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Wisconsin football: top ten players of the decade

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This was way harder than I thought. Let’s give it a try anyway.

Nebraska v Wisconsin Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The decade is coming to end and oh what a decade it was, especially for Wisconsin Baders football. Over the course of 2010-2019 the Badgers won 102 football games and lost just 31. That means there were a lot of good years over the past ten seasons, but also a lot of good players. Narrowing down to the top ten was incredibly hard, BUT a decade is ten so thems the rules and I don’t make them. Still though, I couldn’t not mention a few others so here is the honorable mentions of the decade.

Ryan Connelly: One of my favorite Badgers ever. Come in, go to work, go home. I knew he couldn’t crack the ten but no way I wasn’t working him into this somehow.

Joe Schobert: It was hard to leave Joe the Show off this list but there are a couple other Badgers that did more over the decade at his position.

Mike Taylor: The ultimate grit player. He’d show up, record 10 tackles, and go about his business each week. Great, often overlooked, Badger.

J.J. Watt: Let’s just get this out of the way. JJ’s big season was in 2010 and it was more so defined as pretty good. In terms of sacks and tackles, Watt didn’t crack the top ten in either category for a single season. His 2010 season was awesome... but it was very brief part of the decade.

T.J. Watt: Nope, no Watt brother made this list. I know you’re probably fired up but hear me out. Both of them had very brief stints overall at UW and there were a lottttt of good players on this list.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 24 Minnesota at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 10: T.J. Edwards (2013-2018)

If you’re mad about any of the honorable mentions not making this list, thank T.J. Edwards. Edwards played in 53 games during his time at Wisconsin and made 52 starts which is the second most in school history. His 367 tackles were ninth most in school history and second most this decade (you’ll find out who was first later on). Over his career Edwards finished with less tackles than previously mentioned Mike Taylor, but he seemed to make every other play on the field. His ten interceptions were the most in school history by a linebacker, and he was the defensive leader for a senior class that won 42 games and went 4-0 in bowl games. I know it was still pretty recent, but T.J. Edwards will go down as on one of the best ever.


Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

No. 9: Travis Frederick (2009-2012)

Fredrick came to Wisconsin in 2009 and made an impact right out of the gate being the only true freshman to line up as a starter on the offensive line in Wisconsin history. Unfortunately his freshman season was cut short with an ankle injury which bled into his sophomore season where he ultimately redshirted. In 2011, Frederick returned at left guard and paved the way for each of the superstars in Wisconsin’s backfield. The following season Frederick moved to center and started all 13 games for the Badgers en route to a First team All-American selection for the Badgers. He later went on to be an all-pro for the Dallas Cowboys.


Northern Iowa v Wisconsin Photo by Tom Lynn/Getty Images

No. 8: Rob Havenstein (2010-2014)

Havenstein made 42 career starts and appeared in 54 games for the Badgers in his time at Wisconsin. 41 of those starts were consecutively at right tackle where he paved the way for the three headed monster that was James White, Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball which are three of the top five rushers in school history. Those guys wouldn’t be on this list (hint hint) or any other list without the work of Rob Havenstein. Havenstein is now with the Los Angeles Rams and is one of the highest paid right tackles in the NFL.


Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

No. 7: Chris Borland (2009-2013)

Borland would be best defined as a bull in a China shop. During his time with Wisconsin he wreaked havoc on opposing teams offensive gameplans. On the stat sheets, Borland ranks high in nearly every category at Wisconsin. As for total tackles, Borland’s 420 tackles ranks sixth all time and his solo tackles (234) ranks fifth. Over the course of 2011 to 2013 Borland recorded three straight 100 tackle seasons. In his senior season, Borland went out with a bang being named a First-Team All American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Borland may have decided to end his NFL career early, but his career at Wisconsin will go down as one of the best ever.


Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

No. 6: James White (2010-2013)

When I originally started doing this list, James White seemed to be fringe guy. I asked my colleagues at B5Q about this theory and we all sort of agreed. However, after digging into the numbers White has a firm position on this list. Sure, the backs he was paired with in Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon were the superstars, but White was pretty great himself. Actually, he finished with more career all purpose yards than John Clay, and just one less touchdown than Melvin Gordon. In terms of rushing yards, White sits sixth all time at Wisconsin and sits fifth all time in terms of rushing touchdowns despite not making an official start for the Badgers until the season opener his senior year. Sure, his career was often on the third burner in terms of hype, but White certainly belongs on this list.


Indiana v Wisconsin Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

No. 5: Jared Abbrederis (2009-2013)

Statistically, outside of Lee Evans, Jared Abbrederis was the best receiver to ever take the field at Wisconsin. That’s a pretty crazy thought, but it gets even crazier when you look at the guys below him. Nick Toon, Brandon Williams, and Travis Beckum all finished with fewer yards than Abbrederis. That’s even crazier when you consider that Abbrederis was almost always the second, third or fourth option on the field. Yes, Russell Wilson’s passing ability helped his numbers a lot, but there is no doubt that Joel Stave hurt his numbers over the course of his career to even that out (Editor’s note: aw shit, here we go again). Abbrederis was as reliable as they come, and was always there to make the play when needed. In addition, his ability was huge in both the kick return and punt return game. A former walk on, Abbrederis showed that a little determination and hard work can go a long way at Wisconsin.


Big 10 Championship Game - Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

No. 4: Russell Wilson (2011)

Yes, Russell Wilson’s only season in Madison was in 2011, but it was a pretty great one. Statistically, Wilson put together the best season Wisconsin has ever seen at quarterback and was by far and away the best to ever play in this decade (Yes, I know the competition has been light). On sheer numbers alone Wilson set the NCAA record for passing efficiency, and holds the school record for single-season passing yards (3,175), touchdown passes (33), completions (225), pass efficiency rating (191.8 - min. 200 attempts) and yards of total offense (3,513) according to UWBadgers.com. Outside of numbers though, Wilson will go down as one of the most important Badgers in history. His ability to throw and lead spurred a change in Wisconsin football, and led to a pro-bowl career in the NFL.


Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

No. 3: Montee Ball (2009-2013)

Personally, I think these top three can be interchangeable and you could make an argument for each one. However, Montee Ball doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves for one of the most accomplished careers in college football history. In 2011, Ball set the record for most touchdowns in a season and over the course of his career he set the record for the most career touchdowns in college football history. With so many great running backs in a row for Wisconsin, it seems like we often forget how great Ball was. Ball’s 83 career touchdowns were 12 more than Ron Dayne, and are currently 28 more than Jonathan Taylor’s 55 career touchdowns. That, to me, is insane considering with how much reverence we talk about Dayne, and how much praise we give Taylor for his incredible career thus far.


Nebraska v Wisconsin Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

No. 2: Melvin Gordon III (2011-2014)

I don’t think there was a more electric player in Wisconsin history than Melvin Gordon III. Gordon’s ability to seemingly touch the football and be off to the races was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen with my bare eyes. His 408-yard game against Nebraska was one of the greatest moments in Wisconsin football history. What’s really shocking about the career of MG3 is that his defining moments came during a time when Wisconsin football was undergoing a system power struggle under the tutelage of then head coach Gary Andersen. Andersen wanted to take UW to more of a spread run attack, while the history of Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema had always been focused on the power run. During all that though, Gordon continued to rack up one of the greatest careers in college football history. In pure athleticism and excitement Gordon was by far the best, but numbers wise he still never got the touches he deserved despite averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Both Ball and Taylor got over 900 career carries, while Gordon got just 631. Can you imagine where Gordon would have gotten if he got another 250+ carries? Thanks a lot, Gary.


Big Ten Football Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

No. 1: Jonathan Taylor (2016-Current)

This decade hasn’t come to and end quite yet, and we should have one more special performance from Jonathan Taylor. His 6,080 rushing yards in just three seasons catapult Taylor to the top spot in this decade, having collected one of the greatest careers in NCAA history. If Taylor were to come back for his senior season, he’d likely knock off the real all-time rushing record set by Ron Dayne which many people often said was untouchable. I know we all look at the running back of years past with a lot of nostalgia and awe, but we are witnessing greatest in front of us folks. With his final career game in a Badger uniform likely coming up in the Rose Bowl, I hope we all appreciate what Jonathan Taylor has done since the day he stepped on campus in Madison.

PS: Want a good cry? Consider the fact that 8 of these 10 players were on the team in 2011 and the Badgers still lost three games that season. HAHAHAHAHA. OUCH, THOSE DAMN HAIL MARY’S.