If Gary Andersen can repeat at Wisconsin what he accomplished in his last head coaching job, Saturday’s season opening non-conference game against visiting Massachusetts will be only the beginning of great things in Madison. Andersen, 49, comes to Wisconsin from Utah State, where he orchestrated a remarkable turnaround that saw the school win 26 games in his four seasons after winning just six in the previous three years. He replaces Bret Bielema, who won 68 games in his seven years before departing to Arkansas.
Wisconsin is a 44 1/2-point favorite in the game that will be televised at noon on the Big Ten Network.
UMass is a former Yankee Conference, Atlantic 10 Conference and Colonial Athletic Association rival of the University of Maine that moved to the Football Bowl Subdivision last season.
About Massachusetts (2012: 1-11, 1-7 Mid-American): Coach Charley Molnar expects marked improvement in his team, which was outscored 482-152 in its first season in the FBS. Sophomore Mike Wegzyn, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns last season, will lead an offense that will be without tight end Rob Blanchflower (undisclosed) and running back Jordan Broadnax (knee) for this game due to injury. Ricardo Miller, a senior transfer from Michigan, will start at tight end and Stacey Bedell will start at running back.
About Wisconsin (2012: 8-6, 4-4 Big Ten): Andersen released his depth chart Monday and it includes Joel Stave as the starter at quarterback. The sophomore threw for 1,104 yards and six touchdowns in six games last year before suffering a broken collarbone. Senior backup Curt Phillips, who started five games last year, and tight end Jacob Pedersen and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis — both All-Big Ten first-team selections last season — are back for the three-time defending conference champion Badgers.
The NCAA has informed Massachusetts that it must average 15,000 in attendance at Gillette Stadium or face probation for 10 years. The team averaged fewer than 11,000 last season.
With Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball gone to the NFL, senior starter James White and sophomore backup Melvin Gordon will share the bulk of the carries in the backfield for Wisconsin.
Massachusetts senior punter Colter Johnson, whose 43.8 yards average was 25th best in the FBS last season, appears on the Ray Guy Award preseason watch list.
Prediction: Wisconsin 55, Massachusetts 10