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5 Storylines to Watch in Wisconsin Badgers fall camp

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It’s been nearly four months since football could be seen by the media for the Wisconsin Badgers. But, that all ended yesterday, August 1.

With drills, coaching and equipment going, fall camp will is officially underway.

So, what are some of the themes, or storylines that we all should be watching in fall camp? Let us break down the five that will likely tell us the most about this upcoming season.

Let’s also do it in no particular order.

Who Will Lead the Defense?

Yes, Chris Orr is a senior, yes, Zack Baun is an established starter. But, this is a much more youthful group and finding out who amongst that group can be a leader will be vital.

During Wisconsin’s annual media day, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard hinted that a name to watch on the leadership front could be sophomore cornerback Faion Hicks.

“I think the one guy that we feel took the biggest leap forward and played the most consistent last year was Faion Hicks,” said Leonhard according to Badger247. “Really pleased with his mindset and kind of how he approached the off-season. I think he’s taken a huge step forward for us.”

It would make some sense, considering he did start 11 of 12 games played las season. He also racked up 35 tackles, 4 pass defenses and an interception.

That is quality production from a redshirt freshman. But, it also means he is going to be looked at to provide leadership to the rest of a group that is also trying to grow in to major roles on the defense.

So, if the Badgers are going to retool the leadership on defense, Hicks may be a large part of that group.

Other names to watch could be Isaiahh Loudermilk, Jack Sanborn and Eric Burrell. They all have varying degrees of playing time, but Loudermilk and Burrell are some of the older players on the defense and Sanborn was one of the leaders of last season’s freshman class.

What’s up at Backup Running Back?

Hey, did you know that Jonathan Taylor is one of the best running backs in the country? I know, everyone knows that.

But, one of the biggest questions for this offense in 2019 is if there is a legitimate backup to Taylor. He’s got a ton of carries (606 to be exact) over the course of his two years in Madison.

So far, everyone that has been behind him hasn’t been able to be a real game changer themselves. Taiwan Deal dealt with injuries, Chris James wasn’t a star and Bradrick Shaw has spent more time injured than on the field in a Badgers uniform.

That could change in 2019, as Shaw has been cleared to go after his nasty ACL tear in the 2017 season finale. If he’s back, the Badgers know they have a dynamic and powerful option.

But, the real question is what do the Badgers have in redshirt freshman Nakia Watson, who is a big back with deceptive speed to his game. Then there is true freshman Julius Davis — both of whom Settle is very high on.

There’s even Isaac Guerendo, who moved from wide receiver and provides some really intriguing speed to go with a 213-pound frame.

The question is, will any of these options emerge as the person that can spell Taylor or take over should the unthinkable happen.

Finding that second option has to be a priority in fall camp.

Specialists Need to Be Special Again

Who didn’t love Rafael Gaglianone the person? Who didn’t love his first two seasons as a kicker either? However, back injuries and complications from surgery made him less than accurate and less than good from long distance.

Then there was Anthony Lotti, who averaged just 38.5 yards per punt on 32 punts in just eight games last year. He’s back and it appears he’s already gotten better results in spring ball than all of last year.

But, he came in as a very highly thought of punter in recruiting circles. The Badgers need him to show up, because the inability of the punting game to get quality results only exacerbated the problems on offense and defense last year.

Watching the specialists in camp is usually an after thought, but after what the Badgers got from this group last season, it needs to be an emphasis heading in this season.

Can Mertz Earn the Starting QB Job?

There’s no way you can get around this question and this storyline for the Badgers in 2019. Graham Mertz didn’t just have the high recruiting ranking, he lived up to billing around just about every corner.

Winning the MVP at the All-American Bowl in January only served to solidify that there’s something special about him.

But, will that mean he is the Badgers starting quarterback? It appeared that on paper, the leader of this group coming out of spring ball was junior Jack Coan.

What we don’t know yet is what took place for Mertz and the rest of the players in the Badgers QB room between spring and the start of fall camp. Did Mertz have the lightbulb go off and become a deadly passer with command of the entire playbook? Did he shrink under the pressure of adjusting to school and college football? Perhaps he stayed the same from spring ball?

We also have no clue how Coan improved or didn’t in the same period.

All we know is that the Badgers need more than what they got out of Alex Hornibrook, now at Florida State, or Coan. Will that be Coan after an offseason where he was getting more first team reps than ever before or will Mertz ride his incredible promise to the starting job right out of the gate?

Whatever happens at quarterback will certainly be a huge storyline to watch in camp and even beyond it. After all, if whomever is chosen falters at any point, there will be immediate calls for the next person to step in.

Where’s the Pressure Coming From?

From 2014 to 2017, the Badgers averaged a healthy 35.25 sacks per season as a defense. Last season saw that number dip to 19 and Wisconsin finished 12th in the Big Ten in sacks as a result.

Andrew Van Ginkel accounted for 29 percent of that 19 total and he is gone. In fact, the Badgers only return three players who registered even a single sack last year.

Clearly the Badgers need to get more out of their front seven when it comes to getting in to the opposing backfield.

One part of the answer is to get healthy up front on the defensive line, another part is to have the confidence in the players to get more aggressive. Luckily, the Badgers have both Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk healthy in fall camp.

They are key pieces at defensive end and it should allow the outside linebackers a lot more freedom to rush the passer and be generally disruptive off the edge.

But, one of the biggest questions on defense is who will emerge as the starter opposite Zack Baun at outside linebacker.

There’s plenty of intriguing options, whether that’s former Alabama transfer Christian Bell or fellow junior Noah Burks at the top of the depth chart coming out of spring or the inclusion of top recruit Spencer Lytle or fellow youngsters like Jaylan Franklin or Izayah Green-May.

Fall camp will be about sorting out those options and seeing who can produce the pressure needed. Someone needs to show they can rush off the edge, we just don’t know who that someone will be.

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Cephus says he wants to return to Badgers football

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Earlier on Monday we got word from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the status of Quintez Cephus, the student. He was to have his expulsion reversed after the evidence from his acquittal was brought forth to the university.

The only question left was if he would want to return to the university and the Wisconsin Badgers football team.

During a press conference on Monday afternoon, the speculation was put to an end. Quintez Cephus wants to return to the university and the football team.

During his press conference, Cephus mentioned how he wanted to stay at Wisconsin largely because of the support he got from his teammates and the entire staff of the UW football program.

He also mentioned that he had yet to speak with head coach Paul Chryst face-to-face after this decision was announced, but he would be doing so later in the day on Monday.

Many will also wonder if he’s ready physically and mentally to get back on the football field this season. Well, Cephus has been working out in Arizona for three months straight in anticipation of coming back on the field.

Judging by the video he’s put out, he’s certainly in some good physical condition.

Of course, only time will tell how quickly any and all of this will happen for Cephus and the Badgers. But, Cephus is very clearly focused on not wasting this opportunity and doing things at a very high level.

There are likely a few NCAA hurdles to officially jump through, but I’m also guessing the paperwork was just waiting to be put in motion once the university reinstated him and he gave the go-ahead.

Either way, he will be a welcome sight for an already strong group of wide receivers.

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UW reinstates Quintez Cephus

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A week after Quintez Cephus, his teammates and his attorneys went in front of the cameras to implore the University of Wisconsin-Madison to allow Cephus back in to school, we now have word on his status.

On Monday morning, it was revealed that Cephus was reinstated to the university. UW sent out the following tweet regarding the matter:

In the statement announcing their decision, the university noted that they had received information that wasn’t available during their initial Title IX investigation.

“UW–Madison obtained information following the criminal proceeding that was not provided to the university during the student conduct process, ” said the statement. “Chancellor Rebecca Blank conducted a review of this information and the petition for Quintez Cephus’ reinstatement as quickly as possible and in a complete and impartial manner.

“As a result of this review, sanctions for Quintez Cephus have been reduced and his expulsion lifted. There were findings of responsibility of the student non-academic misconduct code that were upheld.”

Chancellor Rebecca Blank had the following to say about the situation.

“All three of the primary participants in this case are our students, and I know the past year has been painful for everyone involved,” said Blank. “My decision is based on the availability of substantial new information that wasn’t made available to us during the earlier process. I recognize that some will disagree with this decision.”

“To those in our community who have experienced sexual assault, I sincerely hope that there is nothing in this case that will deter you from coming forward for support,” she added. “Our university continues to be prepared to listen and respond.”

Cephus had his expulsion lifted, but did not have all sanctions removed from his record. According to the statement, the findings of responsibility of the student non-academic misconduct code that were upheld.

With this reinstatement, Cephus has a decision in front of him. He is free to return to the university and the football team has made it clear they will welcome him back with open arms.

But, does he want to return to UW at all? All indications are that he does want to come back to school, but getting his expulsion lifted would allow him to move on from the university if he so chose.

We will have to wait for more information from the program once everyone has had a chance to make their decisions known.

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Joe Thomas makes CBS Sports All-time All-American list

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College football celebrates is 150th season in 2019 and that necessitates a look back at the history of the sport. That’s exactly what CBS Sports decided to do and they came up with a long list of the best players in college football history.

Given the fact that the Wisconsin Badgers went through long stretches of horrific play and few years of good work prior to 1990, seeing a Badgers name on the list was a long shot.

But, one Badger did make the list and that was famed left tackle Joe Thomas.

He was named to the honorable mention All-Time All-American offensive line category. Center was broken out in to a different group all together as well.

While at Wisconsin, Thomas became the first Badger to win the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation’s best interior lineman. He also was named to the 2006 first team All-American list and started 39 games in his four years in Madison.

He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame after an 11-year career in which he made the Pro Bowl in 10 straight seasons.

Joining him on CBS Sports honorable mention offensive lineman list were Maurkice Pouncey (Florida), Lincoln Kennedy (Washington), John Hicks (Ohio State), Aaron Taylor (Nebraska) and Jake Long (Michigan).

Making the first team list were Orlando Pace (Ohio State), Jonathan Ogden (UCLA), John Hannah (Alabama) and Ron Yary (USC).

On the second team were Anthony Munoz (USC), Bryant McKinnie (Miami), Will Shields (Nebraska) and Tony Boselli (USC).

Those are all some amazing names and gives us all a great reminder of just how great college football has been over the years to be sure.

Thomas is the only Badgers player to make the list, yes including all-time greats like Ron Dayne and Alan Ameche, let alone perhaps the most famous player of the formative years of college football — Pat O’Dea.

Yes, he doesn’t fit neatly in to the mold of a modern college football player, but this was supposed to be a list of the best players to ever grace the field in the history of the game.

It’s very hard to argue that O’Dea wasn’t exactly that in his era. He was a two time All-American in 1898 and 1899 as a punter and a fullback.

If CBS Sports was serious about honoring the entirety of college football, having O’Dea on the list would be a good place to start.

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Badgers unveil throwback unis for Northwestern game

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College football is celebrating its 150th year in 2019 and the Wisconsin Badgers have been playing the game since the 1889 season.

In order to honor some of the history of the game and the program, the Badgers will put on throwback (and I use that term loosely) uniforms according to a video released by the football program on Tuesday afternoon.

It appears that UW is looking back to the days where a simple UW adorned the front of the sweaters, as they were called at the time, in that 1889 season.

Today, regulations say that all teams must include numbers on the front and back of the jersey and thus the conundrum the Badgers find themselves in here.

Interestingly, the helmets will feature a first-time logo with the ‘UW’ having never appeared together in any helmet in Badgers history. Given the fact that back in 1889 there was no such thing as a helmet in the game of football it was an interesting call.

The helmets will also feature just a thin Cardinal stripe down the center and gray face masks.

Personally, I have to say I’m not a fan of cramming the ‘UW’ on to the front of the jersey and it would’ve been interesting to see them go back to the Bucky Badger helmet or something else.

It just looks too congested on the front of the jersey, but I do like the idea of the black shoes, khaki colored pants and the red jersey overall. It does harken back to that era in as much as is possible in today’s modern game.

However, the players were certainly excited for a different-than-normal look to the Badgers uniforms.

The logo on the side of the khaki colored pants is also the one that the athletic department used from 1962 to 1965 according to research.

Wisconsin will take on Northwestern in the Sept. 28 game that will feature these jerseys inside Camp Randall. Northwestern will also have a similar look as part of what Under Armour is calling its Second Heritage line.

What do you think of this ‘throwback’ look? Hit up the comments below or follow on Twitter @talkingBadgers.

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