Folks, we are t-minus two days away from the 2018 Wisconsin Badgers season opener.
As has been precedent for the past couple of years (at least, that’s what it feels like), we brought together B5Q’s brightest and boldest mind just days prior to the start of college football to debate a variety of topics.
Today, we look at which position group carries the most questions heading into the Western Kentucky match-up.
Drew Hamm: Cornerbacks. The most experienced corner is currently running with the second team because he’s inconsistent and basically none of the other corners have game experience. The Big Ten isn’t exactly the Big XII when it comes to slinging the ball, but one only has to look at Penn State and Trace McSorley to see what a talented QB can do to a depleted secondary.
Bob Wiedenhoeft: Wide receivers. It was previously believed that Wisconsin would have a wealth of seasoned talent available throughout the season. With Quintez Cephus facing felony sexual assault charges and Danny Davis suspended for his alleged involvement in the incident, the cupboard isn’t as full as once believed. No longer can reserve wideouts Jack Dunn, Aron Cruickshank, Adam Krumholz, or even Taj Mustapha simply be pleasant surprises. One of them will need to contribute, and multiple may need to be ready in case of injury. They’ll get their opportunities when the opposition is focused on Wisconsin’s great offensive line and running back, but it’s not clear how well they will harness those chances.
Tyler Hunt: Running backs. I know what you’re going to say, we have arguably the best running back in college football. I get that, but someone in that stable of backup’s is going to have to produce when Jonathan Taylor isn’t on the field. Wisconsin always has two or three guys putting up solid stats. Even in the Melvin Gordon era, there were others getting important touches. With Bradrick Shaw still battling to get back, Garrett Groshek, Chris James, or Taiwan Deal is going to have to carry part of the load. If you want a productive Taylor for all of 2018, he’s going to need blows, so one of the guys in that backfield group will have to produce. They all should be chomping at the bit to run behind that o-line.
Kevin O’Connell: Back in June, my answer would have been the secondary, but the injury bug has hit Wisconsin’s defensive line hard and that position group is now the biggest question mark heading into the season for me. Defensive end Garrett Rand is out for the season with an Achilles injury, while defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk is still rehabbing from his knee surgery back in June. Now Wisconsin must turn to walk-on redshirt freshmen Matt Henningsen and Kayden Lyles, who just recently switched to the defensive side of the ball. Nose tackle Olive Sagapolu will continue to be an anchor up the middle, but the inexperienced defensive ends will need to step up this year in the run-heavy Big Ten.
Jake Kocorowski: Going defensive line here, same as Kevin. Sticking with my answer from the WOZN podcast “The Camp” that dropped earlier this week, Sagapolu is the only truly experienced lineman with game-time experience on that front. With Rand lost for the year and Loudermilk still officially TBD on his return, three redshirt freshmen in Henningsen, Lyles, and Aaron Vopal will have to step up huge, with true freshman Bryson Williams needing to relieve Sagapolu when needed. Granted, personnel groupings for Wisconsin will be dependent upon which offenses are tempo-based and spread-oriented, but we’ll see how the relatively unproven group responds.
Ryan Mellenthin: Wide receivers. A position group that was supposed to be one of Wisconsin’s best will now be without its best two receivers for the first two games of the season. In their absence, Kendric Pryor and A.J. Taylor will man the ship as the top two threats on the outside, while Krumholz and Dunn will play behind them.
Owen Riese: It’s been mentioned here, but the defensive line. The secondary is young and inexperienced, but they’ve got the athletes back there to hang in there. Along the defensive line, I’d be a bit more worried until Loudermilk returns full time. You have a walk-on and a converted offensive lineman starting Week 1. Not great!