The Paul Chryst era has been a good one for the Wisconsin Badgers fans across the country. In five seasons with Chryst at the helm, the Badgers have gone 52-16, including a 34-10 conference record on their way to three Big Ten West titles and four bowl game victories. Since 2014, the Badgers have been one of the top teams in the entire conference, right in the ballpark of Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State.
With a schedule made up entirely of Big Ten competition, the Badgers look to repeat as West-Division champs in 2020.
Wisconsin will replace linebackers Zach Baun and Chris Orr, who combined for 33.5 tackles for loss and 24 sacks in 2019. Replacing the best linebacker duo in the conference is no small task, but the Badgers have a history of developing elite linebackers (Zach Baun, Chris Borland, DeAndre Levy, TJ Watt). Likely replacements could include Noah Burks, Izayah Green-May, or Jaylan Franklin, who have all had previous years of experience.
Cryst has brought in a talented group of freshmen, including Spencer Lytle, Nick Herbig, and Kaden Johnson. In a year with less preparation, however, teams will put a massive premium on proven experience.
The defensive line is in relatively good shape. With three skillful players at defensive end, Isaiah Loudermilk, Garrett Rand, and Matt Henningsen, the Badgers will look to the big men to help mitigate any production loss at the linebacker position. Keeanu Benton, the big defensive tackle, will also look to anchor the Badgers 3-4 front.
In the secondary, the Wisconsin Badgers will look to Caesar Williams to fill the corner spot opposite to Faion Hicks. Eric Burrell will once again be the group leader at safety, so it seems as though the Badgers’ secondary will be in decent shape for 2020.
Offensively, Wisconsin’s most significant question mark is who will step up after losing their best player, Jonathan Taylor. Taylor leaves a massive hole to fill in this Badgers offense with 6,581 yards from scrimmage and a whopping 55 touchdowns in three seasons. In his three seasons as a Badger, Taylor had no less than 1,977 rushing yards per year, meaning that whoever steps up will have big shoes to fill in 2020.
It is unlikely that a single player will be able to do what Taylor did, but Garrett Groshek and Nakia Watson, as well as four-star recruit Jalen Berger, will look to produce on the ground in Taylor’s stead.
The passing game is another issue entirely; with Jack Coan set to miss multiple weeks with a foot injury, talented quarterback Graham Mertz may get his opportunity to entrench himself as the long-term starter at the position.
There is no clear frontrunner at wide receiver, either. With Quintez Cephus leaving for the NFL, the Badgers will look to tight end Jack Ferguson and receivers Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor to step up in a big way. After that, there is not much in the way of proven pass catchers on the team. Mertz will have his work cut out for him on an offense that will have its fair share of growing pains going into this season.
Overall, it is difficult to pin a team’s success on a single player. Still, when that player averaged 2,058 rushing yards a season, it is illogical not to expect a significant drop-off. The losses of Taylor and Cephus and Coan’s injury will be a lot to overcome, but the Badger’s relatively favorable schedule will allow them to play out some of their growing pains.
2020 season record prediction: 6-2
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