#13 Wisconsin Football 2021 Preview

Wisconsin Badgers
Overall Rank: #13
#2 Big Ten
 Wisconsin Logo
Wisconsin rushed for just 164.6 yards per game, ranking 62nd in the nation and 7th in the Big Ten. That is not what we expect from Wisconsin. There was a stretch of three games where the Badgers averaged fewer than seven points per game. The defense did well enough to keep the Badgers in those games, but a Big Ten West title will elude this group if the ground game does not improve.
2020 Record: 4-3, 3-3
2020 Bowl: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. Wake Forest (W 42-28)
Coach: Paul Chryst (56-19 at Wisconsin, 75-38 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Paul Chryst
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Leonhard
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jalen Berger, RB, 301 yards
Passing: Graham Mertz, QB, 1,238 yards
Receiving: Jake Ferguson, TE, 305 yards
Tackles: Jack Sanborn, LB, 52
Sacks: Leo Chenal, LB, 3.0
Interceptions: Scott Nelson, S, 2
Other Key Returnees: WR Jack Dunn, WR Chimere Dike, OL Logan Bruss, S Collin Wilder, LB Nick Herbig, CB Faion Hicks, CB Caesar Williams
Key Losses: RB Garrett Groshek, RB Nakia Watson, OL Cole Van Lanen, S Eric Burrell, DL Isaiahh Loudermilk
Jalen Berger had a decent freshman season, leading the Badgers with 301 yards in just four games. The hope is Berger can be the workhorse this team needs. Coach Paul Chryst needs depth at running back too. Julius Davis and Isaac Guerendo have potential, but neither have proven that they are ready to take on large roles. Quarterback Graham Mertz had a disappointing 2020 campaign after a superb 2019 season and struggled against the tougher defenses on the schedule. Mertz has proven that he can lead this team though and the passing game should be in good shape. Having a talented stable of receivers will help too. Tight end Jake Ferguson led the team with 30 receptions for 305 yards and four touchdowns and is a big target. Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis III did not play much in 2020, but both are proven pass catchers. In their absence, Jack Dunn and Chimere Dike gained valuable experience and will be in the mix for more catches in 2021.
Wisconsin ranked fifth in the nation allowing just 299.9 yards per game. They also gave up just 17.4 points per game. The front line has some holes to fill, but there are still talented options, including Oregon transfer Isaac Townsend who could help bolster a pass rush that ranked tenth in the Big Ten in sacks. The defense will revolve around inside linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal. They were the team’s top tacklers in 2020 and also combined for 4.0 sacks and 10.0 tackles-for-loss. The hope is the outside linebackers like Nick Herbig and Noah Burks can emerge as more consistent pass rushing threats. The secondary had to rely on quite a few younger players last season and now they should be ready to turn into more consistent playmakers. Scott Nelson picked off two passes from his safety spot. Cornerbacks Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams failed to record any interceptions, but they played well overall and should be able to make a few more big plays in 2021.
The Bottom Line:
The Badgers defense will keep them in just about every game. It is the offense that has more questions. If Mertz and Berger are at their best, this is a group that should win the Big Ten West. Both Iowa and Northwestern, the two team’s that finished ahead of Wisconsin in the West last season, come to Madison.
Projected Bowl:  Rose Bowl
2020 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 164.6 (62nd in nation, 7th in conference)
Passing Offense: 181.0 (108, 13)
Total Offense: 345.6 (103, 12)
Scoring Offense: 17.4 (9, 3)
Rushing Defense: 96.1 (5, 1)
Pass Defense: 203.7 (31, 4)
Total Defense: 299.9 (5, 1)
Scoring Defense: 17.4 (9, 3)
Turnover Margin: 0.00 (60, 8)
Sacks: 1.57 (100, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 1.71 (36, 5)