By TOM LEA
MADISON - A panel of 10 ESPN Wisconsin writers, hosts and producers submitted a compilation of the 20 most important Wisconsin Badgers football players and coaches — ranked 1-20 — as it relates to success in 2012.
Success, as defined to the panelists, is regarded as winning a Big Ten championship. So, knowing the parameters, which players or coaches need to perform at the highest level in order for the Badgers to win their third-straight Big Ten title?
Through the next few weeks ESPN Wisconsin will countdown the top 20 players or coaches as voted on by the panel.
No. 1 on the list came in with 161 points and 19 players or coaches received votes, but not enough to make the actual list of 20. Those receiving votes can be seen at the bottom of this post.
Without further pomp and circumstance, No. 15 on said list is…
DEZMEN SOUTHWARD: Junior free safety (60 points)
Co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge, when speaking on ESPN Wisconsin’s Jump Around program, reminded everybody that Dezmen Southward had only played one year of organized football prior to his enrollment at the University of Wisconsin.
That speaks to two things:
1. Considering Southward is in line to start at free safety in 2012, it’s obvious he’s very gifted athletically, especially when he’s only now played four full seasons of organized football.
2. Southward, who along with Shelton Johnson represents the last line of defense, will get the start at an incredibly important position with just four full seasons of organized football under his belt.
Yes, Southward is probably among the best athletes on the entire UW roster. But at the same time his athleticism is only going to get him so far if he’s off by any means in regards to his down-by-down assignments.
Southward made this list of important Badgers because he’s somewhat unknown. His propensity to make plays on paper is incredibly high, but his propensity to make plays in actuality remains to be seen.
Head coach Bret Bielema said he thought Johnson and Southward had the potential to become the best safety tandem he’s coached during his time at UW during spring camp. That’s lofty praise for a unit that hasn’t worked together on a game-by-game basis, and in Southward’s case, for a guy that has to replace a solid field leader and contributor in Aaron Henry.
Now that he’s emerged physically and mentally, as evidenced by his rise up the depth chart, it’s inherent for Southward to represent a reliable defender in the back end of the secondary. The defense — at least on paper —has a chance to build on a statistically strong 2011 season. But there were plenty of miscues on the defensive side of the ball that hampered what some would consider a strong year.
And plenty of times those miscues stemmed from the secondary, and safeties in particular. That’s going to be the challenge for Southward, a guy that will be starting at free safety for a team that has won back-to-back Big Ten titles in just his fifth full season on the gridiron.
The task is tall for Southward. It’s on him to see if he achieves it.
OTHER IMPORTANT BADGERS: