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.
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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