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Wisconsin Badgers Spring Preview: 5 questions on offense

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Even if it doesn’t feel like it outside, spring is in air inside the Don McClain Center. That’s because today starts the Wisconsin Badgers spring football practices.

It also means it is time to put this group under the 2019 microscope and stop wondering what could have been in 2018.

What will be different this year is that the Badgers don’t plan on doing an official spring game. Instead, they will open up Camp Randall for fans to witness a practice on April 13.

Spring ball will end on April 26, but today is the beginning and we’ve got some questions to be answered — some more pressing than others. So, let’s get in to them from least pressing to most.

Is there a deep threat in the passing game?

Quintez Cephus is still awaiting trial on two separate counts of sexual assault, so any hope of him coming back to the Badgers program in 2019 seems to be out of the window. But, in terms of football, there is no question the UW offense missed his presence in 2018.

He was a downfield threat while breaking out in 2017, catching 30 passes for 501 yards and averaged 16.7 yards per catch to go with six touchdowns.

As a team last year, the Badgers averaged just 11.5 yards per catch — a significant drop from 13.2 yards per catch as a team in 2017.

A.J. Taylor did his level best to become a threat last year and was regularly the go-to receiver for both Alex Honibrook and Jack Coan.

Wisconsin needs someone to break out with some speed to get down field if the Badgers offense wants to make a move. Who would that guy be is still a major question.

Young players like Taj Mustapha and A.J. Abbott and Emmet Perry all have a big opportunity in front of them — especially given the open quarterback battle happening.

Who Will Take Ingold’s Place at Fullback?

Wisconsin still loves the fullback, as evidenced by the important role that Alec Ingold played in UW’s offense over the last four years. But, replacing him won’t be easy, because there was little depth and opportunity behind him last year.

Mason Stokke was the main backup, switching from inside linebacker before last season to help with depth. But, is he the answer?

John Chenal, Jack Collinsworth and Coy Warner were also listed as fullbacks last season, but there’s a reason UW went out and got one of the top fullbacks in high school football in this recruiting class too.

Can anyone emerge as the leader before said incoming freshman, Quan Easterling, shows up on campus in the fall? The Badgers bruising run game and versatility on offense as a whole depends on finding a quality answer here.

Is there a reliable backup to Jonathan Taylor at RB?

Last season the Badgers thought they would be loaded at running back, but a bad injury to Bradrick Shaw seemed to derail the explosive depth behind him Taylor.

With Taiwan Deal gone and Shaw’s future still in doubt, the Badgers have a big hole to fill behind Taylor. All indications are that Nakia Watson was both physically and mentally ready to go last season but the Badgers were able to redshirt him instead.

This season, Watson could be the second man in the backfield, but will have to show that in spring ball. Julius Davis was added in the 2019 class, but he won’t be on campus until the fall.

Then there is the question of Garrett Groshek. He emerged as a huge pass-catching weapon out of the backfield and someone capable of taking a carry or two as well. But, is he really the guy that can give you quality production with multiple carries?

My money is on Watson emerging as the second-choice, with Groshek in the mix and continuing to develop as a pass catcher. Maybe we could even see two-back sets with Taylor and Groshek to help keep defenses guessing? It would be a novel concept considering what happened last year.

How Will the Offensive Line Adjust?

Change happens every year in college football, and for the Wisconsin Badgers they likely thought that would include losing three offensive lineman to the NFL.

Instead, Tyler Biadsz surprised a lot of people and returned for his redshirt junior season. But, the Badgers ended up losing a third starter this offseason anyway, as oft-injured Jon Dietzen decided to hang up the cleats and call it a career.

We also found out on Monday that both Cole Van Lanen and Biadsz wouldn’t play this spring to keep them healthy and repair anything needed in the offseason.

That means all but one spot on the offensive line will be a new face in spring ball. We’ll see a battle to back up Biadsz between Kayden Lyles and Jason Erdmann.

On the outside we’ll likely get to see a lot of Tyler Beach, Logan Bruss and Michael Furtney. Additionally, inside we’ll likely get to see if David Moorman can make the jump to starter and if either Lyles or Erdmann will slide out from center to right guard to replace Michael Dieter.

Depth will get a test in the spring as usual and that can only be a good thing come fall. Will the Badgers find answers to whether that depth is good or still a work in progress though?

Will Anyone Emerge as QB Battle Winner?

Chryst has let anyone and everyone know that expecting a winner of the open quarterback battle to happen in the spring may be a long shot. Still, the question remains as to who will emerge at the position?

Will any of the four scholarship quarterbacks in the mix — Jack Coan, Danny Vanden Boom, Chase Wolf or highly-touted freshman Graham Mertz make a leap?

It would be nice to see at two separate themselves in the spring, setting up a good competition throughout summer workouts and in to fall camp. Coan has the most experience, but also was very inconsistent in his five games played.

Was it because of his ability or because the coaching staff tried to keep the gameplan too tight with him behind center? What about Vanden Boom and Wolf, who both flashed in camp last year before fading down the stretch.

My money is on Coan and Wolf to look the best of the returning quarterbacks, but the $1 million question is what about Mertz?

Everyone in the fanbase wants to see Mertz jump up and grab the job from the get-go, but that may be unrealistic. Just look at what happened to 4-star quarterback Artur Sitkowski at Rutgers last year and numerous others who were thrown in too soon.

Wisconsin has the luxury of not pushing him too fast, but that luxury could go by the wayside if none of the other three show the growth and confidence that will be needed.

Simply put, the Badgers passing game can’t be in the 100’s once again this year. It would be a shame to waste the final season of star running back Jonathan Taylor because of a bad passing game again.

Being able to come out of spring ball confident that there is at least one, if not more players capable of leading this offense would be a dream come true. Will it actually happen though?

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Cephus says he wants to return to Badgers football

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Earlier on Monday we got word from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the status of Quintez Cephus, the student. He was to have his expulsion reversed after the evidence from his acquittal was brought forth to the university.

The only question left was if he would want to return to the university and the Wisconsin Badgers football team.

During a press conference on Monday afternoon, the speculation was put to an end. Quintez Cephus wants to return to the university and the football team.

During his press conference, Cephus mentioned how he wanted to stay at Wisconsin largely because of the support he got from his teammates and the entire staff of the UW football program.

He also mentioned that he had yet to speak with head coach Paul Chryst face-to-face after this decision was announced, but he would be doing so later in the day on Monday.

Many will also wonder if he’s ready physically and mentally to get back on the football field this season. Well, Cephus has been working out in Arizona for three months straight in anticipation of coming back on the field.

Judging by the video he’s put out, he’s certainly in some good physical condition.

Of course, only time will tell how quickly any and all of this will happen for Cephus and the Badgers. But, Cephus is very clearly focused on not wasting this opportunity and doing things at a very high level.

There are likely a few NCAA hurdles to officially jump through, but I’m also guessing the paperwork was just waiting to be put in motion once the university reinstated him and he gave the go-ahead.

Either way, he will be a welcome sight for an already strong group of wide receivers.

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UW reinstates Quintez Cephus

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A week after Quintez Cephus, his teammates and his attorneys went in front of the cameras to implore the University of Wisconsin-Madison to allow Cephus back in to school, we now have word on his status.

On Monday morning, it was revealed that Cephus was reinstated to the university. UW sent out the following tweet regarding the matter:

In the statement announcing their decision, the university noted that they had received information that wasn’t available during their initial Title IX investigation.

“UW–Madison obtained information following the criminal proceeding that was not provided to the university during the student conduct process, ” said the statement. “Chancellor Rebecca Blank conducted a review of this information and the petition for Quintez Cephus’ reinstatement as quickly as possible and in a complete and impartial manner.

“As a result of this review, sanctions for Quintez Cephus have been reduced and his expulsion lifted. There were findings of responsibility of the student non-academic misconduct code that were upheld.”

Chancellor Rebecca Blank had the following to say about the situation.

“All three of the primary participants in this case are our students, and I know the past year has been painful for everyone involved,” said Blank. “My decision is based on the availability of substantial new information that wasn’t made available to us during the earlier process. I recognize that some will disagree with this decision.”

“To those in our community who have experienced sexual assault, I sincerely hope that there is nothing in this case that will deter you from coming forward for support,” she added. “Our university continues to be prepared to listen and respond.”

Cephus had his expulsion lifted, but did not have all sanctions removed from his record. According to the statement, the findings of responsibility of the student non-academic misconduct code that were upheld.

With this reinstatement, Cephus has a decision in front of him. He is free to return to the university and the football team has made it clear they will welcome him back with open arms.

But, does he want to return to UW at all? All indications are that he does want to come back to school, but getting his expulsion lifted would allow him to move on from the university if he so chose.

We will have to wait for more information from the program once everyone has had a chance to make their decisions known.

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Joe Thomas makes CBS Sports All-time All-American list

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College football celebrates is 150th season in 2019 and that necessitates a look back at the history of the sport. That’s exactly what CBS Sports decided to do and they came up with a long list of the best players in college football history.

Given the fact that the Wisconsin Badgers went through long stretches of horrific play and few years of good work prior to 1990, seeing a Badgers name on the list was a long shot.

But, one Badger did make the list and that was famed left tackle Joe Thomas.

He was named to the honorable mention All-Time All-American offensive line category. Center was broken out in to a different group all together as well.

While at Wisconsin, Thomas became the first Badger to win the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation’s best interior lineman. He also was named to the 2006 first team All-American list and started 39 games in his four years in Madison.

He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame after an 11-year career in which he made the Pro Bowl in 10 straight seasons.

Joining him on CBS Sports honorable mention offensive lineman list were Maurkice Pouncey (Florida), Lincoln Kennedy (Washington), John Hicks (Ohio State), Aaron Taylor (Nebraska) and Jake Long (Michigan).

Making the first team list were Orlando Pace (Ohio State), Jonathan Ogden (UCLA), John Hannah (Alabama) and Ron Yary (USC).

On the second team were Anthony Munoz (USC), Bryant McKinnie (Miami), Will Shields (Nebraska) and Tony Boselli (USC).

Those are all some amazing names and gives us all a great reminder of just how great college football has been over the years to be sure.

Thomas is the only Badgers player to make the list, yes including all-time greats like Ron Dayne and Alan Ameche, let alone perhaps the most famous player of the formative years of college football — Pat O’Dea.

Yes, he doesn’t fit neatly in to the mold of a modern college football player, but this was supposed to be a list of the best players to ever grace the field in the history of the game.

It’s very hard to argue that O’Dea wasn’t exactly that in his era. He was a two time All-American in 1898 and 1899 as a punter and a fullback.

If CBS Sports was serious about honoring the entirety of college football, having O’Dea on the list would be a good place to start.

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Badgers unveil throwback unis for Northwestern game

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College football is celebrating its 150th year in 2019 and the Wisconsin Badgers have been playing the game since the 1889 season.

In order to honor some of the history of the game and the program, the Badgers will put on throwback (and I use that term loosely) uniforms according to a video released by the football program on Tuesday afternoon.

It appears that UW is looking back to the days where a simple UW adorned the front of the sweaters, as they were called at the time, in that 1889 season.

Today, regulations say that all teams must include numbers on the front and back of the jersey and thus the conundrum the Badgers find themselves in here.

Interestingly, the helmets will feature a first-time logo with the ‘UW’ having never appeared together in any helmet in Badgers history. Given the fact that back in 1889 there was no such thing as a helmet in the game of football it was an interesting call.

The helmets will also feature just a thin Cardinal stripe down the center and gray face masks.

Personally, I have to say I’m not a fan of cramming the ‘UW’ on to the front of the jersey and it would’ve been interesting to see them go back to the Bucky Badger helmet or something else.

It just looks too congested on the front of the jersey, but I do like the idea of the black shoes, khaki colored pants and the red jersey overall. It does harken back to that era in as much as is possible in today’s modern game.

However, the players were certainly excited for a different-than-normal look to the Badgers uniforms.

The logo on the side of the khaki colored pants is also the one that the athletic department used from 1962 to 1965 according to research.

Wisconsin will take on Northwestern in the Sept. 28 game that will feature these jerseys inside Camp Randall. Northwestern will also have a similar look as part of what Under Armour is calling its Second Heritage line.

What do you think of this ‘throwback’ look? Hit up the comments below or follow on Twitter @talkingBadgers.

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