Bowl season is in full swing, but the Big Ten has a bit of a wait before any conference team sees the field. So, we’re spending the week before Christmas giving you a full look in to the bowl games involving Big Ten teams.
While the conference champion, Ohio State, was passed over for the College Football Playoff, there are still plenty of things to love about bowl season if you’re a fan of a team in or of the conference as a whole.
What better way to start than by looking at one of the biggest bowl matchups this year — the Big Ten’s return to the Orange Bowl as Wisconsin takes on Miami at its home stadium.
So, why should you tune in to this matchup if you aren’t a fan of the Badgers? Let’s look over 5 reasons to love this game.
Jonathan Taylor’s Pursuit of History
It has been a record-setting season for Wisconsin freshman running back Jonathan Taylor. He already tied the mark for the fastest true freshman to 1,000 yards (7 games) and sits at 1,847 yards.
Taylor would love a do-over after he was basically made non-existent in the Big Ten championship game. He was held to a season-low 41 yards against Ohio State. But, Taylor isn’t done with potentially making history and that should be plenty of motivation.
He’s got one more big personal goal — the true freshman single-season rushing record.
He trails some guy named Adrian Peterson for that mark and needs just 79 yards to own it. Given Wisconsin’s rich history of running backs over the last 30-plus years, Taylor owning this record would certainly speak for itself in the pantheon of Badgers running backs.
Should he get that goal, there’s also a good chance it also means his team is doing good things on the scoreboard too. So, look for Taylor’s performance to tell a lot about what Wisconsin will or won’t be capable of on offense.
If you love defensive football, this game should be your cup of tea. Wisconsin was one of the most dominant defensive teams in college football. They were great against the run (), very solid against the pass, didn’t let opposing teams score much and loved a good turnover. Wisconsin ranked 3rd nationally in scoring defense (13.2 points per game), 2nd in rushing defense (92.6 yards per game), 4th in passing defense (160.6) and 1st in total defense (253.2)
Miami was no slouch, and we all know about the “turnover chain,” because Miami has their “swagger” back. The Hurricanes were one of the best defenses in the country at creating turnovers in 2017, ranking 9th in the country in interceptions (17) and 7th in fumbles recovered (13).
Wisconsin hasn’t been bad on the turnover front themselves, racking up 26 total turnovers to rank 9th in the country themselves.
But, the Badgers offense has been turnover prone, in large part thanks to throwing the second-highest amount of interceptions in the Big Ten this season (15). Miami has one of the bet turnover margins in the country thanks to an offense that has been able to keep things under control on the turnover front (15).
This game could come down to which defense can play to its strength more, and it may be one of the few games truly decided by defense first.
Who Rises to the Big Stage Pressure?
While the Hurricanes have been a “brand name” in college football since the 1980’s, they have fallen on hard times since a loss to Ohio State in the 2002 national championship game. In fact, they haven’t been back to a major bowl game since the 2004 Orange Bowl ironically.
On the other hand, Wisconsin is making its second-straight appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game after defeating Western Michigan in last season’s Cotton Bowl Classic. UW also has been involved in the biggest bowl games for the better part of this decade, appearing in three straight Rose Bowls to start the 2010’s.
Wisconsin is used to the big stage, the bright lights and the pressure of big games as a program and as individual players. Miami, while having played big games in the regular season, hasn’t exactly been involved in a major bowl game in any of these players’ lifetimes really.
Can Mark Richt get his team up for a smash-mouth football game against a team that won’t be intimidated by the big stage? Can the Badgers under-assuming personality match the flare and hype that surrounds the Hurricanes once again?
Personality matters in this matchup, if only because these two teams are so polar opposite in how they approach the game. Wisconsin won’t talk trash, they’ll just hit you in the mouth over and over and over again. Miami will talk trash, hit you in the mouth and talk some more.
Whichever team buckles under that pressure first is going to be in major trouble.
Which Hornibrook Shows Up?
If there’s one thing we’ve established about the Badgers in 2017 it is that quarterback Alex Hornibrook is a really good complementary player in Wisconsin’s offense. However, the one time he was relied upon to win them a game he folded big time.
Hornibrook threw the ball 41 times against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, which not only was his highest attempts number on the season, but also the most since throwing 28 passes against Florida Atlantic in Week 2. It didn’t go well in Indianapolis for Hornibrook, as he completed just 19 of the 41 passes attempted and had his lowest yards per attempt (5.7) of the season to go along with zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
He also had a major stumble against Michigan where he was just 9 of 19 for 143 yards and a touchdown to one interception.
Those were the two best defenses he faced and it was a struggle in terms of completion percentage and avoiding the turnovers. Miami is one of the better pass defenses in the country too, forcing those 17 interceptions and allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 56.3 percent of their passes.
But, the Hornibrook that showed up most of the rest of the season is one the Badgers certainly can win with. He was highly efficient most of the season and if he can be a guy who continues to move the chains in third down situations and get the big throw when needed, Wisconsin’s offense is hard to stop.
If Wisconsin wants to win, they need to see the efficient Hornibrook come to life against a good defense.
Its the Freaking Orange Bowl
If you call yourself a true College Football fan, the Orange Bowl is destination television no matter what. It doesn’t hurt that a traditional Orange Bowl participant is there or the only Power 5 team to remain undefeated through the regular season is there either.
The Orange Bowl is one of the classic games and has provided some of the most stunning results we’ve seen in College Football history. Could more be made?
After all, it is Wisconsin’s first visit to the Orange Bowl and winning it would certainly be a great way to cap off what was a history-making season for the Badgers.
Really, there shouldn’t be any other thing you need to know other than it’s the Orange Bowl between two top 10 teams. ‘Nuff Said.
*all stats courtesy of cfbstats.com
Chryst excited by Graham Mertz’s future with Badgers
No recruit has ever been as hyped as quarterback Graham Mertz has been in Wisconsin Badgers history.
Normally that would lead to coaches tempering their words and expectations. Given head coach Paul Chryst’s history of exactly that, it was a bit surprising to hear him speak with excitement about what Mertz may bring to the table in Madison.
So far, Chryst has been very impressed with how Mertz is handling everything on and off the field.
“Yeah, Graham has got a great personality,” said Chryst at Big Ten media day on Friday. “I think he’s done a nice job of — he came in the spring, and getting to know our teammates, and I think he’s handling — there’s a lot of buzz and talk about him, and I think he’s handled it well, and I think the team has handled it, as well.”
What has impressed the head coach most about his freshman quarterback? Chryst says it is how he is handling everything that has been thrown at him since he entered school in January.
“They’re experiencing a lot for the first time, going to school and being away from home, and there’s obviously a ton of football with it, and I think all three have handled it, and Graham has handled it well, and I’m excited for those three, Graham in particular, that went through spring and then you have summer and now they’ll be able to go into fall camp and it’s not all new to them,” said Chryst.
“But I’ve been impressed with how Graham has handled himself, and I think he’s — again, cares a lot about teammates and is a good teammate himself, a good person, and I think that’s a great place to start.”
Perhaps the most telling statement from Chryst during his time at the podium on Friday, was the one where he actually used the words “excitement” and “Graham” in the same sentence.
“And certainly we’re excited, really excited about Graham,” Chryst said to the media. “He’s early in on the process, and so I like the group that we have. I’m thankful that we’ve got Jack coming back that’s played in games, and certainly looking forward to fall camp and seeing the growth and development of all of them.”
Does that mean Mertz is the immediate savior of the Badgers offense? No.
But, unlike years past, Chryst is at least willing to go out on a limb and live in the excitement of what could happen in the future.
This type of talk should only serve to continue to spark the speculation and the spotlight on the quarterback position in Madison in the next few weeks.
Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers quarterbacks in 2019
Believe it or not, the start of the Wisconsin Badgers fall camp is right around the corner and we’re hitting the home stretch of our preview season as well.
No position has had more of the spotlight and taken up more of our conversation than what is happening at quarterback. After watching the QB play go from ok to disaster in 2018, it is back to the drawing board in many ways.
With Alex Hornibrook off to Florida State for his final season and the highest rated quarterback recruit in Badgers history on campus, this offseason has been full of intrigue.
But, what will the 2019 season look like for the most critical position on this offense? Let’s take a look at exactly that.
Best Case Scenario
The Badgers find out they hit the jackpot with Graham Mertz and he’s spent the time between spring and fall ball getting up to speed on the offense. Mertz immediately shows this is his job and the coaching staff sees it quickly as well.
Either that or Jack Coan comes in and commands the position and the offense with accuracy and an ability to hit the deep ball. The offense gels around him and heading in to the opener at South Florida, Coan is the man behind center by a wide margin.
Yes, there are two best-case scenarios at play. But, that’s because Wisconsin’s coaching staff would really love for someone to flat-out win the starting job early on in fall camp. Will that happen? That’s the million dollar question and don’t count out Chase Wolf from this competition either. He came on strong as spring went along and his abilities give the Badgers offense some different wrinkles that could be intriguing.
No matter whom wins the battle in fall camp, the best case scenario is that that person wins the battle early, the offense can focus on installing around that quarterback and said quarterback shows why he won the job with quality play during the season.
Worst Case Scenario
If we go in to week three of fall camp and there is no winner to the quarterback job, I’m not so confident in this group. Yes, it’s the job of everyone to compete at a high level, but the coaching staff not being able to separate between the bunch isn’t good news.
My worst-case scenario would be no winner coming out of fall camp, we see quarterbacks splitting time in the fall and this offense stalling out in the pass game once again.
Musical chairs at quarterback never seems to work at Wisconsin and that especially played out last season with Coan clearly thrown to the wolves before he was ready to make a full impact after Hornibrook’s injury.
As long as the Badgers can avoid having to play multiple quarterbacks because none of them have wrestled the position for themselves, UW’s offense should be in a better position in 2019 than it was in 2018.
Most Likely to Happen
As much as the fans want to see Graham Mertz come in and be this game-changing quarterback out of the gate, the most likely scenario is that Mertz gets some game action in the non-conference games and Jack Coan is your regular starter.
I can foresee the scenario playing out much like Coan’s true freshman season. The only difference being that Mertz won’t have to give up his redshirt to play in a single game.
It seems like the most likely to happen scenario is that Coan is your starter for the year with Mertz as the man getting the early season reps behind him and then Chase Wolf being the other option to get reps during conference play.
Let’s not forget that Coan is the only quarterback on this roster that has seen more than a complete mop-up duty. Danny Vanden Boom could be an option too, but it seems like Wolf and Mertz passed him up in the spring competition.
As much as Mertz is the future, coaches are paid to win games now and that likely means playing it safe with Coan.
Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019
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.
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.
Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019
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.
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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