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Badgers Opposition Research: An early look at the 2018 BYU Cougars

The long haul of the offseason is upon us, as we count down to the start of another season of Wisconsin Badgers football. But, who really is counting anyway?

Oh wait…we are? Yes, the Badgers season is just 226 days away and what better time to start looking ahed than now? Coming off a school-record 13-win season, what does Paul Chryst and Co. have in store for the upcoming season? A lot depends on the schedule at hand of course.

Previous: Western Kentucky |

After looking at our Week 1 opponent, we’ll look in to a team the Badgers have become very familiar with over the past decade. Following a trip to BYU last season, the Cougars come back to Madison in 2018. Will the results be the same or has BYU changed enough to challenge the Badgers?

Let’s look at the BYU Cougars of 2018.

Profile:

Head Coach: Kalani Sitake (13-13, 3rd season overall and at BYU)
2017 Record: 4-9 (independent)
Bowl Game: none
Returning Starters: 19 (overall) – 9 (Offense), 10 (Defense*)

* BYU uses multiple starting formations on defense

Player to Watch:

Sione Takitaki, DL

While most of you think offense when you think BYU football, lately the defense has been what has been the saving grace for the Cougars. While a 4-9 season was less than ideal, the defense did its level best to keep its team in the game, it just had no help from the offense most of the season.

One big reason for the Cougars success on defense was defensive lineman Sione Takitaki, who stepped back on the field in 2017 after a year away from football. He made a massive impact with 79 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks on the season. Wisconsin bottled him up for the most part, allowing just 2 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and no other stats for the big man.

With all the transition happening on offense, Takitaki could be the one player that Wisconsin has to contain in order to dominate on the offensive side of the ball.

Wisconsin’s Biggest Advantage:

Stability

BYU took a massive step backwards last season, and it resulted in major changes to the Cougars offense. Gone is former Packers backup (and journeyman starter) quarterback Ty Detmer after a miserable offensive season in 2017 and in is Jeff Grimes. He’ll have to deal with a crowded quarterback position, one that may not include the biggest name in the group — Tanner Magnum. He’s dealing with recovery from a torn Achilles tendon and may end up redshirting this season.

That means Beau Hodge, who Wisconsin saw as the starting quarterback in the 2017 matchup, may be the next name up. But, the Cougars will also have Joe Critchlow and Kody Wilstead in the mix as established scholarships quarterbacks. BYU also sees two early enrollees at QB in Zach Wilson and Stacey Conner plus two missionaries returning to BYU in Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall. Getting snaps for all those players and letting the QB situation unfold fairly is going to be Grimes’ biggest challenge this offseason.

Of course, the smart money is on Beau Hodge to take the reins, as long as he is absolutely 100 percent healthy after concussion issues cut his season short in 2017. But a new outlook for the offense may mean a new outlook at quarterback.

It’s a decision that BYU needs to get right if they are going to get back to winning football in 2018. Then there’s the issue of what to do with a backfield that featured two former Badgers commits in Ula Tolutau and Austin Kafentzis. Both showed some wiggle and power and definitely give Grimes the multiple options he is looking for in his offense at BYU, but all of that is up in the air heading in to the offseason.

BYU has a lot of what if’s and who does what to sort out.

As for Wisconsin, the offense nearly returns in tact, and only internal competition at quarterback and wide receiver may make the 2018 spring interesting on offense. While the defense deals with turnover, there are plenty of players ready to step up and the program hasn’t had to deal with major changes to the coaching staff for a change.

Wisconsin’s stability in its roster and coaching staff is a massive advantage heading in to a Week 2 showdown with the Cougars.

Wisconsin’s Biggest Worry:

BYU’s passing attack against a young secondary

Wisconsin should have plenty of film logged in to their computers and tablets on the Cougars heading in to its 2nd matchup of the season, that’s because it will actually be the third game of the year for BYU. The Cougars also won’t be able to hide much because they take on Power 5 opponents Arizona and Cal ahead of a date with Wisconsin.

With Grimes coming in looking to hit teams not only in the pass game but in other ways, Wisconsin’s young secondary could be in for a major challenge.

Only Donyte Carriere-Williams comes in to the season having any experience at cornerback. He, along with safety D’Cota Dixon will be anchors of this group, but this is going to be a huge test following another pass-happy offense in Western Kentucky in Week 1. Will the Badgers be battered from that experience or rise up to the challenges of two offenses known to want to pass the ball first?

If there’s a worry about this matchup on paper, it is what the Badgers will do against the pass game of the Cougars to say the least.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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