In previous years, Wisconsin football has had its fair share of star players. Russell Wilson, Montee Ball, James White, the Watt brothers, Melvin Gordon and Chris Borland immediately come to mind. The 2017 team is the favorite to repeat as B1G West champions, but at a national level, the Badgers are setting their sights on something even greater.
In the preseason coaches poll, Wisconsin debuted as the No. 10 team in the nation. The Badgers haven’t been ranked this highly to begin a season since 2011, the year Russell Wilson led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.
The current crop of Badgers will rely on great defense, running the football and an efficient play action passing game – no surprise there.
While the 2017 team certainly has many talented players that will look to elevate their game to “star” caliber (likely candidates include All-Big Ten tight end Troy Fumagalli, linebackers T.J. Edwards and Jack Cichy and safety D’Cota Dixon), it certainly appears that the strength of the 2017 Wisconsin football team will be their impressive depth on both sides of the ball.
When you start to really take a close look at this Wisconsin roster, the amount of quality players in the two-deep really stands out.
With the exception of quarterback, where Alex Hornibrook must remain healthy for the Badgers to accomplish their goals, the Badgers boast an incredibly deep and talented running back corps in Chris James, Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal, multi-dimensional tight ends in Troy Fumagalli, Kyle Penniston and Zander Neuville, and an offensive line that features multiple reserves who have received extensive playing time in previous seasons in Jacob Maxwell and Micah Kapoi.
At wide receiver, Jazz Peavy and Quintez Cephus will start and receive the majority of the passes thrown to wide receivers. George Rushing, A.J. Taylor, and Kendric Pryor are also in line for playing time on obvious passing downs.
On defense, Wisconsin has four inside linebackers that would start for 95% of teams in the country in Jack Cichy, Chris Orr, T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. The secondary is extremely talented and ready to prove themselves, evidenced by starting CB Derrick Tindal telling reporters this week that the UW secondary would be the best unit in the country.
Opposite of Tindal will be Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson, who was a highly disruptive player on the practice field while he was forced to sit out last season.
The defensive line returns three starters from last season in Chikwe Obasih, Conor Sheehy and Olive Sagapolu. In addition to the returning starters, Alec James and Garrett Rand played significant minutes last season as well. The fall camp hype surrounding mammoth 6’7, 300 pound defensive end Isasiahh Loudermilk has the coaching staff feeling incredibly good about the depth in the trenches.
The back end will feature D’Cota Dixon, a returning starter from last season and Natrell Jamerson, who played the nickle back last season but has since switched to safety. Jamerson was recently twitter famous for posting a video of himself bench pressing over two times his own body weight, a truly impressive feat.
On special teams, Rafael Gaglianone is back from injury, and looks to have his mojo back. Last season, the Brazilian kicker was tremendous for Wisconsin before he was lost for the season.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst still wants to see his team focusing on improving each and every day. In the back of his mind, Chryst has to be looking at his roster and thinking that his third season as the Badgers head man has the potential to be the most fruitful one yet (for those of you who don’t remember, Wisconsin won 11 games last year and won a BCS bowl game).