Earlier this week our more extensive preview about Wisconsin went live, but today we can learn some more about the Badgers. Drew Hamm of Bucky’s 5th Quarter is here to let us know more about Wisconsin in 2021 and whether the streak will go on or not.
T-Mill: Purdue got a year off from the Badger dominance since 2003. Is that a good thing or was it possible Purdue pulls off a win last year?
Drew: Honestly it probably depends on when they would have played. If it had been early in the season before COVID took the Badgers out for a few weeks, I’d imagine that Wisconsin would’ve won. After that? Literally any result would not have surprised me. The Badgers were a very strange team to follow last year, even beyond all of the strangeness of COVID. The running game was unproven and so was the quarterback but the defense was still good. Again, I know it’s kind of a cop out answer but I think anything could’ve happened in a Purdue/Wisconsin game last year.
T-Mill: Graham Mertz is the first of the new likeness rights guys. What is your take on it?
Drew: He is THE first actually, which is pretty cool. I love it. I think players being able to profit off of their own name, image and likeness should have happened a long time ago, but I’m happy it’s happening now. This will open up a whole world of opportunities for players, from all sports, to make some extra money while in college when some of them might never have more name/face recognition again. Think of all the Purdue players throughout the years that you’ve loved but didn’t go on to the NFL or NBA. Wouldn’t it have been great to see them make a little money while in school advertising for a local restaurant or car dealership or whatever. I can think of a number of Wisconsin players I would have bought a silly t-shirt of if they had their face on it and I look forward to doing it in the future.
T-Mill: It looks like Wisconsin was offensively feast or famine last year. Was this more inconsistency or COVID related?
Drew: 80% COVID related I’d wager. In the first two games of the season (45-7 win against Illinois and 49-11 win against Michigan) the offense was humming right along even with a freshman quarterback. Then, well, COVID happened and other injuries started to pile up too. Mertz even said during spring practice this year that he had an unreported shoulder injury after the first two games as well. There was, however, some inconsistency as there were young players in key positions (like QB and RB and slot receiver) but last year was also great experience for them and just about everyone of note returns to the offense this year and consistency should be much better.
T-Mill: Who is the latest running back that will go for 250 and 3 TDs on us?
Drew: Jalen Berger will presumably be The Guy in Wisconsin’s backfield this year. He was a 4-star RB from New Jersey (TRIGGER WARNING: like Jonathan Taylor, Corey Clement, Ron Dayne) that the Badgers got late in the 2020 recruiting cycle. He ran for 301 yards on 60 carries with two touchdowns last year and while he wasn’t a threat out of the backfield last year catching the ball, he could be used as a jet sweep guy. The Badgers also received a transfer commitment from Clemson running back Chez Mellusi, who will probably be the top backup. After that...there are a lot more questions than answers and, if we’re being honest, there are a couple of major questions about how Mellusi and Berger will do with increased work loads.
T-Mill: The defense was at least consistent last season. Who is back and is it the strength of the team?
Drew: Inside linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal are two of the best linebackers in the Big Ten and will rack up a ton of tackles this year, but I’d say the strength of the Badgers defense is the secondary. I doubt there will be a player from the defensive backs who makes an all-conference team, but they are a deep, veteran unit who know how to run Jim Leonhard’s defense with their eyes closed. They are the classic “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” group. One other name to watch for is sophomore nose tackle Keeanu Benton. He is large, agile and can get after the passer. He is one of the few players on defense that I am confident will be an NFL Draft pick.
T-Mill: What is your outlook for the year? Is Wisconsin the division favorite?
Drew: The more I read and research about the team the more I’m buying in which I’m sure is the first time a blogger has said that about the team they cover lmao. The Badgers have a lot of players that have played in the Big Ten for multiple years and they’ve also been recruiting at a higher level the past three seasons and some of those talented underclassmen are starting to crack the two-deep. For a “development program” like Wisconsin, starting with a higher floor with all of their players is the only way they can take the leap to beat Ohio State and break into the CFP. Is that going to happen this year? No, I don’t think so. But I do think they are the favorites to win the West this year with all of their ”tougher” Big Ten games at home this year. The homecoming game on Oct. 30 against Iowa will probably decide the division, if I had to guess.