Preview 2017: Wisconsin Badgers

Preview 2017: Wisconsin Badgers

Big Ten

Preview 2017: Wisconsin Badgers


Preview 2017: Wisconsin Badgers

Previewing and looking ahead at the Wisconsin Badgers season – and what you need to know.

Contact @PeteFiutak

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2017 Wisconsin Preview: WAY overdue to be CFP good
2017 Wisconsin Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Wisconsin Previews: 20162015

What You Need To Know About The Wisconsin Offense

Can the Badgers find more explosion and more scoring pop? Coming up with points was like pulling teeth at times for the nation’s 89th-best offense, but with eight starters returning, at least the experience will be there.

As always, Wisconsin has ridiculous talent at running back working behind a massive line. Top rusher Corey Clement and third-down playmaker Dare Ogunbowale might be gone, but bruising Bradrick Shaw looked great a times last year, Taiwan Deal is a good veteran, and Pitt transfer Chris James should blow up.

Losing NFL-caliber left tackle Ryan Ramczyk early isn’t a plus, but this was a very, very young line last season with just enough versatility to play around with the combination. There’s depth, and a whole bunch of talent up front.

Now it’s up to the passing game to hold up its end of the bargain.

Troy Fumagalli is one of the nation’s top tight ends, and Jazz Peavy is a dangerous playmaker on jet-sweeps and making grabs on the move, but the receiving corps has to do more. As long as QB Alex Hornibrook can stay healthy, he should make everyone around him better now that he has a year under his belt.

Biggest Key To The Wisconsin Offense

Score. As good as the Badgers have been under head coach Paul Chryst, the scoring pop isn’t there compared to what Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen cranked up.

The offense managed to be timely, but whether it was the 23-17 win over Georgia State, or the 17-9 win over Iowa, or the 30-23 loss to Ohio State, or the 23-17 win over Nebraska, Bucky had a tough time putting games away. It doesn’t have to be so hard. Get up bigger and let the D do the work.

What You Need To Know About The Wisconsin Defense

Being the Wisconsin defensive coordinator is a star-maker. Dave Aranda left for LSU, and in stepped Justin Wilcox. Wilcox left to be the Cal head coach, and in comes legendary Badger safety Jim Leonhard.

No pressure, new guy. Just keep things rolling for a D that was among the best in the nation all year long, finishing seventh overall, third against the run, and fourth in scoring defense.

And do it without velociraptor outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel, and with Jack Cichy out for the year with a torn ACL.

Even so, the linebacking corps is loaded, especially on the inside. As long as everyone is healthy, this could be the best group in the Big Ten if a few of the key stars can slide over outside – and if someone can fill the pass rushing void left by Watt and Biegel.

The front three should be terrific, too, with everyone back. There might not be a slew of big-name all-stars, but the rotation will be outstanding.

It’s all going to come down to a secondary that loses three starters, including mainstay corner Sojourn Shelton. But if anyone knows how to coach up defensive backs, it’s Leonhard. However …

Biggest Key To The Wisconsin Defense

That secondary has to be a rock. It got blown off a bit – reasoned away that teams had to keep throwing because they couldn’t run on the Badger D – but the veteran secondary was way too soft at times. Georgia State almost pulled off a gargantuan upset by throwing at will, Northwestern stayed alive with a few big plays, and even Purdue hit a couple of home runs.

And then came the second half of the Big Ten Championship, when Penn State figured out that its big receivers could own the smallish UW secondary deep. 384 Nittany Lion passing yards and four scores later, the Badgers missed out on Pasadena.

There’s time to get the defensive backs in order, but Clayton Thorson and Northwestern kick off the Big Ten season in late September. The secondary has to be ready.

Wisconsin Will Be Far Better If …

The punting game is stronger. The kicking game should be better with PK Rafael Gaglianone returning from the back injury that knocked him out earlier in the season. Now it’s up to punters Anthony Lotti and P.J. Rosowski to combine and be better after the two combined to average just 37.5 yards per boot. There were too many line drives and too many mediocre kicks for a team that can crush opponents defensively by pinning them deep.

Best Wisconsin Offensive Player

TE Troy Fumagalli, Sr. – It was a strong year for tight ends in the NFL Draft, and he might have been just outside of the top prospects – O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, David Njojku – but he still would’ve been a sure-thing top 50 pick with the right 6-6, 249-pound size and tremendous receiving skills.

A former walk-on, he turns into a special receiver with outstanding hands and route running ability. He’s a Badger tight end, so he can hit a little bit, but his real worth is as a go-to target catching 47 passes for 580 yards and two scores last year, saving the day in the bowl win over Western Michigan with a few tremendous grabs with 83 yards and a score.

2. OG Beau Benzschawel, Jr.
3. RB Chris James, Jr.
4. C Michael Dieter, Jr.
5. WR Jazz Peavy, Sr.

Best Wisconsin Defensive Player

LB T.J. Edwards, Jr. – While he might not be as flashy and splashy as the outside linebackers who got all the love as playmakers behind the line, he was the steady inside run stopper for one of the nation’s top defenses.

The 6-1, 246-pounder came up with a huge first season with 84 stops and 6.5 tackles for loss, and followed it up with a team-leading 89 tackles with three sacks and three picks. Expect All-Big Ten honors as the anchor of another amazing D.

2. NT Conor Sheehy, Sr.
3. S D’Cota Dixon, Sr.
4. DE Alec James, Sr.
5. LB Garret Dooley, Sr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Alex Hornibrook, Soph. – Can he make the Badger offense his? Bart Houston was the steady veteran who led the way to the win over LSU to start the season, and over Western Michigan to end it, but Hornibrook was the main man throughout most of the year throwing for 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns with seven picks.

Hornibrook only threw for over 200 yards once – in the loss to Ohio State – and he was hurt late in the year, but he’s got the skills and upside to be a sharp passer who can eventually make the passing game more of a plus. With a sketchy backup situation, now he has to be able to stay on the field as well as produce more.

The Wisconsin Season Will Be A Success If …

It wins the Big Ten title. The top running backs and pass rushers are gone, the star defensive coordinator moved on, some of the key defensive backs have to be replaced, and the O line lost a first round offensive tackle – and the Badgers might be better.

The defense should be a brick wall against the run, and great again overall, and the offense should be sharper and more efficient. There’s no Ohio State or Penn State on the schedule, Michigan has to come to Camp Randall, and Iowa and Northwestern are home games, meaning the …

Key Game To The Wisconsin Season

Oct. 7 at Nebraska – It was supposed to be the Big Red Rivalry when Nebraska joined the Big Ten, but it’s been one-sided from the start with the Badgers going 5-1, and the one loss being avenged by a 70-31 Big Ten Championship in 2012.

The road game at Minnesota to end the regular season is a big deal for the Badgers, but the only other dangerous conference test away from home is in Lincoln. Wisconsin should be the far better team, and it should be able to still take the West even if it loses, but win, and it’ll be in full control of the division over the final two months.

2016 Wisconsin Fun Stats

– Rushing Yards Per Game: Wisconsin 203.1 – Opponents 98.8
– Red Zone Touchdowns: Wisconsin 37-of-58 (64%) – Opponents 17-of-38 (45%) (4th-best in the country)
– Time of Possession: Wisconsin 34:58 – Opponents 25:02

2017 Wisconsin Preview: WAY overdue to be CFP good
2017 Wisconsin Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Wisconsin Previews: 20162015


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