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Big Ten Football Preview 2015: Wisconsin season outlook

Melving Gordon, see ya; Corey Clement, take the stage

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The days of Wisconsin steamrolling competition with Melvin Gordon's legs are no more.

After posting a spectacular junior season — 2,587 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns — and coming within reach of Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record, Gordon decided to leave Madison early for the NFL.

How does 2015 look for the Badgers as they venture into life without Gordon? This week, we take a look at Wisconsin in our Big Ten Football Preview season outlook series.

Key returnees

Corey Clement, take the stage.

The junior was in Gordon's shadow last season but has the makings of Wisconsin's next great running back.

He rushed for 949 yards and nine touchdowns on 147 carries last season. His yardage — accumulated in a backup role, no less — bests the rushing leaders from six Big Ten teams: Iowa, Illinois, Penn State, Rutgers, Michigan and Maryland.

Clement seems poised to become one of the Big Ten's top backs in 2015.

With Tanner McEvoy moving to safety, quarterback belongs to Joel Stave.

Stave started nine games for Wisconsin last season, posting an 8-1 record. The fifth-year senior threw for 1,350 yards and nine touchdowns, but struggled completing passes (53.4 percentage) and turnovers (10 interceptions). He no longer has the luxury of handing the ball to Gordon, but Clement should be able to provide Stave cushion in a run-heavy offense.

When Wisconsin does opt to pass, fifth-year senior Alex Erickson will be a prime target. He was the team's leading receiver last season, hauling in 55 catches for 772 yards and three touchdowns.

Fifth-year senior Tyler Marz (27 consecutive starts at left tackle) and redshirt junior Dan Voltz (20 starts at center) anchor the Badgers' offensive line.

Over on defense, redshirt junior Vince Biegel and fifth-year senior Michael Caputo stand out after strong seasons in 2014.

Biegel totaled 7.5 sacks at linebacker and led Wisconsin with 16.5 tackles for loss.

Caputo is one of the top safeties in the conference. He totaled a team-high 106 tackles last season and is a watch-list candidate for four awards this season: Lott IMPACT Trophy, Bednarik Award, Jim Thorpe Award and Bronko Nagurski.

The schedule

Sept. 5 vs. Alabama (Cowboys Classic)
Sept. 12 vs. Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 19 vs. Temple
Sept. 26 vs. Hawaii
Oct. 3 vs. Iowa
Oct. 10 at Nebraska
Oct. 17 vs. Purdue
Oct. 24 at Illinois
Oct. 31 vs. Rutgers
Nov. 7 at Maryland
Nov. 21 vs. Northwestern
Nov. 28 at Minnesota

For the second-consecutive year, Wisconsin opens its season against a top-flight SEC foe. This time it's Alabama in the Cowboys Classic.

After facing the Crimson Tide, Wisconsin returns to Madison for four-straight home games, headlined by Iowa. A trip to Nebraska on Oct. 10 serves as the Badgers' first "true" road test. October wraps up with games against Purdue (homecoming), Illinois and Rutgers.

On paper, Wisconsin has a favorable November schedule. It travels to Maryland on to start the month and has its bye week before hosting Northwestern Nov. 21 (the Wildcats stunned Wisconsin for an upset win last season).

The season finale at Minnesota could very well decide the Big Ten West division. The Golden Gophers are on the rise under Jerry Kill but fell to the Badgers 34-24 in last year's matchup.

If Clement posts a strong season and the defense can continue its success, Wisconsin could finish with double-digit wins and its fourth trip to the Big Ten title championship in five years. That's the luxury of not facing Michigan State or Ohio State in crossover games.

The season opener against Alabama is daunting, but the Badgers should be able to enter conference play with a 3-1 record. Nebraska poses a challenge, as does Minnesota; Wisconsin plays both on the road this season.