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Badgers Opposition Research: An early look at the 2018 BYU Cougars

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The long haul of the offseason is upon us, as we count down to the start of another season of Wisconsin Badgers football. But, who really is counting anyway?

Oh wait…we are? Yes, the Badgers season is just 226 days away and what better time to start looking ahed than now? Coming off a school-record 13-win season, what does Paul Chryst and Co. have in store for the upcoming season? A lot depends on the schedule at hand of course.

Previous: Western Kentucky |

After looking at our Week 1 opponent, we’ll look in to a team the Badgers have become very familiar with over the past decade. Following a trip to BYU last season, the Cougars come back to Madison in 2018. Will the results be the same or has BYU changed enough to challenge the Badgers?

Let’s look at the BYU Cougars of 2018.

Profile:

Head Coach: Kalani Sitake (13-13, 3rd season overall and at BYU)
2017 Record: 4-9 (independent)
Bowl Game: none
Returning Starters: 19 (overall) – 9 (Offense), 10 (Defense*)

* BYU uses multiple starting formations on defense

Player to Watch:

Sione Takitaki, DL

While most of you think offense when you think BYU football, lately the defense has been what has been the saving grace for the Cougars. While a 4-9 season was less than ideal, the defense did its level best to keep its team in the game, it just had no help from the offense most of the season.

One big reason for the Cougars success on defense was defensive lineman Sione Takitaki, who stepped back on the field in 2017 after a year away from football. He made a massive impact with 79 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks on the season. Wisconsin bottled him up for the most part, allowing just 2 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and no other stats for the big man.

With all the transition happening on offense, Takitaki could be the one player that Wisconsin has to contain in order to dominate on the offensive side of the ball.

Wisconsin’s Biggest Advantage:

Stability

BYU took a massive step backwards last season, and it resulted in major changes to the Cougars offense. Gone is former Packers backup (and journeyman starter) quarterback Ty Detmer after a miserable offensive season in 2017 and in is Jeff Grimes. He’ll have to deal with a crowded quarterback position, one that may not include the biggest name in the group — Tanner Magnum. He’s dealing with recovery from a torn Achilles tendon and may end up redshirting this season.

That means Beau Hodge, who Wisconsin saw as the starting quarterback in the 2017 matchup, may be the next name up. But, the Cougars will also have Joe Critchlow and Kody Wilstead in the mix as established scholarships quarterbacks. BYU also sees two early enrollees at QB in Zach Wilson and Stacey Conner plus two missionaries returning to BYU in Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall. Getting snaps for all those players and letting the QB situation unfold fairly is going to be Grimes’ biggest challenge this offseason.

Of course, the smart money is on Beau Hodge to take the reins, as long as he is absolutely 100 percent healthy after concussion issues cut his season short in 2017. But a new outlook for the offense may mean a new outlook at quarterback.

It’s a decision that BYU needs to get right if they are going to get back to winning football in 2018. Then there’s the issue of what to do with a backfield that featured two former Badgers commits in Ula Tolutau and Austin Kafentzis. Both showed some wiggle and power and definitely give Grimes the multiple options he is looking for in his offense at BYU, but all of that is up in the air heading in to the offseason.

BYU has a lot of what if’s and who does what to sort out.

As for Wisconsin, the offense nearly returns in tact, and only internal competition at quarterback and wide receiver may make the 2018 spring interesting on offense. While the defense deals with turnover, there are plenty of players ready to step up and the program hasn’t had to deal with major changes to the coaching staff for a change.

Wisconsin’s stability in its roster and coaching staff is a massive advantage heading in to a Week 2 showdown with the Cougars.

Wisconsin’s Biggest Worry:

BYU’s passing attack against a young secondary

Wisconsin should have plenty of film logged in to their computers and tablets on the Cougars heading in to its 2nd matchup of the season, that’s because it will actually be the third game of the year for BYU. The Cougars also won’t be able to hide much because they take on Power 5 opponents Arizona and Cal ahead of a date with Wisconsin.

With Grimes coming in looking to hit teams not only in the pass game but in other ways, Wisconsin’s young secondary could be in for a major challenge.

Only Donyte Carriere-Williams comes in to the season having any experience at cornerback. He, along with safety D’Cota Dixon will be anchors of this group, but this is going to be a huge test following another pass-happy offense in Western Kentucky in Week 1. Will the Badgers be battered from that experience or rise up to the challenges of two offenses known to want to pass the ball first?

If there’s a worry about this matchup on paper, it is what the Badgers will do against the pass game of the Cougars to say the least.

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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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