The Wisconsin Badgers have significantly improved their roster with an overload of talent at several key positions, which has come following a coaching change to former Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell.
With the amount of competition at several positions, and with the first transfer portal period officially over, let’s evaluate every position group heading into 2023.
Earlier this year, we evaluated the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. Now, we wrap up the offensive side of the ball with a position that Wisconsin has been known for: the offensive line.
Starters: Jack Nelson(R-Jr.), Tanor Bortolini(R-Jr.), Jake Renfro(Jr.), Michael Furtney(6th-Sr.), Riley Mahlman(R-So.)
Backup: Nolan Rucci(R-So.), Joe Brunner(R-Fr.), Joe Huber(R-Jr.), Trey Wedig(R-Jr.),
Competition: Dylan Barrett(R-Jr.), Max Rader(R-Fr.), JP Benzschawel(R-So.), Barrett Nelson(R-Fr.), Kerry Kodanko(Jr.)
The Wisconsin Badgers made several additions via the transfer portal, adding Jake Renfro and Joe Huber from Cincinnati, as well as Max Rader from North Dakota State to join a fairly deep offensive line unit.
After Michael Furtney withdrew his name from the transfer portal, the Badgers should return most of their starters, while Renfro slides into Joe Tippmann’s spot after transferring to Madison.
However, it’s not all set in stone, as the Badgers have former five-star Nolan Rucci, as well as redshirt freshman Joe Brunner who cracked the two-deep in 2022.
Either player could see action if they exceed expectations in spring and fall ball, given their potential.
Huber and Wedig are both versatile options, with the latter playing at right tackle, right guard, and left guard last season, having the requisite size to play several positions, which new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell highlighted.
“[Trey Wedig] has gotta know guard tackle, left, right,” Bicknell said. “You’d love to keep him on one side, except what if the left tackle gets hurt? So I try to approach it like, look, there is no left and right, and try to figure out who could play center guard, who could play guard and tackle.
While Bicknell understands that certain players fit best at a position, when their versatility is strong amongst several places on the offensive line, it creates flexibility.
“And then if a guy’s struggling, obviously, okay, he’s not the guy to move around, which you’ve had that before. Let’s just keep him right there. See, if you can learn one thing, but other guys, you can have that flexibility, which is great,” said Bicknell.
Additionally, the importance of experience, especially with a new offense and new group of players, is important to Bicknell, who pointed out Furtney, Renfro, Wedig, and Bortolini, who each have spent years within the program.
“Michael Furtney has been around forever, and even Jake Renfro, even though he hasn’t been there, he’s played, like I said. Trey and Tanner [Bortolini] and all those guys [have experience],” Bicknell said.
Could the starters change prior to the regular season? Absolutely, but heading into spring ball, these five are the projected starters.