First and Ten, Wisconsin! Boasting a 13-1 record, topped with a cherry in the form of an Orange Bowl victory over Miami, and the 2017 Badgers were the winningest team in school history. They’ve enjoyed a good run in the last 2 decades. They’re happy to be here, but they not just happy be to here. In 2017, the Badgers suffered constant criticism from a schedule perceived as weak. Pay no mind to that. Wisconsin had the 2nd best total defense, 3rd best scoring defense, the best 3rd down conversion percentage among Power 5 teams. At 12-1 the Wisconsin Badgers were not even part of the playoff conversation. What do the Badgers have to say about this? Nobody cares, Work harder.
So you got big goals for 2018?
So do 129 other teams.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) April 3, 2018
2018 Wisconsin Badgers’ Offense
2018 will be the first year Paul Chryst’s recruits will be upperclassmen. The last time Chryst was offensive coordinator for a fully developed Wisconsin was between 2009-2011. During that span, his offenses averaged 31.8, 41.5, and 44.1 points per a game. The 2017 Badgers scored 33.8 points per a game. Only two starters depart from 2017: Tight end Troy Fumagalli & fullback Austin Ramesh.
Wisconsin will have the best offensive line in the country, and maybe in school history. RT #79 David Edwards, G #66 Beau Benzschawel, and LT #63 Mike Deiter turned down the NFL for one more year in Madison together. Did we say LT Mike Deiter? In 2018 Mike Deiter will be moving to RG to get more reps at the position he will play in the NFL. Replacing him will be either #71 Cole Van Lanen or #62 Patrick Kasl. Both saw meaningful playing time in 2017. The coaching staff went so far as to play Van Lanen as TE just to get him on the field. The sophomore is the early favorite to win the job.
Quintez Cephus leads ALL returning FBS WRs in passer rating when targeted, not just the B1G WRs pic.twitter.com/zhTKYI0AKr
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 13, 2018
The receiving corps is the best in school history. WR Quintez Cephus is back after missing the final 5 games in 2017. That didn’t stop him from having a team-leading 6 touchdowns, with a cool 501 yards at a rate of 16.7 yards per a catch. Cephus leads all returning WRs in QBR when targeted. Freshmen phenom Danny Davis III and Orange Bowl stand out A.J Taylor are poised to contribute as well. Taylor recorded 370 yards at 16.1 per a catch with 4 touchdowns in 2017. Davis lead the team in yards per a catch with 17.2. Davis played QB in high school and took a few snaps from the wildcat. Look for him to become a bigger part of the offense in 2018.
Alex Hornibrook is the most polarizing Badgers QB since Joel Stave. Some fans called for back up Jack Coan, while others noted that Hornibrook is 20-3 as a starter. In his last 20 starts, he is 19-1 and never lost to a team that finished outside the Top 10. For comparison, Scott Tolzien as a first year starter completed 64.3% of passes for 2705 yards averaging 8.2 yards per an attempt. He tagged on 16 touchdowns with 11 ints for a QBR of 143.0. In his 2010 senior campaign, Tolzien completed 72.9% of passes for 2459 yards averaging 9.2 yards an attempt. He threw 16 touchdowns with 6 ints for a QBR of 165.9.
As a sophomore Hornibrook completed 62.3% of passes for 2644 yards averaging 8.3 yards per a catch. He threw 25 touchdowns and 11 ints for a 148.6 QBR. If Hornibrook matches Tolziens growth Badger will be thinking playoff. Hornibrook will have more talented WRs and an offensive line that will provide enough time to read Proust, author of the world’s longest book. And we haven’t even gotten to the beer and cheese.
How the backfield performs will determine the success of the Badgers. Jonathan Taylor opened as a favorite to win the Heisman with 8:1 odds. Only Stanford’s Bryce Love has better odds at 7:1. Last year, Taylor rushed for 1977 yards, averaging 6.6 yards a carry and scored 13 touchdowns. While wildly productive, he will need some help from those around him for the Badgers to possibly make the CFP.
Taylor had 273 carries in 2017. Between the 4 other running backs and 2 fullbacks, Taylor’s back ups had 249 carries for 1,139 yards. That’s a far cry from the three headed monster of 2010 with John Clay (187 carries for 1012 yards), James White (156 carries for 1052 yards) and Montee Ball (163 carries 996 yards). The good news is RBs Chris James and Bradrick Shaw are fully healthy. Last year, both struggled with injures and never quite played at 100%. If good health fails to produce, then perhaps true freshmen RB Nakia Watson or WR Aaron Cruickshank could provide the dynamic touch.
2018 Wisconsin Badgers’ Defense
For the last few years, Wisconsin has quietly chalked up Top 10 defenses. That pace will be difficult to maintain with numerous departures from last year’s squad. The biggest losses are DBs Derrick Tindal Jr, Nick Nelson, and Natrell Jamerson. The unit represented one of the best secondaries not only in the country, but in school history, as well. Other departures were both outside linebackers Garrett Dooley, and Leon Jacobs. The defensive line lost ends Conner Sheehy and Alec James.
It’s next man up in Madison. No position is that more clearly expressed than the linebackers. The Badgers will again have to replace both outside linebackers. Andrew Van Ginkel has laid claim to one of the available OLB positions. Opposite him will be either #56 Zack Baun or #59 Tyler Johnson. Baun entered spring camp as the favorite to start, but injuries to his foot may cause him to miss a couple of weeks. Tyler Johnson is a former walk-on from Mensha, Wisconsin. In 2017, he recorded 8 tackles in 6 games while forcing 2 fumbles. Inside linebackers will be the familiar faces #53 T.J. Edwards and #43 Ryan Connelly. Edwards lead the team in tackles in 2 of the last 3 years. In coverage, he allowed the lowest passer rated among linebackers at just 38.9 including 4 interceptions.
The defensive line suffered from departures and injuries. Projected starting DE Garrett Rand will likely miss the 2018 season. Opposite him, Isaiahh Loudermilk also suffered an injury this spring. Loudermilk will return in time for the conference opener vs Iowa. Redshirt freshmen Aaron Vopal from De Pere Wisconsin took first team reps in spring practice. Come fall, Vopal and redshirt junior Kraig Howe will battle for the starting role. Anchoring the line will be senior nose tackle Olive Sagapolu. Here is everything you need to know about Sagapolu:
Olive Sagapolu is 336 lbs
Olive Sagapolu does backflips
Olive Sagapolu is our nose tackle
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) May 22, 2018
Prediction for the Badgers’ 2018 Season
Wisconsin will face their toughest challenges on the road. The Badgers open B1G play @Iowa. Mid-October Wisconsin takes a trip to Ann Arbor to play Michigan. Mid-November the Badgers play @Penn State.
Given how Paul Chryst’s Badgers have performed, the schedule should once again be manageable. The Badgers will once again be fighting for a conference championship and playoff birth. Book the Badgers for 11-1 in the regular season and another trip to the B1G Championship game.