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Early Wisconsin football 2017 preview: Week 1 vs. Utah State

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Mountain West Connection takes a very early look at the Aggies.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Brigham Young Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never too early to start looking ahead to Wisconsin Badgers football season and the third campaign under head coach Paul Chryst.

On a Friday night on Sept. 1, Wisconsin will welcome Utah State to Camp Randall Stadium to kick off the 2017 season. Both programs previously featured Gary Andersen and Dave Aranda as their head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively.

Aggies head coach Matt Wells looks to turn around the program after a 3-9 season in 2016, which included a 1-7 record in the Mountain West Conference.

Here to preview Utah State and its upcoming season is Mountain West Connection’s Jeremy Mauss.

What are the expectations for Utah State in 2017 under fifth-year head coach Matt Wells, who took over for one Gary Andersen back in 2013?

Jeremy Mauss: Bowl game at a minimum. The Aggies have taken a dip the past two years but the 2016 season was hurt by injuries to the running back position and replacing their entire linebacker group that is now in the NFL. Despite that the team also had some bad luck and lost four games by seven or few points, so there was a chance that the team could have gone bowling. Another issue that has plagued the team is coaches just leaving left and right over the past few years, and also the past few years -- not counting 2016 -- there was Chuckie Keeton hanging around and the coaches insisting on playing him despot not being his old self. Now, they have only Kent Myers for a second year as the guy under center but bowl game is the baseline goal, and if that is missed then Wells is out.

Who are the key contributors coming back?

The main contributor back is senior quarterback Kent Myers. He has seen time ever since he was thrust into the role as a true freshman when injuries decimated the quarterback position, so he has the experience. He is a dual-threat signal-caller so he is dangerous but he is once again going to be learning a new offense with yet another offensive coordinator.

There are high expectations for senior running back Tonny Lindsey. He moved into the starting role last year but his success was all over the place as he would perform well some games and others would completely disappear. Two players who I'll discuss a few questions later are wide receivers Ron'Quavion Tarver and Rayshad Lewis.

Utah State has been known for their defense but that area is still retooling after losing so many players, but the secondary is where that unit will shine. Dallin Leavitt and Jontrell Rocquemore combined for a modest five interceptions but the two did miss a combine seven out of 24 games last year.

From last year's team, who will they have to replace?

The offensive line took the biggest hit as they need to replace nearly the entire unit and with a new scheme no job is likely safe. The biggest name on defense gone is defensive lineman Travis Seefeldt who played in nearly every game of his career and if not for a serious injury from a car accident that caused to miss a year he'd be in the NFL. Even with that serious injury he came back and was an all-conference player last year.

Which player or players could be a breakout candidate?

There are a few options at wide receiver who could make a big leap. The two are sophomore Rayshad Lewis, the son of former NFL great Ray Lewis, and junior-to-be Ron'Quavion Tarver. Tarver led the Aggies in receiving with 46 receptions for 602 yards, and Lewis was right behind him with 40 catches for 476 yards. Lewis made some plays in the ground game this past year. It was only 10 rushes but he had 110 yards and a score and could see time in the return game 2017. He sort of hit the rookie wall part way through the year, but if he gets on track he very likely will be the key offensive weapon. Add in Tarver and this receiving group could be one of the best in the Mountain West, but they will have to learn the with new uptempo offense that is being installed this spring.

One other player who could make an impact is former quarterback Damion Hobbs who is moving to play tight end and wide receiver this fall. He may not be an impact player but he could add wrinkles to the offense with his playmaking ability.

What position battle(s) are worth watching this spring?

The offensive line needs a lot of work and that is part of a reason that the rushing game was so bad last year. Not only is the offense learning a new system but there are only 16 returning starts from that unit and 11 of those are held by senior tackle Preston Brooksby. One player to watch is BYU transfer Quin Ficklin who has played both center and fullback and is currently in line for a starting position, but overall four of the five spots across the line are not solidified. This unit really could make or break the Aggies season next year.

2017 Wisconsin Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (CT) Spring Q&A Preview
Date Opponent Time (CT) Spring Q&A Preview
Sept. 1 Utah State 8 p.m. Mountain West Connection
Sept. 9 Florida Atlantic 11 a.m. Underdog Dynasty
Sept. 16 at BYU 2:30 p.m. Vanquish the Foe
Sept. 30 Northwestern TBA Inside NU
Oct. 7 at Nebraska TBA Corn Nation
Oct. 14 Purdue TBA Hammer and Rails
Oct. 21 Maryland (Homecoming) 11 a.m. Testudo Times
Oct. 28 at Illinois 11 a.m. The Champaign Room
Nov. 4 at Indiana TBA Crimson Quarry
Nov. 11 Iowa TBA BHGP
Nov. 18 Michigan TBA Maize N Brew
Nov. 25 at Minnesota TBA The Daily Gopher