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Insider: Wisconsin Badgers “a big sleeper there at No. 19” on AP Poll

Are the Badgers a sleeper team to make noise this season?

The Wisconsin Badgers have undergone significant change this offseason, hiring head coach Luke Fickell, who brought on a plethora of new staff members, as well as some key transfers, to rebuild the program after a disappointing 2022 season.

Well, the early returns are looking promising, as the preseason AP Poll has the Badgers listed inside the Top 25 at No. 19, just a few months after they finished a 7-6 season, due to the difference Fickell and Co. have made in a short period of time.

However, No. 19 might be shooting them too low, at least according to one college insider, who believes that Wisconsin could be a sleeper in 2023.

“Wisconsin is a big sleeper there at No. 19,” former NFL quarterback and current college analyst Greg McElroy shared recently, via On3’s Sam Gillenwater.

When evaluating the Badgers, McElroy points to the vibe of last year’s TCU Horned Frogs, who made the College Football Playoff with a new coach, improved quarterback play, and a different aura around the program.

“I’m looking at Wisconsin. They feel so similar, to me, to what TCU had last year,” McElroy said. “New coach. The previous regime? Things had just gotten a little bit stale. Now, in comes a breath of fresh air with Sonny Dykes? TCU makes a run, ends up finishing second in college football last year. Wisconsin feels somewhat similar.”

The Badgers’ got the quarterback step out of the way when adding transfer Tanner Mordecai, whose collegiate resume speaks for itself, while also pursuing a multitude of wide receiver options to improve both the high-end quality and the depth of the room.

Those steps, combined with a strong ground game and stout defensive unit, combine for the factors McElroy is looking for in a sleeper.

“We know they have a great quarterback in Tanner Mordecai who’s thrown for 7,000 career passing yards. They went and attacked the portal at wide receiver and had three holdovers from last year that they feel really good about. They’re six or seven deep out there on the perimeter. A dynamic one-two punch at running back. And Wisconsin’s always been elite, always been elite on the defensive side.”

The odds are already in the Badgers’ favor, who are expected to win 10 games on their 12-game slate, with the lone underdog games being at Minnesota to end the year, as well as a home bout versus Ohio State.

“Wisconsin, right now, is expected to be favored in 10 games. 10 games! The two that they’re not? On the road at Minnesota and then Ohio State. And they’re only a one-point [underdog] at Minnesota so that’s a toss-up to begin with.”

Could the Badgers be sleepers in Luke Fickell’s first year as head coach? This may be their best opportunity, given the expanded format of the Big Ten next season, with USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington all joining the conference in 2024.

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