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Grading the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers: Defensive Line

Wisconsin’s defensive line proved to do more than just eat up space for linebackers to go to work in 2017. How did they grade out?

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Yes, there’s still this little thing called the Orange Bowl to be played down in Miami, Fla. and all. But, the 2017 season is in the books and it was arguably one of the greatest seasons in Wisconsin Badgers football history.

A 12-0 regular season and nearly making the College Football Playoff cemented that fact.

But, how did the Badgers become 12-0 and what did each position contribute to the amazing season? It’s time to rewind and unpack the 2017 season…starting with the defensive line.

Highlights

One could say the unsung heroes in the 3-4 defense are the defensive linemen. They don’t rack up eye-popping stats and are there mainly to serve as protection for the eight other players on the field. But, if 2017 taught us anything about the Badgers it was that good defensive line play should never be underestimated.

Senior Alec James had a breakout season, recording career highs in ever stat category. He had 47 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in his final season as a Badger. Fellow senior Conor Sheehy went a bit under the radar, but both James and Sheehy ended up as 2nd team All-Big Ten picks by the coaches. James was a 2nd team pick, while Sheehy was a 3rd team pick by the Big Ten media.

Hard to get better than two-thirds of your line making the teams, while nose guard Olive Sagapolu was an honorable mention pick by both the coaches and media.

Lowlights

Injuries were a big story for the Badgers defensive line. Dare we say it was the only thing that limited a really great season in any way shape or form for this unit? We do indeed.

Expected star defensive end Chikwe Obasih never really got going thanks to injuries and freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk had a promising season snuffed out way too early. He started the year looking like he would become a game-changer, putting up 9 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. But, he ended up only seeing action in five games on the year and wasn’t a factor at all late.

Given the high standard of play from this group, it isn’t really a lowlight, but really more of a “I wonder how insane this group would’ve been with these guys healthy” kind of a situation.

Grade: A+

This group reached its pinnacle to say the least this season. Whether it was James emerging as a pass rushing threat or Olive Sagapolu continuing to be an athletic freak on the inside or even the depth that was on display, it is hard to say 2017 wasn’t the best we’ve seen from this group since the switch to the 3-4 defense back in 2013.

Outlook for 2018

Wisconsin’s defensive line is going to look a whole lot different in 2018, as both James and Sheehy are gone as starters. Obasih will also be gone. That means a lot of production gone and a very young group that will need to step up. Having Olive Sagapolu back for his final season in a Badgers uniform is a good way to help a changing line.

Isaiahh Loudermilk is going to have to step in to a starting role and a lot of young players are going to have to show they are ready to carry on the legacy that this group has put together. It will be interesting to see how guys like Garrett Rand and Billy Hirschfeld will fit in as upperclassmen. It will also be important to see how young guys like Aaron Vopal and Keldric Preston fit in to the mix. Let’s just say the defensive line is going to be an offseason storyline to watch.

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Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers RB’s in 2020

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Believe it or not, we’re just over 2 months away from the start of the Wisconsin Badgers 2020 season. It may not feel like it outside or in your mind, but it’s time to hunker down and look at the team as it stands prior to fall camp.

Of course we’ll have the full position break downs and all the information you’ve come to expect from a preview in general.

But, we’re starting things off a bit different this season. Yes, we’re going to look in to the best and worst case scenarios that could happen to each position in 2020.

We start with the marquee position at UW — running back.

Best Case Scenario

Jonathan Taylor to the left, Taylor to the right…Taylor up the middle too.

Is there any other better thought in the minds of Badgers fans or the coaching staff for that matter? The dude has smashed nearly every Badgers and national record you can think of for just two years of college.

The best case scenario for UW success this season is more of the same from Taylor, especially in terms of his explosiveness. If Wisconsin doesn’t have to rely on him as much as they did last season, that would be great. But, they’ll still need him to hit those big runs and touchdowns.

He ran for 10 or more yards on 61 carries last season and ripped off 16 runs of 20-plus yards as well. More of that, even with fewer carries would be the best case scenario.

Worst Case Scenario

An injury that ends Jonathan Taylor’s season.

It’s a frightening thought for the Badgers season, let alone the running back position. Simply put, there’s no scenario in which Taylor has an extended amount of time away from the team and the Badgers have a winning season.

Unlike season’s past, the Badgers don’t have proven depth at this position. Is Nakia Watson ready to take on 300 carries? His production at the collegiate level isn’t a given.

Counting on Garrett Groshek as the featured back? That’s all sorts of a bad idea. Maybe incoming freshman Julius Davis surprises in the fall or converted wide receiver Isaac Guerendo could also surprise?

That’s a whole lot of maybes and what-ifs for anything resembling success happens in the face of an injury to Taylor. Hell, do you think this offense is ready to become reliant on the pass game? I certainly don’t.

So, let’s all hope nothing crazy happens to Taylor this season.

Most Likely to Happen

Taylor rushes for 1,700 yards or more and 20 touchdowns on the season. It would likely end up with him as a major candidate for the Heisman Trophy come December. If that’s the case, it’s likely that the Badgers are also playing for a Big Ten championship once again as the West division champions.

I also believe it’s likely that we see Nakia Watson develop as the heir apparent to Taylor, thus the lower yardage numbers projected. It would be nice not to put 300 carries on Taylor’s body in what is likely his final season in Madison and Watson’s emergence as the second back would be a huge help there.

Overall, expect the Badgers run game to be more of the same, but perhaps more balanced than it was last season. That’s not a bad thing in my book.

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A look at Badgers 2021 football recruiting: Defense

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Earlier this week we began our in-depth look at the 2021 Wisconsin Badgers football recruiting class. After all, UW just got its second commitment in the class on Sunday.

We started looking at the offensive side of the ball, where both commitments have come from.

Today we are taking a look at the Badgers defensive efforts on the 2021 recruiting trail.

Where do things stand and what names do you and I need to pay attention to? Let’s take a look at the defensive side of the Badgers on the recruiting trail.

State of the 2021 Class

Commits: 2 (both on offense)
Likely Scholarships Left: 14-16

A look at the scholarship chart heading in to 2021 suggests that the Badgers aren’t going to have a massive class, like we talked about earlier this week.

But, on the defensive side of things it appears this class is likely to be spread out pretty evenly. Wisconsin loses a pair of defensive ends, four total linebackers and four defensive backs at the very least heading in to the 2021 season.

So, don’t be surprised to see the bulk of the effort on the recruiting trail focused on the back end of the defense.

Defensive End

Will the names Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand live up to lofty recruiting expectations? We have two years to find out, but if they do they will leave a big hole in the Badgers defense upon their departure following the 2020 season.

That makes recruiting at defensive end pretty important for the 2021 class, because we haven’t seen much depth develop over the past few years either.

So, it shouldn’t surprise that UW has been hot on the 2021 defensive line recruiting circuit. To date they have offered six different prospects at defensive end and three defensive tackles as well.

Most of those offers have gone to highly rated players at both positions, but just how likely are the Badgers to hook one of the big fish? Let’s get in to that.

Name to Watch: JC Latham

Wisconsin was home to one of the best players in the country in the 2021 class in Latham. However, after this past season he moved to IMG Academy in Florida and that means his recruitment is going even more national than before.

He’s got offers from almost every blue blood program, with Clemson and Ohio State holding out so far but likely to offer at some point in his junior year.

Can the Badgers keep up with the Jonses in this recruitment? If they could land the current No. 8 strong-side defensive end it would be a game changer in the class, but he’s also the lynchpin of where this defensive line class will head.

I wouldn’t put my money on the Badgers winning out over all others, which means they have to put their eggs in other baskets. One name that I’d put in this position if it weren’t for Latham is actually someone the Badgers have yet to offer, but just hosted on campus in Chandler, Ariz. native Anthony Franklin.

Defensive Tackle

If you don’t aim to the highest of heights you’ll never achieve them, right? That seems to be Wisconsin’s strategy so far at defensive tackle, as they’ve offered three players at the position so far and all three of them are inside the top 5 of the 247Sports composite rankings.

Does it bode well for the Badgers? So far not a single one of them is listed as “warm” on UW, if that tells you anything.

Name to Watch: Rocco Spindler

Spindler is not only a highly-rated recruit, he is from a state that Wisconsin has begun to have a lot of success in — Michigan. Getting in early with one of the Midwest’s best recruits in the 2021 class doesn’t hurt and neither will UW’s current track record with players out of the state of Michigan.

Will any of it matter? That’s a question that few seem to be able to answer. I wouldn’t bet on Spindler choosing the Badgers, but I would bet that his recruitment will be a good indication of where offers could go in this class.

Outside Linebacker

Don’t expect this class to be heavy on outside pass-rushers per say. Only two offers have gone out to date and both are in the state of Georgia, where UW had the beginnings of a foot hold under Gary Andersen and haven’t been able to sustain a lot of that momentum under this coaching staff.

Name to Watch: None

UW has offered both Chaz Chambliss and Barrett Carter, but neither have really been receptive to the efforts on the recruiting trail to date. Chambliss could be a heavy Clemson lean, given he’s visited the school multiple times and recently for the Dabo Swinney Camp as well.

If the Badgers are going to land a 2021 outside linebacker, that person has not been offered to date.

Inside Linebacker

Recently, the Badgers biggest track record of success on defense has come at inside linebacker. So much so that a player who would start almost anywhere is finally becoming a starter again as a Senior (Chris Orr).

So, keeping up that tradition is important and vital to success on the field of course. To that end, UW has offered four targets and few of them are huge names in the 2021 class on a national level. The good news there is that Wisconsin actually has a chance with a few of those names.

Name to Watch: Bryan Sanborn

If that name sounds familiar, you would be right. Bryan is the younger brother of Wisconsin’s potential starting inside linebacker Jack Sanborn. Having that family connection won’t be the end-all, be-all of his recruitment given he is the No. 9 ranked inside linebacker in the class. But, the good news is that the Sanborn family really loves what the Badgers have to offer as a whole program.

This recruitment is going to be huge to prove the Badgers can stick in with some of the biggest names in the country and win. They’ve proven that with other players, but continuing to do so is going to be important. Wisconsin has more than a 60-40 chance to win his commitment and the younger Sanborn could be a player that helps elevate UW with other targets on the recruiting trail.

Cornerback

Umm…so far things have been really quiet on this front and that’s likely because the Badgers are going to be really experienced at this position on the field in 2021.

Just how quiet are things to date? There literally isn’t a single offer out to a cornerback in 2021. That’s a sign that the Badgers aren’t prioritizing this position and are going to be selective with offers.

In the end, expect one or two cornerbacks at most in this class.

Safety

Safety is the exact opposite of cornerback, as UW currently would only have three scholarship players on the roster (with the 2020 cycle yet to land a safety commitment). That means we should expect some pressure to get quality in this class.

As such, you shouldn’t be surprised to find out there have been seven offers out at Safety in the 2021 class. There are some high-end offers out there and some under the radar ones as well.

But, the Badgers could stay home and get a big named recruit as well.

Name to Watch: Hunter Wohler

It isn’t often that one of the country’s best defensive backs sits in the Badgers back yard according to the rankings. But, Wohler is the No. 7 ranked player in the nation at his position and the No. 1 recruit in Wisconsin.

Simply put, this is a must-win recruitment for the Badgers. Letting the No. 1 player slip out of the state and at a skill position nonetheless would be a massive disappointment.

The good news is that UW seems to be the early leader in his recruitment and according to his own words earlier this week, will look to commit after his junior season at the earliest.

Michigan State and Ohio State could be Wisconsin’s biggest competition here so it will be interesting to see how things shake out.

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Badgers land 4-star LB Nick Herbig

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This past weekend saw a number of the Wisconsin Badgers biggest 2020 targets on campus for official visits. How did it go?

Well, it took 4-star linebacker Nick Herbig just one day following his return to Honolulu, Hawaii to make his commitment official.

UW apparently hit it out of the park, something Badger247 noted in their announcement of his commitment.

“Honestly, I had high expectations for the visit and I was surprised,” Herbig told 247sports’ Blair Angulo. “It was really special. The culture up there is amazing and what really stood out to me, aside from the great staff, is that all the players love each other. They aren’t in it for themselves. It’s about the program and the team, and you can get that vibe just walking around the campus.”

This was a hotly contested recruitment, with UCLA, Washington, Stanford, USC, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Nebraska, and more in the mix. In the end, it seemed like a Wisconsin, UCLA and Washington battle and the Badgers won out.

He comes to the Badgers as the No. 17 ranked outside linebacker (No. 7 in 247Sports only rankings) and the No. 187 ranked player in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Wisconsin now has nine players committed to the 2020 class and is ranked No. 25 in the country at this time. Herbig becomes the third 4-star player in the class and the second-highest rated player amongst those committed to the Badgers.

As for what kind of player the Badgers are getting? Well, it’s hard not to get excited about his film and his measurables. He looks like a college player physically, coming in at 6-2 and 215 pounds with room to add more muscle, which reports indicate he is doing throughout the spring.

The film shows a player with some advanced moves off the edge and one that doesn’t purely rely on his athletic advantages. He may have a bit of work in the run game, but that could be more because of what he’s asked to do in high school than anything else.

Wisconsin has a college-ready player in the fold, one who may not need much time to be an impact player or potential starter.

It is interesting that he says T.J. Watt is his model at outside linebacker, because that’s the best player comparison I can see out there. He plays longer and hits harder than it would appear he is capable of and the motor never stops going.

There’s little doubt this is a major win for the Badgers, who continue to show their ability to evaluate talent early out West is worth the effort after landing Spencer Lytle and Titus Toler in this past class.

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A Look at Badgers 2021 football recruiting: Offense

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With the first national signing day just six months from now for the 2020 class there is no time like now to start getting involved with the Badgers 2021 class as well.

So, as we begin the long haul of the offseason it’s a perfect time to understand the class and where the Badgers stand on commitments, offers and names to watch.

Looking at the potential scholarship chart, one could expect a smaller class for the Badgers. But, there is a long way to go between now and December of 2021.

So, with that in mind, let us look at the offensive recruiting being done in the class.

State of the 2021 Class

Commits: 2
Likely Scholarships Left: 14

Yes, the Badgers have gotten their first two commit in the 2021 class and there’s a name you’ll know and a surprise one in the mix so far.

The name you’ll know is JP Benzschawel, the third of the Benzschawel brothers to commit to the Badgers program. Right now, he is listed as a 3-star offensive tackle and the No. 37 ranked tackle in the country.

That’s not a bad way to start off the class.

Just this past weekend, the Badgers got pledge No. 2 from in-state as Verona running back Jackson Acker was offered and gave his verbal pledge in just a few hours following Sunday’s camp in Madison.

But, clearly there is a lot of work to do in a 15 to 17-man class. So, let’s take a look at the early offers out and the names that you should be watching for in the coming months.

Quarterback

Wisconsin and everyone else was hoping to nab 5-star Illinois product J.J. McCarthy, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he verbally committed to Michigan earlier this week.

Beyond that, the Badgers have clearly made the position a priority on the recruiting trail. UW has five other offers out to quarterbacks already, including four to players inside the top 200 players in the country.

Name to Watch: Ty Thompson

Wisconsin made an offer to the Gilbert (Mesquite), Arizona quarterback earlier this spring and is one of just three Power 5 offers to the 4-star quarterback. Others to offer to date are Arizona and Iowa State, but Arizona State and Colorado have been looking hard at him this spring as well.

Look for more offers to come his way, but Thompson is a player that could fit the Badgers program well. He’s a big kid — at 6-4 and 200 lbs. — and has the arm strength needed in the Madison weather.

Running Back

Offers are out fast much like they are at quarterback for the 2021 running back group. To date, Wisconsin has 5 offers out to players at this position outside of Acker’s commitment, including 4 to the RB position and one “all-purpose” back according to 247Sports.

With Jonathan Taylor likely off to the NFL after the 2019 season and the Badgers slow to the gate so far in 2020’s class, finding a big name or elite athlete to play running back seems to be a priority. That’s especially true since what is on the roster behind Taylor this year is a real unknown.

UW thinks they found that in Acker, who became a “plan A” offer immediately upon seeing him at camp. Will the Badgers take a second back in such a small class? It’s possible and I wouldn’t be surprised to see UW look for a speed back to pair with Acker.

Name to Watch: Mar’Keise Irving

Right now, it appears the most likely name to land in a Badgers uniform is the 3-star running back out of the Chicagoland area. Wisconsin was Irving’s first Power 5 offer, but since then he’s added schools like Nebraska, Minnesota, Duke, Louisville and Iowa State to his list of offers.

Does Irving end up in a Badgers uniform? Obviously it is really early in the 2021 recruiting process but it wouldn’t surprise me given the unlikely nature of other already offered players landing in the Cardinal and White.

Wisconsin doesn’t often put out so-called “un-committable” offers, so let’s keep Irving in mind for the potential spot in this class. That said, don’t be surprised if Acker is the only name at running back when all is said and done in December of 2020.

Wide Receiver

This will be the intriguing part of the offensive side of the ball in the 2021 class. Wisconsin is likely in need of at least 2 or 3 wide receivers depending on the paths that Emmett Perry, Cade Green and Aron Cruickshank take — all three are expected to be seniors in 2021. Evening out the classes may be a smart move here as well.

So far, the Badgers have lined up 5 offers at the position to date. They include some big time talent in the 2021 class and some big time recruiting hotbeds like Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and Ohio. Hitting on a bigger name may be difficult but the Badgers are good at laying some groundwork and picking up talent others wouldn’t expect them thanks to wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore.

Let’s remember that UW landed 4-star prospect Danny Davis out of Ohio State’s back yard just a few short years ago as well. Overall, this could be an important group to get right given what will be lost heading in to 2022 and what is lost before they even get to campus in 2021.

Name to Watch: Micah Crowell

Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle was in his element back in North Carolina and put in an offer a few months ago to Crowell. If Kernersville or East Forsyth rings a bell to you, that’s because it is the same town and high school that current Badgers cornerback Madison Crone is from.

Does that mean the Badgers have a big advantage? Far from it, but it does mean that the coaching staff is well-known and they’ve proven to take talent and refine it well with Cone.

Right now there isn’t much movement on the recruiting trail and of the 5 offers and three 4-star offers out there this is the one that I expect to set the trend for this position group in 2021.

Tight End

Technically Jake Ferguson will be senior in 2021, but I fully expect that he won’t be here much longer than the 2019 or 2020 season given his play in his redshirt freshman season.

If that is the case, it would leave just a pair of tight ends currently on the roster and UW needing to get at least one more in the mix for the 2019 class.

It also means the Badgers would like to get at least one if not two in this class as well.

So, it should come as no surprise that three offers are already out at this position in 2021. UW is in the mix for the No. 1 rated Cane Berrong and the No. 3 ranked Moliki Matavao. In addition there is Louis Hansen in the mix too.

Let’s just say I don’t see this as a very settled group as of right now.

Name to Watch: Louis Hansen

The Badgers are a program notorious for getting more from less and while its a dream to hit on one of the top recruits in the country, Hansen may fit the Badgers mold a bit more.

Right now, he’s unranked by 247Sports, but the Massachusetts native is very intriguing to watch as he fills out a good 6-4 frame. Look for UW to be a serious contender, but also for the Badgers to put out at least 2-3 more offers over the summer months.

Offensive Line

It feels like the old, plug-and-play days at are back along the offensive line. Such is what happens when you don’t try to screw with a formula that has worked for over 20 years.

As for the 2021 class, the Badgers could be in the mix for 4-5 offensive lineman depending on the futures of players like Kayden Lyles and Tyler Beach. If either are to leave early, this could be a 6-7 person class.

So, having that first piece in the mix in Benzschawel isn’t a bad thing at all.

UW has 10 offers out at offensive tackle and another two to players classified as guards by 247Sports. Clearly this is a position of need, if for no other than sure need for bodies.

Name to Watch: Nolan Rucci

The last name is familiar if you pay attention to recruiting, as he is the younger brother of 2019 signee Hayden Rucci. Wisconsin should have an advantage in terms of knowing the family and Nolan knowing the coaching staff.

Does that mean this is a lock? Far from it, because Nolan is one of the top 50 players in the class overall and the No. 7 ranked offensive tackle in the country too. He could have his pick of the litter of college football programs.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Badgers win this recruitment in the end. It just won’t be as easy as some other legacy recruitments to date. If the Badgers land him, this class could be turning in to something really special.

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