The Joel Stave era is officially over, and D.J. Gillins has announced his intention to transfer, leaving fifth-year senior Bart Houston and a pair of freshmen to fight for the starting gig.
Houston became one of Wisconsin's most highly touted quarterback recruits ever following a productive career at De La Salle, one of the country's most well-known high school football programs. Despite that talent, Houston was unable to truly contend in any of the quarterback battles during his four years in Madison. The biggest knock on him has been his decision making, as he tends to trust his strong arm too much and throw the ball in to traffic. This was illustrated during the Illinois game this past season. After replacing an injured Stave early in the game, Houston looked mostly like a starting quarterback by completing 22-of-33 passes for 232 yards. The problem was that he matched his two touchdown passes with two completely unacceptable interceptions deep in Illinois territory. Houston's experience makes him the initial favorite to win the job, but an inability to improve his consistency will leave the door open.
The person with the best chance to step through that door is redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. Hornibrook switched his commitment from Pittsburgh to Wisconsin after head coach Paul Chryst made the same move and impressed with a strong camp performance. The left-handed pocket passer will have to prove he is more reliable than the typical underclassman to win the job.
Kare' Lyles will probably be the only incoming freshman that gets featured in these articles, but the lack of scholarship players at the position in addition to him enrolling early make him worth mentioning. Lyles is shorter than his competitors at around 6' and will have to adjust to playing under center far more, but appears to possess a strong arm, quick release, and comes from an Arizona high school that allowed him to throw the ball a lot.
|Running Back ||Yr.|
Corey Clement will look to end his Wisconsin career on a high note after an embattled junior season that featured an injury that held him out for the majority of the season and a run-in with the law. Clement has been a very productive runner due to his exceptional agility and cutting ability. He should have a bounce back year behind an improved offensive line.
Dare Ogunbowale will be featured as Wisconsin's change of pace and passing down back after leading the team with 819 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in 2015. Also coming off a season in which he caught 36 passes, he will continue to be a valuable asset in a passing attack that will be going through significant changes.
Taiwan Deal and Bradrick Shaw will provide the power back element to the offense. Deal showed flashes of promise during his freshman season, but was inconsistent and will have to fend off Shaw for possible short-yardage and early down work. Shaw is a relative unknown after redshirting his freshman season, but chose Wisconsin over a very impressive offer list.
Alec Ingold should slide to fullback as Wisconsin will presumably have more running back depth in 2016. Ingold has the size and athleticism to be the asset that Badger fans are accustomed to seeing at the position. He will have to overtake Austin Ramesh, who has already seen a good amount of action in his career.
|Ricky Finco||Jr. or R-So.|
Robert Wheelwright looks poised to emerge as Wisconsin's go-to receiver after recording over 400 yards and four touchdowns in eight games. He proved to be able to utilize his body and win battles for the ball, making him a strong target in the red zone and on third down, the latter of which the departing Alex Erickson was almost completely relied upon for in 2015.
Jazz Peavy will be the smaller, faster complement to Wheelwright. Peavy made some big plays as a sophomore and should be a big piece of a more balanced passing attack in 2016. Reggie Love has been underwhelming as a receiver, but is someone that has always found the field whether it be for jet sweeps or emergency h-back duty. The same should apply to his senior season.
Either George Rushing and Krenwick Sanders will see significant playing time as juniors, and my money is on Rushing. While neither has shown much on the field to this point, I like what I have seen from Rushing in his limited action. He is a smooth runner that has the ability to stretch the field, which would help open things up for Peavy and Wheelwright underneath.
Troy Fumagalli had an inconsistent sophomore campaign due in large part to an ankle and thumb injury. The first injury severely limited his playing time in the first handful of games while the second contributed to some unexpected drops. Fumagalli has good size, the ability to get open, and should be a breakout Badger as long as he can shake the injury bug.
Eric Steffes has also had health issues over the last couple years, but should become the blocking tight end for Wisconsin in his senior season. Kyle Penniston and David Edwards are both intriguing players that will be worth keeping an eye on behind the first two.
Beau Benzschawel started five games at right tackle before sliding inside to right guard for the final two. [ed. note -- we added Benzschawel for both guards and tackles] Jacob Maxwell earned the final two starts at right tackle. The two will likely combine with Ryan Ramczyk, who redshirted after transferring from UW-Stevens Point, to handle the tackle duties.
Deiter started 12 games in his freshman season,splitting time between left guard and center depending on Dan Voltz's availability. He should return to left guard in 2016 while Micah Kapoi or Jon Dietzen fight for the other side of the interior line. Kapoi saw significant time at both guard positions, starting 9 games, but will have to fend off Dietzen, who was one of the prizes of the 2015 recruiting class.
Ramcyzk sounds fascinating and could very easily emerge as a day one starter for the Badgers, but it is possible that Voltz is the only upperclassman starting on the offensive line. He will need to be able to fully return from his devastating knee injury against Illinois for the unit to realize its potential in 2016. He is the glue that will hold a suddenly somewhat experienced, but still very young, offensive line together.