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, our top 10 begins with…
CHRIS ASH, Co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach
Statistically, yes, the Wisconsin defense ranked among the leaders in the nation. But look at the game against Oregon in the Rose Bowl, or Michigan State, or Ohio State, or Michigan State again in the Big Ten championship.
Yes, Wisconsin finished 13th nationally in scoring defense (19 points per game) and 15th nationally in total defense, but did you ever feel that comfortable with the Badgers defense — namely the secondary — throughout the course of the regular season?
It seemed as though every time a legitimate team (only Nebraska played out differently) showed up on the schedule the Badgers defense struggled to play the same it did against less successful teams.
Mental lapses seemed to be the biggest inconsistency plaguing the Badgers defensively in 2011. And that needs to be fixed in 2012 if the team is going to have another chance at reaching the hallowed grounds of Pasadena.
Things should run smoother — not that they ran incredibly poorly a year ago, but there were definitely growing pains — now that Ash and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge are entering year two in a somewhat split role on game days, in the locker room and in meetings.
The growth from year one to year two for the two defensive coordinators should provide an outlet for achievable success. Look, the defense returns plenty of star power (Chris Borland, Mike Taylor, David Gilbert) and plenty of starters with experience (Shelton Johnson, Marcus Cromartie, Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer, Devin Smith). There’s no reason the defense can’t be the strength of the team.
That’s the task Ash, who also works with players in the secondary, has to achieve this fall. And that’s why he’s so important.
How many miscues that led to opponent’s touchdowns stemmed from misplays in the secondary? Most of them, right?
How many mental miscues are acceptable for a veteran defense, a top-15 ranked total defense? Not nearly as many that occurred a season ago, right?
Year two under Ash and Partridge, a critical year to maintain the momentum the program has established in each of the past two years, has the potential to be great.
With four new offensive coaches, a new quarterback, a new No. 1 wide receiver (and more importantly new No. 2, 3 and 4 wide receivers) and an entirely new right side of the offensive line makes predicting the efficiency on that side of the ball like predicting a high temperature for a date three years down the road.
The defense can be the stable. Can Ash help lead it there?
OTHER IMPORTANT BADGERS