The landscape of college football is changing by the day. The game is entirely different from just a few years ago between the transfer portal, conference realignments, rule changes, and more. These changes are affecting not only the game's structure but the style of football we’ve seen certain teams play over the years.
One of those teams that may look completely different this year is the Wisconsin Badgers. Between getting a new head coach and the transfer portal, fans may not recognize the Badgers this season, and we’re here to break down what the team will look like and how those changes should have you betting on their win total.
Before we get into players that have joined or left the program through the portal, the first significant addition that should be noted is new head coach Luke Fickell, who was able to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to the College Football Playoff. Fickell is the first piece of the puzzle when it comes to the Badgers' style of play changing. The second puzzle piece is transfer quarterbacks Tanner Mordecai from SMU and Nick Evers from Oklahoma.
Evers will be the Badgers' long-term project, as Mordecai is expected to lead the Badgers onto the field in week one against Buffalo. In his two years at SMU, the gunslinger threw for 72 touchdowns and over 7,000 yards, so he brings a play style that Badger fans have not seen in decades. Last season the Badgers had Graham Mertz at the helm, and while he was once considered the next best thing for the program, his next chapter will be in Gainesville for the Gators.
While running back Braelon Allen is still the focal point of the Wisconsin offense, as he ran for over 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns last season, the improvements in the passing game take the pressure off him. Aside from Allen in the backfield, Mordecai will also have some new weapons to throw to, as two wideouts followed Fickell over from UC, while the Badgers also brought in C.J Williams out of USC.
The Badgers did lose offensive tackle Logan Brown to the portal, which is a tough loss to their o-line unit. The good news is they brought in Jake Renfro from Cincinnati, rated as a top-15 o-line portal addition by On3. Overall the Badgers line is still in a good spot and will have less pressure on them with Mordecai behind them, getting the ball out quickly.
Wisconsin’s defense benefits a bit from being in a conference that does not have a lot of offensive juggernauts. That said, the Badgers still have a strong defense built to stop the run, as they were 2nd in the country last season in yards per rush and 9th total yards per game. The defense did lose two big pieces to the draft, with Keeanu Benton and Nick Herbig being selected, but that is what the transfer portal is for.
Luke Fickell brought in two big additions through the portal in safety, Jason Maitre and edge-rusher Darian Varner. Wisconsin was 39th in the country in sack percentage last season, with Benton and Herbig leading the way, so Varner offers the ability to provide production to that area. Maitre and the Badgers highest rated recruit in their most recent class, Braedyn Moore, will also fill a big hole at the safety position since last year’s starter and interception leader, John Torchio, graduated.
One of the strongest units on the defense, the Badgers linebacker corp, will be led by last year's team leader in tackles, Maema Njongmeta. The position group to take the biggest hit from the portal and graduating seniors was the defensive backs, so we will likely see the three true freshman cornerbacks on the roster get significant playing time.
Wisconsin’s win total is currently set at 8.5, and for my play, I’ll be taking the over. Making significant changes after going 7-6 last season is a good thing, and Luke Fickell can certainly bring this team back to the top of their division in the conference. I have long been a fan of Tanner Mordecai, and his ability to air it out will only make things easier for Braelon Allen since he won’t have to deal with opponents stacking the box on him.
The Badgers also lucked out with their schedule by only having to play Ohio State for their one big conference game. Aside from that, they also get to play Rutgers, Northwestern, and Indiana, who are not projected to have strong seasons. With home games against Iowa and Nebraska, I think the Badgers can get their new era of football off with at least nine wins.
Over 8.5 Wins