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Five critical questions for Wisconsin’s 2019 season

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And, more importantly, five critical answers!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 13 Wisconsin at Michigan

Welcome to B5Q’s contribution to SB Nation’s college football season preview features! For our regular readers, the probability of a Vanderbilt fan visiting is significantly higher than usual, so say something nice about Nashville in the comments and share your perspective on these questions. And for the Vanderbilt fans, you’re my favorite SEC team. It can be our little secret.

It’s hard to believe that Wisconsin football is back. 2018 started off with ultra-high expectations, but then...

  • Top WR Quintez Cephus left the football team facing two felony charges. [He is back in 2019 after being found not guilty and being reinstated to the university.]
  • The defensive line was decimated with injuries
  • Quarterbacking was sub-par, even for Wisconsin standards. When folks are longing for the days of Joel Stave, you know that the plan hasn’t worked out.

However, Wisconsin finished with a 35-3 win over Miami in the Pinstripe Bowl, leaving Badger fans happy yet confused.

The expectations are more muted in 2019, and the Badgers have a more well-rounded team. Let’s take a look at the reasons for the healthy optimism permeating Madison.

Who is your most important player on offense this season?

Wisconsin has a strong running back tradition as well as an excellent offensive line driving the way. In most other seasons, I wouldn’t mention the running back because it seems the fourth stringer could still put up a thousand yard season without breaking a sweat.

I’m breaking that trend; Jonathan Taylor is the most important offensive player.

Taylor is certainly the most important player this season. Even for UW-Madison, the school of Ron Dayne and Melvin Gordon, Taylor is already an all-time program great. In two seasons, he has racked up 4,171 yards on 606 career carries for a 6.9 yards per carry average.

Taylor is a powerful back who can break tackles. Pair that with good vision, shiftiness and shocking breakaway speed, and it’s no surprise that Taylor has the inside track to be a Heisman finalist.

Honorable mentions for me are Cephus, TE Jake Ferguson, and QBs Jack Coan / Graham Mertz.

Who is your most important player on defense this season?

Given the 2018 struggles on the defensive line, I am going to pick NT Bryson Williams. The defensive line never gets much credit in the 3-4 scheme, but it is abundantly clear when this unit cannot hold the point of attack. Williams will be a key to stopping the enemy’s run game and freeing up Wisconsin’s athletic linebacker corp.

Tom Lynn

What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?

The most notable change will be at quarterback; former Badger QB Alex Hornibrook transferred to Florida State in the offseason. It appears that Coan will be the new starter because his fall performance has been the most consistent, but freshmen Mertz and Chase Wolf have shown flashes of brilliance and have a lot of upside.

I should also note that the vibe is much better surrounding this team. The team spent this summer receiving good news: Cephus is back, TE Zander Neuville was granted a sixth year of eligibility, more reasonable expectations and the team is much healthier.

What is the most important game on this schedule, and why?

Every season it seams Wisconsin’s most important game will be against Iowa, and I don’t want to disrespect that rivalry, but the Badgers haven’t had all that much trouble with the Hawkeyes of late.

I’m worried about Northwestern. My colleagues have given me some grief for this, but I think Northwestern could survive its gauntlet of a schedule and content for the Big Ten West title again. If so, Wisconsin has to knock Northwestern off in the September 28th matchup. Wisconsin will be coming off of a game against No. 7 Michigan, so it could be a bit of a trap game.

Perhaps it isn’t the most important game, but the game against Minnesota is a must not lose. The Badgers lost Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in a generation, and it cannot afford to let P.J. Fleck keep his grubby gopher paws on it.

Minnesota v Wisconsin
I almost had to “mark image as sensitive”
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?

9-3. I think Wisconsin will pick up two losses in the three games against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. The third loss will come against Northwestern, Iowa or Nebraska.

I think UW will land in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl because Wisconsin has recently played in several of the bowls in that tier with Big Ten tie-ins. I don’t think anybody is going to tap into their HELOC to make the trip to Florida, but we can only hope Vanderbilt joins Bucky in Jacksonville.