And so we have reached Wisconsin week in our B1G 2017 rundown. Enough with the mediocrity, here come your reigning 2016 West Division champions. Not to mention the overwhelming favorites to repeat as division champs, but we’ll get to that later.
About Last Year
So 2016 Wisconsin looked a lot like typical Wisconsin, but it didn’t quite start that way. Wisconsin kicked off the season with a hell of a start beating #5 LSU, who it turns out was rather overrated. Still even in retrospect, beating a decent SEC West team to start the season isn’t bad. The Badgers then followed that with a beatdown of Akron and an impossibly close game against a bad Georgia State team to close out nonconference play.
Wisconsin started conference play with another big showdown against MSU, and promptly crushed them 30-6. Now MSU was obviously very bad (to put it gently) last year, but this seemed like a massive win at the time. Turns out MSU was just a flaming garbage can in the mile of a dumpster fire last year. Wisconsin then went into Michigan and lost a heartbreaker that if this was the SEC probably would’ve moved both teams up in the rankings but this is the Big Ten and lol media polls. Wisconsin finished up its death march through the B1G East with a home game against OSU. A game that Wisconsin really could’ve won, but hey Wisconsin QBs amirite?
Wisconsin wouldn’t lose again the rest of the regular season. Then again, when you’re playing the likes of Minnesota and Iowa, losing is an abject failure. Rather embarrassing really. One has an overrated coach, and the other is Iowa. Anyway, Wisconsin beat Nebraska in another top 10 showdown, making up for the overtime lose a game earlier with an OT win this time. In retrospect, I now remember why the second half of the season seemed so anti climatic. You can’t play four out of five games against top 10 teams (with a game at Iowa in between, which in my mind would decide who won the division), two of which went into overtime, and not feel a bit of letdown when you beat Northwestern in a ho hum 21-7 game a week later. Wisconsin then finished the regular season by beating division doormats Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota by a combined score of 128-40. Congrats Minnesota, put the “had a lead at halftime before Mitch Leidner Leidner’d it away” in the trophy case. Better yet, stick it where the Axe would go, it’ll give you an excuse to dust that portion of the trophy case.
As division champions, Wisconsin faced Penn State for what would ultimately be a trip to the Rose Bowl. I really don’t have much to say about this game. Penn State figured out Wisconsin only moves the ball consistently when running and that Sojourn Shelton is realistically 5’7 and probably couldn’t win a jump ball against me, yet alone a Big Ten wide receiver. Unfortunate really, he had a great career at Wisconsin and most of my last memories of him are going to be how hopeless he was against Chris Godwin. Fortunately beating 3 not actually top 10 teams because #pollz but not really kept the Badgers high enough ranked to get a New Year’s Six Bowl. Specifically the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan. In what was a trademark game 2016 Badgers game, the Wisconsin defense was fantastic while the offense was just good enough and Wisconsin won 24-16. Upon seeing how masterfully he lost to Wisconsin, Minnesota immediately offered Fleck a contract.
About the Offense
Wisconsin returns eight starters on offense, and personally I think the offense will be greatly improved from last year. Alex Hornibrook returns at quarterback (he counts as a returning starter, even though Bart Houston played better in my opinion most of the season, but whatever, he still played and started a ton). All indications are that he’s put more velocity on his throws, which is fantastic because as accurate as he could be, man oh man did he love to float passes last season. Also to note, he better stay upright this year, because the quarterbacks behind him have taken a grand total of zero college snaps.
Fortunately for him, staying upright shouldn’t be too difficult a task. Yes, the Badgers have to replace Ryan Ramczyk. Most schools struggle to replace first round offensive line, but this is Wisconsin. Wisconsin returns seven lineman that started games, and that doesn’t include redshirt freshman Cole Van Lanen, who is probably the next great Wisconsin lineman. This offensive line should be as good as any Wisconsin has had recently, save for maybe the 2011 line. That line was the truth.
Wisconsin is in the unique position of losing its top two ball carriers, and yet running back isn’t a position of concern. Braderick Shaw showed flashes last year while running for over five yards a pop, and Pitt transfer Chris James is a proven back. Those two took the majority of the carries in spring ball, and should be an extremely formidable two headed monster. Shaw could be what Corey Clement might’ve been if he’d been healthy his whole career, which is a fantastic thought. Taiwan Deal will also likely get carries, he’s a talented, but injuries have derailed his career thus far. Austin Ramesh and Alec Ingold will split fullback duties. Both are solid blockers, but they also combined to score seven touchdowns because this is Wisconsin and we don’t discriminate which back runs you over.
Troy Fumagalli is one of the best tight ends in the nation. He can block with the best of them, and he’s a great receiver. If Hornibrook can get him the ball, he just might win the Mackey Award. Kyle Penniston is a former blue chip recruit who just hasn’t had a chance to see the field much. He too is a great receiver, and may have a breakout year. By the way, freshman Jake Ferguson is Barry Alvarez’s grandson, and everything Wisconsin football that Barry Alvarez touches is pure gold so despite being lightly recruited (I mean, of course he was going to Wisconsin), he’ll probably be all-Big Ten at some point in the future
Jazz Peavy is the leading wide receiver returning for the Badgers, not just in the passing game, but he is also deadly on the jet sweep. If I were a betting man, I’d bet larger amounts of money he runs for a TD against Nebraska or Minnesota. Nebraska because they can’t stop any Badger that takes a hand off, and Minnesota because even with a month to prepare Fleck still couldn’t stop Peavy from taking one 71 yards. Behind him George Rushing feels like he’s been about to break out for about five years, and he’ll likely get the majority of snaps opposite Peavy. A.J. Taylor and Quintez Cephus are talented sophomores, but neither has really had a consistent chance to produce. That should change this year.
About the Defense
In two words, it’s really good. Wisconsin’s defense is always really good, unless your team is really good at chucking it downfield and hoping for the best. This may be a concern again, as most the question marks on defense come in back. Derrick Tindal is probably the number one corner, and D’Cota Dixon is a capable strong safety, but after them it’s anyone’s guess who will start in the secondary. I’d guess Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson starts at the other corner, if for no other reason than he was really good at Hawaii and the other options at corner like Natrell Jamerson got exposed pretty badly against Penn State so my faith in them is lacking. I’m going to go slightly out of the box and say Arrington Farrar starts at free safety. Figuro can’t cover a stop sign and no other option at safety is even close to as talented as him. The advantage for Wisconsin is Jim Leonhard, who has already shown he’s a great coach and safety is after all his area of expertise.
Linebacker is an interesting position for the Badgers. Both outside linebackers are gone to the NFL, but Garrett Dooley played well when given the chance. The rest of the outside linebackers are largely unproven, but it may not matter because Wisconsin has too many inside linebackers. Jack Cichy is a monster, T.J. Edwards led the team in tackles, Ryan Connelly came out of nowhere to have 60 tackles, and opening game starter Chris Orr is back after only playing one snap last year. So as talented as Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt are, the linebackers should again be an elite unit.
Wisconsin returns the entire two deep at defensive line. Since Wisconsin runs a 3-4 there aren’t any eye popping stats, although Chikwe Obasih could break the school record for games played. More might be expected out of Alec James in the pass rushing department with Biegel and Watt gone, but for the most part this line’s job is to make things happen for the linebackers, and with literally everyone back from a solid group last year, they should have no problem doing that.
About Special Teams
Anthony Lotti was a highly touted punter (so B1G), but didn’t have a great freshman year. He had a lot of high short punts which isn’t necessarily the worst thing if no one’s returning punts, but you’re still only getting a net of 35 yards. Everyone’s favorite Brazilian kicker Rafael Gaglianone is back from back surgery that ended his season last year. The more samba, the better.
About the Schedule
No SEC schools, no Ohio State, no Penn State, yeah it’s kind of terrible actually.
Yeah that schedule has double digits wins written all over it.
When Talking to a Badger Fan...
The Axe, Minnesota not having the Axe, the streak, the jet sweep, running backs, offensive linemen, outside linebackers, Camp Randall Stadium, going undefeated against the West Division last year, the odds of it happening again this year, how hilariously obese Bret Bielema is, how hilariously bad Oregon State is, beer, Door County
The Freedom Trophy (doesn’t matter we have it, when you win 95% of your rivalry games you have to reach a bit and it’s an ugly trophy), the second half of the Penn State game, four verticals, quarterbacks, wide receivers, cornerbacks, Ryan Field, Iowa winning the division in 2015 and making it impossible to win the West Division every single year, the inevitable dicktrip against a divsion team this year, Bret Bielema’s bowl record, Gary Andersen, the merits of sobriety, Chicago traffic,
Bonus do not mention: Sharing a conference with Rutgers (either score an offensive touchdown on us or GTFO, if I wanted Wisconsin to play another MAC level team I’d petition for an 8 game conference schedule)