We’re here, just under one week away from the start of the 2017 season.
Now is a great time to take stock of the team following the answers and questions created by the release of Wisconsin’s first depth chart of the season. There’s a triple-threat at running back, some surprise names on defense and an ongoing offensive line battle that should be interesting.
It’s also important to take a look deep inside the program and find some numbers that will be telling. So, as we roll towards the season, let’s look at the 10 things we know about the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers…stats style.
1: Only one Wisconsin quarterback has ever taken a college football snap
No position will be as talked about or scrutinized in 2017 as the Badgers quarterback group. It’s part intrigue and part worry though, as redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook starts the season as the starter for the first time in his career.
Meanwhile, behind him are three completely untested players in Jack Coan, Karé Lyles and Danny Vanden Boom. Coan and Vanden Boom are true freshmen, while Lyles redshirted last season after having hip surgery.
Coan was named the backup entering the season, beating out Lyles. Head coach Paul Chryst noted that it was his steady progression throughout both spring and fall that gives the coaching staff confidence in him should anything happen to Hornibrook.
“I thought he did some good things in the course of practice when he were scrimmaging in some of those situations that weren’t necessarily schematic,” said Chryst at his weekly press conference. “I’ve liked the progress that he’s made. Certainly has a ton more to learn and ways to grow, but I do feel like he had a good camp.”
Vanden Boom seems like a good project to watch for the future, and likely will redshirt this season. However, when it comes to 2017, the coaching staff has to be hoping that Hornibrook can stay healthy and UW gets big enough leads in the second half of its opening two contests to get Coan some real work with the offense.
There is no more scary situation than the thin depth at quarterback for this year’s Badgers.
2: That is the number of touchdowns caught by both returning tight ends last season
Troy Fumagalli has taken all the headlines after a stellar 2016 season, but most would be surprised to know he had just two touchdown receptions last season. Most would also likely never guess that backup tight end Kyle Penniston tied Fumagalli with two touchdown receptions of his own.
Yet, heading in to 2017 that is exactly where we stand. Fumagalli paced all Badgers with 47 receptions for 580 yards last season, but his production was most valuable in between the 20-yard lines and certainly on third downs.
Conversely, Penniston began living up to some of his 4-star hype out of California by having two of his six receptions on the season go for scores. He also turned those six receptions in to 102 yards to showcase some serious potential as a pass-catcher going forward.
Could it be that both Fumagalli and Penniston are ready to be major weapons for Hornibrook in 2017? It sure would be nice to see them catch more than two touchdowns individually this season.
3: Wisconsin has won three straight bowl games heading in to 2017
If you don’t think that is more than some small feat, then you haven’t been paying attention to UW’s bowl game history at all. Only twice before has UW won at least three bowl games in a row.
The first came in 1994 to 96, as the Badgers won the Rose Bowl in 1994 and went on to win the Hall of Fame Bowl and then the Copper Bowl in the following two seasons.
However, Alvarez wasn’t done making sure his charges were postseason winners, this time racking up a program record four straight bowl wins from 1999 to 2002. Once again a new streak would start with a Rose Bowl win, as UW took home both the 1999 and 2000 editions of the Granddaddy of them all, followed up a Sun Bowl win in December of 2000 and a win in the Alamo Bowl in 2002.
Should the Badgers make another bowl game, they’ll have a chance to tie some program history as a team this season.
4: Wisconsin forced just 4.4 penalties per game against opponents last season
Much has been made about UW’s ability to avoid penalties last season, where they led the conference with just 3.4 penalties per game. However, the Badgers weren’t very good about getting penalty calls against opponents either.
Wisconsin ranked just 13th in the Big Ten with 4.4 opponent penalties per game. Part of that is UW’s ability to stay clean on its end of the bargain, but the Badgers also struggled to get penalty calls a lot in 2016.
With some new pieces to the puzzle in 2017, it will be worth watching to see how the penalty situation unfolds. Given Paul Chryst’s attention to detail and penchant for not accepting penalties from his charges, look for UW to stay near the top of the fewest penalties against list.
But, let’s see if Chryst’s group in 2017 can be more adept at creating penalties against opponents as well. Whether one wants to admit it or not, pushing opponents to their limits also includes getting them to make mental mistakes, and thus penalties against.
5: Jazz Peavy topped the team with 5 touchdown receptions in 2016
It was no secret that the Badgers passing attack lacked an ability to get in the end zone last season. Part of that steamed from inexperience at quarterback, but part of it also steamed from a lack of big play receivers in the mix.
However, that wasn’t the case for then-junior wide receiver Jazz Peavy. He broke out last season, leading all wide receivers with 43 receptions and leading the team with 635 yards and five touchdowns.
Wisconsin put up just 14 touchdowns as a team, so Peavy’s five TD receptions accounted for nearly 50 percent of the passing TD production as a team. The 14 passing touchdowns were good enough for just 11th in the Big Ten, and it is certainly a stat UW’s coaching staff would like to see get better this season.
Interestingly enough, the Badgers haven’t thrown more than 22 touchdown passes in the past five seasons and never ranked higher than eighth in the Big Ten outside of Russell Wilson’s one year in town in 2011. That season, Wisconsin led the conference with 34 passing touchdowns.
With a ton of youth getting a look behind Peavy, can the Badgers break out of their passing slump on the scoreboard?
6: That is the number of fumbles lost by the Badgers in 2016
Wisconsin has always prided itself on not making stupid turnovers, especially in the run game. 2016 was no different, as UW lost just six fumbles for the entire season.
A look inside those numbers suggests how little the Badgers compounded any mistake made in 2016 as well, with all six fumbles lost coming in six different games.
Wisconsin played seven ranked teams in 2016, and lost just one fumble in those games. Is it any wonder they beat expectations and went to the Cotton Bowl?
How does this stat translate to 2017? Of those six fumbles lost, four of them happened by four different players that are on this season’s roster. Only Corey Clement and his two lost fumbles are gone from last season.
Running back Bradrick Shaw, wide receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing, as well as quarterback Alex Hornibrook each lost a fumble last season. All four are likely key contributors in 2017 and keeping those lost fumble numbers low will be a key stat to watch this season.
7: That is the number of interceptions thrown in 2016 by Alex Hornibrook
Wisconsin is going to ride or die with Hornibrook at quarterback, and there certainly were indications that he could be special in 2016.
However, for all those special moments, there were plenty of head-scratching ones as well. That played out in the fact that he threw nearly as many interceptions (seven) and he did touchdowns (nine).
Most of those interceptions came as Hornibrook tried to squeeze passes in to really tight windows. It was a sign of great moxie, good arm strength and a willingness to take chances.
8: That is the number of freshman listed on Wisconsin’s two-deep to start the season
Transition happens every year, but the 2017 version of the Wisconsin Badgers was supposed to see a good mix of experience and youth. One could say the youth has certainly begun to take over though, as eight true or redshirt freshmen made the opening week two-deep for the Badgers.
We’ve already talked about both true freshmen Jack Coan, but he could also be taking snaps from another freshman, this time redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadsz.
He was the surprise in spring camp and in the end was one of the five best UW offensive lineman and pushed all-Big Ten center Michael Dieter out to left tackle with his play all the way through summer drills.
Oh, and fellow redshirt freshmen Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl are just one injury away from being the left and right tackle pairing for the Badgers this season as well.
Coan’s fellow true freshman Danny Davis is in the two-deep at wide receiver and technically we could say nine players are in the mix as freshmen if you include Jonathan Taylor (who is listed third on the RB depth chart but also as a co-starter). But, since he’s third there are technically only eight freshman in the two-deep.
Defensively, there isn’t as much for the freshmen as there is on offense, but don’t sleep on nickel back Donyte Carriere-Williams. He’s joined as a redshirt freshman by one of my most intriguing players to watch in 2017 — mammoth defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk.
Let’s just say, youth is going to have a big impact on the Badgers in 2017 and that may not be a bad thing considering what we’ve already seen.
9: That is the number of career rushing touchdowns for UW’s starting running backs
Plug-and-play has long been the motto for Wisconsin at running back, but things are different these days. Following the exit of both Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale, there is a huge set of shoes for someone or someones to fill.
Most believed the redshirt freshman season of Bradrick Shaw was enough for him to win the starting job. Spring and fall camp has only muddied the waters, with Pitt transfer Chris James doing more than providing depth.
There also is incoming freshman Jonathan Taylor, who won back-to-back New Jersey state 100-meter track championships. But, could he really be in the mix once thrown in to the deep end in fall camp? Apparently so, because all three were named co-starters for the season opener and all three will see significant time in the backfield against Utah State.
However, there are just nine career rushing touchdowns amongst all three of those co-starters.
Perhaps the biggest question is if they have a huge nose for the end zone. Given limited carries, nine touchdowns returning amongst those three suggests they’ll be just fine. But, this is Wisconsin and rushing touchdowns are the Badgers bread and butter.
10: Wisconsin has won 10 or more games every season under Chryst so far
Sure, it has only been two seasons and all, but the fact that UW has been consistently very good in the face of a third coaching transition in less than four years speaks volumes of the players and Chryst’s own coaching talent.
The old swagger of this program is back, and while it may not be fancy, most opposition dreads playing the Badgers because they once again are back to not caring if you know what’s coming and just beating you with technique and poise.
Wisconsin is coming off another trip to Indianapolis in the face of what experts thought was one of the toughest schedules in the country last season. A win in the Cotton Bowl didn’t hurt expectations either.
As 2017 looms, the Badgers schedule and lack of Ohio State or Penn State from the other division, have plenty of people talking another 10-win season. If it does happen, Chryst would go down as the only coach in program history to win 10-plus games in his first three seasons in Madison.
Think about where that would put him in the echelon of Badgers coaches for a second. Few would’ve seen that coming, yet it seems like a real possibility.
A 10-win season may actually be a bit of a disappointment in 2017, with the hope of progress to a Big Ten title and maybe even the College Football Playoff the real hope of the season for fans and pundits alike.