When the Badgers take the field in their season-opener against LSU on Saturday, fans might only recognize the uniforms.
There’s a lot to replace for Wisconsin this season, and that’s especially true on the offensive side of the ball, where aside from running back extraordinaire Melvin Gordon, it’s almost a completely bunch of new faces. There's plenty to replace on the offensive line, and the Badgers will start a new quarterback, with Tanner McEvoy beating out incumbent starter Joel Stave for the starting gig.
It’s at wide receiver, though, where head coach Gary Andersen said there will be quite the drastic change.
“We’re going to be wide receiver by committee this year,” he said on Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “We’re not going to be receiver by Jared Abbrederis.”
That is a drastic change for the Badgers’ offense, though it might not be one for the better. Abbrederis was excellent last season, catching 78 passes last season for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns. But, as Andersen mentioned, Abbrederis did dominate the receiving game. The next top two pass catchers caught 39 passes apiece, just half the amount of Abbrederis.
But it’s not just the loss of Abbrederis that will mark change among Wisconsin pass catchers. The top four receivers from last season have all moved on — Abbrederis, Jacob Pedersen, James White and Jeff Duckworth — leaving Jordan Fredrick as the returning player with the most catches. He had 10 last season.
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And Fredrick isn’t even listed among the team’s three starting receivers on the opening-week depth chart. Alex Erickson, Kenzel Doe and Reggie Love are the three top guys, and Andersen has been impressed with what they’ve done. Still, that receiver by committee line indicates there’ll be plenty of faces catching balls for the Badgers this season.
"I really like what Kenzel has done from a leadership standpoint. Kenzel Doe has had a very good camp from a football standpoint, and his leadership ability has been great for these young receivers, so he would be one (who stands out)," Andersen said. "George Rushing has been very solid for a freshman. He picked up on the scheme, handled it well, he's made big plays consistently. So he's fought to be in a spot where he can hopefully make some plays. And then Jordan Fredrick and Alex Erickson, the two returners. Jordan is now 100-percent back healthy with us. They've improved their game."