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Preseason Spotlights from Behind Enemy Lines: Wisconsin Badgers

The Badgers are in another reloading year with a ton of new faces.

Wisconsin v Illinois Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Maize n Brew teamed up with the Big Ten team sites here at SB Nation for a preview of each of the football programs in the conference to help us look ahead to the 2020 season. This Thursday’s comes in the form of a look at the Wisconsin Badgers, who travel to take on the Michigan Wolverines in Week 4 on Nov. 14.

Representing our friends over at Bucky’s Fifth Quarter is manager Drew Hamm, who was kind enough to chime in on Wisconsin ahead of the new campaign.

Overview of the 2020 Badgers

“The Badgers lost a lot of talent from last year’s B1G West champions. Gone to the NFL are running back Jonathan Taylor, center Tyler Biadasz, inside linebacker Chris Orr, outside linebacker Zack Baun and wide receiver Quintez Cephus. That’s the leading rusher, receiver, second and third leading tackler (plus top two sack artists) and the leader of the o offensive line gone from the roster.

“Wisconsin is at the point, however, where reloading, not rebuilding, is the standard after losing that much talent. There are a whole host of tailbacks. Redshirt sophomore Nakia Watson is the presumed starter, but redshirt freshman Julius Davis and true freshman Jalen Berger should challenge for carries, not to mention senior third down back Garrett Groshek and young linebackers ready to make their mark on the field.

“The secondary returns everyone of consequence (except for Reggie Pearson who is out for the year with an undisclosed medical issue) and should be a top-10 unit in the nation. The defensive and offensive lines are deep and talented as well and despite losing leading receiver Cephus, Wisconsin veteran pass catchers up and down the roster (led by tight end Jake Ferguson).

“The key for the Badgers will be under center. We were hoping to see Jack Coan continue the steady progress he has shown throughout his career at Wisconsin, but he is now dealing with a non-contact foot injury. This opens the door for former top-100 recruit Graham Mertz to start at quarterback. If he struggles and the Badgers are unable to lean on their running game, they will need the defense to win most of their games.

“I expect Wisconsin to win the B1G West and make another good bowl game but they aren’t quite ready to challenge Ohio State for the conference crown. That’s coming though.”

List your team’s key departures (name, position, role)

Jonathan Taylor, running back, Doak Walker winner; Tyler Biadasz, center, Rimington winner; Quintez Cephus, wide receiver, top wideout; Reggie Pearson, safety, out for season with undisclosed medical issue; Chris Orr and Zack Baun linebackers; sack leaders on team, now in NFL

List your team’s key returnees (name, position, role)

Jack Coan, quarterback, veteran starter; Graham Mertz, quarterback, former four-star signal caller; Jake Ferguson, tight end, grandson of Barry Alvarez, very good; Jack Sanborn, inside linebacker, leading tackler; every defensive back returns (except Pearson) Faion Hicks (CB) and Eric Burrell (S) are the two best; the whole defensive-ine returns too, Isaiahh Loudermilk (DE) is probably the most talented but lookout for NT Keeanu Benton; Cole Van Lanen, left tackle, anchors the OL

List a few true freshmen or transfers that will make an instant impact (name, position, role)

Jalen Berger, 4-star running back, from New Jersey, Wisconsin has had a lot of success with that position from that state; one of the highly rated 4-star outside linebackers (Kaden Johnson or Nick Herbig) who plays well in fall practice; I don’t foresee a lot of freshmen playing a lot of snaps unless there are injuries this year

What’s your team’s biggest strength?

“Pass defense, could (should?) be a top-10 nationally ranked group, and offensive line play.”

What’s your team’s biggest weakness?

“A lot of production is no longer on the team from two position groups: running backs and linebackers. Luckily those are the two positions groups that the Badgers usually just reload at, but until it happens those are two big question marks.”

How does your fanbase feel about your coach and his staff?

“I think the fan base in generally extremely pleased with Paul Chryst and his staff. There had been rumblings that Chryst wasn’t recruiting well enough, but his 2020 class was the best for Wisconsin in the internet rankings era and his 2021 class is even better, so those have been put to rest. Chryst has even shown to be more aggressive on fourth downs in the past two years, which is a nice change of pace. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is a rising star in the coaching ranks and there is annual angst over whether he’ll leave for a head coaching job elsewhere. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph is above average.”

Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?

“The Badgers rushing game will take a step back this year after losing Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor and that means Wisconsin might have to ::gasp:: air it out some more this year. If UW is going to win the B1G West, quarterback play might determine this.

Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss

“7-1; vs. Minnesota; at Northwestern because Wisconsin never wins there so while that isn’t a surprise it will be awful”

What else should we know about your team this year?

“After medically retiring before the 2019 season, veteran offensive lineman Jon Dietzen is back on the roster and should challenge for a starting guard spot. He used to have an amazing mullet and hopefully he grows it back out.”

Thanks to Bucky’s Fifth Quarter for helping us preview the team ahead of the season. We’ll have more from each team on Michigan’s schedule and the other teams in the Big Ten in the coming weeks leading up to the 2020 campaign.