Owen Riese: I'll save the easy answer for someone else, and I'll say Michael Deiter. His transition to left tackle will be interesting to say the least, and the pass game’s effectiveness could hinge on his pass-protection prowess.
Dylan Deich: Alex Hornibrook. There’s no Bart Heisman to lean back on this year—Hornibrook has to be the guy. I’m excited to see if he takes that next step as a signal caller and wins a few games for this team. Regardless of the talent on the offensive line, in the backfield, and on defense, I think a Big Ten title isn’t won without at least a few big plays from QB1.
Mike Fiammetta: I thought about choosing someone like Jazz Peavy or Chris James to mix things up after Dylan’s answer, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was Hornibrook. The lefty knew going into this season that he wouldn’t really face any competition for the starting job, so it will be fascinating to see how much more refined he is after splitting time with Bart Houston last year. After the Houston/Alex Hornibrook/Joel Stave/Tanner McEvoy “era,” I’m intrigued by the possibility of Wisconsin enjoying a season without any weekly transition at QB.
Ryan Mellenthin: Wide receiver Quintez Cephus. You could count the number of times Cephus touched the ball in 2016 on two hands: four receptions and five rushes. Even with limited touches, he showed off his athleticism, hauling in a 57-yard reception at Iowa and rushing twice in the Cotton Bowl for 34 yards. With top-gear speed, Cephus gives the Badgers a deep threat, something they haven’t had since Jared Abbrederis. Jonathan Taylor receives an honorable mention in this category, because wow, kid can ball. However, with the logjam of talented tailbacks, it is hard to say how much time Taylor will log as a true freshman.
Neal Olson: I understand seemingly everyone picking out some aspect of the passing game, but for me the most exciting prospects on offense lay with Chris James. To borrow a phrase from good friend of the B5Q world Maxwell Brusky, Chris James is looking/feeling a little Chryst-y. Perhaps the Chrysty-est(note to editors - sorry) running back of all time was Brian Calhoun. Unsurprisingly, Calhoun’s tenure at UW corresponded with Chryst’s first year as offensive coordinator in 2005. That year Calhoun totalled over 2200 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns, including almost 600 yards receiving. Chryst was able to get the ball into Calhoun’s hands in a variety of methods draws, slip screens and angle routes to keep defenses off balance. I suspect the overall running back depth in 2017 is superior to what it was in 2005, so James likely won’t hit the numbers Calhoun reached, but his dual threat ability should provide a big assist in the passing game for still learning quarterback Hornibrook.
Jake Kocorowski: ALL ABOARD THE TRUE FRESHMAN HYPE TRAIN!!!!!!!!
Sunday’s release of Wisconsin’s depth chart showed two intriguing names at skill positions in Taylor and wide receiver Danny Davis. With George Rushing and Kendric Pryor out vs. Utah State, Davis will in all likelihood get a chance to showcase some of the skills that popped during fall camp.
Taylor’s emergence seems the most surprising, especially since I felt he ran well during practices early on but he didn’t seem to receive many reps with the first-team offense. His performance in scrimmages, particularly the Friday night scrimmage seen by the Big Ten Network earlier this month, appeared to catapult him into the position of being a co-starter with James and Bradrick Shaw. When asked about Taylor on Sunday, D’Cota Dixon praised his speed in particular. It should be intriguing to see how the Badgers integrate Taylor into the offense, especially with Taiwan Deal injured.
On that note: no one mentioned Shaw, who broke out last season to rush for 457 yards at over five yards per clip. From what I saw in spring and fall camps, he may be the best rusher between the tackles. For all the hype around James (which I’ve most certainly contributed to) and Taylor (freshman phenom), fans should be excited for Shaw’s jump this season.