The dust has barely settled on Wisconsin’s 13-1 season in 2017, but as the calendar flips to a new year it is already time to look forward to what the Badgers have in store for them next season.
We start on offense, looking ahead to what could be and how we see things playing out.
Biggest Question Mark:
Who steps up at tight end?
Wisconsin has had one of the best tight ends in the country over the last two seasons, but Troy Fumagalli graduates and that means big shoes to fill. Fumagalli leaves having put up 135 catches for 1,627 yards and 7 touchdowns for his career.
Kyle Penniston came to UW as a much-hyped pass catching tight end prospect, but has yet to really live up to the recruiting hype. He had just seven receptions for 56 yards and one touchdown on the year and 13 receptions for 158 yards and three touchdowns for his career.
Sources I’ve talked to who have seen practice this season say there could be a lot of star power in freshman Jake Ferguson. He’s apparently been a handful for UW’s defense on scout team duty during his redshirt season. Don’t be surprised to see him emerge as a prime option to replace Fumagalli’s production.
It will be interesting to see how senior Zander Neuville responds to being the best blocking-pass catching option for UW as well. He played well before being injured in 2017, but that was as the secondary option. Can he be the No. 1 guy?
Reason to Be Optimistic:
Alex Hornibrook’s Orange Bowl Performance
No topic was more throughly discussed and dissected during the 2017 season than the performance of Alex Hornibrook. For me, the frustration came because you could see he’s got the tools needed to be a dynamic playmaker for the offense and just never put it all together.
That changed in the Orange Bowl, as three for three touchdowns and no interceptions to go along with 258 yards. Wisconsin was able to beat Miami because it had balance on offense.
It was easily the most dangerous the Badgers offense looked all season long, and having Hornibrook show up on the big stage was huge. He can certainly build on that, especially when you take a look at the pass-catching options returning.
Quintez Cephus will be back from a knee injury and sophomore A.J. Taylor came in to his own late in the year. True freshman Danny Davis was a difference maker all season long and Kendric Pryor showed improvement all season long.
It’s as deep and diverse of a receiver group as we’ve seen at Wisconsin and it all came together to show us what 2018 could look like for the Badgers offense.
Reason to be Pessimistic:
Alex Hornibrook the rest of 2017
As fun as it was to see Hornibrook just light up a defense with accurate passing, bold moves and most importantly smart decision making it was just one quality game.
The rest of the 2017 season for Hornibrook was an up and down affair to say the least. On the one hand, he did complete 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,644 yards. On the other hand, he had 15 interceptions to go with 25 touchdown passes.
For every Orange Bowl performance, there were down games like Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. If the Badgers can’t get more consistency from Hornibrook it could stunt a potentially great offense just as it is going to be leaned on in a big way.
Projected Starting Lineup:
QB: Alex Hornibrook, Jr.
RB: Jonathan Taylor, So.
FB: Alec Ingold, Sr.
WR: Quintez Cephus, Jr.
WR: Danny Davis, So.
TE: Jake Ferguson, RS Fr.
LT: Michael Dieter, Sr.
LG: Jon Dietzen, Jr.
C: Tyler Biadsz, So.
RG: Beau Benzschawel, Sr.
RT: David Edwards, Jr.
As long as both David Edwards and Michael Dieter return, this Badgers offense could be scary good in 2018. Of course, that also hinges on Hornibrook becoming more consistent, and that could be a big ask.
But, the good news is that every major part of the offense is likely to return and the depth is there to overcome any injury situation.
Jonathan Taylor, three quality receiving options and a veteran offensive line? That’s always a recipe for success. Can the offense handle increased expectations? That’s what 2018 is going to be all about.