With Clement, Biegel, No. 23 Badgers have key pieces for '16
An obstacle in 2015 could turn into a strength next season for No. 23 Wisconsin.
Injuries forced the Badgers to turn to younger players this season. Inexperience slowed the team's growth, particularly in the running game.
A thrilling, 23-21 win over Southern California in the Holiday Bowl gave Wisconsin (10-3) promising glimpses of the future.
''How it carries forward, the momentum, I think it's up to us, and what we choose to do with it,'' coach Paul Chryst said early Thursday after the game.
It always helps to end the year on a high note when it comes to recruiting. Returnees, led by tailback Corey Clement and linebacker Vince Biegel, can use the victory as a springboard ahead of spring practice in a few months.
''Whatever that may be ... I sure appreciate this group and it's up to us to make it be a positive where the momentum is in our favor,'' Chryst said.
Start with the high-energy Biegel, who posted on Twitter after the game that he was returning for his senior season.
''Badger fans I hope (you're) ready for the 2016 football season because I'm coming back,'' wrote the pass-rusher, finishing the post off with four exclamation points.
Clement was eager to move on even before the bowl game began. He told coaches during the bowl practice period in December that he would return as well.
Injuries and an off-field altercation that resulted in a police citation maligned Clement during what he hoped would be a breakout junior season.
Getting his most extensive work of the season, Clement finished with 66 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries before leaving with a minor left ankle injury.
The returning Badgers will benefit from the familiarity of knowing what to expect from Chryst , who took over a year ago following the departure of predecessor Gary Andersen to Oregon State.
The schedule will be tough, starting with a season opener against LSU at Lambeau Field. Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State are all back on the schedule - as the first three games of Big Ten play, no less. The Badgers will also need a new starting quarterback with veteran Joel Stave's career coming to an end.
But it's way too early to start dissecting the 2016 season.
''What we do with this going forward, that's for next year's team to work on and to make reality,'' Chryst said, ''but told the kids going into this, this game was going to be about finishing this season.''
Other notes and takeaways as the Badgers wrapped up 2015:
JACKED UP: Senior Joe Schobert, the other half of Wisconsin's standout outside linebacker duo with Biegel, wrapped up his career in the Holiday Bowl. But linebacker again figures to be a position of strength. Start with Biegel coming off the edge. On the inside, T.J. Edwards (team-high 84 tackles) and Chris Orr had outstanding seasons for freshmen. Then there's sophomore Jack Cichy, whose three sacks on three straight plays in the Holiday Bowl turned him into a social media sensation. Consider it statement for playing time next year.
''I think I've taken the opportunity, I've grown a lot, and I've got a long way to go, but, yeah, I guess it feels real,'' Cichy said.
RUNNING GAME: Clement's return gives the Badgers a relatively crowded backfield - but also provides Chryst with big-play potential that his other backs don't possess. Junior Dare Ogunbowale, a former defensive back, led the team in rushing with 819 yards on 194 attempts, an uncharacteristically low number of a school known for its ground game. Taiwan Deal, a redshirt freshman and more physical back, had 503 yards on 117 carries. At their best, the Badgers have worn down foes with three quality backs, and they might have the potential to do that next season.
LINING UP: The mixing and matching along the offensive line due to injuries was at the root of Wisconsin's offensive issues this season. Left tackle Tyler Marz was the only senior, and junior center Dan Voltz went down at midseason with a knee injury. By the bowl game, the Badgers had found some stability with a lineup that included four redshirt freshmen up front. They'll have valuable experience from which to draw for 2016.
AP College Football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/