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Better Know The Enemy: A Q&A With Wisconsin

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How good are the 2018 Wisconsin Badgers?

Capital One Orange Bowl - Miami v Wisconsin Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

We continue with our preseason Q&As (even as I run out of time). Today’s Q&A is with Jake Kocorowski from Bucky’s 5th Quarter. You might remember that over a year ago, I reviewed a book Jake wrote about Wisconsin’s walk-on tradition.

I don’t have to tell you all about how important the Wisconsin game is. Nebraska hasn’t won at Madison since 1966. It would be nice to get that monkey off our back this season.

And about this season? Here’s more info on Wisconsin.

How certain are you that Wisconsin will win the Big 10 West? Name the most important factor of the 2018 Badger team that makes you believe they’ll win the division.

I am certain that Wisconsin likely is the best overall team in the Big Ten West and should win the division based on its offense and returning starters on defense bringing along the less experienced players. However, with that road schedule with games at Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue, the Badgers will face a tougher schedule than last year.

Most important factor will be the progression of the defense losing seven starters. Gone are starters at defensive end, outside linebacker and the secondary, and even at DE, Wisconsin has dealt with injuries to two predicted starters (Garrett Rand, Isaiahh Loudermilk). Loudermilk’s timetable to return is cloudy but he should return earlier during the season, with Rand completely out for 2018.

So far during fall camp, I have seen players step up at those positions, though they have not faced someone with a different jersey on yet when the game actually counts. I have confidence in coordinator Jim Leonhard in that he will have the unit prepared, but it should be interesting how the defense develops this year.

Jonathan Taylor, Heisman Trophy winner. Do you think there’s a good probability of this happening?

With his talent and maturity at his age, combined with an offensive line featuring three All-Americans and one freshman All-American, I think he has one of the best shots in the nation to do so.

Last year, he was primarily a rusher. This spring and into the fall, he has worked on running routes and being effective in the passing game. If that development continues, the Wisconsin offense is even more difficult to stop and should get him even more recognition.

That, and he can’t put the ball on the ground like he did as a true freshman.

Alex Hornibook - what is he, about 30 years old now? Does Wisconsin need him to be more than a game manager to win the Big Ten?

Yes, but I feel Hornibrook will likely be more than a game manager just based on his progression through the spring and early on in fall camp. The southpaw has looked sharp especially in August, making some deep throws to the likes of Kendric Pryor, and yesterday in some red zone drills, he and Quintez Cephus combined on some touchdowns. He’ll have those two plus A.J. Taylor and Danny Davis at receiver, and I believe Kyle Penniston and Jake Ferguson will be the main pass catching tight ends.

The one thing he needs to do is reduce the turnovers, namely, those 15 interceptions he tossed last season. If he reduces those self-inflicted takeaways, like he did against Miami in the Capital One Orange Bowl, then this offense should be clicking on all cylinders and will give opposing defenses fits as to whom to stop.

What is your biggest concern when looking at the Wisconsin 2018 schedule?

To almost answer your question earlier, to win the Big Ten, Wisconsin needs its defense to step up, and they will have to do so with that tougher road schedule this season. That’s the major concern really. At Iowa will be a pain, though Wisconsin has had success in Kinnick lately, but the crossover games at Michigan and at Penn State will be big indicators if this team can contend. In my opinion, they can lose only one game this season to presumably have a chance at the College Football Playoff. Immediately after Penn State, going to Purdue will be no easy task as well with Jeff Brohm resurrecting that program.

Name a new offensive player and a new defensive player (either freshman, first-time contributors, or transfer) that fans are most excited to see on the field.

Offensive player that will likely contribute would be redshirt freshman tight end Jake Ferguson. Yes, please drink every time you hear on the broadcast that he is Barry Alvarez’s grandson. It will happen often this year as it did when his older brother, Joe, helped lead the team in interceptions last year. Wisconsin likes using its three tight end sets. Zander Neuville is the in-line “Y” type tight end, with Penniston and Ferguson having the ability to play more “H” back roles in my opinion. Ferguson had a great spring in catching almost everything thrown at him. We’ll see how much of a factor he can become with a deep and talented receiving corp, Penniston emerging nicely this fall camp, and a running back in Jonathan Taylor who will get his touches as well.

Defensively, another redshirt freshman in safety Scott Nelson really has flashed often during fall camp. He ran with the first-team defense during the spring, and he has been paired the most with returning starter D’Cota Dixon at those positions. From what we’ve seen in fall camp already for practices open to the media, Nelson has come down with four interceptions through a little more than two weeks. Leonhard told reporters earlier this week that he has the shown the most ability of that group to find the ball during camp. I’d say he will be the starting safety opposite Dixon come Aug. 31, if injuries or other circumstances don’t get in the way.

Is quarterback play the single factor which has been holding back the success of Wisconsin? Or has Wisconsin’s system been holding back it’s QBs?

I would not say the single factor that has been holding back the success of Wisconsin. In fact, I think Wisconsin has been quite successful recently in terms of double-digit win totals, bowl game appearances and wins, etc.

I think you may be asking if the quarterback play has limited its potential in becoming part of the yearly discussion of those contending for College Football Playoff spots. That next level of success, *insert Dusty Rhodes voice* if you will. I think it lies partially in recruiting (which is a complicated issue of state geography and academic standards at UW), but back in 2011, it was the defense that gave up two huge plays at the end of games that killed their chances of being in the national title picture in the BCS era. In 2016, the defense collapsed against Penn State in the second half in what should have been a conference championship. Last season, Hornibrook was not great against Ohio State, but UW’s defense played its worst game and the worst time. So really, I think there have been circumstances outside of just quarterback.

Everyone saw what Russell Wilson could do in a Paul Chryst-type system back in ‘11, but he is admittedly a once-in-a-generation quarterback. Next year, four-star signal caller Graham Mertz will be a Badger, the highest-rated QB recruit Wisconsin has had since the modern recruiting services have begun. Will that translate to college success? Who knows, but I don’t think Chryst’s system has been holding back its quarterbacks.

What is the best food I can get at Camp Randall? What’s the best bang for my buck?

You can get your brats and hot dogs inside the stadium, but make sure you go out to State Street/University Avenue before or after the game for the best grub. Grab a brat and beer from State Street Brats. The burgers at Dotty’s Dumpling Dowry are the best in town (again, my humble opinion but they’re divine). A slice of pizza from Ian’s? Delicious and some fun toppings. Bring money, bring larger-sized pants. Come say hi to us as we cover the game as well.

Can we please beat you again someday? This season would be awesome. Speaking of that.. A prediction for this season’s game?

Agh...since it’s at home, I feel Wisconsin will pull it off. I’ll say 31-20. The Badgers offense should be rolling if injuries don’t hit the unit, and the defense will have more experience to answer the questions currently being asked about the group with four games already in. Plus, Wisconsin has a bye the week prior, so it should allow players to rest up a bit before an interdivisional battle FOR THE FREEDOM TROPHY. *eagles sounds in background*