DETROIT - After getting his feet wet in 2014, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen has big things planned for the Badgers entering his second season.
Coming off a 9-4 season, Wisconsin has an offense built around a Heisman Trophy contender in junior Melvin Gordon, added more speed and personnel better suited for the 3-4 defense and have a conference schedule where its eight Big Ten opponents went 22-42 (.343 winning percentage) in conference play last year.
It's a reason why Big Ten Network football analyst Howard Griffith, who was at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp to watch his son compete, feels the Badgers will be in the thick of the West Division race till the very end.
"I think they are right in the middle of it," Griffith told BadgerNation. "There is no question they will be in the race to be the representative. When you think about them, they are so consistent. That is the key for them is consistency and staying within. I am thinking they will have a few more wrinkles offensively then they have had in the past. That will be interesting to see, but the questions is defensively. Will they continue to get better because they lose arguably to me one of the best defensive players in all of the Big Ten in Chris Borland? How do you replace that productivity? They are going to have to find a way to do it."
One of the main pieces in order to get back to the conference championship will be Gordon.
Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore, including running for at least 140 yards in six of the first seven games of the season. He did most of that damage as the second-string back behind James White, which lead many to believe he'll have a breakout season as the offense's feature tailback.
"When you look at Gordon, I think you will probably see a lot of the national people talking about him this year," said Griffith. "He is going to be one of the focal guys and this is going to be his year where it is all about him. He is going to have to carry the load and is not going to necessarily be looking over his shoulder, although Clement is there and he is a tremendous back as well. He will have his chances to be spared and get his rest, but he is going to have to carry the load."
And while the Badgers won't have the luxury of facing Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State or Penn State during the Big Ten regular season, Wisconsin will test itself in week one of the season when it plays a neutral site game against nationally-ranked LSU in Houston.
"I think it is going to be a great barometer when you look at Wisconsin and what they have and need to do," Griffith said. "I think they need to find those wide receivers that can stretch the field and help that running game out so they can spread teams out. You know what they are going to do, which is run the ball. It is really ultimately about being able to spread some guys out and find some seams to make some plays."
While the task of playing an established SEC power in the south may appear daunting on paper, Griffin pointed to Andersen and his staff getting nine months to prepare as a potential equalizer. With all the tweaks and nuances Andersen and his staff are starting to implement as they get settled, Andersen appears poised to carry on the winning tradition that has been established in Madison.
"He has done a tremendous job," said Griffith on Andersen. "That is the key for him. He is a football guy and he loves the game. You watch him teach and interact with the players, they respond to what he is doing. I really like his staff as well. Barry Alvarez knows football. He knows how to find a football coach and that is what he has done. The Badger fans should be really excited about having him because he is a good one."
Although Wisconsin has to replace plenty of pieces, Big Ten Network football analyst Howard Griffith sees a bright future ahead for the Badgers with Gary Andersen on the headset.