Preview 2016: Wisconsin's Big, Big Problem

The Wisconsin football outlook for 2016 season. With a great team and a nasty schedule, it’ll be an interesting season for the program to see exactly where it stands.

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Wisconsin Badgers Preview 2016
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Wisconsin continues to be one of the toughest big-time programs to figure out on a yearly basis.

Just when the narrative becomes easy – the Badgers are always going to be among the very good, but they’re missing just enough talent to take that one extra step to pull off a national title – they come up with a fun and thrilling win over USC in the 2015 Holiday Bowl, or an overtime win over Auburn in the 2015 Outback Bowl, and show that the team really can hang with the big boys on the right day.

If this was back in the BCS era – when only two teams ended up in the championship mix – Wisconsin would need to mix things up. It would have to radically alter its recruiting approach and start going after Johnny Fivestar rather than Jimmy Systemfitter, and it would have to maybe even change up the philosophies and styles a bit, but the current CFP system might be tailor-made for Wisconsin.

The College Football Playoff is all about putting yourself in a position to get there. First, win your division, and give yourself to opportunity to play for the conference title. Then, win that, and do it with one loss or go unbeaten, and you’re in as the Big Ten champ.

Just ask Iowa how close it came to making that one extra step.

And then when it’s CFP time you take your chances, since you’re playing with house money at that point. For Wisconsin, even though the running game was a disaster last season, and even though the passing game was mediocre, and even though the schedule wasn’t anything great after the loss to Alabama, it was just two bad turnovers away from playing Michigan State with the puck on its stick for a College Football Playoff shot.

Four turnovers against Iowa, five against Northwestern. Wisconsin was the better team at home in both games, and gagged away losses because it got hosed against the Wildcats and literally tripped over itself against the Hawkeyes. That’s how close Bucky came to really, really big things, even with a bad season.

So why should Wisconsin change anything up? Why should it do anything to bust out of its current style since it’s been so achingly near a shot at the whole ball of wax?

Ask that next year at this time.

Last season, the Badgers didn’t have to play anyone who was any good in the East and got Iowa and Northwestern at home. This year, they not only play Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, they have to deal with the Wolverines and Spartans on the road. They also after to face the Hawkeyes and Wildcats away from Camp Randall, too.

The team will be better, but the final record should be a whole lot worse because there aren’t as many layups.

The ground attack will be far, far better with the return of RB Corey Clement, the O line will be stronger, and the passing game will be the Badger passing game – it’ll get by.

Even with defensive coordinator Dave Aranda defecting to LSU, the defensive front will still be outstanding, and the secondary will be terrific again after a little bit of retooling. The stats won’t show it considering the brutal schedule, but talent-wise, this is a good D that’ll dominate at times.

So call this season a bit of a test for the program. If it struggles, it’ll show that it really does have to crank up the arms race to compete at the level it needs to be at.

If it happens to be in the mix for the Big Ten title, and if it’s somehow one championship game away from getting into the College Football Playoff, then this really will be one special team.