The Badgers are fresh off one of their most successful season in program history, capping off their first-ever 13-win season with an Orange Bowl victory. What’s crazy—next season has the potential to be even better. The college football season is still months away, but it’s never too early to look ahead to the 2018 Badgers.
Wisconsin had one of the most complete teams in college football last season, but the one missing piece was at the most important position—Alex Hornibrook struggled at times during the season, but the offense absolutely came alive during the Orange Bowl. Hornibrook threw four touchdowns to no interceptions, giving Badger fans hope going into next season.
Although he loses his favorite target in Troy Fumagalli, Hornibrook has a quartet of wide receivers ready to take the next step—A.J. Taylor, Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis showed potential towards the end of the season, and with Quintez Cephus returning from injury, this should be the best group of receivers Wisconsin has seen in years.
With the passing game trending upwards, we look to the running game—freshman Jonathan Taylor holds the freshman rushing record with 1,977 yards (technically, Ron Dayne holds the record at 2,109 yards, but bowl games were not factored into rushing totals back in 1996), and it’s scary to think that the rushing attack could actually improve next year. All five starters are back on the offensive line, including potential early draft entrants Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel. Ten of the Badgers’ 11 offensive starters return, sans Fumagalli.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers were dominant, finishing second in total defense in the country. But they will have some holes to fill—three out of four secondary starters—Nick Nelson, Derrick Tindal, Natrell Jamerson—are gone, along with four other starters in Alec James, Connor Sheehy, Garret Dooley, and Leon Jacobs. If you were keeping track, that leaves four returning starters—D’Cota Dixon, T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly, and Olive Sagapolu.
It may not be as strong of a defense in 2018, but if Jim Leonhard stays, he’ll have this group ready by conference play.
If there was an opportunity to bring up the weakness of Wisconsin’s schedule last season, the media took full advantage—there was even talk of a potentially 13-0 Badger team not reaching the CFP. That won’t be the case in 2018—with a tougher schedule, their room for error grows. Here’s a look at what the Badgers face in 2018.
Week 1: vs. Western Kentucky
Week 2: vs. New Mexico
Week 3: vs. BYU
Week 4: at Iowa
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: vs. Nebraska
Week 7: at Michigan
Week 8: vs. Illinois
Week 9: at Northwestern
Week 10: vs. Rutgers
Week 11: at Penn State
Week 12: at Purdue
Week 13: vs. Minnesota
The Badgers have another relatively easy non-conference schedule, with foes in Western Kentucky, New Mexico, and BYU. When scheduled, BYU was a worthy opponent—last season, not so much. The Badgers should take care of their OOC pretty easily once again.
At first glance, they face a tough road schedule within the Big Ten, with games at Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State, and should most likely get a shot at redemption versus Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
There’s no reason to believe that the Badgers can’t replicate their success from last season, but this time around, they’ll suffer a loss in the regular season at the hands of a rejuvenated Wolverine team that should once again contend in the East. That puts Wisconsin at 11-1 heading into the Big Ten Championship game, a position they’ve been in before—after dropping the past two title games, it’s time to finish the job. Here’s to another exciting season!