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2018 B1G: Wisconsin Season Preview

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The Badgers look to return to their Conference Championship Game-winning tradition.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Since Paul Chryst took over as head coach for the Wisconsin Badgers, the team has lost just seven games total, and only five regular season games. In the past three years, Wisconsin won two division titles, three bowl games, and the respect and admiration of nearly everyone in the Midwest. Fans and Gophers alike shouldn’t expect that to change. 2018 Wisconsin Football will keep the very-good-but-not-elite train rolling, and the bowl streak will continue. Honestly, the biggest change from 2017 to 2018 may be that Human Khaki Paul Chryst now feels free to show emotion.

Wisconsin lost one game in 2017, which is more than the number of offensive lineman they lost this past offseason. They return nearly the entire offense, hardly any of the defense, and a pretty weak schedule, giving them another great shot to lose the B1G Conference Championship Game. Will this offense get close to the Russel Wilson season? Will Alex Hornibrook reveal himself as right handed? Will Jack and the rest of the gang ever get back to the island?

Wisconsin won the Orange Bowl! A top five defense, an unbelievable freshman running back who fumbled too often, an amazing 3rd down and long QB who turned it over every now and again, a defense that gave zero effs about defending a short field after yet another turnover by the offense, a thicc kicker (thiccker?), and first-year defensive coordinator won every game in the regular season.

As you’d expect, Wisconsin lost to Ohio State in the B1G Conference Championship Game. As you mighten’t expect, Ohio State got left out of the playoff, Wisconsin kept the game really close. And as you morans didn’t expect but absolutely should’ve, Wisconsin beat Miami in the Orange Bowl, running its bowl game winning streak to four (with wins over USC, Auburn, and the Former Fighting FDouchecanoes).

What sucked? Hornibrook’s interception rate, Taylor’s fumble rate, injuries to the linebacking corps (which was amazing and could have been even better) and the receiving corps (which turned out to be pretty good!), losing to Ohio State again, and Minnesota as a college football team and a pro sports state (f’ing Yankees! Again!)

2018: The MurderKill Steamroller

Y’all. This offense is going to be bonkers. Let’s start with the reasons the losers and haters will be happy: the best B1G TE from 2017 graduated (goodbye, 9-fingered Fumigalli), the QB with a 5% INT rate is back, and at the second most important position in the B1G, Austin Ramesh - FB graduated.

Now comes the MurderKill part. Jonathan Taylor (1,977 yards, 13 TDs) is back and ready to lead the B1G. Quintez Cephus, Danny Davis, Kendrick Pryor, and A.J. Taylor (#JazzCaughtIt graduated, so the cover up is nearly complete) are all back and highlight the best receiving corps in the B1G. There will probably be some TEs who catch a bunch of passes on 3rd and medium and block the crap out of everyone (Kyle Penniston, Zander Neuville, Luke Bensomething, another Alvarez descendant). Significantly-better-than-you-clowns-will-admit Alex Hornibrook (25 TDs, several INTs) returns for his 3rd season, and I’m predicting at least three rushing 1st downs. What else...

2018: Wisconsin’s Offensive Line

Good luck. Wisconsin returns all five starters from last year. Beau Benzschawel (G) and David Edwards (T) were All-Americans (and All-B1G obvs). Michael Dieter (G/T/Whatever) was first team All-B1G, and is so good he’s moving back from left tackle to a guard position to practice/show off for the NFL. Tyler Biadasz (C) made third team All-B1G. Jon Dietzen (G) has started on and off for two years. And if any of these guys get hurt or don’t perform well, Wisconsin has former 4-star recruits Cole Van Lanen and Kayden Lyles and a bunch of other players with starting experience just chilling waiting for their turns. Benzschawel, Edwards, and Dieter all show up in a bunch of 2019 first-round NFL mock drafts, and even if these guys don’t live up to the hype or get hurt or whatever, there’s always repeated, uncalled holding to fall back on.

You should expect this offense to score a ton. You shouldn’t be surprised to see Hornibrook air it out a bunch more this season—unless Jonathan Taylor (or his backups, like Bradrick Shaw, Chris James, Garrett “I played QB in high school” Groshek), his mammoth O Line, and the all-important FB Alec Ingold (plus some TEs) just run the ball for 8 yards per carry. Don’t expect Wisconsin to score quickly, but do expect them to absolutely wear teams down and grind their way to 20+ point victories.

What could happen to make all you dillholes out there happy re: Wisconsin’s offensive failures? Hornibrook could continue to turn the ball over at a crazy rate. The 3rd down passing down magic from last year may not be repeatable, especially with a rock like Fumigalli gone. Taylor may still fumble a lot. Injuries, injuries injuries. And of course, without one of the best defenses in the country to back them up and keep scores at 2017 Minnesota against 2017 Wisconsin-low levels, Wisconsin may have to score quickly, rely too heavily on Hornibrook and the relatively-young WR corps, and be unable to overcome its innumerable turnovers.

In short, expect 30+ points per game, a lot of games that seem pretty close for a half but turn into blowouts in the 3rd and 4th quarters, a billion rushing yards, and it still looking really weird to watch a lefty “throw” a football.

2018: Wisconsin Defense

Can I just sigh for four minutes and write “TBD”? No? Alright...

So a LOT of people left from last season. Leon Jacobs and Garrett Dooley (and Jack Cichy, technically) are gone, but T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly, and uber-Midwestern Andrew Van Ginkel are back. Wisconsin’s linebacking group, one of the best in the country the past two seasons, shouldn’t miss a beat. This group, which DC Jim Leonhard (and Wilcox before him) uses in the 3-4 defense to perfection, is responsible for racking up sacks and TFLs.

Once we get past the LBers, things get tough. Defensive Line was set to be a strength and give Wisconsin a top-ten front 7. The keystone of the 3-4, NT Olive Sagapolu returns to backflip his way into your hearts and eat up three or four blockers.

Before you ask, no I don’t have the badly pixelated version of this

After two productive DEs graduated, Wisconsin looked ready to easily replace them with Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand. Unfortunately (for Wisconsin fans and people who aren’t anuses who actively root for other team’s players to get hurt), Rand is out for 2018 with some sort of Achilles injury, and Loudermilk had knee surgery and is expected to miss several weeks. As an FBS team with a full roster, Wisconsin obviously has humans who can occupy those positions, but times may be lean on the D Line for a while.

D’Cota Dixon is all that returns from Wisconsin’s starting secondary. Nick Green, Derrick Tindall, Natrell Jamerson, and Joe Ferguson (OMG DID YOU KNOW HE’S BARRY ALVAREZ’S GRANDSON) are gone, and the youth in the secondary could really hurt this year. Dixon used the “Barry gets what Barry wants” rules to get himself another season of eligibility, and the RS-Senior safety really needs to shine this year for Wisconsin’s pass defense to come anywhere near a repeat of last year. Dontye Carriere-Williams returns at cornerback with a decent number of reps, but his youth is exactly what you should expect from the secondary this year. Madison Cone, who I’m already annoyed at for opening a twice-per-game pun door to every color analyst in the 2018 season, is as likely as anyone to get starts opposite Carriere-Williams...and he’s barely played at all. Given how many points the offense should score (see above), you’re likely to hear these guys’s names called a lot this season as teams try to exploit the long-distance air handoff game to catch up and/or take away Wisconsin’s ability to grind things out.

So am I worried about the defense in 2018? Should you be worried? The answer to both questions is yes. The Badgers have to replace a ton of talent this year, and everyone knows the injuries aren’t going to stop with two D Line players. Hopefully the offense limits its turnovers, otherwise this D is going to see many more of those “sudden change” situations, many on short fields, and I’m not convinced the D will hold up.

Then again, Wisconsin’s D still has three things going for it: Jim Leonhard seems like the real deal and I totally didn’t doubt him at all don’t even look it up or anything shut up; the 3-4 defense remains super weird, super disruptive, and if 2016 is any indication (when Wisconsin’s secondary had...issues at times), the Badger linebackers—among the best in the country—can carry the rest of the defense; and Olive Sagapolu is still really, really good and should continue to execute the most important position on the defense with aplomb.

What should you expect from the defense in 2018? It’s not going to be as good as it was in 2017. My guess is it won’t be as good as it was in 2016 either, but there’s plenty of room for the 2018 Badger D to be in the “very good” range, even if “great” isn’t possible.

2018: Wisconsin Special Teams

Yep, he’s back. You all know who I’m talking about. After making a splash with his youth, girth, and kicking ability when he first arrived, Rafael Gaglianone (pronounced “Wisconsin’s Kicker”) has been really, really good. He went 16-18 on FGs last year, including 4-4 on FGs over forty yards.

Also back is everyone else from Wisconsin’s 2017 foot-based roster. Zach Hintze recorded 54 touchbacks on 79 kickoffs, with backup/other kickoff specialist P.J. Rosowski recording 4 on 9. The punters return to continue being winners, most notably Anthony Lotti who, despite my impression of him as not that good, landed 25 of his 57 punts inside the 20, had 12 punts of 50+ yards, and somehow got to put 8 times in a single CCG.

I don’t have any stats to give you, but I’m pretty sure Wisconsin defended punt and kick returns really well last season. Look it up and get back to me, thanks.

What should you expect? A lot of extra points and not that many field goals. Some punts. Hopefully this:

2018: Wisconsin’s Path to Another B1G CCG

2018 Wisconsin Football Schedule

Date Opponent Winner of Last Fourteen Axe Games
Date Opponent Winner of Last Fourteen Axe Games
August 31 Western Kentucky Wisconsin
September 8 New Mexico Wisconsin
September 15 BYU Wisconsin
September 22 at Iowa Wisconsin
September 29 BYE Wisconsin
October 6 Nebraska Wisconsin
October 13 at Michigan Wisconsin
October 20 Illinois Wisconsin
October 27 at Northwestern Wisconsin
November 3 Rutgers Wisconsin
November 10 at Penn State Wisconsin
November 17 at Purdue Wisconsin
November 24 Minnesota Wisconsin
December 1 CCG (OSU) Wisconsin

First, the home slate is straight garbage. Just some awful stuff. Also the non-con is a great example of “hey these teams have been good recently! What’s that? They’re all garbage now? Crap.”

Wisconsin plays its top five pre-CCG opponents on the road: at PSU, at Purdue, at Michigan, at Iowa, and at Northwestern (in order of best to worst teams. NOTE: Does not take into account Ryan Field voodoo).

This schedule honestly worries me. Would it be the craziest thing for Wisconsin to lose two conference games? With this schedule, not even a little. To lose three? This many tough road games really makes it possible. My super cynical prediction is Wisconsin loses to PSU and Michigan, while some middling West team with a garbage schedule squeaks through to the CCG.

The non-cynical take on the schedule? See you in the CCG, East Division Winner.

When Talking to a Wisconsin Fan

Do Mention: Culvers, cheese curds (fried or fresh), the Axe streak, the Bowl Game winning streak, anybody with the last name Watt, beating Miami, LSU, USC, Michigan, and Auburn over the past four seasons, how you activate the reactor.

Don’t Mention: I really don’t give two shits. When the best you can offer is a sick “free agency” burn about Russell Wilson from seven years ago, a reference to a sport that isn’t even football, or even more outdated references to parrots and racial photoshopping, it’s maybe time to hang up the shittalking cape. Talk about whatever you want.

Also, don’t mention Sam Dekker challenging a guy to a fight because I want to talk about that later this week.

Poll

When I’m done after a long day of dropping 10+ year old Wisconsin burns, I can’t wait to get home and take off my:

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Fedora
    (42 votes)
  • 38%
    Crocs and socks
    (97 votes)
  • 20%
    Reversible IU-ND or Purdue-ND jacket
    (51 votes)
  • 13%
    Apple Watch
    (35 votes)
  • 10%
    MRA t-shirt
    (27 votes)
252 votes total Vote Now