Bowl season is in full swing, but the Big Ten has a bit of a wait before any conference team sees the field. So, we’re spending the week before Christmas giving you a full look in to the bowl games involving Big Ten teams.
While the conference champion, Ohio State, was passed over for the College Football Playoff, there are still plenty of things to love about bowl season if you’re a fan of a team in or of the conference as a whole.
What better way to start than by looking at one of the biggest bowl matchups this year — the Big Ten’s return to the Orange Bowl as Wisconsin takes on Miami at its home stadium.
So, why should you tune in to this matchup if you aren’t a fan of the Badgers? Let’s look over 5 reasons to love this game.
Jonathan Taylor’s Pursuit of History
It has been a record-setting season for Wisconsin freshman running back Jonathan Taylor. He already tied the mark for the fastest true freshman to 1,000 yards (7 games) and sits at 1,847 yards.
Taylor would love a do-over after he was basically made non-existent in the Big Ten championship game. He was held to a season-low 41 yards against Ohio State. But, Taylor isn’t done with potentially making history and that should be plenty of motivation.
He’s got one more big personal goal — the true freshman single-season rushing record.
He trails some guy named Adrian Peterson for that mark and needs just 79 yards to own it. Given Wisconsin’s rich history of running backs over the last 30-plus years, Taylor owning this record would certainly speak for itself in the pantheon of Badgers running backs.
Should he get that goal, there’s also a good chance it also means his team is doing good things on the scoreboard too. So, look for Taylor’s performance to tell a lot about what Wisconsin will or won’t be capable of on offense.
If you love defensive football, this game should be your cup of tea. Wisconsin was one of the most dominant defensive teams in college football. They were great against the run (), very solid against the pass, didn’t let opposing teams score much and loved a good turnover. Wisconsin ranked 3rd nationally in scoring defense (13.2 points per game), 2nd in rushing defense (92.6 yards per game), 4th in passing defense (160.6) and 1st in total defense (253.2)
Miami was no slouch, and we all know about the “turnover chain,” because Miami has their “swagger” back. The Hurricanes were one of the best defenses in the country at creating turnovers in 2017, ranking 9th in the country in interceptions (17) and 7th in fumbles recovered (13).
Wisconsin hasn’t been bad on the turnover front themselves, racking up 26 total turnovers to rank 9th in the country themselves.
But, the Badgers offense has been turnover prone, in large part thanks to throwing the second-highest amount of interceptions in the Big Ten this season (15). Miami has one of the bet turnover margins in the country thanks to an offense that has been able to keep things under control on the turnover front (15).
This game could come down to which defense can play to its strength more, and it may be one of the few games truly decided by defense first.
Who Rises to the Big Stage Pressure?
While the Hurricanes have been a “brand name” in college football since the 1980’s, they have fallen on hard times since a loss to Ohio State in the 2002 national championship game. In fact, they haven’t been back to a major bowl game since the 2004 Orange Bowl ironically.
On the other hand, Wisconsin is making its second-straight appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game after defeating Western Michigan in last season’s Cotton Bowl Classic. UW also has been involved in the biggest bowl games for the better part of this decade, appearing in three straight Rose Bowls to start the 2010’s.
Wisconsin is used to the big stage, the bright lights and the pressure of big games as a program and as individual players. Miami, while having played big games in the regular season, hasn’t exactly been involved in a major bowl game in any of these players’ lifetimes really.
Can Mark Richt get his team up for a smash-mouth football game against a team that won’t be intimidated by the big stage? Can the Badgers under-assuming personality match the flare and hype that surrounds the Hurricanes once again?
Personality matters in this matchup, if only because these two teams are so polar opposite in how they approach the game. Wisconsin won’t talk trash, they’ll just hit you in the mouth over and over and over again. Miami will talk trash, hit you in the mouth and talk some more.
Whichever team buckles under that pressure first is going to be in major trouble.
Which Hornibrook Shows Up?
If there’s one thing we’ve established about the Badgers in 2017 it is that quarterback Alex Hornibrook is a really good complementary player in Wisconsin’s offense. However, the one time he was relied upon to win them a game he folded big time.
Hornibrook threw the ball 41 times against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, which not only was his highest attempts number on the season, but also the most since throwing 28 passes against Florida Atlantic in Week 2. It didn’t go well in Indianapolis for Hornibrook, as he completed just 19 of the 41 passes attempted and had his lowest yards per attempt (5.7) of the season to go along with zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
He also had a major stumble against Michigan where he was just 9 of 19 for 143 yards and a touchdown to one interception.
Those were the two best defenses he faced and it was a struggle in terms of completion percentage and avoiding the turnovers. Miami is one of the better pass defenses in the country too, forcing those 17 interceptions and allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 56.3 percent of their passes.
But, the Hornibrook that showed up most of the rest of the season is one the Badgers certainly can win with. He was highly efficient most of the season and if he can be a guy who continues to move the chains in third down situations and get the big throw when needed, Wisconsin’s offense is hard to stop.
If Wisconsin wants to win, they need to see the efficient Hornibrook come to life against a good defense.
Its the Freaking Orange Bowl
If you call yourself a true College Football fan, the Orange Bowl is destination television no matter what. It doesn’t hurt that a traditional Orange Bowl participant is there or the only Power 5 team to remain undefeated through the regular season is there either.
The Orange Bowl is one of the classic games and has provided some of the most stunning results we’ve seen in College Football history. Could more be made?
After all, it is Wisconsin’s first visit to the Orange Bowl and winning it would certainly be a great way to cap off what was a history-making season for the Badgers.
Really, there shouldn’t be any other thing you need to know other than it’s the Orange Bowl between two top 10 teams. ‘Nuff Said.
*all stats courtesy of cfbstats.com
Projecting the Wisconsin Badgers 2019 defensive depth chart
Yesterday we took a look at how the Wisconsin Badgers offense may look heading in to spring ball. Today, we turn to the other side of the ball as UW looks to figure out life without its lifebloods the last few years.
UW will face life without two of its biggest stars — inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly — as they head in to 2019 and there’s little question that replacing them will be the key to just about everything in this offseason.
But, that isn’t the only question to be answered and we’ll attempt to answer them all with a look at how we see the potential depth chart set itself up.
1. Garrett Rand, RS Jr.; 2. Aaron Vopal, RS So./Isaiah Mullens, RS Fr.
1. Isaiahh Loudermilk, RS Jr.; 2. Matt Hennignsen RS So.
There was a significant drop-off in pass rush and overall production from the 2018 Badgers and a lot of it can be attributed to a very thin defensive line. UW lost Rand before the season, and Loudermilk couldn’t shake the injury bug after a summer leg injury hampered his start to the season.
In 2019, both should be back and healthy and it will make a big difference. Both Vopal and Henningsen got a ton of experience and should be better off for it, but behind the scenes I’ve heard rave reviews for the game of Mullens and wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump in to the mix quickly in 2019.
1. Bryson Williams, So.
2. Gio Paez, Fr.
Wisconsin is going to need young players to step up and provide depth in 2019, just like it needed Bryson Williams to do so in 2018. The good news is that Williams could be trusted and got plenty of playing time, starting a few games to end the season after Olive Sagapolu’s season was cut short. While we could see walk-on senior Gunnar Roberge as a backup, my money is on 2019 signee Gio Paez helping big time off the bench.
1. Zack Baun, RS Sr.; Tyler Johnson RS Sr.
1. Christian Bell RS Jr.; Noah Burks RS Jr.
The only thing that seems set for the Badgers in 2019 at outside linebacker is that Zack Baun will be one of the starters. However, that doesn’t mean there’s a problem afoot.
Instead, Wisconsin has a chance to find out what they have with about four players who could all easily become the starter opposite of Baun. My money is on former Alabama transfer Christian Bell becoming that player, as he saw more and more of the field as 2018 went on. He’ll get an interesting challenge from former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and the man who backed up Baun last season, Tyler Johnson. Don’t sleep on Izayah Green-May either, as he’s one of the most intriguing pass-rushing prospects on this roster.
1. Chris Orr, Sr. 2. Mike Maskalunas, RS Jr.
1. Jack Sanborn, So. 2. Griffin Grady, RS Jr.
Losing Edwards and Connelly is going to hurt, but we’ve seen a ton of depth at this position over the last few years. Orr would’ve started for most teams in the conference the last few years and will have his final season to impress NFL scouts. The real interesting mix will be how the play of Sanborn, Grady and Maskalunas works itself out in the offseason.
Sanborn playing the snaps he did in 2018 suggests he’s the front runner, but the good news is this position will likely see plenty of rotation and even starters won’t be meaningful given the depth.
1. Rachad Wildgoose, So. 2. Caesar Williams, RS Jr.
1. Faion Hicks, So. 2. Deron Harrell, RS So.
Wisconsin saw a lot of youth work in at cornerback in 2018 and when the dust settled they appeared to have found some pretty good players for the next few years in the likes of Wildgoose, Hicks and Harrell for sure. Expected starter Caesar Williams disappointed in his opportunity and we could easily see Madison Cone get in to the mix here as well. The name to watch this offseason is Travian Blaylock, who played in four games this season as a true freshman and was able to keep his redshirt.
FS: Reggie Pearson, RS So.; Collin Wilder, RS So.
SS: Scott Nelson, RS So.; Seth Currens, RS Jr.
This may surprise some of you, because we all saw Eric Burrell start in the Pinstripe Bowl due to injury to D’Cota Dixon. However, I believe the talent of Pearson and Wilder is so good that they may bypass him this offseason. It’s a nice problem to have to say the least.
Nelson is a lock to play at strong safety after starting all season in 2018. However, it was an up-and-down freshman campaign and more consistency will help this group grow immensely.
Projecting the Wisconsin Badgers 2019 Offensive Depth Chart
January is perhaps the most dead period of action for a college football player and for the Wisconsin Badgers it’s been a period of waiting for answers to NFL futures for a few players.
We’ve gotten those answers and that means we have a much clearer perspective on what the Badgers 2019 depth chart will look like when then head to Tampa Bay to take on USF in the season opener on Aug. 31.
With that in mind, let’s break down the depth chart as we see it playing out heading in to spring ball in a few months time.
1. Jack Coan, Jr.
2. Graham Mertz, Fr.
3. Danny Vanden Boom, So.
4. Chase Wolf, RS Fr.
First, the smart bet is on Alex Hornibrook not returning to football after major issues arose following a concussion later in the 2018 season. That said, a lot of outside pressure will be on naming Mertz the starter. I believe that won’t happen right away and Coan will be the one that gets the nod for the start of 2019. His level of play increased as he got on-field reps and could be enough for a stop-gap until Mertz is either ready to play this season or they try to keep his redshirt available and allow him to start in 2020.
1. Jonathan Taylor, Jr.
2a. Garrett Groshek, RS Jr.
2b. Nakia Watson, RS Fr.
3. Bradrick Shaw, Jr.
4. Julius Davis, Fr.
Get ready for the swan song of Taylor’s career in the Cardinal and White. He’s been a record-setter already and that should continue in 2019 baring injury. With Taiwan Deal and Chris James graduated, someone has to step up in to the role of the true backup option. It could be a returning Bradrick Shaw, but Nakia Watson showed real promise and could be in line for major snaps this season too. Groshek will continue to be a primary pass-catching and extra blocking option, but don’t expect his role to expand as a runner.
1. Mason Stokke, RS Jr.
2. Quan Easterling, Fr.
3. John Chenal, So.
Over at fullback, the Badgers will have to live life without Alec Ingold, who was a stalwart at the position. Converted linebacker Mason Stokke is going to get the first look, but Wisconsin went out and got a scholarship fullback in Quan Easterling for a reason. Don’t be surprised to see him get a serious look in fall camp and maybe take the job from day one.
1. Danny Davis, Jr.
2. AJ Taylor, Sr.
3. Kendric Pryor, Jr.
4. Aron Cruikshank So.
5. Taj Mustapha, RS Fr.
6. Jack Dunn, RS Jr.
There isn’t a position deeper on the Badgers offense than wide receiver. While the production didn’t match the hype coming in to 2018, let’s chalk that up to bad QB play first and foremost. The combination of Davis, Pryor and Taylor is a good one and UW continues to add quality and speed at the position.
No question looms larger at wide receiver in the 2019 offseason than what happens with the cases pending against Quintez Cephus. Will they resolve themselves in 2019 and will he back on campus or in prison? If it’s the first one, the Badgers have a huge playmaker back, if not, they’ll need to find a downfield playmaker more than ever. It was a giant missing piece to the puzzle in 2018.
1. Jake Ferguson, RS So.
2. Luke Benzschawel, RS Jr.
3. Kyle Penniston, RS Sr.
4. Cormac Sampson, RS Fr.
Jake Ferguson’s first season lived up to the hype of his high recruiting ranking, as he became the go-to receiver in big situations. But, the Badgers expect more out of the position in 2019 as they hope to get a healthy Luke Benzschawel back to help in the blocking game. Look for Cormac Sampson to also emerge as his understudy and an intriguing overall prospect for the future too.
Left Tackle: Cole Van Lanen, RS Jr., Logan Brown, Fr.
Left Guard: Jon Dietzen, RS Sr., David Moorman, RS Jr.
Center: Tyler Biadasz, RS Jr., Kayden Lyles, RS So.
Right Guard: Jason Erdmann, RS Sr., Alex Fenton, RS So.
Right Tackle: Logan Bruss, RS So., Tyler Beach, RS So.
Wisconsin went 1-of-2 on getting potential early entrant NFL prospects back for 2019, as Tyler Biadasz turned down a potential 1st round situation to stay in Madison. UW will only have to replace David Edwards, Michael Dieter and Beau Benzschawel instead of all four of the potential draft picks.
The biggest question at offensive line is just where 5-star Logan Brown fits in. Will he work inside first and maybe take on right guard before sliding out or will he compete with the likes of Bruss and Beach at right tackle or will he slot in behind Van Lanen for a year at left tackle?
This group is going to be fun to watch shape out over the next eight months.
Wisconsin brings back a ton of talent at wide receiver and running back, but they do have a lot of questions (both major and minor) to answer at key positions like starting quarterback and along the offensive line.
Those likely aren’t going to be sorted out by the end of spring ball, so expect this depth chart to fluctuate a lot in the coming months. I do feel confident in this is how it will look to start the offseason though.
Mertz has record-setting day at The All-American Bowl
There was plenty of hype and hope for incoming freshman quarterback Graham Mertz. The newest Wisconsin Badgers quarterback did little to slow down the hype with his performance in the annual All-American Bowl.
All Mertz did was was stand up and make everyone take notice on the biggest stage in high school football.
Against some of the best players and with some of the best players in the country, Mertz rose above them all. He completed seven passes in the game, five of them going for touchdowns and racked up 188 yards.
Both his five touchdowns and 188 yards were The All-American game records. All of it added up to him winning the MVP award for the game.
Mertz’s ability to throw big passes all over the field was on full display. He threw with touch and even most of the incomplete passes he had were put in positions for his receivers to make plays on the ball.
It’s that touch and big-play ability that has been missing for a few years now in the Badgers offense.
Of course there are things he’ll need to work on at the next level, but he showcased an ability to make the basics look easy and plenty of promise as well.
Mertz’s big day caught the eye of some big names around the world of football.
It wasn’t just those in attendance or the hopeful Badgers faithful that were excited by what Mertz did on the day. Names like Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs took to Twitter to mention him.
His fellow Badgers commits Dean Engram and Julius Davis also had comments.
Oh, and the Badgers football Twitter account couldn’t miss a chance to hype the early-entrant quarterback either.
Obviously we won’t know if his play at the high school level will translate right away to the college game, but it’s hard not to see his passing skills and wonder what could be for the Badgers offense in the near future.
Ultimately, it will be his ability to take on the offense and make the needed plays in the spring that will dictate his ability to make a quick or slower impact at Wisconsin.
However, if playing with and against the best players in his incoming class is any indication, there’s no reason to suggest he won’t be a player who ends up starting at Wisconsin and likely in relatively short order.
Badgers 2019 signees in All-American games
The Wisconsin Badgers capped off a disappointing season with a second butt-kicking in a row of the Miami (FL) Hurricanes. With that the offseason officially started.
So, next up on the calendar are the high school All-American bowl games.
While the Badgers success wasn’t great on the field, off the field it was arguably the best class in UW recruiting history and officially the greatest in the recruiting rankings era (since 2000).
Certainly that means the Badgers will be represented in the All-American games and you would be right.
So, let’s take a look at the players that are in the various games over the next week.
The Under Armour All-American bowl game started things off on Thursday night and Wisconsin walk-on kicker Blake Wilcox (Kettle Moraine High School) was the lone UW representative in Orlando.
He is a punter and kicker and could take on both duties for the Badgers in the coming years, but is also still coming in to his own in the football kicking game after being a top soccer player at Kettle Moraine up until his junior season.
There wasn’t much reporting done on Wilcox or the specialists as a whole at this game, but the crew from Kohl’s Kicking Camps are in love with what Wilcox brings to the table so early in his career as a kicker and punter.
Meanwhile, at the All-American game in San Antonio (the former U.S. Army All-American game) the Badgers have their two highest profile signees in quarterback Graham Mertz and 5-star offensive lineman Logan Brown participating.
By all accounts, Mertz is having himself his usual high-end showing around scouts and in competition.
He was ranked as the No. 2 player in the first day of practices according to 247Sports and the No. 3 QB of the day in day 3 of drills.
Mertz continued to showcase his clean mechanics and smooth feel in the passing game. The Wisconsin pledge is at home operating from the pocket and looks to be a strong fit for the Badgers’ offense under Paul Chryst. On Thursday, Mertz had one of the better throws on the day, hitting a tight-window touchdown to Virginia Tech signee Jaden Payoute, who was running a crossing route in the back of the endzone.
Rivals believed he was the best looking QB on the East squad after the first day of drills.
Brown has lived up to advanced billing for those who haven’t seen him already, stoning multiple pass rushers in one-on-one drills. He was ranked as one of the Top 10 overall players at Day 3 of practice by 247Sports.
We’ll see how he holds up in team scenarios on Saturday, but it appears he could be a plug-and-play player for a Badgers offense seeking to replace a pair of guards in 2019.
Overall, it appears the biggest names are performing at or near the very top of their groups while going up against elite talent.
Given the pressure that is likely to be on this group with the high ranking they received, these types of performances are good signs indeed.
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