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B1G 2020: Wisconsin’s Non-Con Is Easier Than Usual

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Or, Can Wisconsin Replace Its Departed All-Star Running Back, part 12

(The joke is that there isn’t a non-conference schedule this season. I’ll mark down that all of you laughed, just out of frame.)

An Abbreviated Wisconsin Preview

Wisconsin had a good year during the 2019-20 season, winning the West, getting anointed as Ohio State’s co-playoff participant for about half of the Conference Championship Game, and then making the Rose Bowl and losing to a QB who is absolutely shredding the NFL as a rookie. Given the excellent finish to the regular season, Wisconsin got the honor of having the second-to-last OTE B1G 2020 preview slot. Unfortunately, the Big Ten season was canceled before the OTE Wisconsin writers could preview things for you. Instead of being able to link you to our old preview pieces, then, we’re giving you a very, very short preview of the 2020 team:

The best parts of the offense are gone and the expected/projected/returning starting QB, Jack Coan, broke his foot last week and is likely out 6-8 weeks. The defense will be better than it has the last two seasons, which is exciting news for Badger fans. The special teams will be either good or bad, more likely bad than good because that’s how it is for most teams who don’t recruit in the top 15 every year.

What To Expect From Wisconsin’s 2020 Offense

With Coan out for the foreseeable future, the next QB will be Graham Mertz, Chase Wolf, or Danny Vanden Boom. Yes those are all real people, and one of those three will be the starting QB on October somethingth against Illinois. The smart money is on Mertz, who took reps with the 1st Team on Monday, but Mr. Wolf or Mr. Boom (way, way, way more likely Mr. Wolf) could beat him out, alternate series, or something else Coach Dad has yet to figure out. If it’s Mertz, Wisconsin fans will finally get a for real real taste of the most hyped and heralded recruit of the past few years. Conventional wisdom has been that Mertz has a big arm and will sling it all over the field, but come on. It’s Wisconsin and Paul Chryst. The pessimists should rejoice in the likelihood of downgraded quarterback play in 2020 for a variety of reasons—no more Jonathan Taylor means worse running game, loss of a lot of the O Line, loss of the top WR—while the optimists are already rejoicing at the thought of a Wisconsin QB who can throw the deep ball.

Running back is a big shrugging emoji as well, but that’s more due to the untested nature of most of the remaining non-JTT running backs and Chryst’s insistence of having a “3rd down back” on the field for...3rd downs. Garrett Groshek returns as both the aforementioned 3rd-down back and the obligatory Guy Who Played QB In College But Doesn’t Now And Isn’t That Interesting. The first two downs of every Wisconsin run-run-pass series, though? Most likely to be Nakia Watson, who you may have seen some last year, with Isaac Guerendo and Julius Davis picking up the slack and/or garbage time. Whoever it is, you know Wisconsin will still run for a bunch of yards. The fullbacks must be mentioned in any Wisconsin running game discussion, so expect to see Mason Stokke, John Chenal, or even Quan Easterling running the fullback dive on 9 out of every 10 4th and incheses.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, wide receiver. Danny Davis and Kendrick Pryor will get the most attention and best defenders, but Jack Dunn and Adam Krumholz will get plenty of chances to block on the jet sweep or catch 5-yard outs on 3rd and long. In short, what was a bit of a strength for Wisconsin in 2019 may be its biggest liability in 2020, particularly if the late-changing QB causes problems. Well hold on, I forgot about tight ends. Wisconsin had insane TE injury and depth problems in 2019. If they can stay healthy, they have beyond-4th-round-pick Jake Ferguson as their lead tight end, with Hayden Rucci (older brother of recent Wisconsin recruiting win/PSU recruiting loss Nolan Rucci) and probably a converted linebacker or something making appearances when Wisconsin feels 8 blockers just aren’t enough.

What To Expect From Wisconsin’s 2020 Defense

Every level of Wisconsin’s defense will be better in 2020 than it was in 2019. Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense just plain works, so long as neither the 3 nor the 4 are ravaged by injuries. Wisconsin will finally have year-to-year consistency on the D Line, with some strong backup options. The linebacking corps should be expected to be very good until it is something other than very good. Jack Sanborn is the name you’ll recognize here, and Isaiah Green-May and Noah Burks will get plenty of name-making chances as the outside linebackers. You’ll also hear endlessly about Leo Chenal, brother of previously-mentioned fullback, John Chenal. You’ve all experienced college football on television in the last 10 years, so you know exactly what I’m talking about. Love to hear an “interesting” fact about a player once or twice every single game.

The secondary starts two redshirt seniors and two redshirt juniors, all with a ton of snaps played and a bunch of games started. Losing Reggie Pearson hurts the ceiling and the depth for sure, but taking his place is Scott Nelson, one of the very few bright shining parts of The Secondary Dark Times from a couple years ago. Nelson got hurt at some point in 2019 (this is a welll-researched article shut up) and missed all of the season. He’s back now and he certainly cushions the Pearson blow a bit.

What To Expect From Wisconsin’s 2020 Special Teams

The biggest difference between 2020 and 2019 is the loss of the Wisconsin kickoff specialist who put something like 108% of all kickoffs through the back of the endzone over his career. Field goal kicker Connor Larsh adds “kickoff guy” to his job title for 2020. Also Wisconsin’s punter from last year is gone, so maybe this is the year Wisconsin finally turns punting into a thing they’re good at, rather than just being this dumb foot kicky thing they have to do every once in a while. Pin your hopes on Conor Schlichting or Andy Vujnovich, both possessing fantastic punter and Wisconsin player names, and Wisconsin just may be able to finally enter the elite of the conference. In punting.

The COVID Of It All

Okay, so which Wisconsin players are opting out of the 2020 B1G “season,” for whatever reason but generally for COVID-related reasons? Technically, none. In fact, former Badgers tackle Jon Dietzen, who retired in 2019 after making 32 starts in 35 games, has un-retired, rejoining the team two weeks ago. He originally retired for injury-related reasons, but in the last year and a half has apparently been recuperating and then working hard to get back with the team. He’ll add some depth at both left guard and left tackle, assuming he feels good enough to get through practice weeks and play in actual for real competition.

Welcome back, large human!

We say “technically” because Reggie Pearson, slated to be one of Wisconsin’s starting safeties and a major contributor, is not on the Fall roster for Wisconsin. Why? Let’s let head coach Paul Chryst explain in a very Chryst-y manner:

“In the offseason, found something that was a concern. For this year, he wasn’t cleared to play. That’s why he’s not on the roster right now, because he wouldn’t be cleared,” Chryst said.

The team’s doctors won’t clear Pearson to play and the team/doctors/his dad won’t say why, but let’s assume it’s COVID otherwise this section is very short.

The Schedule

In case you can’t read that:

Oct. 24 vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Oct. 31 at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nov. 7 vs. Purdue Boilermakers
Nov. 14 at Michigan Wolverines
Nov. 21 at Northwestern Wildcats
Nov. 28 vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Dec. 4 vs. Indiana Hoosiers
Dec. 12 at Iowa Hawkeyes

The tough stretch in a normal year would be the middle four games, with a fiesty and talented Purdue, plus a tough away game followed by an annoyingly likely road loss, finished off with a home game against what will probably be the 2nd best offensive and 3rd worst defensive team in the conference.

But there aren’t crowds this season, so what does the home/away split really mean? Hopefully it doesn’t mean that every game is like a typical away game at Northwestern...

Finally, we didn’t do a preview piece, so we didn’t get to express COVID-related disappointment back in June or July or whatever. I am sorely disappointed that there is not Wisconsin-Notre Dame game at Lambeau this season. I am inconsolably forever Eeyore over the fact that there won’t be an App State - Wisconsin game this season. Otherwise, no complaints about the schedule. Get to play the West and avoid the top 2 teams from the East? I’ll take it.

Predictions

I see 5 games they have no business losing and 3 games they probably/should have been favored in prior to losing Jack Coan. I’d say 7-1 is the expectation, but the potentially tricky away games could bump it to 6-2 especially with an untested QB. I’m more bearish on (likely going to be named as the starter) Graham Mertz than other Wisconsin fans, especially considering Wisconsin’s other offensive losses (top WR, one of their best RBs ever, multiple OL starters) so I’m going with a disappointing #Doesn’tActuallyCount 6-2 record. Don’t be surprised to see Wisconsin favored in 7 of 8 games, perhaps even all 8.

Poll

Prediction for Wisconsin’s Regular Season Wins?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    8
    (32 votes)
  • 39%
    7
    (74 votes)
  • 32%
    5-6
    (60 votes)
  • 10%
    sub-5
    (20 votes)
186 votes total Vote Now