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Which Badgers will break out in 2018?

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Our pre-camp picks for Wisconsin’s most likely breakout candidates.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, Wisconsin will finally kick off its 2018 fall camp.

Accordingly, our writers assembled last weekend for some season-preview roundtables. Check out our discussions from the past few days on position battles and questions needing answers.

Today’s roundtable breaks down our predictions for Wisconsin’s 2018 breakout players.

Jake Kocorowski: I think Andrew Van Ginkel is a player that broke out at the end of 2017, but I’ll stay within the position group with Zack Baun.

If Baun stays healthy, he and Van Ginkel could form a dynamic starting group of outside linebackers that may be leaner weight-wise than predecessors Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs, but could be a hint more athletic and provide a slightly different skillset to get the job done this season.

The key really is if Baun stays healthy, as he missed all of last year due to a foot injury, then injured it again during the spring after showing some promise early on. The former in-state prep quarterback standout could really reassure the outside linebackers group—with Van Ginkel and walk-on Tyler Johnson—this season under first-year position coach Bobby April III.

Owen Riese: I’m going to go with Madison Cone, the sophomore cornerback who I expect to see playing time both outside and in the slot. For the past few seasons, when the Badgers would go into their nickel package, they would play their third cornerback outside and move Derrick Tindal inside. With Tindal graduated, I expect Cone to move into that spot. His size (5’9) would lend itself to playing press in the slot and allowing his physicality to negate his shorter stature. Cone enrolled early last season and was thought highly enough of to not redshirt. He will have a big opportunity to seize a spot in this new-look secondary.

Andrew Rosin: I’m going to go with a different cornerback than Owen. While Cone is a quality cornerback who will see the field as long as his body allows, redshirt freshman Faion Hicks had a strong spring and might be the most athletically gifted of the four cornerbacks. He knows how to stick with receivers and at a position where who’s ranked 1–4 is still pretty wide open, I believe Hicks can get starter’s minutes. If he does, I firmly believe he flourishes with them.

Ryan Mellenthin: I have to agree with Jake on this one. Baun is coming off of a season spent on the bench with an injury, and prior to last season, looked to be having a great camp. If he can stay healthy, I think Baun could be a force. Along with Van Ginkel, that would cause quarterbacks some trouble this season.

Tyler Hunt: Kyle Penniston is a name that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but I believe he has a chance to be a breakout player in 2018. For opposing defenses, most of the focus will go to Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis at the wideout position—if they can stop Jonathan Taylor. That leaves the tight end spot as one that isn’t going to get nearly enough attention, which could spur a big season.

In reality, it could be any of the three in Zander Neuville, Penniston, or Jake Ferguson who steps up nicely for the Wisconsin offense. However, I think Penniston has the ability to be special. While he didn’t have a huge season last year, he did see a lot of playing time all season long. Troy Fumagalli received most of the attention in the passing game, but Penniston showed flashes when he got the opportunity. Chryst knows how to utilize his tight ends, and Penniston is familiar with the offense as he heads into his fourth season in Madison. With much of the attention elsewhere, look for Penniston to have a breakout season in 2018.

Bob Wiedenhoeft: I really want to say Cephus because this season could be an absolute gem for the junior wideout. However, he probably doesn’t fit the bill because he has already broken out, so to speak. Freshman Bryson Williams will have a nice opportunity to make an impact on the defensive line for Wisconsin, and he seems to have the physical tools to do so. Good news is that Williams enrolled early, so that should help the transition to both college and contributing meaningful minutes on the line. It all starts at the line, and if Wisconsin is going to have a defender breakout in 2018, it might as well be a true freshman nose tackle.


Jake: Wow, no one picked Jake Ferguson! Seriously, I thought he’d be on the list at least twice based on his spring performance. Everyone has extremely valid points about their picks to break loose, especially with many showcasing a position of need where someone needs to step up, but it should bear watching how many reps the Madison native receives during fall camp—and if he can take advantage of them in translating to playing time during the season.