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. 12 on said list is…
RICKY WAGNER: Senior left tackle (77 points)
When asked about the talent Ricky Wagner possesses having had him in practice for a handful of weeks, new offensive line coach Mike Markuson seemed as though he was at a loss for words.
He didn’t say he was the next Michael Oher (a player Markuson coached), but he did imply that he has a chance to become something great. Wagner, a player that entered the program at approximately 250 pounds, has become nothing but the next in a long line of Badger greats.
It seems as though he’s got the potential to play at a level high enough as a senior to get him recognized by NFL Scouts as a sure fire top 10 pick.
That’s a saving grace for the Wisconsin offense. Not only does that side of the ball welcome in a new quarterback — Danny O’Brien transferred in from Maryland — it also features two new starters on the right side of the line.
That’s not to mention the four new offensive coaches — Markuson, Matt Canada, Zach Azzani, Eddie Faulkner — trying to establish new chemistry collectively. It’s important for a guy like Wagner to assert himself as a leader, even though he’s not necessarily the most vocal player on the field.
UW is graced with a legitimate Outland Trophy candidate at left tackle, arguably the most important position on the team outside of quarterback. He’ll be able to protect the blind side of O’Brien — a quarterback not nearly as mobile as the aforementioned Wilson.
In order for the Badgers offense to continue anything close to the ridiculous momentum it had under Paul Chryst each of the past two seasons, it’s going to start with the left side of the offensive line, a side anchored by Wagner.
Montee Ball, UW’s stud tailback returned for his senior year because he wasn’t thrilled with his projections as it related to the NFL draft. It’s clear he thought highly of the returning starters up front, starting with Wagner.
It’s fair to say, especially with the lack of proven depth at quarterback, the UW offense will only go as far as a guy like Wagner takes them. He is, after all, the blind side protector.
OTHER IMPORTANT BADGERS:
No. 20: Mike Markuson (34 points)
No. 19: Beau Allen (36 points)
No. 18: Shelton Johnson (46 points)
No. 17: James White (50 points)
No. 16: Travis Frederick (57 points)
No. 15: Dezmen Southward (60 points)
No. 14: Marcus Cromartie (62 points)
No. 13: Charlie Partridge (74 points)