James White

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 18 Wisconsin

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2013 record: 9-4 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten (2nd in Leaders Division)
2013 postseason: Capital One Bowl vs. South Carolina (34-24 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 22/No. 21
Head coach: Gary Andersen (39-35 overall; 9-4 in 1 year at Wisconsin)
Offensive coordinator: Andy Ludwig (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 offensive rankings: 8th rushing offense (283.77 ypg); 94th passing offense (197.1 ypg); 18th total offense (480.8 ypg); 27th scoring offense (34.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 6
Defensive coordinator: Dave Aranda (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 defensive rankings: 5th rushing defense (102.54 ypg); 17th passing defense (202.5 ypg); 7th total defense (305.1 ypg); 6th scoring defense (16.3 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 3
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
Wisconsin has a very favorable draw in the Big Ten scheduling this season, with no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State. The Badgers also get Nebraska at home late in the season, but must travel to Iowa the following week, and I have already suggested how dangerous that can be for Wisconsin. The running game should be as strong as it ever is in Madison with Melvin Gordon set to carry the load behind four returning starters on the offensive line (Kyle Costigan, Rob Havenstein, Tyler Marz and Dan Voltz). Wisconsin’s season starts off with an early test against LSU in Houston, but the Badgers could be looking at a 10-win season and should be the favorite in the Big Ten west to reach the Big Ten championship game.

THE BAD
Wisconsin has had one of the more underrated defenses in recent years, but this is a bit of a rebuilding year for the Badgers on defense. Wisconsin returns just three starters from last season and must rebuild the entire front seven.  Having to replace so much in the first game of the season against LSU could make a difficult take slightly more challenging. Wisconsin may feel comfortable with Joel Stave at quarterback, but the Badgers also need to find their new go-to receiver after losing Jared Abbrederis. The top four receivers on the team have moved on since last season, leaving some uncertainty in the open field for now.

THE UNKOWN
Just how good can Wisconsin be? Is this a Badgers team that will challenge Ohio State or Michigan State for the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis, or will this be a team more likely to play in the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl? There is nothing wrong with Orlando or Tampa, but the Badgers will have a chance to prove themselves worthy of being in the same conversation as the Buckeyes and Spartans early on if they can show something against LSU.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Nebraska
The season opener against LSU will certainly be the highlight of the 2014 Wisconsin schedule, and for good reason, but the more realistic make-or-break game will come at the other end of the schedule. With back-to-back November games against Nebraska and Iowa, the Badgers will likely have to do no worst than spit the two in order to earn a trip back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game. Getting a win out of the way against Nebraska before heading to Iowa would be wise and could prove to be the deciding factor in the Big Ten West this fall.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Running back Melvin Gordon
We will be highlighting top players from each team in our preseason top 25, but Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and that was while splitting time with James White (1,444 yards, 13 touchdowns). With White gone, Gordon’s production may actually increase and challenge the numbers put up by Montee Ball in 2012 or 2011. Of course, getting Gordon some rest when possible could be key for the success of Wisconsin this fall as well.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Auburn’s Dee Ford leads South defense to 20-10 victory in Senior Bowl

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Auburn defensive end Dee Ford had been recognized by the Senior Bowl earlier in the week for his efforts in practice all week, and he capped it off by helping to lead the South defense to a 20-10 victory over the North. Ford recorded a pair of sacks and earned Senior Bowl MVP honors to continue to build momentum heading closer to the NFL Draft.

Practices leading up to the actual game tend to carry more weight in player evaluations, but here are six players who made the most of their performance in the Senior Bowl, in no particular order.

1. DE Dee Ford, Auburn

Ford was difficult to slow down in this one. Much like his impact in the BCS Championship Game, Ford brought constant pressure in the North backfield and recorded a pair of sacks and batted down a pass. If any defensive lineman helped his draft profile with this game, it was Ford. Ford was named the Senior Bowl MVP.

2. RB James White, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s running back led all players in the game with 61 rushing yards on 11 rushing attempts. He was the lone highlight for the game for the North squad as he scored the North’s only touchdown.

3. RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina

One of the top names from the FCS ranks playing this weekend handled himself well for the South team, leading the team in rushing with 31 yards.

4. QB David Fales, San Jose State

He did throw an interception, but he also had the arm that threw two of the biggest offensive plays in the game. Fales completed six of seven passes for a game high 104 passing yards and a touchdown.

5. DB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood

One of the biggest questions about Desir was how he would perform on the field against all of those big receivers from the big time programs. He did quite well, coming down with an interception in the end zone late in the game.

6. TE Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State

Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore made some nice plays when on the field, including two of the better catches of the game for the South. He also led all players with 61 receiving yards and snagged a touchdown catch from Fresno State’s Derek Carr on a pass that was slightly behind him on the run.

And here are three who left something to be desired in the game.

1. QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

For all of the talk about potential for Logan Thomas, the Senior Bowl showed much of what Hokies fans have witnessed the past few years. He did complete four of five passes, but for just 18 yards. Thomas took a handful of sacks as well for a loss of 38 yards.

2. QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson

Boyd failed to make any special plays in the game, completing a little less than half of his passes (7 for 16) for 31 yards. He was also intercepted once.

3. QB Stephen Morris, Miami

It must be an ACC thing. Morris joined his conference mates in having a rough afternoon in Mobile. Miami’s quarterback completed 9 of 16 passes for 84 yards and two interceptions in a game when no quarterback for the North team (yes, the North) struggled to move the offense against the South defense.

Hackenberg grows up in big way as Penn State tanks Wisconsin

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Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien is known for putting his quarterbacks to the test. This afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin freshman Christian Hackenberg aced his final exam for the season in a resounding way. Hackenberg passed for 339 yards and four touchdowns as Penn State (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) upset No. 15 Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) in a 31-24.

Penn State had to hang on to this one though, and they responded well. After seeing a 31-14 lead whittled away to a seven-point advantage late in the fourth quarter, Penn State was faced with a 3rd and 9 after the eighth false start penalty on the offensive line. Rather than try to pass, Penn State kept it on the ground with Wisconsin out of timeouts. A draw play to Zach Zwinak worked beautifully with a 61-yard run up the middle to keep the drive alive and to run some more clock off. Penn State managed to get the game clock down to 35 seconds before asking Sam Ficken to convert a 31-yard field goal, which he missed. That left Wisconsin with just 31 seconds to drive the length of the field. The defense held on with a late stand despite the Badgers moving down field quickly. Ryan Keiser picked off a deep pass to the end zone to clinch the victory.

Penn State’s Allen Robinson turned in another fine performance with 122 yards on nine receptions. Eugene Lewis scored two touchdowns and added 91 yards to compliment Robinson’s day. Wisconsin receiver Jared Abrbederis led the Badgers with 114 yards.

Penn State did a great job holding down Wisconsin’s running game. Melvin Gordon and James White were never able to bust any big runs against a Penn State defense that figured to be vulnerable against the run. Wisconsin tried to get Joel Stave to lead the charge in the passing game but that often backfired on the Badgers.

The loss for Wisconsin takes the Badgers out of the conversation for a BCS at-large invite. Much of the week had centered on a debate between Wisconsin and Michigan State as the potential second Big Ten team in the BCS, but that debate has been silenced. Wisconsin had played in three straight Rose Bowls and had a decent argument to be considered for an at-large bid this season if there was an opening. Wisconsin will still be playing in a January 1 bowl game in the Big Ten line-up and should be a tough opponent for whatever team they get paired up with.

Penn State’s season is over of course despite a second straight winning season under O’Brien. This marks the completion of the second of four seasons serving a postseason ban for the Nittany Lions. O’Brien is now 3-2 against top 25 teams in his short coaching career. Penn State had lost eight straight games against ranked opponents prior to the hiring of O’Brien.

Questionable officiating helps Penn State tie Wisconsin at half

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Penn State got the big plays early and the big breaks late in the first half in Madison. The Badgers, heavy favorites in this one, find themselves tied with Penn State, 14-14.

Penn State struck early with a 68-yard touchdown pass from Christian Hackenberg to tight end Adam Brenenaman, who broke a tackle and maintained his balance to sprint to the end zone before any Badgers could catch up to him. Penn State again used a big play to their advantage when Allen Robinson made some moves for a big gain on another promising possession, but Wisconsin held Penn State to a failed field goal attempt. Sam Ficken‘s kick was low and blocked at the line.

Wisconsin answered in the second quarter with a pair of touchdown passes by Joel Stave. The first score came early with a short pass to Brian Wozniak, his third touchdown catch on the year despite just four receptions at that point. The Badgers struck again when Stave threw a dart over the middle to Jeff Duckworth to give Wisconsin the lead.

Penn State would tie things up though with a late first half possession, getting some breaks to help them out. A questionable interference call against Wisconsin in the end zone gave Penn State a great scoring opportunity and the Badgers were not awarded a timeout despite head coach Gary Andersen running down the sideline calling for one. Penn State wide receiver Eugene Lewis was wide open, with no Wisconsin defender within 20 yards of him on the left side of the field as Penn State got the play off before a timeout could be called. Hackenberg tossed one of the easiest touchdown plays he will see to take advantage of the non-timeout.

Penn State’s defense was dealt a bit of a blow when they lost corner Adrian Amos. Amos is battling a foot sprain and tried to give it a go in Madison, but after one series his day appears to be done. If Amos is going to be unavailable for the rest of this game, Wisconsin should be able to thrive throwing the football a little bit. Amos has been Penn State’s best player in the secondary. Wisconsin wide receiver Jordan Frederick left the game to be treated for a right shoulder injury in the first quarter.

Wisconsin tops Minnesota to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison

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No. 19 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) once again will maintain possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe after shutting the door on No. 25 Minnesota (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten), 20-7 Saturday afternoon. The Badgers kept the Gophers offense off the scoreboard in the win and now Wisconsin can hope for some help from above in the standings to make a late BCS at-large push.

Joel Stave completed a short two-yard touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis in the third quarter to cap a 12 play drive spanning 83 yards. The score gave Wisconsin a 20-7 lead and that was all of the scoring in the second half. James White rushed for a game-high 125 yards and one touchdown to help the Badgers control the time of possession. Wisconsin only managed to put together 318 yards of offense but the defense was more than up to the task of holding down an inspired Minnesota team. The Gophers managed just 185 yards against Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has one more game to play to make a case for a BCS at-large spot, although the competition for a BCS spot may be pretty deep. The Badgers wrap up the regular season next weekend at home against Penn State. Penn State clipped Wisconsin in overtime in State College last season.

Minnesota will conclude their regular season at Michigan State. The Spartans clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game with a win Saturday at Northwestern.