Not even 24 hours after the 2017 college football season officially ended, experts and media are already dishing out their “way-too-early” 2018 rankings for programs.
In the eyes of those who cover the sport, most look at the Wisconsin Badgers as a top 10, even a top five, squad.
With an offense returning most starters but a defense needing to replace seven plus two other key contributors, 2018 could be promising for Wisconsin. A tougher schedule, however, will await the players and head coach Paul Chryst.
SB Nation looked at quite a few early rankings and created its “consensus way-too-early” rankings, with Wisconsin at No. 7.
Here is a breakdown of what has come out so far—along with a few excerpts of those that stood out the most:
247Sports: No. 5
Athlon: No. 8
The Badgers were on the doorstep of making the CFB Playoff in 2017 and will be heavy favorites to win the Big Ten West Division once again. Coach Paul Chryst’s offense can lean on running back Jonathan Taylor after a standout freshman campaign, and quarterback Alex Hornibrook is poised to take another step forward as a junior. Hornibrook loses favorite target Troy Fumagalli, but Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor form one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps. And as usual, Wisconsin should be strong in the trenches. Second-year coordinator Jim Leonhard has to retool a defense that led the Big Ten in scoring defense at 13.9 points a game allowed. Ends Alec James and Conor Sheehy, linebackers Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs and defensive backs Derrick Tindal and Natrell Jamerson expire their eligibility. Additionally, cornerback Nick Nelson declared for the NFL Draft, but the good news is that standout linebacker T.J. Edwards has already announced he is returning for his senior season. Wisconsin’s 2018 schedule features road trips to Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.
CBS Sports: No. 7 (Note: CBS has UW behind three other teams in Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State in No. 4-7)
Leave it to Miami to make a star of Alex Hornibrook. Second worst in the Big Ten in interceptions (15), Hornibrook suggested in the Orange Bowl he’s a maturing force in 2018. He’ll be surrounded by the usual collection of hogs up front and Jonathan Taylor.
ESPN (Mark Schlabach): No. 6
(in my opinion, maybe the most detailed besides Athlon’s)
Outlook: The Badgers won a school-record 13 games this past season, and they’re bringing back a record-setting tailback and each of their five starting offensive linemen, which is usually a recipe for success.
Running back Jonathan Taylor set the FBS freshman record with 1,977 rushing yards and will be a leading Heisman Trophy contender in 2018. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook will also be back, along with most of his top targets besides Fumagalli.
The Badgers will have more holes to fill on defense, especially in the secondary, where three of four starters are departing. Both starting defensive ends and outside linebackers are also leaving, but inside linebacker T.J. Edwards announced that he is coming back.
Wisconsin’s schedule will be more difficult this coming season, with road games at Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State.
Rivals: No. 10
Sporting News: No. 5
Sports Illustrated: No. 6
The Badgers showed off a potentially explosive offense in their Orange Bowl win against Miami. In addition to QB Alex Hornibrook and star RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin brings back its top four receivers and entire starting O-line. Six defensive starters were seniors, but Butkus Award finalist T.J. Edwards recently announced he’s coming back, as are All-Big Ten S D’Cota Dixon and LB Andrew Van Ginkel.