Badgers' Non-Conference Schedule: Taking A Trip Down Memory Lane (& Looking Ahead)

By: Rex Sheild

Doctors, nurses, and the like constantly stress that excessively eating sweets, particularly cupcakes, is not a good habit to partake in. However, that has not stopped members of Automatic Qualifying (AQ)/Power-Five (P5) conferences from excessively divulging in their own form of cupcakes year after year. The Wisconsin Badgers are no exception.

As such, the team’s previous non-conference opponents were far from stellar dating back the last 15 years or so. Bucky would play host to teams like Cal Poly, Wofford, and Austin Peay while traveling to UNLV, Hawaii, and Fresno State, among others.

My personal favorites were those late-season games against the Rainbow Warriors, watching Ron Dayne or John Clay (or really whatever running back was at the helm for that particular year) run for a million yards, more or less, against an inferior defense.

Of course, over that same time span, the Badgers played teams from the traditional powerhouse conferences. For instance, they had home-and-home series with three Pac-12 teams: (1) Oregon, 2000 and 2001; (2) Arizona State, 2010 and 2013; and (3) Oregon State, 2011 and 2012. Not to mention, in direct correlation to the advent of the College Football Playoff, UW upped its game so to speak and began scheduling perennial powerhouses.

The Badgers played LSU at NRG Stadium in Houston in 2014, played Alabama at AT&T Stadium in 2015, and played LSU at Lambeau Field in 2016. While the latter game may not have helped Paul Chryst’s squad as much as they would have thought at the time, because LSU started the season in the top five and never cracked the top 12 after that game, the outcome still presumably put a feather in their cap in terms of the eye test for the CFB Playoff Committee.

Altogether, all three games stood as a win-win proposition regardless of the outcome. Lose the game? That was expected. Win the game? Praise the heavens above; the Badgers are a CFB Playoff sleeper! 

This year, for whatever reason, there were no win-win propositions during the non-conference slate. As you know, the non-conference slate did not churn out a perennial powerhouse or even a Power-5 program for that matter. Further evidence that this year’s slate was more of a misnomer relative to recent history: Saturday’s contest at BYU marked the first time since 2010 that the Badgers played a true road game against a non-P5 program.

On that scorching September 2010 night in Sin City, UW beat UNLV, 41-21. If you include the game against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in 2011, one that featured the Badgers as the road team, it was still six years since UW traveled to play a non-P5 program.

Instead, UW shelled out an obscene amount of money for the measly opponents to travel to Camp Randall Stadium. And as far as the 2017 regular season is concerned, Badgers paid $1.2 million to both Utah State and FAU, totaling $2.4 million. UW is not alone in that regard, either, as other P5 programs will spend roughly $150 million for “guarantee” games when the regular season is all said and done, according to USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz.

Regardless, Badger fans will have to come to terms with the following four scenarios related to future non-conference games over the next eight years, though this may be subject to change:

(1) Ten home games against non-P5 teams, which are all destined to be 11:00am kickoffs;

2018: Western Kentucky, New Mexico, BYU

2019: Central Michigan, Kent State

2020: Southern Illinois

2021: Army

2022: Hawaii

2023: Buffalo

2025: North Texas

(2) Two road games against non-P5 teams;

2019: South Florida

2024: Hawaii

(3) Three home-and-home series against P5 teams that are currently either somewhat decent (Virginia Tech and Washington State) or quite bad (Syracuse); and

2020 and 2021: Syracuse

2022 and 2023: Washington State

2024 and 2025: Virginia Tech

 (4) Two neutral-site games against Notre Dame

2020: Lambeau Field

2021: Soldier Field

While I am not a medical professional by any means, that schedule seems like a health scare waiting to happen. And from a fan's perspective, it may seem even worse. 

Let's Get Excited for the Cotton Bowl! (No really...please...because no one is)

The 2016 season was an interesting one for the Badgers. I, along with pretty much everyone else around the state and country, thought UW was going to be a middle-of-the-road team and a carbon copy of those 6-6 teams that former head coach Bret Bielema churned out early in his coaching career. Sure, the team would have some talent, but one would be foolish to think that they would come away unscathed with that schedule. We were all wrong, of course, as head coach Paul Chryst & Co. have climbed their way to 10 wins for the second consecutive season. On the flip side, whom did the Badgers really beat? Or, better yet, how many games did you feel like the team in red truly dominated from start to finish against a quality opponent?

Yes, Bucky can hang its hat on the fact that its three loses were each by seven points and against top-10 teams, but moral victories are about as useful, or actually useless, as participation trophies. To make matters worse, the game against Western Michigan presents itself as a no-win situation, which Rich smartly addressed on the latest podcast, but I’m here to tell you that – after much thought and meditation – there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Maybe.

 While beating an undefeated team surely carries weight, a victory against Western Michigan would not exactly be marquee. To put it more bluntly, the Broncos’ strength of schedule as of 11/29 was literally the worst among the top-25, checking in at 118th. They have only beaten three teams with a winning record (Eastern Michigan, Ohio, and Toledo), which all conveniently lost their bowl game. Overall, their FBS opponents’ combined 2016 regular season record was 63-82 (.434).

Therefore, if UW beats Western Michigan at Jerry’s World, it is hard not to have the following response, “Well, yeah, the Badgers should beat a MAC team that played nobody all year, so what is there to get excited about?” I would bet that Florida State fans had similar sentiments when the Seminoles played and ultimately defeated Northern Illinois in the 2013 Orange Bowl, and they are now on the verge of losing three-straight bowl games for the first time in program history. But, what about if P.J. Fleck & Co. beat Wisconsin? There are many that will consider it a bad loss, a sign that the Badgers simply aren’t ready to be a national contender.

Altogether, whether the Badgers are playing WMU, Oklahoma, or Incarnate Word, Monday’s bowl victory will actually be quite meaningful from a global perspective. That is, Wisconsin has only won three-straight bowl games in as many years once in its 27-game bowl history (1998 Rose Bowl, 1999 Rose Bowl, and 2000 Sun Bowl).

Riding a two-game winning streak in bowl play, this year’s squad can, therefore, become the second team to achieve that feat. And after losing four-straight bowl games spanning from the 2010 to 2013 regular season (three Rose Bowls + Capital One Bowl), including six out of seven, fans should not take a bowl victory for granted. It is, after all, a New Year’s Six Bowl Game, too.

OK, I’ll get off my soapbox and actually write about what I promised Rich and Max – a preview of the Cotton Bowl, presented by Goodyear Tires (#branding).

Offense

Without a doubt, the Broncos’ calling card is their explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball. Three-year starting quarterback Zach Terrell has completed a career-high 71% of his passes, throwing for 3,376 yards to go along with a career-high 32 TDs & career-low three INTs. As to how the gunslinger stacks up with the other quarterbacks across the country, Terrell is fourth in Passing Efficiency (180.6) and 10th in Total QBR (81.9). The difference between Passing Efficiency and Total QBR is as follows, according to ESPN: “Unlike NCAA Passer Efficiency, which uses only box score statistics, Total QBR accounts for what a quarterback does on a play-by-play level, meaning it accounts for down, distance, field position, as well as the clock and score.”

Still, Terrell will be the best QB that the Badgers have faced this season in terms of Total QBR, as Michigan’s Wilton Speight is ranked 20th; PSU’s Trace McSorley is ranked 31st; OSU’s J.T. Barrett is ranked 38th; and Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong, Jr. is ranked 42nd. Speaking of McSorley, senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel told Jason Galloway earlier this week that there are a lot of offensive similarities between the Broncos and Nittany Lions, in particular “big-play capability.”

In case you need a friendly reminder, McSorley threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns, with a large chunk of that coming in the second half. What was particularly concerning, and something that the UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox *probably* stressed throughout bowl prep, was the number of long passes that the Badgers’ secondary allowed in the Big Ten Championship Game. On their first possession of the second half, the Nittany Lions ran one play and turned it into a 70-yard touchdown completion. On their third possession, McSorley completed passes of 38 yards, 25 yards, and 18 yards, the latter of which resulted in a touchdown. (If you want to bring about some unwanted anger/frustration, check out the play-by-play breakdown of the second half. Woof.).  

Penn State’s wide receivers made their fair share of plays, as Saeed Blacknall and DaeSean Hamilton both eclipsed 115 receiving yards. I am not entirely sure whether WMU’s receiving corp is better than Penn State’s receiving corp or not, but it certainly has more star power. Specifically, senior Corey Davis, who is looking to become the first MAC wide receiver selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since Randy Moss, will finish his career as the leader in NCAA career receiving yards (5,205). Not to mention, his 18 touchdowns this season rank second in the country, while his 1,427 receiving yards rank ninth in the country.

Michael Henry, who is listed at 5-foot-11, is second on the team in receptions (61) and yards (760). Senior Carrington Thompson is second on the team in touchdowns (6) but has only registered 38 receptions for 605 yards. It is important to point out that Davis, Henry, and Thompson all have receptions of over 50 yards, meaning that Terrell is not afraid to chuck it deep. Let’s see whether UW’s secondary plays the ball this time around.

But, in my opinion, the Badgers will win their third-straight bowl game if they get pressure on the quarterback and do so on a consistent basis. As Rich and Max noted during the Preview podcast, the defensive line was gassed in the second half against Penn State (injuries/lack of depth didn’t help matters, either). The pass rush, as a result, was almost entirely absent. I should give credit where credit is due, though – Penn State’s offensive line in regards to pass blocking is pretty solid overall; their adjusted sack rate (sacks divided by (sacks plus passes)) per Football Outsiders is 128.4 (31st). Similarly, Western Michigan‘s adjusted sack rate is 125.9 (34th). To a greater extent, the Broncos have allowed 1.08 sacks per game, which is tied for 12th.  

In turn, the unit’s play has opened up several holes for the Broncos’ rushing attack. Led by Illinois native Jarvion Franklin, the junior running back totaled 1,300 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 241 carries (5.4 yards/carry). Jamauri Bogan holds a similar yards-per-carry average (5.3) while accumulating 865 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Terrell can also make plays with his legs, registering six touchdowns on the ground. However, the Badgers should be able to neutralize Franklin & Co. The defensive unit ranks second in rush defense, allowing a mere 96.9 rush yards/game.

One last thing, which may be a “No sh*t, Rex” anecdote: I truly do not think that the defense’s second half performance accurately represents what they bring to the table. It is easy to forget, but the Badgers held the aforementioned, top-QBR gunslingers – excluding McSorley – to an average of 53.3% completion rate, 198.3 passing yards, less than one touchdown (0.67), and just over one interception (1.33). Ultimately, then, something has to give.

Defense

The Broncos’ defense is not nearly as efficient as its offense – OK, not really at all – but they are a solid group collectively. WMU’s scoring defense allows 19.5 points per game, good for 14th in the country, while they allow a total of 353 yards per game, good for 27th.  Digging a little deeper, the team’s defensive front struggled throughout the 2016 season. They only averaged two sacks per game (71st) and 5.3 tackles for loss per game (93rd). Moreover, they allowed an average of 151.2 rush yards per game, which ranks 47th.

Even more so, WMU’s defensive unit struggled against FBS teams with a winning record during the regular season (Eastern Michigan, Ohio, and Toledo). In total, they allowed an average of 135 rushing yards, 254 passing yards, and roughly 30 points per game. Toledo, who owned the best regular season record among the aforementioned teams, produced the most consistent offensive numbers against the Broncos, totaling 227 yards on the ground and 229 yards through the air. The Rockets also put up 35 points, yet they lost by 20 in Kalamazoo.

Nevertheless, the player that represents the biggest challenge for UW’s offensive line is senior defensive end Keion Adams. The second-team all-MAC selection leads the team in tackles for loss (17), sacks (7.5), quarterback hits (12), and forced fumbles (3). The offensive line will also have to keep an eye out for inside linebacker Robert Spillane, who joined Adams as a second-team all-conference selection. The Oak Park, Ill., native leads the team in tackles with 105 and was second on the team in tackles for loss (9) and interceptions (3).

Speaking of the latter, cornerback Darius Phillips is the leader of the Broncos’ secondary, reeling in a team-high four interceptions while returning three for a touchdown. He also leads the team in pass deflections with nine. Not to mention, the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year totaled two touchdowns in that phase of the game, one as a kick returner and the other as a punt returner. 

Prediction

Do I hope it’s a blowout? Absolutely. Do I think it’s going to be a blowout? Not exactly. WMU will keep it close in the first half because Fleck’s pre-game speech of “None of you guys even sniffed a scholarship offer from Wisconsin, so go out and prove you deserved one!” will light a fire under their tails. But at the end of the day, the cream always rises to the top, which means that UW will gain some separation in the second half by relying on the run game and dialing up timely blitzes on the opposite side of the ball. 

One last tidbit for good measure: Per OddsShark, the Badgers have won their last 17 games against MAC teams and are 11-6 against the spread in such games. As of this writing, the good guys are 8-point favorites.

35-20, UW

 

Biscuits Does Ann Arbor, Michigan

David, aka @wiscoinferno on Twitter, gives us the goods on his trip to Michigan last week

 

Ever since moving to the great city of Chicago in May 2014, it has been a somewhat serious goal of mine to attend Badger games at all 14 Big Ten venues. As a Big Ten and general college football fan, one of the places that has always been at the top of my list is Ann Arbor and Michigan Stadium. Plus, I have always wanted to check out different campuses when the opportunity presents itself and the University of Michigan did not disappoint.

As for Michigan Wolverines football, after taking a break from their spot as one of the top Big Ten teams (and hiring some terrible head coaches), Go Blue is back and ready for a run at the playoffs.  So why wouldn’t I want to attend a Badger game in Ann Arbor?

Afternoon Delight!

Afternoon Delight!

Driving about 250 miles east, I arrived in Ann Arbor late on Friday night.  My morning began with an outstanding breakfast at Afternoon Delight Café (the biscuits and gravy were superb) about one mile north of Michigan Stadium. I was pleasantly surprised to see the restaurant filled with about 30% Badger fans.

The area around campus reminds me a lot of Madison.  Smoke shops, eclectic eateries, clothing stores, and of course, legal speakeasies are scattered about its beautifully green environs.  Don’t hate me for this, but my one huge complaint about Wisconsin’s campus is how spread out it is - Michigan, at least its undergraduate campus, is the exact opposite.  Beautiful lawns and walkways lead to both old and new academic buildings.  On this day, the campus was electric, and very, very drunk.  I saw fans both young and old drinking Detroit Lions-themed Bud Lights and carrying handles of unsealed booze, something that surprised me (can't do that in Chicago or Madison!).  These people LOVE their Wolverines and their alcohol.

The Big House, pre-game

The Big House, pre-game

The Wisconsin demo car

The Wisconsin demo car

Making my way to the game, I passed raucous fraternity houses and apartments in a sea of Maize and Blue.  One of the fraternity houses even had a red spray painted junk yard vehicle with Wisconsin written all over it in their front yard to destroy.   Needing to get in the college football spirit with all these underagers and free-spirited football fans, I stopped by Quickie Burger, not for food, but for the cheap pitchers of Leinie’s Summer Shandy.  After polishing it off in less than a half hour, I made my way to Michigan Stadium.

To be honest, the Big House didn’t feel as massive as it looks on TV. There was plenty of space in the concession/restroom area around the outer part of the stadium.  Our seats were opposite the student section and we were surrounded by Michigan fans.  They were incredibly mild mannered and even friendly throughout the game even though it was so close from the first kickoff.  I really envied their crowd participation during band sequences, actual game play, and during timeouts.  It was a crazy atmosphere from start to finish, and was a loud and intimidating atmosphere, at least for a Badger fan in a sea of Maize and Blue.

Obviously the outcome of the game was not what I was hoping but Ann Arbor was so much fun to experience on a football Saturday, I didn’t really care that Bucky lost (maybe it was my eternal pessimism).

Panoramic

Panoramic

My one bit of advice from the weekend: if the opportunity presents itself, GO FOR IT. On, Wisconsin my BuckAround Bros (and gals)!

End of an Era: Is it Time to Retire the Paul Chryst 4th Down Watch?

"DC Dan" emailed the show with a detailed analysis of Paul Chryst's 4th down decision making. Last year Dan was less than impressed with Chryst in this regard as he thought he was too conservative in this regard, opting for the punt or field goal at times when attempting the 1st down conversion seemed like the more appropriate decision. 

However, Dan seems to think Chryst views things differently this season. Since Dan's email was look long to fully integrate into the show, we present it in it's entirety here. He also throws a little quarterback discussion in at the end to boot!

 

As I mentioned in my tweet, it may be time to retire the Paul Chryst Fourth Down Watch if we have more games like this one.  Below is my assessment of the fourth down decisions made against MSU:

The "Hell Yes" section:

  • 4th-and-1 from the MSU 41 (4:47 1st): Ingold rush for 6 yards.
  • 4th-and-1 from the MSU 3 (1:28 1st): Ingold rush for 2 yards.

These were big, and both came in the first quarter "statement drive" -- the Badgers' second drive of the game -- that resulted in the touchdown from which they would not look back.  I know they didn't have Gaglianone, but I don't think that was much of a factor in either decision.  Chryst probably isn't going to kick a field goal from the 41 even with Rafa's leg available, and I'm sure Chryst would have sent out Endicott to put the ball in from 3 yards out had he wanted it.  The bottom line is that Chryst trusted his offensive line to get the one yard in both cases, which was absolutely the correct call, and that "set the tone" (I hate that cliché) for the rest of the game.

 

The "Would Have Been Gutsy" section:

  • 4th-and-2 from the WIS 28 (11:21 2nd): Lotti punt for 47 yd.
  • 4th-and-3 from the MSU 23 (4:58 3rd): Endicott made 41 yd. field goal.

There's an argument to be made that you should almost always go for it if it's fourth-and-2 or less no matter where you are on the field, especially if you a) have a relatively high expected conversion rate on short yardage (which I believe the Badgers do), or b) need to employ high-variance strategies since you're an underdog.  In this game, 'A' applies, but 'B' does not, as I think the Badgers and Spartans were basically evenly matched going in, so punting from your own 28 is probably the smarter move.  Chryst also decided to go for the points to put the Badgers up by three scores in the third quarter, which shows that he at least had some faith in Endicott's leg, and he probably would have gone for it on those first quarter fourth downs even had Gaglianone been available.

 

The "I Would Have Gone" section:

  • 4th-and-6 from the MSU 35 (9:54 4th): Lotti punt for 27 yd.

Here's the only spot where not having Gaglianone maybe made a difference, as a long field goal try probably makes more sense than a short punt.  This is right in the heart of no-man's land, where I would probably go for it on almost any distance if I didn't have a great kicker available.  The game was basically over at this point, though, so who really cared?

 

The "No Brainer" section:

  • 4th-and-9 from the WIS 12 (14:11 3rd): Lotti punt for 38 yd.
  • 4th-and-4 from the MSU 44 (12:32 4th): MSU penalty for 5 yd.
  • 4th-and-5 from the MSU 49 (4:46 4th): Lotti punt for 44 yd.
  • 4th-and-2 from the WIS 26 (1:36 4th): Lotti punt for 48 yd.

These are pretty self-explanatory.  One of them worked out anyway thanks to a penalty, and the final fourth down Wisconsin faced in this game was with so little time left on the clock that it wouldn't have been worth the risk to potentially set MSU up for a garbage TD.

 

 

Quarterbacks Analysis:

Finally, I figured we had enough information on both QBs to do a quick numbers check on how they stack up so far.  Further, both players have seen time against the same opponents, aside from LSU and MSU.  You could argue that LSU has a tougher defense than MSU, but without any advanced team stats at my fingertips, I'm inclined to call it even.

  • Hornibrook:  29 / 43, 8.8 YD/ATT, 13.0 YD/COM
  • Houston:  44 / 71, 7.4 YD/ATT, 12.0 YD/COM

On a per-attempt basis, Hornibrook is outpacing Houston by over a yard, and he's also better than Houston on his completed passes by exactly a yard on average.  I find that second point (yards per completion) somewhat interesting, because Houston is supposed to be the one with the bigger arm, so you might expect that he would complete fewer short passes and more passes downfield, but that's not the case. 

Finally, my favorite passing stat (adjusted net yards per pass attempt, which factors in sacks, picks, and touchdowns) shows a clear lead for Hornibrook:

  • Hornibrook:  7.5 ANY/A
  • Houston:  6.0 ANY/A

Hornibrook's ANY/A was down a bit against MSU (5.6), but still not as low as Houston's was against LSU (3.1).  As much as some of their other numbers look similar, there's not much doubt in my mind that Hornibrook is the superior passer.  I'll look at the numbers again next week, when Hornibrook will have played against another very difficult opponent in Michigan, and his number of attempts will be closer to Houston's current total.

A Non-Hate Filled Georgia State Preview (because you have no idea who they are)

by Dillon in Virginia a.k.a. Dillon in Pennsylvania a.k.a. the angriest BuckAround listener there is.

So, without further ado I present Georgia State. From my research I learned they are the Panthers, and the school is in Atlanta. Their football program was founded in 2010 and began in FCS, and then moved to the Sun Belt in FBS in 2013. In 2015 the Panthers surprisingly made a bowl where they lost to San Jose State to finish 6-7. So now we get to this season. I'll be honest I did not watch any of their games, I just looked at some stats and internet articles and a few select few highlight clips. But here is my best shot. They lost 31-21 to Ball State and 48-14 t Air Force.

The Panthers run a dual QB system, although Grad Transfer Conner Lynch is the primary passer. Aaron Winchester comes in and appears to be their version of Tanner McEvoy. Manning is passing at 51.8% this year for 298 yds in 2 games vs Ball State & Air Force. Winchester is 5/11 passing for 39 yds.

The two primary receiving options are Robert Davis and Penny Hart, supposedly a decent WR combo in the Sun Belt according to Athlon's preview. Rushing wise Georgia State frankly sucks. In 2 games vs Ball State & Air Force they have rushed 39 times for 104 yds, for an amazing 2.7 ypc. Air Force held the Panthers to 27 yards on 14 attempts, for a 1.9 ypc. From what I can tell, they suck in all facets of offense, but they're maybe slightly less sucky passing the ball.

Defensively both Ball State & Air Force rushed the ball a ton and did it effectively. Ball State had 325 yds rushing with a 6.3 ypc and 4 TDs, Air Force had 464 yds rushing with a 5.6 ypc and 5 TDs. Neither had any reason to pass so I have no idea how good the Panthers' pass D is. (and Air Force never tries to pass anyway with that offense). I'd like to think Bradrich Shaw should be running wild on the Panthers D by mid-3rd Quarter.

Long story short, Georgia State is a team that Akron would likely beat handily. Offensively they suck in all areas, only way they should score is if the Badger offense gives them something. I hope and expect UW to be up by 40pts+ by the end of the first half and I expect to see the backups play most of if not all the second half. We could probably put up 70+ easily on them but I expect Chryst to milk the clock and unofficialy implement a mercy rule of sorts on the Panthers. Badgers win 62-0. The 2 FGs occur in the 2nd half w/the backups and occur due to penalties setting back the Badger offense, not the Panthers D.

Akron Review - Yes, an Akron Review

by Andy Schaaf

The only thing more desperate than an Akron preview is and Akron review, so that’s where we’re at today. The Badgers took care of business on a day when not everyone (hello Clemson and Georgia!) had it so easy.

These games are ultimately silly to draw much in terms of conclusions -- remember, Tanner McEvoy owns the Badger record for consecutive completions -- but they do add to what we saw last week and give us more to work with as the Badgers move on to face Michigan State in a couple weeks.

So with that said, let’s overreact to some stuff:

 

Hornibrook throws a pretty deep ball, Houston does not

 

This isn’t breaking news as it is in line with what we saw at the Spring Game and in Fall practice reports. Bart Houston seems to have one trajectory on his passes - a line drive, while Alex Hornibrook showed some nice touch on a ball to A.J. Taylor and on a deep ball to Quintez Cephus that drew a pass interference penalty.

 

That was the perfect time to use Hornibrook

 

Facing a MAC defense with eight or nine in the box loaded up for the run in the 3rd quarter is the perfect scenario for Hornibrook. At this point he at least seems like the ideal guy to run play action and chuck it deep or go through one or two reads in a progression.

That’s the type of stuff that’s wide open in these early games but works much less when Michigan or Ohio State can stop the run with seven or even six in the box and force the QB to get the ball into much tighter spaces.

Throughout camp we heard how close the two QBs were and there seems to be a lot of truth to that, but what we saw yesterday from Hornibrook doesn’t change much.

 

There’s a big drop off between Clement and the rest of the RBs

 

Again, not breaking any news here but the running game looked a lot like last year in the first half when Clement was out. The coaching staff clearly saw it too, which is the only way one can explain why Clement got 21 carries in the first half. Speaking of RBs…

 

Bradrick Shaw is the future at the RB position

 

I kid, I kid, but it was nice to see some burst from him when the game was over. If you’re like me, you’re slightly worried about the RB position in a post-Clement world, so it shows they at least have something to work with.

 

The Badgers finally have some WRs

 

They aren’t at that level yet, but for the first time since Toon and Abbrederis manned the position the Badgers have two legit WR options with Peavy and Wheelwright.

We’re even a full third of the way to the over on the prop bet competition with the Freshman WRs! It is hard to read too much into their performances, but as I mentioned in the Akron preview, it was a good chance to get them some reps, and that’s what happened on Saturday. Both Cephus and Taylor look like good players down the road, if it's too much to project much for them this year.

 

The loss of Natrell Jamerson is significant

 

This is a much bigger deal than losing linebacker Chris Orr. Jamerson had a unique role on the defense where he was tasked with playing up on the line and making tackles while also guarding WRs out on the edge - before his injury, he was matched up on Jerome Lane on the outside quite a bit while Sojourn Shelton took the slot guy.

There’s often a big learning curve with DBs and the Badgers don’t have an experienced guy who can fill in for him. It won’t affect them against all teams, but Jamerson was basically a starting DB against spread teams.

 

Touchback Watch

 

Let’s end on a lighter note. Kickoff specialist P.J. Rosowski had 5 touchbacks on Saturday to bring his season total to 8 - UW had 13 touchbacks all of last year. This will be an over/under next year.

 

How to Get Excited About Watching the Badgers Play Akron

by Andy Schaaf

Analyzing the Badgers after a huge win is always difficult. It is hard to criticize OL penalties when the OL is going against an elite defensive unit. It is hard to get *too* mad at the QB for throwing awful picks when those awful picks are in a win in his first college start at Lambeau Field against a top 5 team, or call out a RB for leaving yards on the field.

We do, and should analyze the game, both positive and negative aspects, but its just so easy to excuse the negative and over-hype the positive. I’ll admit I’m guilty of this myself, rolling my eyes at the red zone “problems” articles this week. Come on, they played LS freaking U.

With all that as a preface, the Badgers have a couple games that will go the opposite way in terms of how we look at them. They’ll be expected to win and expected to win big. Anything that prevents this big win from happening will be someone’s fault and we’ll create narratives from there. A chop block penalty won’t be excused, a dumb INT definitely won’t be excused and the luster will come off Wilcox if they give up a 20+ points to Akron.

With this hyper analysis in mind, there are a few things I’m specifically looking forward to seeing on Saturday against the Zips

  • Bart Houston and the dumb INTs. Houston has now played in 2 college games and has 4 awful INTs. While dumb, they’re somewhat excusable given the circumstances, but there will be no excuse for the dumb INT on Saturday.

  • George Rushing. While early, this feels like a big game for Rushing. After the fumble against LSU, will the coaching staff have the confidence to go back to him, and will Rushing have the confidence to make plays? This feels like a point in the season (already) where the Badgers could decide to focus on Peavy, Wheelwright and Fumagali, or they can expand options and get Rushing `involved

  • Freshman WRs. Speaking of expanding the passing attack, this seems like an early opportunity to find out if the duo of Taylor and Cephus will have a role outside of spotting the starters on running plays and the occasional jet sweep.

  • Offensive Line. The reviews of the line were almost universally positive after LSU and give most optimism going forward. This is a game where Badgers should dominate on the ground and only have to pass as a last resort. They did not dominate these games last year, just 188 yards on 45 carries against Miami (Oh) and  199 yards on 38 carries against Troy. It would be somewhat reassuring as a fan to see the Badgers come out and put up 250+ yards and control the game on the ground.

  • Wilcox vs The Spread. One of the strengths of a Dave Aranda defense was how they completely dominated against spread offenses from weaker teams. Spread offeneses embarrassed the Badgers in the early 2000s (Antwaan Randle El just scored again) and they continued to have some problems since then with a variety of Defensive Coordinators. That all stopped with Aranda’s 3-4. The same players are mostly in place so there shouldn’t be any reason to suspect it becomes a problem this year, but it is worth monitoring.

  • Safety Play Outside of the INT, Dixon had some struggles against LSU. Musso played better than most thought but wasn’t tested often. Akron will spread it out and put them in some 1 on 1 situations. It will be a good barometer of where the safety group is at.

  • Depth There were a decent amount of rotations against LSU, but Akron should allow them to loosen the rotations even more. Tawain Deal should get more carries, more defensive players should get reps and more Freshman like Garret Rand some playing time. Maybe we’ll get an Alex Hornibrook appearance. We’ll be able to get a decent feel for the overall strengths and weaknesses of some of the guys we didn’t see much of last week.

  •  Injuries Oh my God please nobody get hurt, that’s ultimately all that really matters.

Rex's Big Adventure: The 2016 Game by Game Season Predictions

Longtime BuckAround contributor Rex Sheild gives his thoughts on the 2016 season - and game-by-game predictions.

Howdy, folks! Football season is finally upon us, which means that the offseason #hottakes will finally be a thing of the past. In head coach Paul Chryst’s first season at the helm, the Badgers turned in a solid season, finishing 10-3 (6-2), including a Holiday Bowl victory over USC.

However, and mainly because of a downright brutal schedule, this season may not yield quite as much as success. In fact, Athlon Sports ranked UW’s 2016 strength of schedule third while FBSchedules (based on their Win/Loss Method) ranked it sixth. And truth be told, what comes around goes around with the scheduling gods - UW's 2015 schedule was insanely easy in retrospect, er, in general.

About this season's schedule, while the non-conference slate is not overly troubling save for LSU (obviously), the first four conference games are the farthest thing from a cakewalk. To wit, the first four conference opponents had a combined record of 46-8 overall (28-4 B1G) in 2015. To break it down further, all four teams finished with 10+ victories overall (and three of them finished with 12+) and start this season ranked in the top 15 of the Amway Coaches Poll.

No matter. Here's a look at the schedule this season and predictions on just how Chryst and Co. will fare in Year 2.

Week 1, 09/03: LSU (Neutral, Lambeau Field; 2:30 pm ABC)

The biggest headline for the Badgers, at least in my mind, will be going up against former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who was hired this past offseason by Les Miles. Any review, though, would be remiss if it didn't mention running back Leonard “He Should Probably Sit Out the 2016 Season” Fournette. The Heisman Trophy frontrunner rushed for nearly 2,000 yards (1,953 to be exact) last season and accumulated 23 total touchdowns. Oh, and he averaged a paltry 6.5 yards per carry.

With Fournette in mind, if UW’s front seven can hold him to under, say, 125 yards, the Badgers may have a chance to pull off the upset. As possible examples, in LSU’s three losses last season (Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss), Fournette rushed for 31 yards, 91 yards, and 108 yards, an average of 76.7 yards on the ground. In LSU’s ten victories on the other hand, the New Orleans native averaged 172.3 rush yards/game. This strongly suggests that if you shut down Fournette, you put yourself in a position beat LSU.

LSU’s quarterback situation is nowhere near as strong as its running back situation, but the same cannot be said about the team’s defensive backs. Fox Sports CFB writer Bruce Feldman ranked LSU’s secondary numero uno for the upcoming season and he's not alone. Given that UW’s receiving corps is perhaps slightly above-average, in addition to the fact that QB Bart Houston is starting his first collegiate game, it's tough to envision the Badgers having much success, if any, through the air. Nevertheless, it shouldn't be surprising if Chryst has Houston come out firing. After all, the California native was named Green Bay Packers legendary QB Bart Starr and the game is, of course, being played in Lambeau Field. If the shoe fits …

All in all, UW will need to lean heavily on its run game to neutralize its mediocre, if unproven passing attack and further rely on its defensive front to neutralize Fournette. Both of which are tall tasks against this talented LSU squad.

Loss 27-10

Week 2, 09/10: Akron (Home; 2:30 BTN)

A 2:30 home opener!? Great news for the returning students and incoming freshmen. For a not-so-old-but-I-feel-old alumnus like myself, I'm not complaining, either. At any rate, the Zips were 8-5 last year and won their last five contests, including a 23-21 victory over Utah State in the Idaho Potato Bowl. 2015 was the team’s first winning season since 2005.

This season, Terry Bowden’s defense loses its top three tacklers, Darryl Monroe, Dylan Evans, and MAC DPOY LB Jatavis Brown, the three whom combining for 305 tackles, 16.5 sacks, and 37 tackles for loss in 2015. Adding salt to these wounds, Akron also replaces its entire (!!) starting offensive line and top running back from a season ago. On the bright side, the team returns QB Thomas Woodson, who threw for 2,202 yards with 16 touchdowns (even if he only completed 53% of his passes and tossed 11 interceptions). He also rushed for nearly 600 yards to go along with three touchdowns. Top target WR and converted linebacker Jerome Lane also returns after leading the team in receiving yards (782) and touchdowns (8) in 2015.

For a historical perspective, Wisconsin has played Akron twice, both times at Camp Randall Stadium. In 2003, UW won 48-31. Star wide receiver Lee Evans, who will be inducted into the UW Hall of Fame this fall, recorded 214 receiving yards while Zips QB Charlie Frye threw for 372 yards on 49 (!!) attempts. In 2008, UW also came away victorious, 38-17. In this year’s meeting, I expect another victory for the Badgers.

Win 31-6

Week 3, 09/17: Georgia State (Home; 11:00 BTN)

After going 1-11 in 2014, Georgia State improved significantly last season, finishing 6-7 overall and 5-3 in the Sun Belt. And by improved significantly, Georgia State turned in its best season in school history. Heading into this season, the Panthers aren’t too shabby on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receiver Penny Hart registered 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns in his inaugural campaign, and fellow WR Robert Davis caught 61 passes for 980 yards and six touchdowns last season. Plus, the team returns four of their big boys upfront. To the contrary, the quarterback situation is still up in the air and, while the running back situation is more concrete, the unit only ran for an average of three yards per carry a season ago.

Defensively, the Panthers are led by senior Kaleb Ringer, who finished as the team’s fourth-leading tackler (73) in 2015. Altogether, it’ll be another good opportunity to showcase the Georgia State program, similar to when it traveled to Eugene, Oregon, last year and got steamrolled 61-28. Color me shocked if the Badgers also put up 61 points, but they will move to 2-1 after week 3.

Win 40-21

Week 4, 09/24: Michigan State (Away)

Once again, it seems as though people are sleeping on Michigan State. The Spartans lose star quarterback Connor Cook and only return four starters on offense, but sleeping on MSU is a mistake. Mark Dantonio is a helluva football coach and his highly physical defenses consistently feature speedy athletes that can make plays in space, no mean feat in the world of college football. In sum, this game will go down to the wire, but home-field advantage gets MSU the nod here.

Loss 21-20

Week 5, 10/01: Michigan (Away)

Just to make sure we have this on record: who all is sippin’ the Michigan & Harbaugh Kool Aid? Who cares - Michigan will be good this year. In fact, the Wolverines ranked third on ESPN writer Todd McShay’s list of teams with the most draft talent. (LSU was second). Most notably, and no surprise to most, tight end Jake Butt and hybrid freak-athlete Jabrill Peppers were Michigan’s top draft prospects, respectively. I can't see this changing by October 1.

The last time that Wisconsin traveled to the Big House was 2010 — J.J. Watt’s final year in the red and white. As fans will recall, Bielema & Co. housed Rich Rod and Michigan, 48-28, as then-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst called like 20-straight run plays to finish the second half en route to 354 combined total yards and six combined touchdowns from James White and Montee Ball. While I do not envision 76 total points scored this time around, I do envision Chryst relying heavily on the run game once again. With Peppers and Jourdan Lewis commanding Michigan's defensive back end, it may be less of a mismatch between UW’s offensive line and Michigan’s defensive line than there is between UW’s receivers and Michigan’s secondary. What remains the constant in that turn of phrase when Wisconsin has the ball? Mismatch.

Loss 27-17

Bye week, 10/08

Games to Watch — No particular order

  1. Clemson at Boston College — 10/07

    1. Since 2008, Boston College has not played at home on a Friday in October. In related news, I needed to fill in space.

  2. LSU at Florida

    1. I need that Miami Heat fan to greet the Florida players after the game with his signature line: “Good Job! Good Effort!”

  3. Florida State at Miami

    1. ESPN’s 30 for 30s, “The U" and "The U: Part II,” were exceptional. This year's Hurricanes are clearly not of the same caliber as the teams described in the film (farthest from, actually). Point being, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher will beat Miami for the 7th-straight year. (Yes, I could have used the Miami Heat analogy for this game, but I could not miss an opportunity to reference 30 for 30).

  4. Alabama at Arkansas

    1. HOT TAKE CENTRAL: Will Bert finally beat Saban and the Tide this year? Maybe.

  5. OU vs. Texas — Cotton Bowl

    1. The 2015 matchup will not repeat itself.

  6. Iowa at Minnesota

    1. Peak Big Ten football. That is all.

Week 7, 10/15: Ohio State (Home; 7:00 ABC/ESPN/2)

The six-year anniversary of David Gilreath’s opening kickoff return TD against the then-No.1 Ohio State Cheatin’ Buckeyes. (Seriously, Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel were on the sideline for the entire season). Primetime night game. Conference home opener. ‘Nuff said.

Win 24-20

*The 2010 matchup against Ohio State was actually on October 16, but I ain’t about to let one day kill the vibe.

Week 8, 10/22: Iowa (Away)

Will Iowa repeat what they accomplished last season? Quite possibly, as the Hawkeyes enjoy another relatively easy schedule. It is also important to note that Iowa returns the second-most defensive starters (8) in the conference - that from a defense that finished 19th in scoring defense and 22nd in total defense in 2015. Oh, and by the way — the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner, cornerback Desmond King, returns to doing what he does best.

Offensively, it’s not as pretty, but QB C.J. Beathard returns, looking to improve on a very solid 2015 campaign — 2,809 yards, 17 TDs, 5 INTs, and 62% completion rate. As with Michigan State contest, home-field advantage plays to the Hawkeyes favor.

Loss 17-10

Week 9, 10/29: Nebraska (Home; 6:00 ABC/ESPN/2)

Nebraska is a mystery because everyone, time and time again, still associates the program with their 90's glory. To that end, however, anonymous Power-5 coaches and insiders identified Nebraska as this year’s Big Ten “sleeper,” per ESPN. That’s all fine and dandy, but a night game on Halloween weekend at Camp Randall Stadium will subdue the “sleeper” talk, at least for one night. Put another way, I still do not trust starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong and, therefore expect defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to dial up the blitz repeatedly so as to take advantage of Armstrong’s interception-heavy, errant tendencies.

Additionally, Chryst may rely heavily on the run and employ a game plan similar to the one we might see him use against Michigan. Nebraska lost its three top defensive linemen, including most notably Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, who were both third-round picks in this year’s NFL Draft. I also firmly believe that UW’s offensive line, if healthy, will be a fairly strong unit by week nine, and should be able to control the line of scrimmage against the Huskers' front.

Win 24-14  

Week 10, 11/05: Northwestern (Away)

I am overly troubled by UW AD Barry Alvarez's failure to petition the Big Ten Conference to discontinue Badgers' games in Evanston. Seriously though, the Badgers have not recorded a road victory against Northwestern since October 1999. UW has also lost the last four in Evanston (2003, 2005, 2009, 2014) by an average of five points. Chyrst will FINALLY get Wisconsin over the hump, right? Nope.

Loss 20-17

Week 11, 11/12: Illinois (Home, Homecoming; 2:30 TV)

Lovie Smith may bring some much-needed “swag” to the Illini program, but the truth of the matter is that really only helps with wooing donors and recruits. Will it help win football games in year 1? I answer that question in the negative. Illinois returns a mere four starters on defense, which is second-least in the entire conference behind the Buckeyes.

Win 31-13

Week 12, 11/19: Purdue (Away)

Purdue is still fielding a team? Good for them.

Win 35-6

Week 13, 11/26: Minnesota (Home)

Well, if Kirk Herbstreit’s predictions come to fruition, the Gophers will be playing for a Big Ten Championship berth when they travel to Madison over Thanksgiving weekend. To refresh your memory, Minnesota hasn’t won a conference title since 1967 and that was a shared title - the Gophers’ last outright conference crown was actually 1941. Mitch Leidner is touted by some as a first-round selection, and a legitimate starting QB can go a long way in powering a contender. Now I’m obviously not a scout nor will I ever be, but Mitch Leidner is not a first-round selection - or even a second-round selection. That means Minnesota will once again be a pretender this year, which also means that Wisconsin keeps Paul Bunyan's Axe for the billionth-straight year.

Win 20-7

In closing, I'm calling for Wisconsin to finish 7-5 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten. With this killer schedule, and if the Badgers can sneak away with another bowl victory to finish with eight wins (hopefully at Yankee Stadium so Rich can spend $11.25 on a 12-oz adult beverage), the 2016 season has to be chalked up as a success.