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In Their Own Words: Wisconsin

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Injury and COVID-19 have derailed preseason expectations in Madison, but can Iowa finally get a win against the Badgers?

NCAA Football: Indiana at Wisconsin
Wisconsin expected to play more football this year.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With seven extra weeks to prepare for the 2020 football season than originally planned, we collaborated with each of the Big Ten sites across SB Nation’s platform to get some in depth analysis on what to expect for the upcoming season. As each game approaches, we’ll share those insights from the weekly opponent in their own team site’s words.

After a rough start to the season, the Iowa Hawkeyes are riding a heater, winning all four matchups in the month of November. The net result is an Iowa team sitting sort of where we expected they might at the end of the year, but with the usual surprises. Across the Mississippi, Illinois fans are in a similar boat. The season hasn’t gone exactly according to plan, but the Fighting Illini find themselves roughly in line with preseason expectations as we enter the second to last game of the regular season

Here’s a look back at what was expected out of the Illinois Fighting Illini this season, in their own words.


Editor’s Note: Reminder that these were submitted before the season and obviously without the insight we gain with each passing week.

Key Departures

  • Jonathan Taylor, running back (Doak Walker winner)
  • Tyler Biadasz, center (Rimington winner)
  • Quintez Cephus, wide receiver (top wideout)
  • Reggie Pearson, safety (out for season with undisclosed medical issue)
  • Chris Orr and Zack Baun, linebackers (sack leaders on team, now in NFL)

Key Returnees

  • Jack Coan, QB (veteran starter)
  • Jake Ferguson, TE (grandson of Barry Alvarez, very good)
  • Jack Sanborn, ILB (leading tackler)
  • every defensive back returns (except Pearson) Faion Hicks (CB) and Eric Burrell (S) are the two best
  • whole d-line returns too, Isaiahh Loudermilk (DE) is probably the most talented but lookout for NT Keeanu Benton
  • Cole Van Lanen, LT (anchors the OL)

Instant Impact Freshmen or Transfers

  • Jalen Berger, 4-star running back, from New Jersey - Wisconsin has had a lot of success with that position from that state
  • one of the highly rated 4-star outside linebackers (Kaden Johnson or Nick Herbig) who plays well in fall practice;
  • I don’t foresee a lot of freshmen playing a lot of snaps unless there are injuries this year

[Editor’s Note: for the love of God ANOTHER Jersey RB?!?!?!]

2020 Team Overview

The Badgers lost a lot of talent from last year’s B1G West champions. Gone to the NFL are studs RB Jonathan Taylor, C Tyler Biadasz, ILB Chris Orr, OLB Zack Baun and WR Quintez Cephus. That’s the leading rusher, receiver, second and third leading tackler (plus top two sack artists) and the leader of the o-line off the roster.

Wisconsin is at the point, however, where reloading, not rebuilding, is the standard after losing that much talent. There are a whole host of tailbacks (RS sophomore Nakia Watson is the presumed starter but RS freshman Julius Davis and true freshman Jalen Berger should challenge for carries, not to mention senior third down back Garrett Groshek) and young linebackers ready to make their mark on the field.

The secondary returns everyone of consequence (except for Reggie Pearson who is out for the year with an undisclosed medical issue) and should be a top-10 unit in the nation. The defensive and offensive lines are deep and talented as well and despite losing leading receiver Cephus, Wisconsin veteran pass catchers up and down the roster (led by TE Jake Ferguson).

The key for the Badgers will be under center. If Jack Coan continues the steady progress he has shown throughout his career Wisconsin will be tough to beat. If he struggles because he doesn’t have Taylor to lean on anymore then the Badgers will need the defense to win most of their games.

I expect Wisconsin to win the B1G West and make another good bowl game but they aren’t quite ready to challenge Ohio State for the conference crown. That’s coming though.

Biggest Strength

Pass defense, could (should?) be a top-10 nationally ranked group, and offensive line play.

Biggest Weakness

A lot of production is no longer on the team from two position groups: running backs and linebackers. Luckily those are the two positions groups that the Badgers usually just reload at, but until it happens those are two big question marks.

Fanbase View of Coaching Staff

I think the fan base in generally extremely pleased with Paul Chryst and his staff. There had been rumblings that Chryst wasn’t recruiting well enough, but his 2020 class was the best for Wisconsin in the internet rankings era and his 2021 class is even better, so those have been put to rest. Chryst has even shown to be more aggressive on fourth downs in the past two years, which is a nice change of pace. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is a rising star in the coaching ranks and there is annual angst over whether he’ll leave for a head coaching job elsewhere. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph is above average.

2020 Team MVP

The Badgers rushing game will take a step back this year after losing Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor and that means Wisconsin might have to ::gasp:: air it out some more this year. If UW is going to win the B1G West then QB Jack Coan will have to throw for 3,000 yards+ and be the team’s MVP.

Season Prediction

7-1

Best Win: vs. Minnesota

Surprise Loss: at Northwestern because Wisconsin never wins there so while that isn’t a surprise it will be awful

Anything Else

After medically retiring before the 2019 season, veteran offensive lineman Jon Dietzen is back on the roster and should challenge for a starting guard spot. He used to have an amazing mullet and hopefully he grows it back out.


While the rails have really fallen off for some programs, the difference between reality and expectations is perhaps the starkest with Wisconsin. Not necessarily because the Badgers are underperforming, but because Wisconsin first dealt with the loss of their presumed starter (and the guy they believed would have to be team MVP to be good) in Jack Coan and then have gone on to play the fewest games of any team in the conference.

Despite the adversity, the Badgers will remain a very tough out for an Iowa team that hasn’t won this matchup since 2015. We’ll circle back with the folks ta Bucky’s 5th Quarter later in the week to see what we can expect from this year’s version of the Badger’s now that the regular season is nearly over.