Head coach: Paul Chryst
2014 Record: 11-3 overall; 7-1 Big Ten
2014 Bowl: 34-31 Win (OT) over Auburn at Outback Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 5 offense, 7 defense
Odds to win 2016 CFB Championship: +8300
Odds to win 2015 Big Ten Title: +1200
Regular Season Wins: Over 9 (-105); Under 9 (-125)
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Paul Chryst has led some powerful offensive teams, and this one is too, but it has some glaring holes in it unlike some of his past units.
The problems for Wisconsin start with the OL. The running attack Wisconsin employs relies on a strong OL and has just two returning seniors (Tyler Marz and Dan Voltz), while also needing to replace three starters. Experience is lacking. While the Badgers have brought in some good recruits on the OL, now is the time for them to start showing it. The offense literally relies on their efforts.
Wisconsin starts a fifth-year senior at QB this year in Joel Stave. He’s 21-7 as an NCAA starter but he completed just 53.4 percent of his passes last season. He also threw more INTs (10) than TDs (9). Stave did close the season strong, however, and Chryst is a good coach for him (he recruited Stave as a walk-on).
WR Alex Erickson caught 55 passes last year for 772 yards. He’s going to need some help, though, and the Badgers best support there is Robert Wheelwright who caught just one pass for a 17-yard TD last year. TEs will be featured in the offense, so expect Troy Fumagalli to play a major role as a receiver. He could have a breakout season for the Badgers, and given that the OL may be weaker, the pass offense will be important. Corey Clement is the lead RB, but after him the depth chart is pretty dicey.
Dave Aranda is the defensive coordinator and the Badgers finished 4th nationally in total defense last year while ranking 17th in points allowed. He’s working with some holes in the ‘D’ but there are some cornerstones to keep last year’s success intact. At OL Vince Biegel led the Badgers with 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, while the other OLB Joe Schubert had 13.5 tackles for loss last year.
Sr. S Michael Caputo is part of a strong secondary which returns both CBs, Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton. The secondary only managed six INTs last season and will need to come up with more than that this year; moreover, of those six INTs none came from the CBs.
In the special teams placekicker Rafael Gaglianone turned in a great freshman year which saw him hit 19 of 22 FGs including his final 14 attempts. He was 5 of 7 from 40-plus yards and senior punter Drew Meyer averaged 41.5 yards per punt with 36 of his 80 landing within the 20 yard line. He’s struggled the last two years, but if he can regain form the Badgers have a chance to pin teams position-wise. The Badgers do need a new returner with Kenzel Doe having run out of eligibility.
Chryst is going to yield a good football team, but ultimately a lot of it hinges on Stave’s abilities. The OL’s lack of experience is going to be a black mark on the offense, and given that Wisconsin football is so dependent on a strong OL, it may be pretty problematic. The defense is strong and won’t hold the team back, but if it is struggling to make plays it won’t matter that the unit was ranked no. 4 last year.
Wisconsin has the unenviable task of opening the season against Alabama in Arlington, TX, but after that it faces four mediocre opponents before encountering Nebraska on Oct 10. The idea is that Wisconsin enters that matchup at least 4-1, with a 5-0 start by virtue of beating the Crimson Tide enough to put this team on its way. Even so, the OL’s weaknesses cast aspersions on the team’s chances to finish above the 5dime O/u of nine wins.
Prediction: 9 wins