The 2017 Wisconsin Badgers face an interesting season ahead, with head coach Paul Chryst entering his third season at the helm of his alma mater.
His first two seasons have produced a whopping 21 wins, yet the Badgers have missed out on a Big Ten championship despite that win total. The 2016 season saw Wisconsin win the Big Ten West division and take the Cotton Bowl Classic over previously unbeaten Western Michigan.
But, that was last season and things change quickly in the world of college football. How will Wisconsin enter the offseason and what could this team look like come the fall?
Let’s take a way too early look at the Wisconsin Badgers of 2017.
Biggest Strength: Offensive Line
Ironically, one of the biggest weaknesses of Wisconsin Badgers football over the past two years has been its offensive line. Things were bad in 2015, but got better as 2016 rolled along. A lot of that had to do with youth and injuries.
However, looking forward to 2017 we see four returning starters and all of them will be sophomores or juniors this upcoming season. No player turned a bigger corner to help this squad than now sophomore right tackle David Edwards, who went from tight end to offensive lineman in fall camp this past season. By the middle of the year he was a replacement at right tackle for Jacob Maxwell and he never looked back.
Wisconsin’s run game got diverse and dynamic with his insertion in to the starting lineup as well. Combine that with quality starters like Michael Dieter at starter and Jon Dietzen at left guard and there’s a great nucleus to build around.
Of course this group does lose All-American left tackle Ryan Ramczyk to the NFL draft a season early. But, this is a team that loves its depth along the offensive line and could see Edwards slide to the left side or two redshirt players in Cole Van Lanen and David Moorman step in to the fold as well.
Heading in to 2017 there is no position group with more upside and production than the Badgers offensive line.
Biggest Weakness: Quarterback
Standing here in January, there is one glaring weakness that jumps off the page about the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers — quarterback.
Wisconsin may be lucky to have Alex Hornibrook, but the jury is still out on him as a long-term solution to the Badgers issues at QB. He made an immediate impact once he came in against Georgia State, but after some solid outings to start Big Ten play, things went downhill quick.
It ended with Hornibrook seeing less and less of the time as a starter and eventually to Paul Chryst starting Bart Houston in the Cotton Bowl Classic. That after a month of practices to get back in to the swing of things.
Should Hornibrook not snap out of the funk that hit him at the end of his freshman season, Wisconsin has literally no experience coming back at QB. Instead, it will have redshirt freshman Karé Lyles, who is coming off surgery last year to repair a shoulder injury, and incoming freshman Jack Coan.
Coan represents an interesting option after setting Long Island high school football records for passing yards and touchdowns. He comes to UW as the highest-rated QB to sign with the Badgers in the 247Sports era. Is he ready to jump right in to the mix?
Badger fans haven’t seen a QB ready to do that in his career in a very long time. Should something happen to Hornibrook or if he can’t improve on last season’s numbers, it could be a scary year behind center for the Badgers.
Burning Question: Who Makes Plays At Outside Linebacker?
Wisconsin has been lucky to have some great outside linebackers as the transition to a 3-4 defense took place over the last three or four years. That included stalwart Vince Biegel at one of the OLB positions for the past three years.
His time at UW is up, and his partner on the outside this season, T.J. Watt, had one incredible year and is off the NFL draft as an early entrant. It means for the first time since Dave Aranda changed up Wisconsin’s defensive makeup that the team will face life with two new starters at outside linebacker.
There appear to be a host of options that Wisconsin likes, with names like Zack Baun and Garrett Dooley having had plenty of experience this past season. However, Alabama transfer Christian Bell turned heads all season on the practice field and redshirt freshmen Noah Burks and Mason Stokke are also promising options.
But, whomever steps in as starters have some massive shoes to fill at arguably the most visible and important position on the Badgers defense.
Key Players To Watch This Offseason
Alex Hornibrook, QB: The reality is, seeing anyone not named Alexi Hornibrook being the starter in 2017 would be a major shock. He is literally the only quarterback on Wisconsin’s roster with collegiate experience.
Sure, he hit a wall late in the season and a promising start became a disastrous finish, but let’s also take in to account the injuries and the play of the running game as big factors in the slide in production. The good news here is there is plenty to like about his arm and his moxie. Oh, and it appears he is going to work his rear-end off this offseason too.
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) January 16, 2017
But, should that wall be permanent for Hornibrook, Wisconsin will have to turn to a redshirt freshman in Karé Lyles or to one of the highest-rated recruits in UW history, Jack Coan. Either way those situations aren’t ideal unless they just jump off the page this spring.
Hornibrook has a chance to cement himself as a long-term answer for the Badgers passing game, but he still has plenty to prove after a season in which he finished with a 58.6 completion percentage, just 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns to seven interceptions.
Bradrick Shaw, RB:
Many questioned if Wisconsin’s run game could get going in 2016, but few look at UW’s run game with as much trepidation as the 2017 offseason gets under way. That’s in large part because of the performance of sophomore-to-be Bradrick Shaw.
He burst on to the scene with a great combination of power and speed. Take this for example:
Shaw finished the season as the clear No. 3 running back, but with both Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale off to potential NFL futures, it appears he is in a prime position to become the featured back.
Racking up 457 yards and five touchdowns on just 88 carries should give plenty of hope for the future. So should Shaw’s ability to stay relatively healthy, something few of his fellow 2017 contenders as a starter could do.
Shaw’s biggest challenge is likely to come from Pitt transfer Chris James, but it would be a minor upset to see anyone but Shaw be the featured back in 2017 and beyond.
Arrington Farrar, S:
Few defensive backs have come to Wisconsin with as much recruiting hype as Farrar did in the 2015 class. He was a 4-star recruit and the No. 15 ranked safety in the class, but hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup at UW since his arrival.
After playing a largely special teams role in 2015, Farrar did play a much larger role in the secondary this past season. He just couldn’t unseat Leo Musso as the starting free safety. However, he had just seven tackles and a forced fumble on the season.
If Farrar is going to live up to his potential on the recruiting trail it is a make-or-break offseason for him. Farrar won’t just be handed the starting job, as there are a lot of talented players in the mix behind him as well.
For a team that put up double-digit wins in each of the last two seasons, some would expect a dip. That’s especially true when arguably the four best players on your team are gone.
However, the hallmarks of great Badgers teams are in place once again for 2017. UW’s offensive and defensive lines are loaded with talent and most of the secondary that picked apart opposing quarterbacks is back as well. Wisconsin also appears to like what it has at wide receiver for the first time in a long time and has one of the deepest groups of inside linebackers in the country.
There are questions about who will carry the load in the run game and if the quarterback position can stabilize, but this team has the skeleton of another quality Badgers squad as we look to spring football. Don’t be surprised if its a third-straight season with 10 wins or more, even with some of its big losses.
What the Badgers need to work on in the bye week
Two games, two victories, two shutouts and two record-setting performance. It would be easy to think the 2-0 Wisconsin Badgers football team is riding high in to its early bye week.
But, with the challenge of the Michigan Wolverines just around the corner things are not exactly going to go as planned.
So, with a week off to prepare what are some of the areas of concentration and concern heading in to the matchup with the Wolverines?
I feel like this is a mantra of any team on a bye week, but after only two games it shouldn’t be that bad. But, guess what, Wisconsin is two games in to the season and the injury gods have not been kind to this team.
On Sunday, we learned that starting safety Scott Nelson will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury.
Late last week we knew that five other players were going to miss the Central Michigan game, with two of those being starters on defense in Bryson Williams and Izayah Green-May.
Now luckily, the depth of this team showed up as true freshman Keeanu Benton (1 TFL) played well in place of Williams and Noah Burks (2 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 pass break up) made it seem like there was nothing missing at outside linebacker.
But, there’s no question that playing with a full group of players against Michigan will be advantageous. Let’s see if the Badgers can get Williams and Green-May healthy and my guess is that they will be able to do just that with nearly three weeks of treatment and testing.
One of the things that has been clear so far about this team is that they have been playing with a lot of emotion and edge to them. It’s almost as if they spent an entire offseason stewing over a less-than-stellar performance in 2018 and are bound and determined to not let that happen again.
Whatever was bottled up in the offseason was certainly unleashed in the first two weeks of the season. Can UW find a way to continue to play with that edge and fire now that they have no game this week?
Sometimes the bye week can mess with a team, especially one that is rolling like the Badgers are. But, I have a distinct feeling that motivation and focus are not going to waver at all with this coaching staff in place.
Wisconsin also has the advantage of being the underdog in the matchup with Michigan (at least on paper it will) and has a ton of hungry young players looking to make a name for themselves.
What better way to do that than against Michigan with the whole college football world watching you?
This idea of staying hungry doesn’t worry me in the least, but it would be something to watch coming out of the gate against Michigan. If the Badgers look flat or out of sorts, I’d be worried. If not, then look for Michigan to be in some serious trouble on Sept. 21.
Early on this season, we’ve already seen a lot of Jonathan Taylor the running back, but we’ve also seen a lot of JT23 the receiving back and it has produced glorious results.
Even better is the fact that the Badgers coaching staff hasn’t had to get exotic with the play calling early on this season either. There’s been few sightings of Aron Cruickshank end arounds or double running back sets or anything crazy.
Wisconsin has lined up, punched the opposing defense in the mouth up front and done the basics needed to put points on the board.
It will be interesting to see what wrinkles will be added with the extra time and the opponent at hand. Will the Badgers break out a few things that Michigan won’t be ready for or will they stick to the tried and true and just see what happens?
If there’s one thing we know about Michigan’s defense is that it is nearly the Badgers equal in aggressiveness. Through two games the Badgers have allowed four sacks on the quarterback.
It may not seem alarming, but last season, UW allowed a total of 24 through 13 games for an average of 1.85 per game and that was a bit of a problem in bigger games. Furthermore, 12 of the 24 sacks came in Wisconsin’s five losses last year.
The good news seems to be that UW is going to get some help for the quarterback spot in avoiding some of those sacks this year. Jack Coan may not be a world-record sprinter, but he has shown to be more comfortable stepping up in the pocket and taking off if needed.
But, the Badgers were not really tested so far in terms of overall talent and did give up three sacks against USF in the opener. On the flip side, the offensive line looked much better against CMU and only one sack happened on the day.
Does that indicate improvement or just how bad the Chippewas were? With an extra week to work on things, lets see how the Badgers offensive line works through any potential issues and any adjustments that may be needed.
Sunday Morning Hangover: What to make of Coan’s confident start
By now, Jack Coan isn’t a total newcomer to the starting quarterback role for the Wisconsin Badgers. But, on Saturday he was making his first career start inside Camp Randall Stadium.
All five of his previous starts would come on the road or in a bowl game.
So, how did Coan handle the home crowd and it being a season opener at Camp Randall nonetheless? Judging by his record-setting numbers it was safe to say it was home, sweet home for the junior quarterback.
After passing for over 200 yards for the first time in his career last week against USF, Coan set personal records for passing attempts, completions, yards and touchdown passes in a single game.
It’s hard to get much better than that.
On the day, Coan would go 26 of 33 for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those numbers were the catalyst to the Badgers 61-0 blanking of the visiting Central Michigan Chippewas.
His 363 yards were the fifth best in a single game by any Badgers quarterback. Coan also became just the 11th Badgers QB to throw for 300 or more yards in a game.
Additionally, his 276 yards in the first half were the most ever by any Badgers quarterback in a single half.
That’s some historic territory for anyone to reach.
However, after sleeping on it, I am still left wondering if this is a sign of things to come or a blip on the radar and we’ll never see this again.
Maybe it’s because I can still remember being there in person to witness Coan fumble and bumble his way to a loss at Northwestern last year.
Maybe that’s the Hornibrook affect in me too? After all, we got totally burned by thinking Hornibrook had turned a corner with his great performance in the bowl win over Miami two years ago.
Instead, Hornibrook reverted right back to the inconsistent and at times terrible version that his more extensive body of work told us was likely who he was.
But, here’s why I think we aren’t seeing a blip on the radar with Coan. It’s his confidence and the fact that we’ve seen him go out and do better each and every week he’s been a starter.
We are seeing progress, which we never really did with Hornibrook under center. If you can’t see that Coan is improving, then you aren’t paying attention.
Last week, despite the first ever 200-yard day for Coan, a lot of attention was paid to the missed wide open receivers on vertical routes. What did Coan do about it? He went out this week and showed he could confidently and accurately hit those deep balls.
“I think it’s important, and certainly we’ve got to be able to — we thought coming into the year we’ve got to do a better job of attacking the whole field, and so when you can do that, it’s good, but I think guys have had confidence in it,” said head coach Paul Chryst after the CMU win.
“I know last week we were 0-2 for those “chunk” plays, but he wouldn’t have cut ’em loose today if he didn’t have confidence in it. So I don’t know that doing it in a game makes you more confident, but it was good to see. It’s nice to be able to hit a couple of those, obviously.”
Additionally, Coan’s relationship early on this season with Quintez Cephus has been something special to watch. With virtually no playing time and no extensive practice time together, the duo has seemed totally in sync to start the season.
Cephus has nine receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns through two games. He also is averaging 84.5 yards per game, good for fifth in the Big Ten in this early season.
Just to put the difference between Coan and Honribrook in to some perspective for you. Through two games last year, the Badgers had just 26 receptions as a team. This year, UW already has 50.
Wisconsin also has a total of 16 passes for 15 or more yards on the season. That is a quarter of what the Badgers had (64) all of last year and we’re only two games in to the season.
A.J. Taylor (8), Danny Davis (6), Kendric Pryor (6) and Jake Ferguson (6) have all had major impacts in the pass game too.
It means a diverse and talented group is producing quickly this season.
Of course, the challenge of Michigan’s defense awaits the Badgers offense and it certainly will be a step up in competition from the likes of USF and Central Michigan.
However, the Wolverines also won’t be seeing the same old Wisconsin offense they did for the past few years either.
What Coan has brought to the table through two weeks of play should make Michigan think twice about stacking the box against the run all game long.
Wisconsin finally has an outwardly confident quarterback and it feels so very good.
WATCH: Recap of Badgers 61-0 victory over Central Michigan
If you were to draw up a perfect game, well, it would be hard to top what the Wisconsin Badgers put on film on Saturday against the Central Michigan Chippewas.
UW ran, passed and dominated on defense en route to a 61-0 win. What should we take away from this game? What were the highlight moments?
Well of course, Jonathan Taylor scoring four touchdowns in back-to-back games was impressive. But, let our Publisher, Andrew Coppens, get in to the detail in this week’s talkinBadgers recap.
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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Central Michigan Chippewas: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications
We’re back with more in our video work for the Badgers 2019 season. As per usual, our Publisher, Andrew Coppens, is here to give you the lowdown on the matchup between the Wisconsin Badgers and Central Michigan Chippewas.
That means, key players to watch, key stats to keep an eye on and the weekly prediction.
He is 1-0 after nearly nailing the full score last week, so what does this matchup look like?
Let’s get in to the video.
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