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Roundtable: Looking ahead to the rest of Wisconsin’s 2016 season

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Part two of our bye week roundtable session.

Patrick Barron

Welcome again to another edition of our B5Q roundtable session, where the points don’t count, and we always fire Drew Hamm. The bye week is upon Badger Nation, and the Wisconsin Badgers are currently ranked No. 11 in the nation, according to the latest AP poll. Through five games, they hold a 4-1 record as they prepare for No. 2 Ohio State.

Part one discussed the surprises of the first five games of the season, and who needs to step up against the Buckeyes next weekend.

Our merry band of writers then looked ahead to the final half of the season.

Which player/position group will be needed the most during these final seven games?

Owen Riese: Near and dear to my heart, the offensive line. A unit that normally is known as a steadying presence on this team, they’ve under-performed in most games this season. Somehow they held Malik McDowell quiet, but as a whole they need to improve. The running game was stagnant against Michigan, and will undoubtedly be tested against Ohio State and likely Iowa and Northwestern. The identity of Wisconsin football is the running game, and if the Badgers hope to have any type of resilience in the win column after their first loss, that’s where it starts. Senior running back Corey Clement has proven what he can do when he has running room, the offensive line is responsible for clearing the room for him. They have been pretty successful in pass protection, however.

Andrew Rosin: This is the answer that you’re likely going to see the same answer from more than one person, because the performance level at most positions have been acceptable to good. I mean, the offensive line struggled against Michigan, but that you can call that defense Joe Flacco cause it’s elite, and they’ve been good at providing time otherwise. The specialists can definitely improve, too, but for better for or for worse this is Alex Hornibrook’s team. Paul Chryst is a coach that’s smart, especially with quarterbacks — but if this team is going to be elite, the growing pains have to have begun and ended in Ann Arbor.

Jon Beidelschies: I’ll let everyone else take quarterback and go with Jake’s favorites: the specialists. We saw in the Michigan game what happens when you’ve got a mess at kicker. With junior placekicker Rafael Gaglianone on the shelf for the season, senior Andrew Endicott is going to be asked to make some big kicks at some point. Punters Anthony Lotti and P.J. Rosowski have been good but have had some shaky moments as well. If the specialists play well, that will help the defense and take the pressure off of an offense that at the moment isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Kevin O’Connell: I’m going with Clement. Yes, it’s an obvious answer but Clement needs to be at his best and more importantly stay healthy if Wisconsin is going to win the West division. It’s hard to tell what the Badgers really have in Hornibrook thus far, and I would expect his up and down play to continue as the freshman experiences some more growing pains. The uncertainty at quarterback makes Clement’s play even more important to Wisconsin’s success and he should be relied upon heavily down the stretch. I suspect there will be plenty of times Clement will need to break off some long runs and move the chains when and if the offense struggles in some potentially low-scoring games ahead on the schedule, specifically at Iowa and at Northwestern. If Wisconsin can get Clement going early and often in their remaining games, it would take the pressure off Hornibrook to make difficult throws and would do a world of good for the freshman quarterback’s development.

After their solid start, what will be the Badgers’ regular season record and why?

Owen: After what happened in Indianapolis in 2014, fluke or not, playing Ohio State is a terrifying for me. Granted, that was a far less athletic defensive front, but regardless, Ohio State’s talent is a tough matchup for anybody. Full disclosure, any loss by less than 21 to the Buckeyes is a victory in my eyes. Bet you won’t prove me wrong, Badgers. After that, Iowa is down, and Nebraska is up, so that’s a wash. I still expect Wisconsin victories in both of those games. Despite what Jon will tell you below, Evanston is a pit of despair, there is no exception for recent years. I can’t remember a game there that wasn’t gloomy, or rainy, or both. It is in Illinois, after all. 10-2 is my prediction, and another meeting with Captain Khakis or Urban Meyer in the Big Ten Championship game on the docket.

Andrew: Sane people would look at this team as a 9-3 squad. Ohio State’s great and there’s enough difficulty in the rest of the schedule as a team that another loss would not be a surprised. This team has been testing the limits of their excellent resiliency, and one more injury for an extended period of time might force them to grab a player who’s not quite ready to be prime time to be next up. We also still don’t know what exactly we have in Hornibrook, though the truth will obviously lie between the Michigan and Michigan State game for his skill levels.

Clearly, they’re going 11-1 and getting a rematch with a Michigan or Ohio State to get a playoff berth.

Jon: Coming into the season, I expected a rebuilding 7-5 season. I think they’ll end up 8-4 or 9-3 and end up in the Citrus Bowl or the Music City Bowl. The defense is going to win them some games on its own but there will be at least one or two games where the offense is going to have to step up and help them out. The schedule is still tough - Ohio State, at Iowa, Nebraska, at Northwestern (remember, Evanston has been a pit of despair for UW in recent years) -- particularly starting a redshirt freshman quarterback behind a line that is a work in progress.

It will be interesting to see how many wins it will take to win the West. I could see a two or even three-loss West representative so there is hope even if the Badgers drop another conference game. I just don’t see them running the table with the struggles they’ve had on offense at times.

Kevin: The remaining schedule is tough no matter how you look at it with tricky road games at Iowa and Northwestern, and home dates with Ohio State and West division challenger, Nebraska. Listen, beating the Buckeyes is a tall, tall order so I suspect the Badgers will lose a close game in two weeks, but after that I see Wisconsin being favored in every game. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but it helps the Badgers get a talented Nebraska team at home, while Iowa looks to be nowhere near the team they were a year ago. Surprisingly, the Nov. 5 trip to Evanston (where the Badgers have not won since 1999) might be Wisconsin’s biggest challenge post-Ohio State. I look for Wisconsin to win close games over Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern, before finishing with three victories in very winnable games against Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota. That would put the Badgers at 10-2 with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line in the Big Ten Championship against either Michigan or Ohio State.