Wisconsin’s historic 2017 campaign is in the books, as the Badgers polished off a 13-1 season with an Orange Bowl victory against Miami. Spring practice is right around the corner, which means preparations for next season aren’t too far off.
Wisconsin returns its starting quarterback, three talented running backs, its top four wide receivers and at least four starters on the offensive line. Based on returning personnel, it should be another stellar year for the Badgers. Here’s a look at how the Badgers’ offense projects for 2018.
Starter: Alex Hornibrook
Backup: Jack Coan
Overview: Alex Hornibrook’s most valuable player performance in the Orange Bowl quelled quite a bit of criticism, although there will always be a vocal minority of fans clamoring for Jack Coan to start. Hornibrook threw 15 interceptions this season, which is far too high. But he demonstrated marked improvement in several other statistical categories compared to his freshman season. His 25 touchdown passes were the second-most in a single season in school history behind Russell Wilson’s 33 in 2011. If Coan can push Hornibrook this offseason and provide a small measure of competition, it will help both players. But this is Hornibrook’s job. He has thrown 499 passes, while Coan has thrown 5. Plus, Hornibrook is only halfway through his college career and should be even better next season.
Starter: Jonathan Taylor
Backups: Bradrick Shaw, Chris James
Overview: The running back group has traditionally been a position of strength for Wisconsin, and that will be the case again in 2018. Jonathan Taylor is coming off a special freshman season in which he was a Doak Walker Award finalist and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Taylor set the single-season freshman FBS rushing record with 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry and was a true workhorse. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor averaged 4.7 yards after contact per carry, which was the third-highest mark among Power 5 running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts. Bradrick Shaw and Chris James each battled injuries during the season, which prevented them from showcasing all their skills. Shaw rushed for 365 yards but didn’t have the same burst he did as a freshman. James rushed for 233 yards. He could be a bigger weapon in the passing game next season.
Starter: Alec Ingold
Backup: Jake Whalen
Overview: Alec Ingold will no longer have to share fullback reps with Austin Ramesh, and Ingold is capable of having a major impact in Wisconsin’s offense. He played running back as a freshman in 2015 because of injuries and finished with 131 yards rushing with 6 touchdowns. He moved to fullback in 2016 and carried 18 times for 44 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ingold scored 3 more touchdowns in 2017 and is a great third-and-short option for the Badgers. Jake Whalen is currently the only other returning fullback on the roster, but his status moving forward is uncertain. Whalen battled a head injury this season, and there hasn’t been any announcement about his future. Wisconsin may look to move a player from another position to fill the backup fullback role.
Starters: Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis
Backups: A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor
Overview: Wisconsin hasn’t had a wide receiver unit as exciting as this one in years. Quintez Cephus was the Badgers’ No. 1 receiver until he sustained a season-ending right leg injury in early November against Indiana. Cephus finished with 30 catches for 501 yards with 6 touchdowns. Davis was simply phenomenal down the stretch and tallied 26 catches for 418 yards with 5 touchdowns. Eighteen of his catches came in the final five games after Cephus was hurt, and he caught 3 touchdowns in the Orange Bowl. A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor form a solid foursome. Taylor had the most catches among the wide receiver group with 31 for 475 yards with 5 touchdowns. Pryor added 13 catches for 179 yards and 1 touchdown.
Starter: Zander Neuville
Backups: Kyle Penniston, Jake Ferguson, Luke Benzschawel
Overview: Wisconsin uses multiple tight ends depending on the formation, but Neuville gets the starting nod because of his experience. He caught 9 passes for 81 yards with 2 touchdowns last season before sustaining a right leg injury in the regular-season finale against Minnesota. Neuville showed he can be more than a blocker in the Badgers’ offense. Penniston caught 7 passes for 56 yards with 1 touchdown. Both players should have a much greater role now that Troy Fumagalli has used up his eligibility. Jake Ferguson earned rave reviews during bowl prep and could be the next great tight end in Wisconsin’s pipeline.
Starter: Cole Van Lanen
Backup: Patrick Kasl
Overview: Even if Michael Deiter opts to return for his senior season, it seems highly unlikely he remains at tackle. Deiter earned All-America honors in 2017, but he’s a much better interior lineman, which is where he projects to play in the NFL. Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl deserve their opportunity to see the field. Kasl was excellent when he replaced an injured David Edwards at right tackle during the Orange Bowl.
Starter: Michael Deiter
Backup: Jon Dietzen or Jason Erdmann
Overview: Michael Deiter can play anywhere on the offensive line, but left guard seems to make the most sense next season, if he comes back to school. It’s awfully crowded on the depth chart, which speaks to how much talent the line has built up the past couple of seasons. Deiter has started 11 games at left guard in his career to go with 14 starts at left tackle and 16 starts at center. When healthy, Dietzen was Wisconsin’s starting left guard in 2017, but Jason Erdmann earned plenty of reps as well.
Starter: Tyler Biadasz
Backup: Brett Connors
Overview: Tyler Biadasz was so impressive as a redshirt freshman that coaches were able to slide Michael Deiter over to left tackle. Deiter had nothing but positive things to say about Biadasz and noted he was well ahead of the pace set by Deiter, who also started at center in his redshirt freshman season. Brett Connors has earned significant time at center and even started 4 games there in 2016. This is a pretty solid two-deep entering next season.
Starter: Beau Benzschawel
Backup: Micah Kapoi
Overview: Beau Benzschawel could have left school after his junior season and been a mid-round NFL draft pick. Instead, he announced that he would return for his senior season, which further bolsters Wisconsin’s offensive line. Benzschawel was an All-America player and should help the Badgers form a dominant right side of the line alongside right tackle David Edwards. Micah Kapoi can play both guard spots. But given the depth at left guard, he would seem to be a better fit as a reserve right guard. Kapoi came in at right guard for Benzschawel when he sustained a right leg injury against Florida Atlantic.
Starter: David Edwards
Backup: David Moorman
Overview: David Edwards has developed faster than anyone could have foreseen and earned All-America honors as a redshirt sophomore last season. He’ll only continue to improve in 2018. David Moorman seems a viable candidate to serve as Edwards’ backup because he has played in a bunch of games in each of the last two seasons. Patrick Kasl was Edwards’ backup this season, but he might be able to earn more reps next season at left tackle. The backup spots on the offensive line are still fluid, and we’ll have more answers once spring practice begins.