As we say goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016, it brings us a chance to peak way ahead to August of 2016 and dream of what the Wisconsin Badgers may look like and be up to in Paul Chrystâ€™s second season as the head coach.
Letâ€™s take a detailed look at where this team stands on offense, the questions that will need answering and just where the Badgers will end up in the coming year.
Schedule Breakdown (2015 Record):Â
Sept. 3 â€” vs. LSU (9-3)Â *in Green Bay
Sept. 10 â€” vs. Akron (8-5)
Sept. 17 â€” vs. Georgia State (6-7)
Sept. 24 â€” at Michigan State (12-2)
Oct. 1 â€” at Michigan (10-3)
Oct. 15 â€” vs. Ohio State (12-1)
Oct. 22 â€” at Iowa (12-2)
Oct. 29 â€” vs. Nebraska (6-7)
Nov. 5 â€” at Northwestern (10-3)
Nov. 12 â€” vs. Illinois (5-7)
Nov. 19 â€” at Purdue (2-10)
Nov. 26 â€” vs. Minnesota (6-7)
Anyone complaining about the Badgers schedule anymore? Wisconsin will simply have to run the gauntlet in 2016, facing nine straight games against bowl teams from this past season. All three non-conference opponents made it to bowl games and two of the three were winners in bowl games to finish off 2015.
Wisconsinâ€™s cream puff Big Ten schedule is gone, replaced by the exact opposite as the top of the Big Ten East division is on UWâ€™s now nine-game Big Ten schedule. Even worse? Having to take on all three of those teams to open conference play and then face rivals Iowa and Nebraska for the first five games in conference.
Just a quick look at the schedule and Wisconsin is going to have a really tough go of it and may not be favored in six of its first eight games. Thatâ€™s brutal.
Projected Offensive Depth Chart:
QB: Bart Houston, Sr.
RB: Corey Clement, Sr.
FB: Alec Ingold, So.
WR: Robert Wheelwright, Sr.
WR: Jazz Peavy, Jr.
TE: Troy Fumagalli, Jr.
RT: Jacob Maxwell, So.
RG: Jon Dietzen, Fr.
C: Dan Voltz, Sr.
LG: Michael Deiter, So.
LT: Beau Benzschawel, So.
3 Biggest Strengths:
â€” Running Back: Corey Clement was supposed to showcase himself and be off to the NFL by now. Thatâ€™s not how 2015 went and it means Clement will be back for his senior season. Look for that to be a huge difference maker, but also look for Tawain Deal to grow big time from his experience in his freshman season. Also, weâ€™ve heard some really good things out of redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw in scout team work â€” so much so that Caleb Kinlaw became expendable at the position and eventually wanted out instead of playing cornerback.
â€” Tight End: Troy Fumagalli was a huge target for the Badgers in 2015, racking up the third most receptions on the team (28). It was just his sophomore season as well, meaning the best football may be ahead of him. Losing Austin Traylor means the Badgers will have to find a more blocking orientated tight end, but that could also be Fumagalli, who went underrated as a blocker in 2015. Other blocking options could include Eric Steffes and David Edwards. However, sources are telling us to watch for Kyle Penniston to be a real breakout player in 2016. It shouldnâ€™t be a surprise, as Penniston was a 4-star recruit in the 2015 class. Look for there to be a lot of competition, perhaps the most ever at tight end for the Badgers.
â€” Athleticism: Wisconsin is never going to be accused of being the most athletic team out there, but things really are changing for the offense in that regard. Youâ€™ve got young and athletic offensive linemen, some really intriguing prospects with a ton of overall athletic ability at wide receiver and perhaps the most athletic group of tight ends since the early part of the Bret Bielema era. Wisconsin also will have more athleticim by subtraction (Stave) and addition (Lyles) at quarterback. It all adds up to an offense that could be a lot more fun to watch and a lot more imaginative in 2016.
3 Biggest Question Marks:
â€” How Will Offensive Line Take Shape?
For the first time in what feels like forever, the Wisconsin Badgers will have a new starting left tackle. With Tyler Marz graduating, Wisconsin needs to figure out an option at left tackle and it hasnâ€™t needed that in three years. In fact, Marz started has started the last 40 straight for the Badgers, meaning that position is a mystery. So is where the pieces will fit heading in to 2016 overall, and that is because so many parts were moving in 2015. Overall, four freshmen started games and the depth and experience created means plenty of competition heading in to the spring. We think a few of these linemen are locked in to their positions for 2016, but this line finally has the numbers to create real competition. After a lackluster run-blocking season in 2015, you can bet the coaching staff isnâ€™t going to put up with mediocre anymore.
â€” Who Will Catch the Passes?Â
As much as the quarterback position will get attention, Wisconsin will also be missing the other key cog in the passing attack that often time carried the offense in 2015 â€” wide receiver Alex Erickson. UW will have to replace his 77 receptions, 978 yards and three touchdowns from last season alone. There appears to be some experienced options, and Rob Wheelwright continues to amaze when healthy. Should he stay healthy for a full season (let alone a spring or fall camp), Wisconsin could have its go-to target. Weâ€™ll also be paying attention to the growth of George Rushing and Krenwick Sanders, who came in with a tone of hype back in 2014, but have yet to produce at a high level. Theyâ€™ll have plenty of chances to prove they can do it this offseason though.
â€” Is Bart Houston Ready For Full-Time Duty?Â
No one questions the arm strength of Bart Houston, however there have been plenty of questions about his consistent ability to take the reigns of the offense and run the whole damn show. He has twice lost out to more than one quarterback in open battles after coming to the Badgersâ€™ program as the most highly-touted quarterback in school history. This season it could be all his though, but once again there are plenty of questions about his consistency. He did flash command and control in his biggest game action of his career â€” going 22 of 33 for 232 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-13 win over Illinois following an injury to Joel Stave in the first quarter.
But, there were also two interceptions thrown in the contest, and it was Illinois, who havenâ€™t exactly been a defensive juggernaut the last four years or so. Going from backup to starter is a big leap, and if Houston isnâ€™t fully ready for it, maybe it is time for the Badgers to take some growing pains and develop another long-term starter in Alex Hornibrook. Watching how Houston responds to knowing the job is likely his to loose is going to be fun this spring.
Offensive Position Battles to Watch:
â€” Quarterback: While it is expected that Bart Houston will get the job, donâ€™t read a whole lot in to the 2015 results from what we hear. Sure Houston played well in his limited time running the offense, but behind the scenes weâ€™re told to watch for redshirt freshman QB Alex Hornibrook. He has developed quicker than anyone thought and that was part of the reason D.J. Gillins chose to transfer out of the program. Houston may be the frontrunner, but he is also the one that couldnâ€™t get traction in two years of open competition before. Spring ball is going to be fun between these two passers, thatâ€™s for sure.
â€” Fullback: Alec Ingold proved to be a brightspot in a dark hole that was running back in 2015, however he is clearly better suited as a fullback. With Derek Watt graduating, that means Ingold is likely to compete with Austin Ramesh for the starting fullback position. However, Ramesh hasnâ€™t exactly been a rushing option in his two years in the program already. In fact, he hasnâ€™t run the football ever and has just four receptions for 30 yards and 1 touchdown receiving. Donâ€™t be surprised to see Ingold take this job in spring football.
â€” Right Guard: Wisconsin could go from questionable to loaded at offensive line in one offseason. It all depends on who learns from the tough lessons 2015 provided. With four redshirt freshmen making starts this past season it would almost seem impossible for anyone to really break in to the starting lineup. Donâ€™t worry, competition will be hot and heavy this offseason, and one place to really watch is at right guard. Micah Kapoi did good things, but wasnâ€™t great in his first action, while we are told the Badgers were close to pulling the redshirt off Seymour native Jon Dietzen during the last half of the season. It didnâ€™t happen, but the momentum for him to be a long-term starter and future star seems to be there. Watch this position battle more than any on the O-Line this offseason.