Earlier this week, two former Wisconsin Badgers football stars were named finalists for the National College Football Hall of Fame. Those players were from two very different eras, as former cornerback Troy Vincent and offensive lineman Joe Thomas were named to the long list of finalists.
In order to be eligible for selection to the hall, players must be 10 years removed from their last season in college football and have been selected as a first team All-American by one of the selector organizations recognized by the NCAA. They also must have played their last collegiate season within the last 50 years. So, for the 2019 class, only players who played from 1969 and on would be eligible for the Hall of Fame this year.
Additionally, the player must meet off the field criteria as stated by the National Football Foundation:
“He must have proven himself worthy as a citizen, carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community and his fellow man, with love of his country. Consideration may also be given for academic honors and whether the candidate earned a college degree.”
Finally, a player from any school may only be selected every other year and the last Badger player to be selected was Tim Krumrie back in 2016.
Now that we know the criteria for selection, it got us wondering what the Badgers future for the Hall of Fame may be.
Here are five players we believe should sit in the Hall of Fame based off the criteria they set forth.
1) Troy Vincent
Obviously Vincent is one of the top candidates for the CFB Hall of Fame, after all he is one of the two Badgers listed as a finalist this season.
What puts him at the top of the list for us though? Simply put, Vincent transformed how Wisconsin played in the secondary and how players saw the Badgers as a whole. By the time he left Madison, it was cool to come to UW and expect to make it to the next level.
He came to UW in 1988 and stuck through two horrendously bad seasons before becoming a cornerstone of the turnaround that Barry Alvarez put in place beginning in 1990. If there is a player who exemplifies the turnaround Wisconsin made, it is Vincent.
Vincent had 4 career touchdowns (2 in his final season at UW) and was a 1st team All-American in 1991. He also still holds the Badgers record for punt return yards (773) and passes defensed in career (31) Wisconsin not coincidentally, went 5-6 in 1991 and its first multi-win Big Ten campaign since Jim Hilles led the team in 1986. Vincent was one key component to that turnaround and one of the best individual players to ever come through Madison….having scored three punt return touchdowns for his career at Wisconsin.
Simply put, if you were to put a players Mount Rushmore of Alvarez’s era to today, Vincent would easily make that list. The combination of his overall skill and is importance to where the Badgers program is today puts him at the top of our list.
2) Joe Thomas
Many great offensive lineman came before Joe Thomas, but few have been able to equal his production and prowess before or after. He was a consensus first team All-American and Outland Trophy winner (one of just 4 in UW history) in 2006. Thomas also was a three-time All-Big Ten selection (first team honors in 2005, 2006).
He was the model of consistency while with the Badgers, starting the final 38 games in his final three seasons as Wisconsin.
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez may have put it best regarding Thomas:
“He is the best lineman to ever come through here,” said Alvarez, via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Everything came easy to him. He was such a good athlete. His hand placement. His feet. He was always right on.”
All you need to know is Thomas was put on the ballot and made the finals in his first year of eligibility. Maybe he makes it before Vincent does, and we’d be perfectly alright with that choice. After all, both are as close to sure-bets to get in eventually as you could have.
3) Jim Leonhard
How Jim Leonhard hasn’t been named a finalist for the College Football Hall of Fame yet is beyond us.
Yes, Leonhard holds a special place in the hearts of Badgers fans for his story — going from small-town Wisconsin to walk-on to three-time All-American and all. Not only is his story great, but he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belongs in the hall with just his performance on the field.
Leonhard finished his career at Wisconsin with 21 career interceptions (tied for the record with another name on this list), while also putting up 50 passes defensed (25 of which came in his sophomore campaign). He played in every game of his career, including starts in the final 39 games as a Badger.
He’s also begun to contribute in a major way to the UW’s history as a coach, going from first-year defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator the very next season. Leonhard’s defense was one of the best in program history by the numbers last season and his contributions to the game are enormous.
One has to believe Leonhard makes his name to the finalist list sooner than later, and if not it is one of the biggest misses in NFF Hall of Fame selection.
4) Jamar Fletcher
Few defensive backs could have followed in the shadow that Troy Vincent created and that proved true for most of the 1990’s. Then a guy named Jamar Fletcher came along and re-defined the position and what could be done with it at Wisconsin.
Fletcher was one of the most athletic cornerbacks the Badgers had ever had up until that point and arguably through today’s crop of young corners. In his three years at UW, Fletcher piled up 21 interceptions (7 every year), five of which were returned for touchdowns. He also added
In his final season, Fletcher’s reputation and performance equaled a huge season. He would be a three-time first team All-Big Ten selection, a freshman All-American (1998) and a two-time All-American selection. Fletcher would also go on to win the Jim Thorpe Award and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award in 2000 before a nine-year NFL career.
Just in case you forgot, he also helped secure UW’s win over UCLA in the 1999 Rose Bowl with a key 4th quarter interception.
Few defensive backs were as transcendent as Fletcher was while with the Badgers and between his speed and instinct, he instilled fear in some of the best quarterbacks the Big Ten had ever seen. It will be interesting to see if and when Fletcher gets on the finalist list, because he clearly earned it.
5) Chris McIntosh
When you think Wisconsin football, you think offensive linemen. That has been the hallmark of UW football all the way back to the early days with Bob “Butts” Butler (who is in the Hall of Fame) and up to today’s talented and deep group of offensive linemen.
He was a first team All-American selection by three different organizations in his senior season of 1999, started 50 straight games in his career and was one of the captains on UW’s back-to-back Rose Bowl championship teams. While some other names may overshadow him in terms of what happened after their Wisconsin careers, few could hold a candle to what McIntosh did to make the UW line more athletic instead of just straight big maulers.
Currently, McIntosh bleeds UW’s Cardinal and White in the form of being deputy athletic director under his former head coach, Barry Alvarez.
One More Name: Montee Ball
One name you may not see on this list that should be there is running back Montee Ball. Unfortunately, his stint in jail due to domestic abuse is likely to keep him off the list for a long time to come. On the field, there’s little doubt that Ball is worthy of the Hall of Fame, after all he did leave the game as one of the most productive running backs in college football history.
But, even his 5,140 yards, 77 rushing touchdowns and 5.6 yards per carry may not be enough to overcome some of his issues off the field due to his battle with alcoholism and domestic abuse. As of earlier this year, Ball had not complied with the main parts of a plea deal that saw him get probation on a domestic abuse charge.
If Ball can clean things up and become a positive force for battling against addiction like this, perhaps there will be a place for him in the Hall of Fame. As of now, it’s hard to see him getting in, but time will be the ultimate judge of his potential as a Hall of Famer…I mean, Eric Dickerson still sits outside the Hall of Fame despite being clearly one of the best running backs in the history of the game.
Badgers fall victim to the trap, lose to Illinois
This is why they don’t play the games on paper. On paper, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers should have been able to make quick work of a struggling Illinois Fighting Illini team.
Instead, it was a slog for the Badgers offense and Illinois took advantage of three turnovers for 17 points en route to a shocking 24-23 victory.
With the Badgers driving to potentially salt away a hard-fought victory, Jack Coan threw just his second interception of the season and Illinois drove the ball deep in to Wisconsin territory and kicked a game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired.
Wisconsin’s usually rugged run game was off, and the stingy run defense was far from that. Yes, Jonathan Taylor went over the 5,000-yard mark for his career on the first carry of the game, but he would put up just 132 yards on 28 carries on the day and UW’s defense allowed a season-worst 141 yards on the ground to Illinois.
Prior to this game, Wisconsin’s worst performance on offense was 97 yards against Northwestern.
Taylor’s struggles included a brutal turnover, as he gained a first down at the Illinois 17-yard line but coughed up the football trying to fight for extra yardage a third time on the play.
Illinois drove the ball down for a touchdown in just 1:19 of game time and what could’ve been a three-score game turned in to a 23-21 lead with 5:53 to play.
Wisconsin drove the ball past midfield on the next possession appearing poised to put the game out of Illinois reach again, but stumbled near midfield.
On a 2nd and 11, Coan attempted to drop a pass to Jake Ferguson in between the zone. However, Tony Adams had backed off the underneath and picked off the pass at the Illinois 47-yard line.
From there, Illinois ripped off big run after big run to get themselves in to field goal range and the rest was history.
Ironically, it was Coan who powered the Badgers offense for most of the day, throwing for 263 yards on 24 of 32 passing.
Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown combined for 153 yards on the day for the Illini on 28 carries, and came up huge when they needed it as the game went on.
Illinois outplayed the Badgers up front on both sides of the ball and deserved this win.
This was easily the most shocking loss in the Paul Chryst era and a date with Ohio State looms large if Wisconsin wants to continue to hope to make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.
A loss next week and all control of their own destiny goes out the window.
Badgers mid-season report card: Defense
As Saturday’s game against Illinois inches closer to kick, it’s also a good time to remind ourselves that we are at the halfway point of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers season.
UW is 6-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country in both polls (if you want to care about those things). So, how did Wisconsin get here and who has been vital to all of that success so far?
Well, we’re taking a look back at the first half of the season for you. Earlier this week we took a look at our grades for the Badgers offense. Today, we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive Line: A+
One of the biggest question marks coming in to the 2019 season was the UW defensive line. With no Olive Sagapolu and two starting defensive ends coming off of major injuries, how would this group look in 2019? Well, the answer is pretty damn good.
Bryson Williams, the starting nose guard, went down with a bad injury early in the season and in stepped true freshman Keannu Benton, who ripped off back-to-back performances that were rated No. 1 on the team by Pro Football Focus.
Isaiahh Loudermilk had a small injury early on and has been very good since his return, while Garrett Rand is doing work on the other side. Perhaps the biggest story is that this group has been disruptive in a major way.
We’ve had Matt Henningsen score a touchdown not once, but twice and the defensive linemen have racked up 3.0 sacks to date. Not too bad for a group of unproven, but talented players.
Another big question mark coming in to the year was if the Badgers could get enough pressure from its linebacker group to make a difference in 2019. Last season was a dramatic drop off in sacks and tackles from loss as a team, but there has been no such issue in 2019. j
Zack Baun has been one of the best players in the country through the halfway point of the season. He’s put up 26 tackles, has one pick-six, 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks (tied for 8th nationally) through the first six games of the season.
It’s earned him Pro Football Focus mid-season first-team All-American honors. Considering he didn’t produce at nearly this level last season, it’s been a huge start for the senior.
On the opposite side of him, we’ve seen the combination of Izayah Green-May (missed time with a broken thumb) and Noah Burks become dangerous players in their own right. As a team, Wisconsin has put up 23 sacks through six games, which is more than they had in all of 2018 (19.0).
Jack Sanborn has been great and the pairing of him with Chris Orr has unleashed one of the most athletic and dangerous combinations of inside linebackers the Badgers have had since switching to the 3-4 defense when Gary Andersen arrived.
You could not draw up a more productive start to a season from a linebacker group if you tried.
If you just go by the stats, it is hard to argue that Wisconsin isn’t playing some of its best ball against the pass that we’ve ever seen. I mean, they have allowed a Big Ten low three passing touchdowns and the team has eight overall interceptions, with two going for a defensive touchdown.
But, some of the stats can be misleading, especially those eight interceptions. The good news for the secondary is that five of the eight interceptions are attributed to the defensive backs, with starting safety Eric Burrell picking off a pair of passes.
It isn’t just the starting group that has held up well either. Wisconsin has had a next man up mentality and it has worked well. Colin Wilder and John Torchio stepped up when both Burell and fellow safety Reggie Pearson got tossed for hits to the head against Michigan.
Deron Harrell is credited with four pass breakups and Wilder with five to lead the secondary group in that category.
Overall, it’s hard to pick apart this group, but if there’s one area to watch it is their inconsistency in intermediate and deep balls. Luckily, most offenses don’t have enough time to set up a deep passing game so it hasn’t been much of a worry at all.
Let’s just go over these stats given up by the Badgers defense once again:
4.8 points per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
44.6 rushing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
129.0 passing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
173.7 total yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
In fact, Wisconsin’s 173.7 total yards per game given up is 60.3 yards per game better than the next best team — Ohio State — has given up this year.
Given all of that information, how could it not be an A+ so far this season? After all, Wisconsin is the first Big Ten team since the 1962 Minnesota Gophers team to pitch four shutouts in the first six games of a season.
Badgers mid-season report card: Offense
Believe it or not, but we have already reached the middle of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers football season. I know, it doesn’t seem possible because there seems to be so much football ahead.
You would be right, what with Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota still looming large on the schedule and all.
But, as we want to look forward, we need to know the foundation that future has been built on. How have the Badgers faired so far in 2019? Let’s take a look position by position.
Offensive Line: A –
All seems to be rosy for the Badgers offensive line. They’ve given up a Big Ten-low of eight sacks and are the No. 2 rushing attack in the league, trailing only Ohio State. While you could say the Buckeyes have yet to face a real defense, they still are consistently putting up better numbers than Wisconsin has.
We’ll see if that holds up, but on the whole it is hard to argue that this group hasn’t been very good. They’ve dealt with a few injuries and haven’t really missed a beat for the most part.
If there’s one area that has put them from an A to an A- in my book, it is their performance in the run game against Northwestern and Michigan State at home. In both cases, Jonathan Taylor really struggled to get going and the offensive line found themselves back on their heels quite a bit. Thus, Taylor’s struggles.
Yes, both Northwestern and MSU are very good defensive fronts, but if you want to earn the top grades, you have to win more than they did up front against those two defensive lines. That’s especially worrisome when you see the defensive fronts that both Ohio State and Iowa can put out there.
This unit is very athletic and certainly can do some special things. But, it needs to be more consistent against high level defenses if the Badgers want to prove they belong in the College Football Playoff conversation. Not having a single member of this group on the Pro Football Focus mid-season All-American list tells me this group hasn’t been as good as potentially then can be by the end of the year.
Running Backs: B
Yes, Jonathan Taylor is a Pro Football Focus and everywhere else mid-season All-American and yes, he’s en route to break all sorts of historical marks, but there’s more to this group than Taylor and for that reason we have to give this group an overall grade of B.
In fact, if you were to take Taylor away from this position group, you would be far lower on the grade. Redshirt freshman Nakia Watson has picked up 53 carries for just 238 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry. While that average isn’t bad, Watson hasn’t shown any flashes of being the next big star running back at Wisconsin with ample opportunities to do so.
Bradrick Shaw and Garrett Groshek haven’t been big factors in the Badgers run game either and Julius Davis appears headed for a complete redshirt. What happens if Taylor goes down? There hasn’t been anyone producing at a high enough level to give us confidence that it’ll just be “next man up” as we’ve seen year over year over year at UW since 1990.
John Chenal and Mason Stokke (pre-injury) have been very good fullbacks in the traditional Wisconsin mold, but they could be a bit better at their blocking technique and that will come with time on the field as both are younger options at fullback.
Overall, this group is doing well, I just downgrade for a lack of a second dynamic option at running back so far this year.
Tight Ends: B+
Much was expected out of junior tight end Jake Ferguson, so much so that many believed he would showcase himself and leave for the NFL after this season. After six games, I’m not so sure that is going to happen.
Yes, Ferguson is second on the team with 15 receptions, but he’s averaging 11 yards a catch and has just one touchdown to his name. Those numbers pace far behind last season.
There just seems to be something missing from the explosive player we saw in 2018, who caught 36 passes for over 450 yards and had four touchdowns to his name.
On the bright side, Ferguson has become a more reliable blocker and that could be the thing that gets him to the NFL a year early. We’ll see what happens the second half of the season though.
As for the rest of the group, it’s been hard to grade because injuries have piled up and not a single other tight end as caught a pass for the Badgers so far this season. So, when I look at Ferguson’s play, it’s hard to not give him a solid grade, but room for improvement and impact in the second half.
Wide Receivers: B-
There is no doubt that getting Quintez Cephus back in a Badgers uniform has been huge. But, with that said, this group has not produced the big plays we’d hope to see after a few years of experience for names like Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor.
Cephus is the only receiver with a touchdown to his name, albeit there have only been eight passing touchdowns on the season. However, the leading TD man is running back Jonathan Taylor, who has four already this year.
Pryor came up big against Michigan State and overall this group has produced well when given the opportunity. But, the inability to get separation and thus stretch the defense holds them back.
Maybe the coaching staff is also holding back what we see from this group, as by-in-large, UW hasn’t had to open up the full offense to win a game this season.
Quarterback: A –
Alright, it’s time for Badgers nation to eat some crow here. Everyone thought that Coan was the second-coming of Alex Hornibrook after his first efforts last season. But, through the first six games, Coan has been anything but the second-coming of Hornibrook. In fact, you could say he’s been the anti-Hornibrook.
He’s been clutch, he’s making the smart decisions and he’s keeping drives alive. Doing that at Wisconsin, with the best running back in college football, is exactly what is needed.
Coan is completing a ridiculous 76.3 percent of his passes, which leads the league and is second nationally only to Joe Burrow at LSU. Now, he has only thrown for 1,119 yards (8th in the B1G) and you could say that isn’t great, but consider how he’s become a complementary piece to the run game and you can see why his efficiency and clutch play matters more.
Additionally, his eight touchdowns to just one interception ratio is phenomenal. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is the only other starter in the Big Ten that has thrown just one pick through the halfway point of the season.
I wanted to give a higher grade, but Coan has struggled to hit the deep ball at times and seems most comfortable hitting the seven to 15-yard passes. That’s fine, but having someone to really stretch a defense out of eight-man boxes would be nice.
Maybe I’m nitpicking, but Coan has established himself as the rightful starter and put to bed most of the critics by becoming the go-to force in the win over Michigan State after a shaky couple of weeks against Michigan and Northwestern.
Having three multiple-touchdown games given what Jonathan Taylor is doing on the ground is impressive through six games.
Defense leads Badgers to win over Northwestern
It sure wasn’t pretty, but the Wisconsin Badgers took down reigning West division champions, the Northwestern Wildcats just the same.
UW’s defense came up big in the 24-15 victory. What happened, which players were the highlights and what needs to be worked on as the 4-0 Badgers go out of conference next week?
Our publisher, Andrew Coppens, comes to you with his full recap of UW’s win.
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