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.
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.
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.
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.