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.
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.
Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019
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.
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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