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10 Things to know about the Wisconsin Badgers 2017 season

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We’re here, just under one week away from the start of the 2017 season.

Now is a great time to take stock of the team following the answers and questions created by the release of Wisconsin’s first depth chart of the season. There’s a triple-threat at running back, some surprise names on defense and an ongoing offensive line battle that should be interesting.

It’s also important to take a look deep inside the program and find some numbers that will be telling. So, as we roll towards the season, let’s look at the 10 things we know about the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers…stats style.

1: Only one Wisconsin quarterback has ever taken a college football snap

No position will be as talked about or scrutinized in 2017 as the Badgers quarterback group. It’s part intrigue and part worry though, as redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook starts the season as the starter for the first time in his career.

Meanwhile, behind him are three completely untested players in Jack Coan, Karé Lyles and Danny Vanden Boom. Coan and Vanden Boom are true freshmen, while Lyles redshirted last season after having hip surgery.

Coan was named the backup entering the season, beating out Lyles. Head coach Paul Chryst noted that it was his steady progression throughout both spring and fall that gives the coaching staff confidence in him should anything happen to Hornibrook.

“I thought he did some good things in the course of practice when he were scrimmaging in some of those situations that weren’t necessarily schematic,” said Chryst at his weekly press conference. “I’ve liked the progress that he’s made. Certainly has a ton more to learn and ways to grow, but I do feel like he had a good camp.”

Vanden Boom seems like a good project to watch for the future, and likely will redshirt this season. However, when it comes to 2017, the coaching staff has to be hoping that Hornibrook can stay healthy and UW gets big enough leads in the second half of its opening two contests to get Coan some real work with the offense.

There is no more scary situation than the thin depth at quarterback for this year’s Badgers.

2: That is the number of touchdowns caught by both returning tight ends last season

Troy Fumagalli has taken all the headlines after a stellar 2016 season, but most would be surprised to know he had just two touchdown receptions last season. Most would also likely never guess that backup tight end Kyle Penniston tied Fumagalli with two touchdown receptions of his own.

Yet, heading in to 2017 that is exactly where we stand. Fumagalli paced all Badgers with 47 receptions for 580 yards last season, but his production was most valuable in between the 20-yard lines and certainly on third downs.

Conversely, Penniston began living up to some of his 4-star hype out of California by having two of his six receptions on the season go for scores. He also turned those six receptions in to 102 yards to showcase some serious potential as a pass-catcher going forward.

Could it be that both Fumagalli and Penniston are ready to be major weapons for Hornibrook in 2017? It sure would be nice to see them catch more than two touchdowns individually this season.

3: Wisconsin has won three straight bowl games heading in to 2017

If you don’t think that is more than some small feat, then you haven’t been paying attention to UW’s bowl game history at all. Only twice before has UW won at least three bowl games in a row.

The first came in 1994 to 96, as the Badgers won the Rose Bowl in 1994 and went on to win the Hall of Fame Bowl and then the Copper Bowl in the following two seasons.

However, Alvarez wasn’t done making sure his charges were postseason winners, this time racking up a program record four straight bowl wins from 1999 to 2002. Once again a new streak would start with a Rose Bowl win, as UW took home both the 1999 and 2000 editions of the Granddaddy of them all, followed up a Sun Bowl win in December of 2000 and a win in the Alamo Bowl in 2002.

Should the Badgers make another bowl game, they’ll have a chance to tie some program history as a team this season.

4: Wisconsin forced just 4.4 penalties per game against opponents last season

Much has been made about UW’s ability to avoid penalties last season, where they led the conference with just 3.4 penalties per game. However, the Badgers weren’t very good about getting penalty calls against opponents either.

Wisconsin ranked just 13th in the Big Ten with 4.4 opponent penalties per game. Part of that is UW’s ability to stay clean on its end of the bargain, but the Badgers also struggled to get penalty calls a lot in 2016.

With some new pieces to the puzzle in 2017, it will be worth watching to see how the penalty situation unfolds. Given Paul Chryst’s attention to detail and penchant for not accepting penalties from his charges, look for UW to stay near the top of the fewest penalties against list.

But, let’s see if Chryst’s group in 2017 can be more adept at creating penalties against opponents as well. Whether one wants to admit it or not, pushing opponents to their limits also includes getting them to make mental mistakes, and thus penalties against.

5: Jazz Peavy topped the team with 5 touchdown receptions in 2016

It was no secret that the Badgers passing attack lacked an ability to get in the end zone last season. Part of that steamed from inexperience at quarterback, but part of it also steamed from a lack of big play receivers in the mix.

However, that wasn’t the case for then-junior wide receiver Jazz Peavy. He broke out last season, leading all wide receivers with 43 receptions and leading the team with 635 yards and five touchdowns.

Wisconsin put up just 14 touchdowns as a team, so Peavy’s five TD receptions accounted for nearly 50 percent of the passing TD production as a team. The 14 passing touchdowns were good enough for just 11th in the Big Ten, and it is certainly a stat UW’s coaching staff would like to see get better this season.

Interestingly enough, the Badgers haven’t thrown more than 22 touchdown passes in the past five seasons and never ranked higher than eighth in the Big Ten outside of Russell Wilson’s one year in town in 2011. That season, Wisconsin led the conference with 34 passing touchdowns.

With a ton of youth getting a look behind Peavy, can the Badgers break out of their passing slump on the scoreboard?

6: That is the number of fumbles lost by the Badgers in 2016

Wisconsin has always prided itself on not making stupid turnovers, especially in the run game. 2016 was no different, as UW lost just six fumbles for the entire season.

A look inside those numbers suggests how little the Badgers compounded any mistake made in 2016 as well, with all six fumbles lost coming in six different games.

Wisconsin played seven ranked teams in 2016, and lost just one fumble in those games. Is it any wonder they beat expectations and went to the Cotton Bowl?

How does this stat translate to 2017? Of those six fumbles lost, four of them happened by four different players that are on this season’s roster. Only Corey Clement and his two lost fumbles are gone from last season.

Running back Bradrick Shaw, wide receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing, as well as quarterback Alex Hornibrook each lost a fumble last season. All four are likely key contributors in 2017 and keeping those lost fumble numbers low will be a key stat to watch this season.

7: That is the number of interceptions thrown in 2016 by Alex Hornibrook

Wisconsin is going to ride or die with Hornibrook at quarterback, and there certainly were indications that he could be special in 2016.

However, for all those special moments, there were plenty of head-scratching ones as well. That played out in the fact that he threw nearly as many interceptions (seven) and he did touchdowns (nine).

Most of those interceptions came as Hornibrook tried to squeeze passes in to really tight windows. It was a sign of great moxie, good arm strength and a willingness to take chances.

8: That is the number of freshman listed on Wisconsin’s two-deep to start the season

Transition happens every year, but the 2017 version of the Wisconsin Badgers was supposed to see a good mix of experience and youth. One could say the youth has certainly begun to take over though, as eight true or redshirt freshmen made the opening week two-deep for the Badgers.

We’ve already talked about both true freshmen Jack Coan, but he could also be taking snaps from another freshman, this time redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadsz.

He was the surprise in spring camp and in the end was one of the five best UW offensive lineman and pushed all-Big Ten center Michael Dieter out to left tackle with his play all the way through summer drills.

Oh, and fellow redshirt freshmen Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl are just one injury away from being the left and right tackle pairing for the Badgers this season as well.

Coan’s fellow true freshman Danny Davis is in the two-deep at wide receiver and technically we could say nine players are in the mix as freshmen if you include Jonathan Taylor (who is listed third on the RB depth chart but also as a co-starter). But, since he’s third there are technically only eight freshman in the two-deep.

Defensively, there isn’t as much for the freshmen as there is on offense, but don’t sleep on nickel back Donyte Carriere-Williams. He’s joined as a redshirt freshman by one of my most intriguing players to watch in 2017 — mammoth defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk.

Let’s just say, youth is going to have a big impact on the Badgers in 2017 and that may not be a bad thing considering what we’ve already seen.

9: That is the number of career rushing touchdowns for UW’s starting running backs

Plug-and-play has long been the motto for Wisconsin at running back, but things are different these days. Following the exit of both Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale, there is a huge set of shoes for someone or someones to fill.

Most believed the redshirt freshman season of Bradrick Shaw was enough for him to win the starting job. Spring and fall camp has only muddied the waters, with Pitt transfer Chris James doing more than providing depth.

There also is incoming freshman Jonathan Taylor, who won back-to-back New Jersey state 100-meter track championships. But, could he really be in the mix once thrown in to the deep end in fall camp? Apparently so, because all three were named co-starters for the season opener and all three will see significant time in the backfield against Utah State.

However, there are just nine career rushing touchdowns amongst all three of those co-starters.

Perhaps the biggest question is if they have a huge nose for the end zone. Given limited carries, nine touchdowns returning amongst those three suggests they’ll be just fine. But, this is Wisconsin and rushing touchdowns are the Badgers bread and butter.

10: Wisconsin has won 10 or more games every season under Chryst so far

Sure, it has only been two seasons and all, but the fact that UW has been consistently very good in the face of a third coaching transition in less than four years speaks volumes of the players and Chryst’s own coaching talent.

The old swagger of this program is back, and while it may not be fancy, most opposition dreads playing the Badgers because they once again are back to not caring if you know what’s coming and just beating you with technique and poise.

Wisconsin is coming off another trip to Indianapolis in the face of what experts thought was one of the toughest schedules in the country last season. A win in the Cotton Bowl didn’t hurt expectations either.

As 2017 looms, the Badgers schedule and lack of Ohio State or Penn State from the other division, have plenty of people talking another 10-win season. If it does happen, Chryst would go down as the only coach in program history to win 10-plus games in his first three seasons in Madison.

Think about where that would put him in the echelon of Badgers coaches for a second. Few would’ve seen that coming, yet it seems like a real possibility.

A 10-win season may actually be a bit of a disappointment in 2017, with the hope of progress to a Big Ten title and maybe even the College Football Playoff the real hope of the season for fans and pundits alike.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019

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We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker |

Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.

What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.

Best Case Scenario

Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.

Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.

No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.

It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.

Worst Case Scenario

What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?

Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.

Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.

The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.

Most Likely to Happen

The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.

I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.

Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019

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This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.

But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.

Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.

In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver

Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.

Best Case Scenario:

Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.

Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.

Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.

Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.

In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.

Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.

Worst Case Scenario:

Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.

Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.

If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.

Most Likely to Happen:

Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.

I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.

That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.

So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.

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Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019

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The heat of summer is upon us and the recruiting trail has been even hotter for the Wisconsin Badgers. However, that heat also indicates that the long offseason nightmare is about to be over.

With that in mind, we’re taking a summer-long look at each position group heading in to the 2019 season.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line |

Today, we flip back to the offensive side of the ball and look at a second skill position — wide receiver.

After what was supposed to be a breakout year for the group in 2018, what will this group have in store for 2019? Let’s look at the best and worst case scenarios at play.

Best Case Scenario

If the Badgers want to get going in the pass game, the wide receiver group needs to step up the deep game in a big way. While A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor have proven to be reliable assets, 2018 felt much like they all barely scratched the surface of their potential.

The trio combined for 95 receptions (which was 53 percent of all receptions as a team), 1,212 yards and 11 of 19 touchdown receptions on the year.

For this season, the best case scenario actually involves the quarterback position almost more-so than anything this group can do. The receivers could benefit from a consistently good passer at quarterback and a more open playbook as well.

Whether it is Jack Coan or wonderkid recruit, Graham Mertz, the consistency and trust to open up the playbook needs to be there.

Additionally, an increased role for speedster Aaron Cruickshank would be the best case scenario.

Worst Case Scenario

Danny Davis emerged as the most targeted receiver last season, catching 40 passes to lead all wide receivers on the team. He will enter his junior season with an increase in expectations and no off-field distractions like he had to deal with last season thanks to his stupid decision-making.

That aside, Davis is the most well-rounded receiver in this group and the one that could wind up be the deep threat that has been missing for awhile now. So, any injury to Davis would be bad news.

In fact, any sustained injuries to the likes of Davis, Pryor and Taylor would not be good. UW is very inexperienced behind this trio, and inexperience at QB and WR may not be a fun combination.

Dare I say, it would lead to UW not being back on top of the West division mountain?

Most Likely to Happen

I fully believe that the coaching staff will go in to the season knowing which quarterback they’ll go with and stick with. Confidence is key to helping this wide receiver group and I expect the Badgers offense to be much more balanced in 2019 than it was over the past two seasons.

Look for Davis, Pryor and Taylor to all increase their overall numbers and likely go over the 15 touchdown mark as a group. More importantly, I expect much more play-action and much more from the deep passing game too. That should be music to a talented, but under used group’s ears.

Don’t be surprised to see one of the Badgers wide receivers make a run at All-Big Ten honors as a result of that shift back to balance.

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Hill is Badgers QB in 2021 class

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With all the flurry of activity around the 2020 class, apparently someone wanted to bring the 2021 class some attention on Tuesday as well.

Following back-to-back linebacker commitments in the 2020 class, Wisconsin picked up a verbal commitment from 2021 quarterback Deacon Hill.

The 3-star player out of Santa Barbara, Calif. went with his gut despite the potential to earn offers from the likes of USC, Oregon and Oregon State — all much closer to home.

Instead, Hill chose the Badgers over official offers from Kansas State and Nevada to date.

The 6-3, 225-pound quarterback was first offered by Wisconsin quarterback coach Jon Budmayr in May. It was the first overall offer Hill received in the 2021 class.

Wisconsin was able to get out in front of the 2021 quarterback class after a pair of big targets in 2020 passed on offers from the Badgers. Once that happened, the focus turned to the next class and it paid off in building a quick and solid relationship with Hill.

It may not be a big home run get like Graham Mertz was, but then again the Badgers were hip to Mertz before most of the country was and that paid off as he developed.

Hill is much more physically imposing than most quarterbacks entering their junior season would be, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have mobility either.

Nevada’s more spread-orientated offense and Kansas State’s quarterbacks are certainly going to be mobile ones in the new offense that is being installed.

As for Hill, the 247Sports composite rankings have him as the No. 30 ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2021 class. But, given the small amount of attention paid to that class so far we’ll see where that ends up should Hill hit the QB camp circuit in the coming months and year.

UW will only be taking one quarterback in this class, so they certainly trusted their early evaluation of the tool set that Hill possesses and could posses by the time he is finished at Wisconsin.

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