There are now 97 days until the Wisconsin Badgers' 2016 season begins. Head coach Paul Chryst will lead his team into Lambeau Field against the LSU Tigers (and his former defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda) on Sept. 3, but until then -- and the start of summer camp in a couple of months -- we'll ask some questions about this year's squad.
Which Badger will have a breakout season in 2016?
Neal Olson: Jazz Peavy. After being robbed of his game-winning touchdown against Northwestern, watch for Peavy to mark 2016 The Season of Reckoning. Last season’s leading receiver, Alex Erickson, has graduated and someone will need to fill the void left by his 77 receptions. Perhaps teammates Rob Wheelwright and George Rushing will flash more game-breaking plays, but Peavy has started to show a knack for the tough routes and catches that move the chains. He will emerge as the most consistent pass catcher and end up leading the team in catches.
Andrew Rosin: Ryan Ramczyk. The reports out of practice last season were that if the draconian transfer rules didn’t force Ramczyk to sit out for a season, he was playing well enough that he could have forced Tyler Marz to move from left tackle. On a line that’s now deep and has that all important year of experience, Ramczyk is a promising protector on the blind side. He might not be the most breakthough candidate among Badgers faithful, but he can breakout nationally.
Jon Arens: Rosin is right, obviously. I have not seen Ramczyk, but he looks like he probably should have gotten a call or 12 from He Who Must Not Be Named back in high school. That being said, I have very high hopes for Bart Houston, provided he is put in a situation where his usage rate aligns with his experience to date. If the running backs do their job, Houston should not be throwing more than 15 times a game, and should be completing over 60% of his throws. Basically, he needs to be Scott Tolzien Lite. If Houston can do that, which he should be able to, the Badgers are going to really do damage in the Chryst offense.
Owen Riese: Troy Fumagalli. He was supposed to break out last year, but never rounded into the form that was expected of him. Without Austin Traylor to steal his thunder this year, he leads a young group of athletic pass catchers. I’d look for him to be a safety blanket for whichever quarterback the Badgers decide to field this season. He could contend for the team lead in catches.
Jake Kocorowski: All of these players will undoubtedly shape the 2016 squad. I'll go to the defensive side of the ball, however, and say outside linebacker T.J. Watt. It'll be his second season at outside linebacker after switching from tight end, and he still found ways on the field in Aranda's subpackages last season (hello, pseudo-nose tackle on blitz schemes!). Though All-American/Big Ten Linebacker of the Year Joe Schobert departs, I view the linebackers having even more potential in 2016 compared to last season. Part of that is due to the maturity at inside linebacker, where the Badgers have an embarrassment of riches with Chris Orr, Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards. Part of it is also due to Vince Biegel returning for his senior season, but Watt has the athletic ability and work ethic that could be all-conference. In the spring, he batted passes at the line of scrimmage and could present even greater matchup problems as the boundary-side linebacker. I'll save my bold prediction on Watt for another roundtable.