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How first-year Badgers shaped a 13-win Wisconsin team

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Some of the newest Badgers in 2017 had the greatest impacts on the Orange Bowl champion.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

A 13-win season and a second consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl victory added to a historic season for the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers.

The senior class that went out as the winningest in school history (45) bought into Paul Chryst’s system, with heavy contributions on both sides of the ball. On offense, Troy Fumagalli turned into an All-American tight end while fullback Austin Ramesh became a viral sensation with his blocking vs. Iowa and hurdling over Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl. On defense, six senior starters and a couple of fifth-year reserves kept UW as a top-five defense that frequently thwarted opposing offenses in Jim Leonhard’s first year as defensive coordinator.

Yet the emergence of several first-year Badgers from the class of 2017 also significantly contributed to Wisconsin’s first 13-win season in school history.

Five players broke into the two-deep, including a dynamic Doak Walker Award finalist, a game-breaking wide receiver, and a junior college transfer who created turnovers in key moments.

Jonathan Taylor

The Salem, N.J., native should have his own article dedicated just to his accolades this season.

After his rise up the depth chart during fall camp, Taylor started the season as a co-starter with Bradrick Shaw and Chris James, then proceeded to run for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns on 6.6 yards per attempt.

The true freshman broke Adrian Peterson’s FBS freshman rushing record (asterisks included ... s/o Ron Dayne) and recorded 10 hundred-yard games in the 14 he played in, five above 150 yards and three with 200 or more.

That all translated to Taylor becoming a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, second-team All-America honoree by eight publications, and a Doak Walker Award finalist. Oh yeah, he claimed the Big Ten Freshman of the Year honor while breaking the record for most conference freshman of the week awards that was previously held by Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett.

With at least most of the Wisconsin offensive line returning in 2018 and another year of growth on the field probable (see: possibly getting more involved in the passing game and resolving fumbling issues), Taylor’s sophomore campaign could be more even fruitful.

Danny Davis

The Ohio native capped off his first year with a bang, hauling in three touchdown receptions in Wisconsin’s 34–24 Orange Bowl win over No. 10 Miami. That was the first time in school history a Badger caught multiple touchdown passes in a bowl game—not bad for someone playing in his 12th collegiate contest. Overall, Davis reeled in five catches for 56 yards Saturday night.

Davis asserted himself alongside a young group of playmakers like Quintez Cephus, Kendric Pryor, and A.J. Taylor at wide receiver with both Jazz Peavy and George Rushing not significantly contributing to UW’s aerial attack.

His first catch was a 35-yard reception against Florida Atlantic, and Davis went on to show that he could be trusted early on, especially to snag contested, 50-50 balls. His 50-yard catch at BYU helped Wisconsin begin its rout in Provo, and he consistently showed throughout the year his ability to make those difficult plays. Davis finished the year with 26 receptions for 418 yards (16.08 yards per catch, second-best on the team) and five touchdowns.

Though the offense loses Fumagalli and Ramesh, many other pieces of Wisconsin’s offense return, including quarterback Alex Hornibrook, Davis, and those other young receivers.

Andrew Van Ginkel

As expected, the redshirt junior stepped in during his first season in Madison and made his presence felt.

Van Ginkel tied for second on the team in sacks (6.5) and was fourth in tackles for loss (10) as the key reserve for redshirt seniors Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs. He also tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (two) while registering three quarterback hurries.

The junior college transfer shined brightest during Wisconsin’s two biggest games of the season, intercepting a pass in both the Big Ten Championship Game and the Orange Bowl. His pick-six against Ohio State tied the game up, and he also later forced a fumble that led to points.

Van Ginkel’s interception against Miami on the first play of the second quarter shifted momentum back to Wisconsin after a rough first quarter where Leonhard’s defense surrendered 148 yards and 14 points. He also recorded three tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and a pass break-up in the win.

Van Ginkel’s presence will be needed in 2018 within a young position group losing out-going seniors Dooley and Jacobs.

Adam Bay

#LongSnappersArePeopleToo, and Bay solidified the position after long-time starter Conor Udelhoven exhausted his eligibility. He played in all 14 games, snapping on punts, field goals and extra points.

Next season, Bay will resume long-snapping duties for Wisconsin with all key specialists returning.

Madison Cone

Of the seven early enrollees in this class, Cone played in the second-most games (nine) and recorded one tackle while contributing on special teams.

Leonhard utilized Cone late in the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl, and the true freshman recorded a pass break-up.

With both Derrick Tindal and Nick Nelson gone after this season, redshirt sophomore-to-be Dontye Carriere-Wiliams and another cornerback will have to step up. Cone’s knowledge of the defense will only continue paying dividends heading into his second season, which could see him in a greater role.

Jack Coan

The early spring start for the Long Island, N.Y., native helped him push past redshirt freshman Karé Lyles to secure the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Hornibrook.

Playing during mop-up time in seven of Wisconsin’s games, Coan completed all five of his pass attempts for 36 yards with a long of 11.

During spring and fall camps, Coan displayed a solid arm and some mobility that provided a glimpse at what he could be in Paul Chryst’s offense in years to come.

Precisely when Coan will get that opportunity is the question. Despite Hornibrook’s 15 interceptions, he has two more years of experience than Coan and also completed nearly 63 percent of his passes while throwing for 25 touchdowns, second-best in a UW season behind Russell Wilson.

Coan’s progression starting in the spring will be worth watching to see if he can push Hornibrook in 2018.