Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 27, 2015

For the second time since 2012, Wisconsin was rocked by an unexpected coaching defection. First, it was Bret Bielema bolting for Arkansas after the 2012 season. Next, Gary Andersen took off for Oregon State after last season.

But Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez turned to a native son this time, tabbing Madison denizen, former Badger player and assistant and Wisconsin grad Paul Chryst for the post. And Chryst-who coached Pitt prior to coming home–will walk into a good situation. In fact, Chryst?s team should be tabbed the favorite to win the Big Ten West. But for that to happen, work must take place beginning this spring.

[ MORE: View Tom Dienhart?s other Big Ten spring previews ]

Here are three areas Wisconsin must focus on this spring.

1. Who takes over at middle linebacker for Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter? Right now, some of the candidates are Jack Cichy, D'Cota Dixon, T.J. Edwards, Nick Thomas. This is key spots in the heart of coordinator Dave Aranda?s 3-4 defense that ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten overall last season (294.1 ypg).

2. What is the quarterback situation? If you can believe it, Wisconsin has eight signal-callers on the roster and eligible to participate in spring ball. Joel Stave started most of the season. Will Tanner McEvoy switch to another position (safety/WR)? Freshmen D.J. Gillins, Alex Hornibrook or Austin Kafentzis also are in the mix. What about Bart Houston? The good news: quarterback play is the specialty of Chryst. A pass offense that ranked No. 12 in the Big Ten (148.7 ypg) in 2014 must improve. Of course, a pedestrian group of wideouts also needs to improve-but that?s another story for another day.

3. Solidify the offensive line. This line has been the backbone of a physical offense that is the identity of the program. The unit lost three starters from a unit that helped the Badgers rank No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing (320.1 ypg) last season. The team is set at left tackle with Tyler Marz and at center with Dan Voltz, a star blocker. Michael Deiter probably will take over one guard spot. Who else will step up? Is early enrollee Jon Dietzen ready? Senior Ray Ball? Lots of youth. Wisconsin has a great line coach in former Badger Joe Rudolph.


Record: 10-3 overall; 7-1 Big Ten (beat Auburn in Outback Bowl)
Spring ball starts: March 15
Spring game: April 25
Key players gone: TE Sam Arneson; G Kyle Costigan; RB Melvin Gordon; OT Rob Havenstein; CB Peniel Jean; LB Derek Landisch; G Dallas Lewallen; LB Marcus Trotter
Key players back: LB Vince Biegel; S Michael Caputo; RB Corey Clement; WR Alex Erickson; K Rafael Gaglianone; NT Arthur Goldberg; CB Darius Hillary; LB Leon Jacobs; OT Tyler Marz; S/QB Tanner McEvoy; P Drew Meyer; DE Chikwe Obasih; LB Joe Schobert; CB Sojourn Shelton; QB Joel Stave; C Dan Voltz; FB Derek Watt


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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