Utah State at Wisconsin
Time: 8 pm CT
Spread: WISC -28
Odds c/o Bovada
The Wisconsin Badgers had a tough going last season in switching from starting QB Bart Houston to the inexperienced, but talented, Alex Hornibrook. Hornibrook was shaky, but he showed enough potential for Badgers fans to feel good about the team’s offensive prospects entering the 2017 season. He threw 106 of 181 passes for completion after becoming the team’s starter in Week 8. But he also threw nine interceptions to just seven TDs.
The fact the Badgers are putting some real talent behind him in the backfield should only help, though. Chris James transferred from Pitt, and he will be the third-down back most of the time. Redshirt sophomore Broderick Shaw closed last season strong, and he will receive plenty of touches as the team’s other featured back. Tight end Troy Fumagalli led the team in receptions last year with 47, and he returns for his senior season. At WR, the Badgers return Jazz Peavy, who caught for 635 yards last year and five of the team’s passing TDs. Quintez Cephus should be a solid No. 2 option at WR, as well. The OL should be pretty strong, though it will be interesting to see what the Badgers do with Michael Detter, who closed last season playing a lot of left tackle.
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Defensively, the Badgers continue to look for answers in going to its third defensive coordinator in three years. Jim Leonhard takes over the role after just one year of coaching experience. There is a hole to be filled at OLB after losing T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel, and the secondary is also an area of question. The Badgers lost Sojourn Shelton and Leo Musso. Nick Nelson is Shelton’s likely replacement, and Natrell Jamerson should spell Musso. The defense will be strong at the ILB positions, though, with four talented players all capable of making a big difference. Among those fifth-year senior Jack Cichy could be in for a big year given his experience.
The Badgers will return place kicker Rafael Gaglianone who suffered a season-ending leg injury last year. Anthony Lotti will have to improve his punting after averaging just 37.7 yards last year. Special teams could be a problem for the Badgers.
So, while Wisconsin continues to change its tune defensively, it is important to remember the defense was already very strong. The Badgers held teams to just 15.6 points per game last year, ranking No. 4 in the nation. Its rush defense allowed less than 100 yards per game. The Badgers rode a six-game win streak into the Big Ten title game before losing to Penn State, and then it proceeded to win its Cotton Bowl matchup against Western Michigan.
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The Utah State Aggies finished 3-9 last year with a 1-7 mark in Mountain West play. The Aggies averaged just 23.9 points per game, ranking No. 108 in the nation. Its rush generated 170.5 yards per game and it got 205.8 yards per game via the pass. Its overall yardage of 376.3 ranked No. 96 in the nation. The team now has a new offensive coordinator in David Yost, who was an effective coach of the quarterbacks while at Missouri. Kent Myers is a senior quarterback who passed for 2,389 yards and 19 TDs last year, and he also has his top two targets returning at wide receiver. The top returning rusher was good for 763 yards on 148 carries last year, and he will have help from LaJuan Hunt and Justen Hervey.
Defensively, Utah State was decent last year in holding opponents to 29.3 points per game and ranking no. 73 in FBS teams. The pass defense was stingy, allowing just 176.5 yards per game and ranking No. 11 in the nation. The secondary returns just one starter at cornerback, but there is a lot of talent at linebacker with senior Alex Huerta and junior Derek Larson.
The defense is going to be strong again in the secondary, and that is becoming an identity maker for this team. The offense should be better with a strong emphasis on what Yost can manage to get out of Myers in the pocket. He could be a very effective passer with the right coaching work.