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Wisconsin football 2020 review/2021 preview: offensive line

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What will the Badgers look like up front in 2021?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Michigan at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2020 contributors

  • Cole Van Lanen (RS Sr., left tackle)
  • Jon Dietzen (RS Sr., left guard)
  • Kayden Lyles (RS Jr., center)
  • Logan Bruss (RS Jr.,right guard)
  • Tyler Beach (RS Jr., right tackle)
  • Josh Seltzner (RS Jr., guard)
  • Cormac Sampson (RS So., center)
  • Tanor Bortolini (Fr. center)
  • Logan Brown (RS Fr., left tackle)
  • Michael Furtney (RS So., guard)
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 24 Minnesota at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2020 Departures

  • Cole Van Lanen (graduation)
  • Jon Dietzen (graduation)

2021 newcomers

  • 5-star OT Nolan Rucci (Lilitz, Pa.)
  • 4-star OT Riley Mahlman (Lakeville, Minn.)
  • 4-star OT JP Benzschawel (Grafton)

2020 season review

The Wisconsin offense started off with a bang against Illinois and Michigan despite the few week gap in between them, but after the Michigan win Wisconsin’s offense really bogged down and while there were multiple issues involved in that, the offensive line certainly wasn’t without blame.

Wisconsin’s rushing attack all season wasn’t what it’s marketed to be. Graham Mertz threw for five touchdowns against Illinois, and while Wisconsin really did assert their dominance over an underachieving yet talented Michigan squad, after that the offense was extremely hard to come by. The rest of the games Wisconsin played were all rock fights, including the 42 point outburst against Wake Forest, supplemented with four interceptions to help an offense that was held to 266 total yards on the afternoon.

Graham Mertz struggled a bit after the Michigan game, and while the skill talent around him played a role in that, so did the fact that he wasn’t being protected as well as he should have been, and the running game wasn’t opening up as much as typical, thus putting more pressure on the pass game.

As an aside, I love Jon Dietzen, very thankful he came back for this past season and all of his contributions to the Badgers’ program, but please let your lower body heal up now. **praying hands emoji**

2021 season preview

Despite all of the gloom and doom I just laid on you, there is certainly a ton of room for optimism.

Former 5-star recruit Logan Brown came in during the bowl game in relief for Dietzen and played very well. He should be the left tackle for the next two to three seasons. Logan Bruss and Tyler Beach both played well this season for the most part, and another year of cohesiveness next to each other should pay some dividends.

I would expect Josh Seltzner and Kayden Lyles to man left guard and center in 2021. Both should benefit from a full spring and some time next to each other, though they did get some game action together this season.

Major contributions were made from those who likely shouldn’t have been expected to make them, namely Cormac Sampson and Tanor Bortolini, a tackle and a true freshman, respectively, for filling in at center. While neither were stellar, both performed admirably, which is all you can really ask. Both should benefit moving forward for having that experience.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Wake Forest v Wisconsin Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

After that, a mix of youth and experience is in the Wisconsin OL room that will be in position to fight for playing time. Joe Tippmann, Michael Furtney, Aaron Vopal, Jack Nelson and Trey Wedig should all push for playing time at some point in the next season or two.

I don’t think anyone should expect any of the incoming freshman to push their way into the two deep, though obviously nothing is guaranteed and Nolan Rucci is the third highest rated recruit in school history, so /shrugs.

Overall, I expect this unit to be better and more athletic than it was in 2020 and as the young talent that’s been recruited over the past few seasons works its way up the depth chart, the ceiling for this group should continue to get higher.