Each one of our Big Ten sites put together a preview of their 2020 football team. Everyone answered the same questions, as to create some uniformity across the league.
We’re going to do these by schedule order, then we’ll put the others at the end because I know you’re all interested in the Big Ten as a whole - even Rutgers.
Today is Wisconsin as presented by Drew Hamm of Bucky’s 5th Quarter. Wisconsin has been pretty quiet as a program over the course of this pandemic. Perhaps that’s a Coach Dad Paul Chryst trait of never saying much about what’s been happening. When he does, it’ll probably be something about his pants not fitting as well because of how much bratwurst and potatoes he’s eaten being stuck at home or wherever it is he might be stuck. Certainly not at a local.
Note that since this was written, starting quarterback Jack Coan suffered a foot injury and is out indefinitely after surgery. We’ll try to get an update on what this means for Wisconsin.
Wisconsin - Bucky’s Fifth Quarter (Drew Hamm)
List your team’s key departures (name, position, role)
Jonathan Taylor, running back, Doak Walker winner; Tyler Biadasz, center, Rimington winner; Quintez Cephus, wide receiver, top wideout; Reggie Pearson, safety, out for season with undisclosed medical issue; Chris Orr and Zack Baun linebackers; sack leaders on team, now in NFL
List your team’s key returnees (name, position, role)
Jack Coan, quarterback, veteran starter; Jake Ferguson, tight end, grandson of Barry Alvarez, very good; Jack Sanborn, inside linebacker, leading tackler; every defensive back returns (except Pearson) Faion Hicks (CB) and Eric Burrell (S) are the two best; whole d-line returns too, Isaiahh Loudermilk (DE) is probably the most talented but lookout for NT Keeanu Benton; Cole Van Lanen, left tackle, anchors the OL
List a few true freshmen or transfers that will make an instant impact (name, position, role)
Jalen Berger, 4-star running back, from New Jersey, Wisconsin has had a lot of success with that position from that state; one of the highly rated 4-star outside linebackers (Kaden Johnson or Nick Herbig) who plays well in fall practice; I don’t foresee a lot of freshmen playing a lot of snaps unless there are injuries this year
Brief overview of 2020 team (a couple paragraphs about expectations, how you think they’ll perform):
The Badgers lost a lot of talent from last year’s B1G West champions. Gone to the NFL are studs RB Jonathan Taylor, C Tyler Biadasz, ILB Chris Orr, OLB Zack Baun and WR Quintez Cephus. That’s the leading rusher, receiver, second and third leading tackler (plus top two sack artists) and the leader of the o-line off the roster.
Wisconsin is at the point, however, where reloading, not rebuilding, is the standard after losing that much talent. There are a whole host of tailbacks (RS sophomore Nakia Watson is the presumed starter but RS freshman Julius Davis and true freshman Jalen Berger should challenge for carries, not to mention senior third down back Garrett Groshek) and young linebackers ready to make their mark on the field.
The secondary returns everyone of consequence (except for Reggie Pearson who is out for the year with an undisclosed medical issue) and should be a top-10 unit in the nation. The defensive and offensive lines are deep and talented as well and despite losing leading receiver Cephus, Wisconsin veteran pass catchers up and down the roster (led by TE Jake Ferguson).
The key for the Badgers will be under center. If Jack Coan continues the steady progress he has shown throughout his career Wisconsin will be tough to beat. If he struggles because he doesn’t have Taylor to lean on anymore then the Badgers will need the defense to win most of their games.
I expect Wisconsin to win the B1G West and make another good bowl game but they aren’t quite ready to challenge Ohio State for the conference crown. That’s coming though.
What’s your team’s biggest strength?
Pass defense, could (should?) be a top-10 nationally ranked group, and offensive line play.
What’s your team’s biggest weakness?
A lot of production is no longer on the team from two position groups: running backs and linebackers. Luckily those are the two positions groups that the Badgers usually just reload at, but until it happens those are two big question marks.
How does your fanbase feel about your coach and his staff?
I think the fan base in generally extremely pleased with Paul Chryst and his staff. There had been rumblings that Chryst wasn’t recruiting well enough, but his 2020 class was the best for Wisconsin in the internet rankings era and his 2021 class is even better, so those have been put to rest. Chryst has even shown to be more aggressive on fourth downs in the past two years, which is a nice change of pace. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is a rising star in the coaching ranks and there is annual angst over whether he’ll leave for a head coaching job elsewhere. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph is above average.
Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?
The Badgers rushing game will take a step back this year after losing Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor and that means Wisconsin might have to ::gasp:: air it out some more this year. If UW is going to win the B1G West then QB Jack Coan will have to throw for 3,000 yards+ and be the team’s MVP.
Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss
7-1; vs. Minnesota; at Northwestern because Wisconsin never wins there so while that isn’t a surprise it will be awful.
What else should we know about your team this year?
After medically retiring before the 2019 season, veteran offensive lineman Jon Dietzen is back on the roster and should challenge for a starting guard spot. He used to have an amazing mullet and hopefully he grows it back out.