B1G's most indispensable players: Wisconsin


Our weeklong series on the most indispensable players for each team in the Big Ten is nearing an end.

By now, you know the drill -- indispensable doesn’t necessarily mean best.

The goal is to identify players who would be hardest to replace if they suffered an injury or were lost to suspension. We’re picking two guys from each team that fit the bill -- typically one each on offense and defense.

Up next: the Wisconsin Badgers.

LT Tyler Marz: Though it seemed at times over his illustrious career that Melvin Gordon did it all by himself, the Badgers’ gold-standard running back benefited greatly from a stout line en route to nearly 2,600 yards last season and just short of 5,000 in his career.

Wisconsin loses a pair of all-conference caliber linemen, leaving Marz at left tackle and center Dan Voltz, limited this offseason by injury, to direct the Badgers up front. Marz is up to the task. An honorable-mention All-Big Ten pick as a junior, he played at a level that likely merits more recognition.

The Badgers led the nation in yards per rush last season and set school records in 2013 for total offense and rushing yardage in Marz’s first year as a starter. He protects the blind side, of course, for senior QB Joel Stave, who has won 21 games in his career and rates as another vital piece of the Wisconsin offense.

S Michael Caputo: Little doubt exists that the secondary ranks as the Badgers’ No. 1 strength, where Tanner McEvoy has pushed returning seven-game starter Lubern Figaro into a reserve role. Corners Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary will challenge any tandem for the title of Big Ten’s best.

But Caputo is the clear leader of the defensive backfield, starting 26 of the past 27 games and playing in 40 over his career. Over his two years atop the depth chart, Wisconsin’s defense ranks third nationally in yardage allowed, sixth in and passing yardage scoring.

A force in run defense, he led the Badgers with 106 tackles and made six stops behind the line of scrimmage. His high-intensity play figures to help pace a defense that likely must carry a big load as Wisconsin adjusts to life without Gordon under the guidance of new coach Paul Chryst. Wisconsin looks strong at outside linebacker, but key losses in the middle at the first and second levels of defense reinforce the importance of Caputo’s presence.