Wisconsin football exceeded most expectations during the 2016 season. I for one thought for sure with Dave Aranda coaching at LSU the Badgers would drop its opener against #5 LSU. UW opened B1G slate with a murderous stretch @ #8MSU @ #4Michigan before hosting #2 The Ohio State, @Iowa, and home to #7 Nebraska. Wisconsin’s only losses of course were 14-7 @ Michigan and a painful OT loss versus the Buckeyes. A second half collapse in the B1G Title game cost the Badgers a Rose Bowl bid. But UW regrouped with a commanding performance in the Cotton Bowl that really was not as close as the 24-16 scoreline would suggest. The 11-3 Badgers finished ranked #11 in both the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Poll.
As has been customary for the last few years, the defense was the strength of the team. In particular the LB core was as good as anyone in the country outside of maybe Alabama.
#6 in Defensive Efficiency (85.5)
#4 in Points Per Game (15.5)
#2 in Rushing Yards Per Game (96.9)
#2 in Interceptions (22)
#28 in Total Sacks (34)
#36 in Passing Yards Per Game (206.1)
#10 in Completion Percentage (52.2%)
#26 in Passing Yards Per Attempt (6.6)
The offense was not asked to do much and it did not. The UW running game was missing a true difference maker at the position. The receiving targets were solid. Bart Houston eventually earned the right to be the #1 QB and I’m still not sure what strategic advantage UW gained by mixing in Hornibrook beyond giving the redshirt freshman experience. Houston had the stronger arm and could drive the football down the field. Hornibrook appears poised in the pocket but his mechanics need serious work. He floats/rainbows/lollipops every pass he throws. Hornibrook was accurate but there are throws over the middle or to the hashes that need some venom on them and he never did it. That’s how completions turn into interceptions.
#67 in Points Per Game (28.4)
#34 in Offensive Efficiency (63.8)
#27 in 3rd Down Percentage (44.1%)
#22 in Completion Percentage (62.5%)
#41 in Yards Per Attempt (7.8)
#104 Passing Yards Per Game (179.1)
#39 in Rushing Yards Per Game (203.1)
#71 in Rushing Yards Per Attempt (4.3)
#66 in Interceptions (66)
#99 in Passing TD (14)
#22 in Rushing TD (31)
SB Nation did a composite ranking look at all the early rankings. They have UW slotted at #12 between LSU and Auburn. The Ohio State is ranked #2, Penn State #5, and Michigan #9.
UW loses 3-4 starters on offense but has the depth on the roster to replace those losses.
Hornibrook will be the starting QB barring injury. Hopeful he learns how to throw a fastball.
Wisconsin loses its starting left OT Ryan Ramczyk who went from Division III UW Stevens Point to 1st round NFL pick. Otherwise the rest of the OL is back. Ramczyk was the veteran of the bunch as a junior. The other 4 starters were freshman and sophomores in 2016 as was the second string. UW looks like it could have a stable OL for the next couple seasons.
The other big loss is at RB with Clement and Ogunbowale done in Madison. Bradrick Shaw looks like the next best thing and it’s a fairly mild prediction to suggest that Shaw will be a much more dominant runner during his time with the Badgers than Clement and Ogunbowale. UW will also get Pitt transfer Chris James eligible next season. Taiwain Deal will somehow only be a redshirt junior in 2017 and figures to be the #3 back again.
UW will lose Rob Wheelwright at WR but Jazz Peavy, George Rushing, and most importantly, Troy Fumagalli are all still around. I like Quinten Cephus for his name but he’ll be tapped to step in and replace Wheelwright outside.
UW loses 4 starters on defense and the ascent of the new faces in the secondary could determine just how strong the D is this season. Of course, UW again is replacing the DC as Justin Wilcox took the head coaching job at Cal.
The most impactful might be Leo Musso at FS and Sojurn Shelton at CB. Their backups are unproven (Natrell Jamerson did gets some snaps at CB and will probably replace SheltoN0 and the secondary wasn’t exactly the strength of the D in 2016.
UW loses Vince Biegel and TJ Watt at OLB, the latter decided to leave for the NFL a year early. However, injuries to Biegel and Chris Orr, and Zac Cichy meant that Garrett Dooley got lots of work during his redshirt junior season. Oh, and UW will get a healthy Cichy and Orr back along with redshirt sophomore TJ Edwards so the LB group should again be the strength of the defense.
Along the DL, UW returns its top 6 DL so really no changes there.
The 2017 Schedule projects to be much gentler the 2016 version. UW will face 4 opponents with new head coaches. UW gets Iowa and Michigan at home. Maryland and Indiana as 2 of your 3 B1G Ten East (Leaders? Legends?) opponents is a good break. Road games @Nebraska and to end the year @Minnesota could decide the division.
The Badger schedule is listed below with the (2016 opponent record)
Vs. Utah St (3-9)
Vs. Florida Atlantic (3-9). New coach Lane Kiffin. Could be a challenge at least defensively with only 1 previous week of game film to study the new Kiffin led offense.
@ BYU Cougars (9-4). A true road test. If UW has CFP aspirations, and they should, then they have to win this game.
Vs. Northwestern (7-6)
@Nebraska (9-4) definitely the toughest road game for UW. Winner of this won per usual has the inside track to the B1G West (Legends? Leaders?) title.
Vs. Purdue (3-9) The Boilers just hired a new coach from Western Kentucky as yet another rebuild begins in West Lafayette.
Vs. Maryland (6-7)
@Indiana (6-7) New head coach, although not new to the program as the DC gets the promotion
Vs. Iowa (8-5)
Vs. Michigan (10-3). The Wolverines lose an absurd number of players especially on defense but by the end of the regular season that may not be as problematic for Michigan.
@ Minnesota (9-4) rowing enthusiast and Cotton Bowl runner up PJ Fleck is the head coach for The U. Good hire for Minnesota. He should bust the ghost of Glen 7-5 Mason and make the Gophers an annual contender in the B1G West. But it might not be 2017.