Paul Chryst’s first year at the helm for the Badgers was certainly a success. Despite the 10-3 record, this team clearly left something to be desired, especially when taking into account the ways that the Iowa and Northwestern games ended. The journey to the College Football Playoff and even a Big Ten Championship will only become more challenging in 2016, with the season opener against LSU and a hellish slate of Big Ten games early in the conference season. These games include Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa, with three of these contests taking place on the road. Although extremely unlikely, it is definitely not out of the question to think that these Badgers can navigate through this difficult schedule, and play in the Big Ten Championship game with very few blemishes on their Playoff résumé. Here are five things that must change from the 2015 season if the Badgers wish to contend.
1) Corey Clement Must Stay Healthy and Productive
Corey Clement came into 2015 with huge expectations. Unfortunately, in a season marred by a plethora of injuries and an uncharacteristic off the field issue, Clement was not able to live up to the hype. He only rushed for 221 yards on a mere 48 carries. Luckily, Clement elected to return to school for his senior season, and it is no secret that he will be looking for redemption. Given the brutal schedule, Clement will be required to put up Heisman-like numbers if the Badgers want a shot at a Big Ten title and more. He clearly has it in him, assuming he can stay injury free in 2016. Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal are both solid backs, but neither are game-changers like Clement.
2) More Consistent Quarterback Play
The Joel Stave era is over at Wisconsin. While this may please many Badger fans, his career most definitely should be considered a success. It is no secret, however, that his career was plagued by inconsistencies. He dealt with a strange case of the yips in 2014, and his inconsistencies cost his team a number of games over the last couple of years. This year’s Iowa game and the 2014 Northwestern game are the first to come to mind. Late game meltdowns simply cannot happen at all in 2016 from the quarterback position if this team wants to contend. Bart Houston has the inside track to the job, but look for youngsters Alex Hornibrook and Kare’ Lyles to make a strong push in the spring. The key to this position in 2016 will be to limit the mistakes and look for big plays in the play action game. If Corey Clement is running well, things should open up in the passing game.
3) More Explosiveness on the Outside
In 2015, the Badger’s longest touchdown pass was 31 yards. Wide receivers combined to catch only seven touchdown passes all year. Only two different receivers caught touchdowns. These numbers must be improved upon if the Badgers expect to contend in 2016. Alex Erickson is gone, but Robert Wheelwright (before he got hurt) and Jazz Peavy both showed flashes last year. It would go a long way if both of these guys can take the next step forward in 2016. Keep an eye on the speedy true freshman, A.J. Taylor, as he has a shot to factor into the passing game early and often in his career.
4) A Higher Level of Play on Special Teams
Statistically speaking, the kicking game was not pretty for the Badgers in 2015. Although he made a lot of the key kicks, Rafael Gaglianone was tied for fourth worst in the Big Ten in field goal percentage among kickers who attempted double-digit field goals. Drew Meyer’s unexceptional 39.7 yards per punt was also good for fourth worst in the Big Ten among those who attempted double digit punts. Gaglianone has proven in the past that he could be one of the best kickers in the conference, and Meyer will be gone in 2016. P.J. Rosowski, who will be a redshirt sophomore in 2016, was listed as the backup punter on the depth chart throughout 2015. However, incoming freshman Anthony Lotti is listed as a top five punting recruit in the 2016 class, according to 247 Sports. Whoever wins the job will look to improve upon Meyer’s mediocre season. Natrell Jamerson provided some spark in the return game in 2015, and if he can muster up a couple of return touchdowns in 2016, the special teams unit certainly has potential to be a great strength for this team.
5) The Right, New Defensive Coordinator
Last year, Dave Aranda’s defense ranked number one nationally in total defense. If the 2016 defense plays as it did in 2015, then there is nothing that needs to be changed on that side of the ball in order for this team to contend. However, Aranda will not be overseeing the defense in 2016, as he has moved on to greener pastures at LSU. Whoever takes over at defensive coordinator will have big shoes to fill and high expectations. He will have a huge task at hand to replace the production of Joe Schobert, Michael Caputo, Darius Hillary, and Tanner McEvoy, among others.