The Wisconsin Badgers had been one of the most consistent college football programs in the country heading into the 2018 season. They had just come off a season in which they won the Orange Bowl and lost only one game, coming within one win of making the College Football Playoff. The Badgers were expected to be very good yet again. They had developed a clear formula for winning, and they were expected to replicate it… but they didn’t. Wisconsin stumbled early in the season and never really found its footing. The Badgers were able to make a bowl game, but it was a small game in the Pinstripe Bowl against the same Miami team they beat in the Orange Bowl the season before. It was an immensely disappointing season. Now Wisconsin will try to bounce back and regain its mojo.
Regular Season Win Total: 8.5 Wins
Odds: Over -134 Under +110
Changes From Last Season
The Badgers won’t undergo a ton of changes. Their offensive line, the heart of the program, is always deep and has players who are ready to play when asked. Wisconsin has depth at that position and has used that depth to fuel its program’s rise over a longer period of time. Jonathan Taylor is back at running back. Like Melvin Gordon in 2014, Taylor should make a serious bid for the Heisman Trophy this season.
The defense is losing some starters from 2018. However, the 2018 Wisconsin defense and those departing starters got injured a lot, which meant that a lot of young players received considerable amounts of playing time. That accumulation of playing time from players who were lower on the depth chart means that the players higher up on the 2019 depth chart will have played several dozens if not hundreds of meaningful, live, in-game snaps. This means that the larger group on Wisconsin’s 2019 defense, not just the starters but also the main backups, will have a lot of seasoning. What hurt the program on defense in 2018 should really help in 2019.
The names of the Week 1 starters will be different, but the familiarity of the roster with coach Paul Chryst’s system and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s play calls will be considerable.
2019 X-Factor: Graham Mertz or Jack Coan
These are the two main candidates for the starting quarterback job. Last year, Alex Hornibrook returned at quarterback after a strong 2017 season. He was a clutch passer on third downs. He made the right throw and the important play when Wisconsin needed it. Last year, he unraveled and turned the ball over regularly. Wisconsin depends on ball control to succeed, so the offense crashed and burned, sabotaging the season in part with the flood of injuries on defense. Mertz or Coan have to return ball security to the offense and restore Wisconsin’s offensive identity. This is a central need for Wisconsin – the Badgers can’t win without a low-turnover offense.
The Badgers have some tough games – Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa – but they are at home. Wisconsin should be able to win two of those. The game at Ohio State is a likely loss, but most of the tough games are at home. As long as Wisconsin wins two of its three big home games and wins at Nebraska, it should go over the number this season. The non-conference games are not hard.