Your starting quarterback: Tyler Donovan. A redshirt senior from Hartland, Donovan has one year to be the guy for the Badgers. A backup to John Stocco, Donovan was called into service at the end of the 2006 season, starting the Badgers' wins against Iowa and Buffalo. He performed admirably, finishing the season with a passer rating of 161.34 while completing 63% of his passes, but again: we're talking Iowa and Buffalo. He gives the Badgers decidedly more mobility than Stocco had but at the cost of arm strength. The real question is whether he's mentally prepared for a starting role.
Backing him up: Allan Evridge. Evridge was a nice surprise for the Badgers, transferring from Kansas State after the dismissal of Bill Snyder in 2005. After sitting out the 2006 season, Evridge was expected to compete for the starting role with Donovan, but Coach Bielema indicated very early on in fall camp that Donovan was destined to start. I speculated that Evridge might be a more attractive choice at starter due to his additional remaining year of eligibility, but Bret Bielema knows that the future doesn't matter if you're not winning today. It's Donovan's job to lose, but if he's shaky, Evridge might be able to seize the starting role with a strong performance if Donovan gets the hook. He did, after all, make numerous starts as a Kansas State Wildcat.
Backing up the backup: Redshirt junior Dustin Sherer is absolutely the third-string quarterback. Redshirt freshman Scott Tolzien was a Rivals two-star recruit and will almost definitely not play. Incoming freshmen Cody Rose and James Stallons will redshirt.
Your starting tailback: P. J. Hill. Hill, the Wisconsin Winnebago, led the Big Ten in rushing as a redshirt freshman last season. He averaged 5 yards per carry, pounded out 1569 yards, and plowed into the end zone 15 times. He also displayed competence as a receiver, catching 18 passes for 197 yards and a score. Bielema intends to make use of Hill's pass-catching ability this year (detailed in this article, once you get past the embarrassing parts about stripping naked and wearing plastic bags) and touts his breakaway speed. When Hill gets free, he's tough to stop; p=mv, y'all. His numbers last season can't be denied, even though at one point Coach Bielema requested that his star back pop a few "toughen-up pills" and he did end the season on a disturbing note, gaining just 36 yards on 19 carries in the Capital One Bowl against Arkansas.
Backing him up: Lance Smith, Zach Brown, and John Clay. Second-stringer Smith is back with the team after an incident that began with an argument over $10 and ended with a call to police and some shoe-stealing. He's got experience at the collegiate level, having seen action in twelve games last year, but he didn't do all that much; when Hill was injured against Illinois, Smith ran for 46 yards on (ugh) 21 carries. Through camp, Bielema made it known that Smith's shortcomings are with mentality and maturity; physically, he's doing fine.
Zach Brown is a freshman who established himself as the third-string back at camp. This may or may not have changed when star recruit John Clay became academically eligible. The word appears to be that Clay is still not in football shape (he did miss a lot of practice) so it appears the order will be Hill-Smith-Brown-Clay, but that is subject change. Regardless, expect a big year from the running backs again; with a new quarterback, the ground game is going to have to be top notch.
Your starting fullback: Chris Pressley. Pressley jumped over the very capable Bill Rentmeester in the depth chart this fall. He sat out last year with a leg injury, shed about twenty pounds, and is back to do to unto others as he does unto weights: he shall squat them, 770 pounds at a time. Pressley took a trip to China over the summer -- he's one of those bright kids who isn't just here to play football, wishing instead to embrace the academic experience as a whole. No word yet on whether he managed to hone his Shaolin shadowboxing whilst overseas.
Backing him up: Bill Rentmeester. It was about 53 weeks ago to the day that Bill Rentmeester found out he would be taking over as the Badgers' starting fullback. A redshirt junior majoring in biology (what is it with our fullbacks being polymaths?), Rentmeester played in every game last year. Oddly, he was never asked to carry the ball, but he did become the first Badger fullback in six years to catch a touchdown pass (this against Bowling Green). It's tough to compete with a freak like Pressley, but Rentmeester is one of those guys that you can't help but like. He's likely to continue to contribute on special teams this season.
Your starting wide receivers: Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard. Both guys are fifth-year seniors who didn't see much action until last season, but they became game-tested in a real hurry. Their numbers are incredibly similar; Swan caught 35 balls for 595 yards and 5 scores, while Hubbard pulled in 38 for 627 and 5. Swan's got the hands, and Hubbard -- a champion long-jumper -- has the agility. These guys aren't virtuosos or anything, and they probably won't be able to clean up most of the mistakes that Donovan might make. But they're solid, experienced players, and they'll be consistent deep threats.
Backing them up: Xavier Harris and Kyle Jefferson. Harris, a sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, was a frequently-deployed third wideout who rarely saw a ball come his way. That figures to change this year. Jefferson appears to be the guy voted Most Likely To Possibly Approach Chambers/Evans; he's big and fast, and hopefully his mind and his hands will be ready for the college game. A stable of lesser receivers, including Lance Kendricks, David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson, and possibly Marcus Randle El, will back up the other four receivers. Daven Jones, who wasn't able to make it to campus last year, is now on the squad but has a lot of people to jump before he sees the field.
Your starting tight end: Travis Beckum. Volumes and volumes have already been written on Beckum. You don't need me to tell you very much about #9. Recruited as the #6 linebacker in the nation out of high school, Beckum spent his freshman year stagnating as a defensive backup. He was plugged in at TE right from the get-go in 2006 and finished the year as the Badgers' leading receiver. He's been named to several preseason first-team All-America lists and, if his run-blocking improves this season, could be making big money in the NFL at this time next year. He's going to be double-covered all year long.
Backing him up: Andy Crooks. Few teams have the luxury of having a second-string tight end who has played in 38 games and made 19 starts. The University of Wisconsin does. Crooks is a converted linebacker and, like Beckum, has lined up at fullback as well. Opponents will live in fear of the Badgers' jumbo package this year.
Your starting offensive line will feature four returnees: Eric VandenHeuvel at right tackle, Kraig Urbik at right guard, Marcus Coleman at center, and Andy Kemp at left guard. Of course, the missing guy is Joe Thomas, who is currently driving an all-gold Rolls Royce somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Erie. Redshirt freshman and local product Gabe Carimi (Monona Grove) steps in as the Last Best Hope on Donovan's blind side. (Side note: Allan Evridge is left-handed, so if Donovan gets bounced, he'll have a more experienced lineman protecting his blind side.) Mgoblog has pointed out a discrepancy between the line's ability to create holes for Hill (good) and the fact that John Stocco seemed to taste a lot of Fieldturf last year (bad). My prediction: experience will allow this line to gel quickly, and their increased capability combined with Donovan's non-statuesque style of quarterbackery will lead to sexy results.
All in all, the offense looks promising, but will ultimately come down to Donovan's readiness. Hill won't regress, but if Donovan can't keep defenses off-balance by moving the ball through the air, that won't matter in the least. Fortunately, an experienced receiving corps and an offensive line packed with upperclassmen are there to help the QB out when the punishing convoy of Hill and Pressley turn their CB radios off for a play.
And now, a word from our sponsor: That's all the information you need to make your football picks, and that concludes my college football preview for the Badger offense.