The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the 20th of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover the no. 6 Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin finished last season with a 13-1 record and a win over Miami in the Orange Bowl. Their only loss came to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. With 13 returning starters, some star players back on the roster and a relatively easy schedule, the Badgers can put themselves in a position to win a lot of games this season.
The offense was solid last year, ranking 28th in points per game and 23rd in rushing. Their passing attack does need to improve after ranking 98th. With nine returning starters on offense, Wisconsin will be expected to run right through most of the teams on their schedule.
Alex Hornibrook is back at quarterback and is now in his third season as a starter. Hornibrook improved his efficiency last year, completing 62.3% of his passes, but still threw 15 interceptions last year. He needs to limit the turnovers this season. With the Badgers being a team that likes to run the ball, Hornibrook just needs to protect the football and make a few good throws a game to make this team successful.
Tight end Troy Fumagalli is now in the NFL, but Wisconsin’s has other issues now. Wide receiver Quintez Cephus has been suspended from the team for his pending legal case. They were without him for the last five games of last season with injury. A.J. Taylor and Danny Davis each had over 400 receiving yards last season. The duo excels at busting big plays after the defense is lulled to sleep after facing repeated rushes. That trend will continue this season. Zander Neuville will take over at tight end.
Wisconsin will feed running back Jonathan Taylor the ball a lot this season. He had 299 carries for 1,997 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman in 2017. The sophomore is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy and can have an even better season behind a great offensive line.
Four of five starters are back to help block for Taylor. Michael Deiter, Beau Benzshawel and David Edwards all have NFL potential and will make the offense keep the chains moving.
With Taylor and Co. back for another season, this offense can be one of the best in the country, if Hornibrook protects the football.
The defense was elite in 2017, but only returns four starters. They ranked third in points allowed per game, third against the rush and fifth against the pass. There are some key players that Wisconsin can rely on this year.
Olive Sagapolu is the only player on their defensive line reclaiming his starting spot from last season. He had three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, which is pretty solid for a nose tackle in a three-man front. Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand have gotten some playing time and will need to play well at the defensive end positions.
T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly are back at the inside linebacker position. Edwards was talented enough to be in the NFL by now, but elected to play another season in Madison. He had 81 total tackles and 11 tackles for loss last season. He is the unquestioned leader of the defense. Andrew Van Ginkel and Zack Baun will play outside linebacker for the Badgers. Van Ginkel tallied 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss as a backup last season.
The majority of the secondary remains unproven, but D’Cota Dixon does not fit that bill. He is a star who had 58 tackles for this defense last season. He will need to help the young players around him understand the defense. Dontye Carriere-Williams and Madison Cone are likely candidates to take over at corner and have some potential. Scott Nelson figures to play next to Dixon at safety.
If the secondary can figure itself out, the Badgers will have a solid unit on this side of the ball as well.
The Badgers play Western Kentucky (home), New Mexico (home) and BYU (home) in the non-conference. BYU and Western Kentucky will test Wisconsin, but they should be able to come out on top in both matchups.
Their tough games in conference include Iowa (away), Michigan (away) and Penn State (away). That is an easy schedule again for Wisconsin. They may drop a game or two in conference, but should be able to make the Big Ten Championship.
With the schedule and the talent, Wisconsin should win 10 or 11 games this regular season.
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