Welcome back to another session of the B5Q roundtables.
More than a week after their disappointing loss in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Wisconsin Badgers are preparing for the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2.
While the players begin to dissect film and prep for the impressive MAC program, our writers took a look back at the 2016 regular season. This is the third of four one-question roundtable chats. On Tuesday, we looked at how our staff viewed the 2016 season leading up to the Cotton Bowl. On Wednesday, we looked at the plays or moments that stood out the most this season.
Wisconsin’s players and coaches named Leo Musso their most valuable player. What say you?
Owen Riese: I’m gonna go with T.J. Watt. The best player all year on the team’s best unit, the redshirt junior outside linebacker really came out of nowhere and was a force on the edge of this Badger defense. He may depart after this season, but he didn’t miss a game and his impact was evident on this stop unit.
Drew Hamm: Watt was the best player on the defense this year, but I think Conor Sheehy deserves special recognition for filling in at nose tackle admirably this year while sophomore Olive Sapagolu sat out with an injury. Ryan Ramczyk was the best player on the offense this year, but I think that wide receiver Jazz Peavy and tight end Troy Fumagalli deserve special recognition for being a threat on the ground and through the air and as the most reliable target for whichever QB was playing, respectively.
Neal Olson: I have to echo Owen on this one. When the report emerged way back in spring practice that Watt was the starter over “Three-Sack” Jack Cichy, there was definitely some confusion. Cichy was fresh off a dominate performance against USC in the Holiday Bowl and Watt had only gotten a few opportunities in situational pass rushes late in the 2015 season. Clearly the defensive coaching staff knew what it was doing.
Watt was the one constant on defense, never missing a game, playing through a few minor injuries. He was disruptive and played with an edge and swagger that carried over to the rest of his teammates. I am not sure the Wisconsin defense could have continued to play at such a high level with all the injuries, without Watt on the field.
Jon Beidelschies: For me, the MVP was redshirt junior left tackle Ryan Ramczyk. When the offense line was floundering early in the season, he was one of the few bright spots and the thing that kept the line from completely coming apart. And once the line play solidified, he was the anchor for a running game that chewed up opposing defenses. From the Ohio State game through the end of the season, the Badgers put up 150-plus yards in eight straight games, with six 200-plus yard games and a 363-yard game against Illinois. You don’t get those kind of numbers without some Grade-A prime beef up front, and Ramczyk was the best of the bunch.
Jake Kocorowski: For me, and I called it back after the Minnesota game, it goes back to Leo Musso—but I’ll also combine the award with fellow safety D’Cota Dixon. The secondary was a huge question mark heading into 2016 with both Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy exhausting their eligibility.
The duo solidified the overachieving defensive backfield by combining for nine of the team’s nation-leading 21 interceptions. Musso provided leadership as one of two seniors in the secondary (see: “the speech” at halftime against Minnesota down 10) and ranked second on the team in tackles (65).
Dixon recorded 53 tackles and four quarterback hits while also consistently coming up with big plays, including the following:
- The game-sealing interception in the 16-14 win over LSU at Lambeau Field.
- A key forced fumble in the third quarter at Michigan State, which was then scooped up by Musso and returned 66 yards for a touchdown that ultimately swung the game’s momentum to Wisconsin for good.
- The key pass break-up in overtime in Wisconsin’s 23-17 win at home against Nebraska.
There was the blip against Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game, but Wisconsin’s defense made plays for most of the season. The front seven definitely pressured opposing quarterbacks into making mistakes, but the secondary held its own and then some.