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Wisconsin 2019: Players to Watch

Jonathan Taylor leads the way for Wisconsin in 2019.

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After defeating Miami (FL) in the Orange Bowl, the Wisconsin Badgers set themselves up to do some awesome things in 2018.

But the encore the Badgers provided — an 8-5 season with losses to BYU and Minnesota — disappointed pretty much everybody across the college football world.

Now the Badgers will look to rebound once again from a disappointing season in 2018. Michigan’s first conference game happens to be against Wisconsin in Madison on Sept. 21, so let’s talk about some players to watch on Wisconsin this upcoming season.

Jonathan Taylor, RB

The most obvious of choices.

Junior running back Jonathan Taylor has been one of the best players at his position since he came into college football in 2017. Last season, he won the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back in college football. His accolades keep growing as each season passes, and he is sure to be one of the top running backs selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Despite Michigan providing a thorough beat down against Wisconsin at the Big House last season (I’m pretty sure Shea is still running from that QB option, you know which one) Taylor was the lone star for the Badgers that day. He ran for 101 yards on 15 carries and consistently kept Wisconsin’s drives alive.

I fully expect Taylor to be in the Heisman conversation as long as the Badgers bounce back. Even if the Wolverines’ defensive game plan is to stop Taylor, it’s much easier said than done. You can only hope to limit him.

Whoever Wisconsin’s new starting QB is

Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin’s former quarterback, transferred to Florida State this offseason, leaving the Badgers with an open quarterback battle. I believe the winner of that battle will be a true freshman — Graham Mertz.

The 6-foot-3 quarterback from Kansas is one of Wisconsin’s biggest recruiting wins in recent memory. He was the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the 2019 class and had offers from pretty much every big-time football school you can think of. He threw for 3,886 yards and 51 touchdowns his senior season, which is really freakin’ good for a player at any level.

NCAA Football: U.S. Army All-American Bowl Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Junior quarterback Jack Coan will give Mertz a run for his money, but I believe Mertz will be the one on the field against Michigan in September.

Even if he’s just a true freshman, Mertz is a player with an insane amount of talent. It will certainly be interesting to see him develop this season, if he is indeed the go-to guy.

Zack Baun, LB

Wisconsin lost a lot on defense after last year, but redshirt senior linebacker Zack Baun will be one of the bright spots for the Badgers in 2019.

After suffering a foot injury that kept him out for all of 2017, Baun came back in a big way in 2018. He was third on the team in tackles (63) and accumulated 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception, three passes defended and one fumble recovery.

Baun seemed to be all over the place for the Badgers last year, and they will be relying on him to be one of the leaders on defense in 2019.