Earlier this past week Athlon Sports released their preseason top-25 and all-Big Ten teams for the 2021 season. The Badgers have 11 players scattered across their four teams, tied for the second most in the conference with Iowa and behind perennial conference favorite Ohio State who has 13. Speaking of the number 13, that is where Athlon has Wisconsin ranked in their preseason poll, making them the top-ranked team in the Big Ten West and the second highest ranked team in the conference behind, you guessed it, the Buckeyes.
Here is what Athlon had to say about UW this coming season:
For the Badgers to return to the top of the Big Ten West (as predicted here), the offense has to get back on track after averaging only 25.1 points a game – the lowest mark over the last 12 years. The COVID-19 pandemic and injuries wreaked havoc on this offense, but there’s a lot to like about this group for 2021. Talented quarterback Graham Mertz will benefit from a full offseason to work as the No. 1 signal-caller, while a return to full health by receivers Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis add more pop to a passing game that connected on just two throws of 40-plus yards last year. Additionally, tight end Jake Ferguson (30 catches), and breakout candidate Chimere Dike (15.8 per catch) are back to provide Mertz with plenty of weapons. The ground game should be productive as always with Jalen Berger at running back, and the offensive line ranks among the best in the conference.
Wisconsin’s defense allowed just 17.4 points a game last fall and should pick up where it left off with eight starters back. The Badgers open at home against Penn State, face Notre Dame in Chicago, and host Michigan all before Oct. 2. Chryst should have a good idea of how far his offense has progressed over that stretch, and with Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa all coming to Madison, it’s easy to see why Wisconsin should be the favorite in the West.
The Badgers will face No. 12 Notre Dame, No. 16 Iowa and No. 19 Penn State this year and could potentially see No. 4 Ohio State or No. 21 Indiana in the Big Ten title game.
As far as all-conference teams go...
First team: TE Jake Ferguson, LB Jack Sanborn
Second team: RB Jalen Berger, OL Logan Bruss
Third team: LB Leo Chenal, KR Devin Chandler
Fourth team: QB Graham Mertz, OL Tyler Beach, DL Keeanu Benton, LB Nick Herbig, CB Caesar Williams
Former Badger, and current Rutgers Scarlet Knight, KR Aron Cruickshank is predicted to be a first team performer as well. Indiana’s Michael Penix is the first team QB and Minnesota’s Mo Ibrahim and Iowa’s Tyler Goodson are the first team RBs.