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Wisconsin wide receiver Jazz Peavy's production decrease is the result of more offensive weapons around him.

Wisconsin mailbag: Recruiting success in Michigan, Big Ten teams that can threaten UW and which single-season record falls next

Jesse Temple

Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we’ll discuss Wisconsin’s recruiting success in the state of Michigan, the reasons for receiver Jazz Peavy’s lack of production, how Northwestern and Nebraska will stack up when Wisconsin plays each team and which single-season record a Badgers player might break next.


Question 1

Answer: Great question. Wisconsin has five commitments from the state of Michigan for its 2018 class, which is a pretty significant number. The Badgers didn’t have any commitments from that state for a five-year span from 2010-14.

The five committed players are wide receivers A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha, offensive tackle Michael Furtney, safety Reggie Pearson Jr. and athlete Jaylan Franklin, who will play tight end at Wisconsin.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the influx of Michigan talent heading to Wisconsin. For starters, the Badgers obviously made the prospects in that state a priority. Michigan and Michigan State, meanwhile, have a total of 28 commitments in the 2018 class, and only six come from Michigan.

Michigan State focused on Ohio, where nine of the team’s 15 commitments in 2018 came from. Michigan has 13 committed players, with three from Michigan, three from Georgia, two apiece from Florida, Texas and Indiana, and one from Connecticut.

What’s interesting is that Michigan did not offer a scholarship to any of the five prospects committed to Wisconsin. Michigan State offered four of the five players, excluding Pearson Jr. That’s a small sample size, but it shows Wisconsin’s ability to compete with Michigan State for prospects in the Spartans’ own backyard. The Badgers’ on-field success and ability to develop players appealed to prospects in Michigan.

“The in-state schools, they look at in-state kids, but it’s not everywhere,” Pearson Jr. told me in July. “They really recruit from certain schools because of their type of the school and all that stuff. We as the outer-city kids, we pretty much look like, ‘Dang, these guys aren’t recruiting us. They might have offered, but they aren’t hard on us like Wisconsin.’

“Wisconsin really wants us there. And they really want us to compete to be there. I’m not saying any other school wouldn’t do that. But Wisconsin is just really genuine about how they feel about you as a player.”

Battling with Michigan will be tougher if the Wolverines truly show interest in a prospect. Michigan landed the top two offensive tackles from the state, so it makes sense why the Wolverines didn’t pursue Furtney, who is rated as the No. 16 player in the state for 2018, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Michigan commit Ryan Hayes is No. 4 and Jaylen Mayfield is No. 7.

“I think what’s been very smart on Wisconsin’s part is just find the guys that fit your culture, and it doesn’t matter where they’re from,” said Milan High School football coach Jesse Hoskins, who coaches Furtney. “When you’re just selling your brand, you’re not really competing against Michigan or Michigan State. You’re just competing against yourself to find the right guys. So that’s the way I looked at it.”

Question 2

Answer: To me, this has everything to do with Wisconsin finally having more options in the passing game. And while that might not benefit Jazz Peavy’s statistics, it’s been great for the Badgers.

Tight end Troy Fumagalli has been fantastic. He leads the team with 15 catches for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns. But it’s been the development of young receivers Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Danny Davis that is most impressive.

Cephus already has 10 catches for 134 yards and 3 touchdowns. He caught 4 passes for 94 yards last season. And he has played more like a No. 1 receiver early this season, making catches in traffic and coming up with clutch plays.

Taylor has 6 catches for 72 yards with 1 touchdown. He caught 3 passes for 53 yards last season. Davis, meanwhile, is a home-run threat, as evidenced by his 50-yard catch off a play-action pass against BYU.

Peavy only has 4 catches for 56 yards so far. But he’s fully capable of producing some monster games in Big Ten play. The number of weapons in the passing game means defenses can’t key on any single player. And it likely means we’ll see the wealth spread around this season more than in previous years.

Question 3

Answer: None of the teams in the Big Ten West outside of Wisconsin have been particularly impressive through three games. In fact, I’d argue Purdue has looked the best among the other six teams. The Boilermakers played Louisville close, defeated Ohio 44-21 and then pummeled Missouri 35-3.

But I’ll still pick Penn State, which looks like the best team in the Big Ten East. The Nittany Lions’ offensive combination of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley is as good as any duo in the country. McSorley already has 753 passing yards with 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions Barkley leads the team in rushing yards (307) and receiving yards (241) and has 5 total touchdowns.

We saw just how good that offense was when McSorley threw for 384 yards passing in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin last season. Wisconsin’s players would love nothing more than an opportunity for redemption in the league title game this time around.

Question 4

Answer: I’m not sure what to make of Northwestern because just two games ago the Wildcats lost 41-17 at Duke. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said his offensive line “lost nearly every one-on-one battle,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Northwestern finished with 22 yards rushing on 21 attempts.

It’s still early in the season, and teams are going to have their inconsistent moments. Take Wisconsin trailing Utah State 10-0 in the first half in Week 1. But for the Wildcats to play so poorly was surprising. It will probably require a whole lot of running back Justin Jackson for Northwestern to win the time of possession battle and keep the chains moving against Wisconsin. Jackson rushed for 121 yards on 18 carries last week against Bowling Green, and he’s never afraid to take a pounding between the tackles.

Question 5

Answer: The biggest difference between a preferred walk-on and a walk-on is that a preferred walk-on generally is guaranteed a spot on the team and does not have to try out. A walk-on without such a designation likely has to try out to earn a spot on the roster.

Some coaches may also make that distinction because an FBS roster can only have 105 participants between the start of fall camp and the first game of the season or the beginning of school (whichever comes first). A walk-on may be left off the participation roster until after such time has passed.

Preferred walk-ons at a place like Wisconsin often turn down an immediate scholarship elsewhere for the opportunity to play for the Badgers. Some may even be promised a scholarship down the road, although that often doesn’t occur until two years have passed. According to athletescholarships.net, “giving a walk-on a scholarship after his freshman year still uses one of the 25 initial scholarships for that year. A player has to be on the team for two full years before they can get a scholarship and not have it count like an incoming student.”

That’s not to say that regular walk-ons can’t eventually earn a scholarship, but the road is much more difficult.

Question 6

Answer: The answer to this question remains a mystery. But the other question is whether Cichy will even attempt to earn another year of eligibility after suffering a season-ending torn right ACL during fall camp.

If Cichy wants to return to Wisconsin, he would have to appeal to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, and there is no guarantee he would win the appeal. Cichy used his redshirt season in 2014, and the fact it was not injury related could complicate his case. Quarterback Curt Phillips and defensive end/linebacker Brendan Kelly are past Badgers players who were granted a sixth year of eligibility. But both of those players missed two seasons because of injuries.

It would make sense for Cichy to appeal just to see what happens. But Cichy may also want to simply pursue the NFL, and you can’t really blame him for trying because the window of opportunity in the pros is short. Cichy missed half of last season with a torn pectoral muscle as well. He likely would have been an early NFL draft pick had he remained healthy this season. Now he’ll be more of an unknown entering the draft because he won’t be able to put a senior season on film and participate in the NFL draft combine to compare his measurables with peers.

Question 7

Answer: I can’t say how many snaps each player has been used, although they have told me in the past they generally split reps in the formations that require a fullback. This season, Ramesh has 4 carries for 14 yards with 1 touchdown. Ingold has 3 carries for 12 yards, as well as 2 catches for 19 yards.

One thing I do find interesting is how often Wisconsin’s coaching staff gives the ball to its fullbacks in third and fourth down scenarios, as well as goal line scenarios. I’ve written about this before, but the fullbacks were excellent in that role last season. Ramesh and Ingold combined for 35 rushing attempts last season, and 20 resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. Nineteen of the 35 rushes took place on third or fourth down. Neither player produced a play that resulted in negative yardage.

Of the duo’s 7 carries so far this season, 3 have resulted in a first down or a touchdown. Two of them have taken place on third down.

Question 8

Answer: Nebraska is an absolute mess right now following a 21-17 loss at home against Northern Illinois. Maybe the Cornhuskers can rally in Big Ten play, but this has been a miserable start to the season in Mike Riley’s third year as coach.

Wisconsin beat Nebraska 23-17 last season in overtime at Camp Randall Stadium. But that Cornhuskers team entered the game 7-0 and ranked No. 7 in the country. Nebraska is 3-6 since then.

The numbers this season are just staggering. Nebraska has given up more points than it has scored (99-95), and starting quarterback Tanner Lee has more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5). The wild card when the teams play will be the fact that the game will be in Lincoln. Home-field advantage plays a big role in college football. But Wisconsin’s overall talent should prevail, which means the Badgers won’t have to sweat out a victory like the past two seasons.

Question 9

Answer: That’s a really tough one. The two records you mentioned were Joe Ferguson’s 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against Utah State and Alex Hornibrook setting the single-game school record for completion percentage (94.7 percent on 18 of 19 passing) against BYU.

There was no real way to predict either of those records falling, nor is there a way to know which one comes next. But since you’re putting me on the spot, I’m going to go with one of the running backs breaking the school record for longest run. That mark currently belongs to tailback James White, who rushed 92 yards for a touchdown against Indiana on Nov. 16, 2013. I can see Wisconsin being backed up near its end zone, and Jonathan Taylor, Bradrick Shaw or Chris James splitting a hole and bolting for the end zone. Whether they’d have the stamina to out-run the rest of the defense would be fun to watch.

Have a question about Wisconsin football or basketball? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags here.