Since the Big Ten Championship game began in 2011, Wisconsin has played in all but two of them, and the Badgers are poised to continue this trend in 2018.
The Badgers return 14 of 22 Orange Bowl starters (10 of 11 on offense) and the Big Ten West favorites visit Ann Arbor on Oct. 13.
Aside from a trip to Kinnick, Wisconsin’s early season schedule is less than strenuous and the Badgers should enter this game undefeated. If they do, the players below will be responsible, and are absolutely the players to watch against Michigan.
RB Jonathan Taylor (and Offensive Line — all 5 starters return)
Everyone is aware of the returning freshman phenom and 2018 Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor. Taylor was exceptional last season rushing for an NCAA freshman record 1,977 yards, including 132 yards against Michigan.
Taylor’s running style reminds me of Emmitt Smith: seemingly always falling forward and as soon as he lulls you to sleep with four-yard gains, BOOM, he breaks one to the house.
The return of Taylor is enough to make any Michigan fan lose sleep, but the Badgers’ entire unit of “big uglies” also return to form the arguably best offensive line in the country. This unit will be special in 2018 and with an uber-talented back to block for, this will be the best rushing unit Michigan faces this season.
Maryland may do crabcakes and football, but Wisconsin knows cheese and power running.
WR — Quintez Cephus
All-American tight end Troy Fumagalli is gone, but Alex Hornibrook has a plethora of talent surrounding him including Quintez Cephus, the nation’s leading returner in quarterback rating when targeted.
Among all returning WRs - Quintez Cephus holds the highest passer rating when targeted from 2017 pic.twitter.com/oqAmUoxPon— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 9, 2018
Cephus missed the final five games last season, but still finished with 30 catches for 501 yards and 6 touchdowns. Although no Badger receivers exceed 6-foot-2, this unit is as explosive as they have ever been.
LB — T.J. Edwards
A 2017 consensus All-American, Edwards decided to put the NFL on hold and return to Madison for his senior season. His return is an invaluable piece considering the defense must replace seven starters from the third-best defense (according to S&P) in 2017.
Despite the turnover, Wisconsin’s inside linebackers will be among the strongest positional groups in the country. Michigan fans remember Edwards’ effectiveness last season as he racked up 11 total tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pass deflection in their 24-10 victory.
Aside from this game, Edwards finished second on the team in total tackles and tied for the tackles for loss (11), interceptions (4) and touchdowns (1).
Edwards could be the most irreplaceable Badger.
CB — Dontye Carriere-Williams
In 2017, despite battling a hernia for most of the season, Carriere-Williams saw extensive time at nickel corner including an 8-tackle, 1 interception performance against BYU. It was a solid redshirt freshman campaign, but this season Carriere-Williams will face several of the conference’s top receivers as cornerback No. 1 for Jim Leonhard’s defense.
If healthy, expect Carriere-Williams to be one of the breakout stars in the Big Ten.
QB — Alex Hornibrook
Sometimes brilliant, sometimes careless, Alex Hornibrook is in the most advantageous quarterback role in the country. Veteran offensive line, potential generational running back and skilled receivers, there are zero excuses for him this season.
Hornibrook is the biggest wildcard for the Badgers this season. On one hand, his promise always seems to be undermined by turnovers. On the other, he snatched the turnover chain off Miami’s neck in the Orange Bowl with a 23-of-34, 258-yard, 4-touchdown performance.
Which Hornibrook will Michigan see in 2018? Time will tell, but this gives me an excuse to post this interception again.