scary and intriguing. Joel Stave will be in his second season of Gary Andersen’s scheme and Tanner McEvoy, once a South Carolina commitment, moves back into the quarterback mix after playing defensive back last season. Stave took advantage of teams gameplanning against the run and completed over 61 percent of his passes, but the 13 interceptions he threw really hurt his overall numbers. One underrated element about the three guys in the mix for quarterback snaps is that Stave (6’5”, 225), McEvoy (6’6”, 223), and sophomore Bart Houston (6’4”, 217) all possess good size.
Running Backs (9.5/10)
Corey Clement will try to replace James White, who rushed for over 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The leading rusher from 2013 was Melvin Gordon, who racked up over 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns on his 206 carries. He returns for his junior year after running for 7.8 yards per carry last season. When Clement did touch the ball, he was very productive with 8.2 yards per carry. The half-point deduction for this group comes because White had 39 receptions last season and none of the other guys had more than six.
Wide Receivers (6/10)
This is the problem area for the Wisconsin offense. Jared Abbrederis was Wisconsin’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2005 and he left for the NFL as the second-leading receiver in program history. Along with him, 90 other receptions left in Jacob Pedersen, James White, and Jeff Duckworth. The leading returning receiver caught 10 passes for 106 yards. There’s not a lot of highly-touted talent among this group either. Most of these guys were likely recruited in part because of their run-blocking skills, which adds some value. Also, they won’t be asked to do very much in a run-heavy offense.
Offensive Line (15/15)
If wide receiver is a problem area, the offensive line is an enormous strength. Four starters return from an offensive line that helped produce 6.6 yards per carry. Only Ohio State (6.8) ran for more yards per carry in all of FBS. Wisconsin quarterbacks were sacked one time or zero times in nine of Wisconsin’s 13 games. The expectation would be that the Badgers would also improve in the second year of Andersen’s schemes, but it will be hard to top that kind of production. Nevertheless, this is an elite group for the Big Ten and the country as a whole.
Defensive Line (12/15)
This group will take time to come together. The Badgers return exactly zero starters from last season’s front seven. It was the first year of a 3-4 under Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and the Badgers responded with one of their best seasons in program history. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Badgers field a very young defensive line with Andersen recruits getting a lot of playing time because they were recruited for the 3-4. In terms of experience, the depth chart features five career starts.
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Chris Borland took his talents to the NFL and found a nice landing spot with the San Francisco 49ers. On one hand, the Badgers are in a tough spot because all four starting linebackers from last season have departed. On another hand, the Badgers played a lot of blowouts and worked in a lot of guys. After Borland’s 112 tackles, the next leading tackler had just 63. Only one other player had more than 50. It’ll be a work in progress, but expect Andersen and Aranda to have a solid group at some point.
Defensive Backs (8.5/10)
The Badgers return three starters in the secondary on a team that allowed opponents to complete just 53.1 percent of passes. The Badgers also won by an average of 19 points per game, so there was definitely some soft coverage in some of those games. Teams may try to take advantage of Wisconsin’s inexperience on defense, but this group provides a good safety net.
Gary Andersen was an excellent hire for the Badgers and his first season produced a solid 9-4 campaign. The surprising loss to Penn State and a hard-fought game against South Carolina at the end of the season may alter the preseason perception of the Badgers, but Andersen built a very good program at Utah State after the Aggies won just nine games in four seasons prior to his hiring. It’s possible that this could be a transitional year for the Badgers with so many losses on defense and at wide receiver, so bettors may see the coaching chops of Andersen throughout the season.
This is a team that bettors will be scared of, but they should trust the program and trust in Wisconsin’s physicality. They’re not the most talented team and they never really have been, but they tend to have an advantage in the trenches against almost every opponent and that’s significant, especially in the Big Ten. Bettors will get an idea of what to expect from Wisconsin right away when they take on LSU in Arlington, TX to open the season.
Even though Bret Bielema wasn’t much of an X’s and O’s guy, he was a good recruiter, so the cupboard isn’t bare for Andersen and his staff. There are some challenges and this looks like a weaker team than last season’s. In fact, from my end of the season power ratings from last year, this Badgers team is about a touchdown worse. This is still a strong team and if they are rated too low, bettors will run the risk of having to fade a team that was 9-4 ATS last season and will have an underdog mentality given the losses.
Don’t sleep on the Badgers in a mediocre Big Ten West division. They check in at #15 on our Preseason Top 25.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.