As soon as the Badgers looked like they were getting into an offensive rhythm with Joel Stave, he gets injured and is now out for the season. Now the question becomes who starts at quarterback. Whoever gets the start at quarterback on Saturday know they are going to have to make some plays and balance the offense. Danny O'Brien and Curt Phillips have had two weeks to prepare for the game against Indiana, so faltering is unacceptable.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week, and need. It was not easy determining who would be important in helping the Badgers to a victory on Saturday.
Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses
1, Montee Ball, RB (1) - Whoever starts at quarterback will have Ball as their best friend. If Ball plays well, it will help the quarterback play and open up the passing game. Ball struggled against the Spartans and couldn't get himself into a rhythm. He'll receive plenty of carries on Saturday, meaning Ball will take the offense as far as he possibly can, especially if the passing game is struggling.
2, Curt Phillips, QB (NR) -Phillips is expected to get the start Saturday, his first after five challenging seasons at Wisconsin. It's hard to know what Phillips is capable of doing on the field due to his injuries. If Phillips still has his legs he might be able to extend plays, something O'Brien has struggled with this season. If Phillips does get the start, it'll be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Matt Canada lets Phillips throw the football down the field or if they just stick with short intermediate throws. What Phillips has had to go through with his injuries and how hard he has worked to return to the field, you know his teammates will rally around him. You also know that Phillips will be ready for the Hoosiers defense considering this is the opportunity he's been working for.
3, Devin Smith, CB (6) - The Hoosiers best offensive weapon is their passing game, so Smith and the rest of the secondary will be challenge. Smith has been putting together a nice season and it will be important for him to shut down his side of the field. Smith has two interceptions this season and played extremely well against Michigan State, recording seven tackles and broke up three passes. If Smith continues to play like he has these past two games, he'll be able to help slow down the Hoosiers passing game.
4, Jared Abbrederis, WR (5) -Like Ball, Abbrederis is going to have to find a way to make an impact on the game. No matter who plays quarterback, Abbrederis will be targeted early and often. If Abbrederis can get into a groove, he'll help make sure the Badgers don't become one dimensional on offense. Abbrederis has always been able to step up when he has had to and with an extra week to prepare that shouldn't change.
5, Mike Taylor, LB (3) -Taylor led the Badgers with eight tackles against Michigan State and will have to make sure his defense is ready for the Hoosiers' offense. If Wisconsin can't get off the field, the Hoosiers can put up points. Indiana's offense averages 33.1 points a game. The other thing Taylor is also going to have to do is play well in pass coverage. Indiana may look to try and get its tailback Stephen Houston involved in the passing game, as he has three receiving touchdowns on the year. If Taylor and the defense can keep it a low scoring game, Wisconsin's odds of winning increase dramatically.
6, Danny O'Brien, QB (NR) - If O'Brien gets on the field, he's going to have to make some plays to make sure the Hoosiers don't load up the box. O'Brien is going to have to be able to feel the rush and be able to get rid of the football quickly. He can't take sacks and put the offense in long-yardage situations. It will be critical for O'Brien to make smart plays if it's getting rid of the football or making the safest pass. Otherwise his short leash will get even shorter.
7, Jacob Pedersen, TE (NR) -Pedersen was targeted early and scored the only Badgers touchdown of the game against the Spartans, but he disappeared late in the game. Pedersen has to be able to play the entire game and not disappear. With other receivers having trouble making an impact on the game, Pedersen has to become the second weapon in the passing game next to Abbrederis..
Others to Note
Defensive Back Darius Hillary: Hillary has to be able to forget the touchdown pass he gave up in overtime against the Spartans. Indiana will come out passing and will probably go after Hillary, especially since Smith and Marcus Cromartie are playing at such a high level. If he plays well and can shut his man down, he'll be able to help slow down the Hoosiers passing game.
Running Back James White: White struggled against the Spartans' run defense. Not only was he unable to get into a rhythm offensively, White and the barge formation was constantly stuffed. I would expect the offense to try and use the barge again but if it struggles, it will be interesting if they go away from it.
Middle Linebacker Chris Borland: Expect Borland to line up at defensive end against the Hoosiers to help generate a pass rush. He'll need to be able to get to the quarterback so Cameron Coffman does not have time to throw.
Left Tackle Ricky Wagner: It appears that Wagner will be making his return against the Hoosiers. Ryan Groy filled in nicely for Wagner but to have Wagner back will hopefully get the running game back on track against the Hoosiers. Wagner may have some rust to knock off but it shouldn't take him to long to get back into the groove with the offensive line.