WHERE WOULD the Badgers be without Travis Beckum? Few teams in the country without a returning starter at quarterback and wide receiver could be expected to generate much offense, let alone challenge for a BCS berth. But, in Beckum, Wisconsin has someone around whom it can quickly rebuild its passing game. The 6'4", 235-pound senior tight end earned All-America honors last season with 982 receiving yards on 75 catches, totals that ranked first and second in the nation, respectively, among all TEs.
A highly touted linebacker coming out of Milwaukee's Oak Creek High in 2005, Beckum was buried on the depth chart because the Badgers were so talent-rich at his position. Midway through a freshman season spent mostly on special teams, he approached defensive coordinator Bret Bielema (who would become head coach after the season) about moving to tight end. "He thought I was joking," says Beckum, "but our top three tight ends were leaving the next year." Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst agreed to the change the following spring, and as a sophomore Beckum led the team with 61 catches for 903 yards. "It was a challenge to figure out how he fit at first," says Chryst, who places Beckum in a variety of alignments. "Now it's like he's created his own position."
Beckum will be the primary target for the winner of the quarterback battle among senior Allan Evridge, junior Dustin Sherer and sophomore Scott Tolzien. The strong-armed Evridge narrowly lost out on the job to Tyler Donovan last season and seems to have the edge. Whoever gets the nod will benefit from a powerful line that has four starters returning, as well as the deepest stable of tailbacks in the Big Ten. The starter is likely to be P.J. Hill, who rushed for 1,212 yards and 14 TDs as a sophomore despite missing the better part of four games with a foot injury.
On defense, Wisconsin brings back nine starters from a unit that was beset by injuries and inconsistency. Though there was improvement as the season went on, Bielema fired coordinator Mike Hankwitz and promoted linebackers coach Dave Doeren. If the defense is sound, then the last concern is whether there's a quarterback who can get the ball to Beckum. "Luckily," says Chryst, "when the ball is in the air, Travis thinks it's always for him."