clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Roundtable: Wisconsin Football Season Preview

Tyler, Nick, and JJ give their outlook for the 2022 Wisconsin football season.

Northwestern v Wisconsin Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Alright, last season is behind us. We enter a new dawn. How are we feeling about this 2022 Wisconsin Badger team?

Tyler: I feel cautiously optimistic about this Badger team. I think we all think back to the low points of last year's group, which is fair, but that team had some good moments too. I think they cleaned things up and got better I think, so I expect this team to still be a contender and winner of the Big Ten West.

Nick: Honestly, I don’t know yet. I am excited about the season but I am also scarred from the past two years. The team has all of the talents in the world in my opinion. Will this be the year that something clicks? Or does the Mertz experience from 2020 and 2021 continue? This year and next year are supposed to be the years we are competing for Big Ten titles. It feels like the bar has been lowered entering this season because of the struggles Mertz has had the past two years which I really hate. If the offense looks clean and crisp for the first three weeks, I think my excitement level would skyrocket. I just need to see something different from the past two seasons and until I do I am going to continue to be hesitant.

JJ: This is the most unsure I’ve been about how good the Badgers will be in a couple of years now, and in a way, I’m excited about that. We’re going to learn a lot about Paul Chryst, Graham Mertz, and pretty much everyone else on the offense not named Braelon Allen. If the offense pans out right, this is a team that could play on New Year's Day. If it doesn’t… the season outlook is a bit different. But I choose to lean more into hope. We all know Jim Leonhard will turn the defense into a top-notch unit because that’s what he does. But I’m excited to see who on the offense will break out besides Braelon Allen continuing to wow people every game.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Do you expect the offense to take a step forward under new OC Bobby Engram? Why or why not?

Tyler: I do think that all of the off-season coaching changes we’re positive, so by default this team should be better. Bobby Engram's hire should help modernize the offense while still leaning on the pillars of Wisconsin football. I think that should make them produce at a higher level overall. Personally, I think the Bostad back to offensive line coach move was even bigger but both are positives which make me feel better about this offense we won't know for sure until we see it.

Nick: I do expect the offense to take a step, but I don't think it’s going to be the step everyone would like to see. It’s going to be somewhere between how bad things were last year and our expectations for this year. Engram, no doubt, will bring new wrinkles. But can Graham get out of his own way? To me, if he can hit a deep ball here and there and check the ball down the rest of the time, the offense will be fine and Engram will get credit for cleaning things up. Continue to lean on the run game but just be unpredictable in the passing game. That’s all I ask. I still have my fingers crossed that they come out and surprise me, but I am not banking on it.

JJ: Yes and no. I expect the offense to be different, and perhaps more exciting. Engram brings the promise of a more modern offense that should be a little more aggressive through the air. But I’m not sure it will necessarily be more productive, at least not early on. Between Jake Ferguson and Danny Davis, there are a lot of targets that will need to be allocated elsewhere, and not a lot of players who have the collegiate experience that would make them natural fits to immediately step into such large roles. I have faith players will develop and eventually, the offense will hit top gear. But it will take a bit, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Wisconsin leaned a bit more into their traditional ground and pound style behind Allen until that QB/WR chemistry grows more.

Defense doesn’t return a lot, but confidence seems high still. How do you think this group will fare?

Tyler: I just don't really worry about Wisconsin’s defense much anymore. Yes, they lost a lot but Wisconsin just produces quality players on that side of the ball year in and year out. Jim Leonhard is the best defensive coordinator in the country, and I think that always makes this group dangerous. I expect this unit to be a top 15 unit across the board again in 2022.

Nick: The defense is something I have stopped worrying about from year to year. I feel really good about the moves they made in the transfer portal to provide depth and replace the starters lost from last year’s secondary. The outside linebacker group is really really deep. The defensive line sounds like it hasn’t lost a step. My only concern is the inside linebackers. They have a lot of potential, but the inexperience feels like something that could be a problem during the Big Ten schedule. I trust Jim Leonard to have them and the entire defense ready anyway but that doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Dave Kallmann / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

JJ: As I said earlier, we’ve reached the point where we just kind of expect Jim Leonhard to create a top-notch group. It’s not for a lack of talent, the classic Wisconsin recruiting woes apply much less to the defensive side of the ball. The depth is there which should be a major strength for this team over the grind of a Big Ten schedule. Inexperience will be something that needs to be addressed, but I trust Leonhard to structure the defense in ways that shield some of the younger players from taking on major responsibility early while still allowing those younger players (as well as the defenses’ other top talents) to make plays.

What is your main concern with Wisconsin heading into the 2022 season?

Tyler: It's hard to choose anything other than the passing game, however, I am guessing some of our other writers will choose that so I will go somewhere else… SPECIAL TEAMS. Special teams were HORRENDOUS last season and in the off-season did it get better? No! They don't even have an assigned special teams coach anymore! Not that the last one was any good, but is anyone focusing on that side of the ball? I just have a very uneasy feeling about this unit right now but I am hoping a miracle has been worked and we just don't know about it yet.

Nick: The quarterback position, of course. Graham Mertz has got to take care of the ball this year. Turnovers are the Achilles heel of any football team but it feels especially bad for Wisconsin. When you already have so few possessions because of the ground and pound game, they can’t afford any turnovers. He also needs to elevate his play in general. There is a lot of talent at the skill positions this year and I’d like to see those players actually showcase that. Graham has to get them the ball consistently and sustain drives for that to happen. Lastly, with Chase Wolf going down the Badgers are lacking depth at QB. If Graham goes down at any point while Wolf is out (the time frame for Wolf to come back is large) then the offense could be in some serious trouble.

JJ: Since Nick and Tyler already addressed special teams and quarterbacks I’ll go with wide receiver. Because Wisconsin does have a ton riding on the plain hope that someone, anyone, breaks out. Chimere Dike seems a natural fit to emerge as a WR1, he’s been waiting in the wings for two years now. But if he doesn’t take a step forward? There’s going to be a whole lot of responsibility on a pair of redshirt freshmen in Markus Allen and Skyler Bell, a transfer with minimal 2021 production in Keontez Lewis, and a converted cornerback in Dean Engram. That’s not exactly a deep group with a ton of track record.

Which player will emerge as a surprise producer in your eyes?

Tyler: On offense, I don't know if you can call it a surprise, but I think Chez Mellusi is going to have a really great year. Beyond that, I’ll go with Jack Eschenbach at tight end. Someone will need to emerge as a safety blanket for Mertz and I think Eschenbach is primed to take that role over. Also, I have been on the Eschenbach train since his freshman year so no sense stopping now. LET'S GO JACK!

Nick: I think that wideout Dean Engram could be the guy. He has been floated as a guy who has a knack for getting open out of the slot and it’d be cool to see that transition from CB to WR to benefit him. The other guy would be RB Isaac Guerendo. We’ve seen a few flashes here and there. If he stays healthy then he has a chance to be a really fun player that would scare a lot of other Big Ten teams with his speed.

JJ: Who knows how many chances he’ll get with Allen obviously being an all-American talent, but I expect Isaac Guerendo to put together a very nice year in relation to the chances he gets. I’m not sure if he’ll be a special teams weapon or a regular in the running back stable, but he flashed game-breaking ability in the open field last season that I think will be too tantalizing for the Badger staff to ignore.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 27 Wisconsin at Northwestern Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Which game scares you the most on the Badger's schedule?

Tyler: You could put Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, LSU, and Clemson all on the schedule and they would be trumped by a road trip to Evanston, IL every single time. I don't care what they looked like last year or what they project to look like this year, that is the scariest game on the schedule when it comes about.

Nick: I think that just about everyone is going to be scared for the Badgers to play Ohio State this year so I am going to pick another team. At Iowa feels like the game that could determine the West this year. While I don’t think Iowa is going to be in contention for the west this year because of their offense (see Big Ten round table predictions), I do think this is a tough game and could make or break the Badgers chances to win the West. The game is the week before Wisconsin travels to Nebraska and if Wisconsin loses, I am worried that momentum to finish the year strong could sway in a bad direction.

JJ: Logically, Ohio State in Columbus. Morally, Northwestern in Evanston. As I wrote two years ago in my first B5Q roundtable as a freshman, if anyone could produce evidence of a credible campaign to bulldoze Ryan Field into a parking lot, I would send the first donation.

What do you think this team's record is come season's end?

Tyler: I think the road trip to Columbus is a loss. After that, I don't know which games right now, but I think they drop a couple of others. I’d be thrilled with 10-2 but I think in my heart 9-3 is the most likely record and what I will go with.

Nick: Despite some of my pessimism above, I am going to be an optimist here so I am going to say 10-2. I think the Badgers lose to Ohio State and lose to one of the many contenders in the West. I do think Wisconsin beats Michigan State on the road but the final stretch of at Iowa, at Nebraska, and Minnesota at Camp Randall feels like it is going to be very difficult, especially if there are injuries.

JJ: 9-3 feels like the most likely pick. I won’t do a game-by-game analysis but Ohio State on the road is a near-certain loss, and I see Wisconsin dropping two somewhere in the three-game stretch of @Northwestern, @ Michigan State, and an underrated Purdue team as well as the @Iowa, @Nebraska, and then Minnesota stretch to end the year. I don’t know which 2 of those 6 games the Badgers lose. But that’s my gut feeling.