Wisconsin football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Badgers, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Wisconsin Offense
What the hell was that?
Remember when Wisconsin used to be able to run the ball with one of most consistently dominant offensive styles in all of sports? Yeah, that went bye-bye last season with Corey Clement hurt, the offensive line a mess, and nothing quite working right averaging a pitiful 150 yards per game.
Expect that to change now that Clement is back, healthy, ultra-motivated, and ready to be the type of statistical monster Badger fans are used to out of their running backs. There’s developed depth behind him in case there’s a problem.
The normally fantastic line was full of injuries and inconsistencies, but now it should be a rock with – most likely – four talented sophomore starters around senior C Dan Voltz, who’s one of the best in the nation when he’s in one piece.
The Wisconsin passing game is never going to be special, but it just has to be efficient – it wasn’t that last year. Joel Stave is gone, and now there’s a fight for the starting quarterback gig, while the receiving corps needs to find options who can make things happen now that leading target Alex Erickson is done.
Biggest Key To The Wisconsin Offense
Find a wide receiver. Last year’s running game was an aberration – it’s going to be close to form again as long as Clement is in one piece. The quarterback play will be okay with Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook each capable to get the job done. Who’s going to stretch the field? Where’s the receiver talent? Reggie Love, Robert Wheelwright, and George Rushing are all veterans able to occasionally produce, for Wisconsin to be Wisconsin, the offense has to take advantage of defenses loading up to stop the run.
What You Need To Know About The Wisconsin Defense
Star defensive coordinator Dave Aranda took off for LSU, and now the pressure is on Justin Wilcox to take over and keep the production going after coming up with big things at USC, Washington, Tennessee and Boise State.
At least for now, the 3-4 alignment will stay in place. It’s asking a lot to finish with the nation’s second-ranked defense again – and finish No. 1 in scoring D – but the Badgers might not be all that far off considering the talent returning on the front seven.
It’s a rising front three that doesn’t have any stars, but should be tremendously effective against the run and should be able to do what’s needed so the linebacking corps can dominate.
If this isn’t the best group of linebackers in the Big Ten, it’s not going to be far off with Vince Biegel, Jack Cichy, Chris Orr and T.J. Edwards some of the dominant terrors in the backfield. There will be games when some mediocre offenses do absolutely nothing against this group.
The secondary might be a concern after losing three starters, but Sojourn Shelton is one of the best corners in the conference and the holes are being filled in by veterans who waited their turn. Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson will provide instant help.
Biggest Key To The Wisconsin Defense
Be flexible. The 3-4 alignment will work, but Wilcox will mix it up a little bit and provide more looks and more options than Aranda did last season. With so many talented linebackers, there’s a way to use some of the outside guys as hybrid pass rushers, or beef up at times against the LSUs and Michigan States of the world. For a defense that allowed more than 100 rushing yards four times – and lost three of those games – loading up against the better running teams is Job One.
Wisconsin Will Be Far Better If …
The running game is the running game again. The defense is going to be phenomenal, and the passing attack will be the Wisconsin passing attack – it’ll do what it can to get by. But for this to work and for the Badgers to take the West, they have to be able to run the ball like normal.
How weird was last season? Bucky went from running for 4,482 yards and 46 touchdowns in 2014 to 1,954 yards and 27 scores last year. This isn’t that hard – the Badgers went 0-3 when running for under 90 yards, 10-0 when it ran for more.
Best Wisconsin Offensive Player
RB Corey Clement, Sr. – Go ahead and call him the most important player, too. He could’ve – and probably should’ve – taken off early for the NFL, but instead he came back to up his stock and prove he can be an elite back when he’s in one piece. Never right last season with problems with injuries on the field and strange things happening off of it, now he’s back, he’s in great shape, and he’s motivated. Look out, Big Ten.
Best Wisconsin Defensive Player
LB Vince Biegel, Sr. – At least five Badgers are in the running for being the team’s best defender. CB Sojourn Shelton is a talent, and the entire linebacking corps has all-star potential. It’s Biegel who was the most disruptive force with devastating pass rushing skills and great toughness against the run. There’s enough pass rushing talent on the defense to keep offenses from keying on him – he’s going to be a statistical monster.
Key Player To A Successful Season
WR Robert Wheelwright, Sr. – Or Reggie Love, or George Rushing, or any receiver who might be able to make things happen for a passing game without a lot of pop. The 6-3, 203-pound Wheelwright has the size and the talent to be a No. 1 target, but he hasn’t had the luck. Dinged up throughout his first few years, he suffered a broken leg last season but still finished second on the team in yards with 416 on 32 catches while tying for the lead with four scores.
The Wisconsin Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins the Big Ten West. The Badgers were two turnovers away from playing for the Big Ten championship last season, and now this year’s team might be better. The problem is a schedule that’s much, much tougher having to play all three big boys from the East. Forget about being in the national title hunt, but as long as they can beat Iowa on the road and take care of the West, they should be good enough to win at least one of the three games against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. That’ll be good enough.
Sept. 3 vs. LSU, in Green Bay – Wisconsin, are you a player or not? There’s no dogging the Badgers for putting up a good fight in the opener to eventual national champion Alabama last year, and it’s hard to get too down on them for losing to LSU top open up the season two years ago, but this time around the Tigers are coming up to Lambeau Field for what should be one of the biggest games in a great opening weekend.
The road trip to Iowa is more important for the Big Ten West run, and there are other big games to deal with, but lose to LSU, and it might be a 2-4 start with road trips to Michigan State and Michigan, and a home game against Ohio State, before going to Iowa City.
2015 Wisconsin Fun Stats
– Turnover Margin In Ten Wins: +11 – Turnover Margin In Three Losses: -8
– Penalties: Opponents 99 for 869 yards – Wisconsin 75 for 689 yards
– Fourth Down Conversions: Wisconsin 6-of-8 (75%) – Opponents 6-of-20 (30%)