Author: Jonathan Mills
A quick glance at Wisconsin’s 2019 recruiting and season outlook should provide a mood boost after a disappointing finish this year.
The Big Ten Conference boasts nine programs participating in bowl season this year. And for the 17th straight year, the Wisconsin Badgers are bowl bound. This time around, it’s to the city that never sleeps. Although UW is yet to take a snap in the Pinstripe Bowl to be played in Yankee Stadium in New York, it is never too early to look ahead, specifically towards the expectations and projected roster of the program in 2019.
So, where to begin?
Entering the 2018 season, many expected the offense to be a major strength and the driving factor that would eventually drive Wisconsin to the College Football Playoff. Yikes!
In fact, the Badgers recorded the conference’s seventh-best scoring offense (29.3 ppg), trailing behind opponents like Nebraska (30.0 ppg) and Purdue (31.9 ppg). Although Wisconsin finished with the fourth-best total offense (433.2 yards/game), one must question how far the team would have slipped in the rankings if not for the weekly performances of 2018 Doak Walker Award Winner and sophomore star running back Jonathan Taylor. His performance was guided by a healthy offensive line, one that graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before the season, but its [offensive line] play was erratic.
On defense, the Badgers were not as strong as they were a season ago. Additionally, the team suffered injuries before and during its regular season. Specifically, pass-rushers struggled mightily this year which was certainly a characteristic this program hasn’t experienced over the last few years.
Although there are lot of positive and negative takeaways to consider next season, arguably the biggest anticipation is that of incoming quarterback Graham Mertz. The Kansas product is enrolling early at UW to go through spring camp, and turned down big-name offers from schools like Clemson and Notre Dame. He was recently named Gatorade 2018 Kansas Football Player of the Year and completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,886 yards with 51 touchdowns. These are big numbers, but he will be taking advantage of the new NCAA red-shirt rule before he is even remotely close to competing for the starting job at UW.
When analyzing the running back position, the only questions surrounding Jonathan Taylor are (a) Will he keep healthy and (b) How much money can he make in the NFL is he keeps this production rate up? Also, the receiving corps will be more of the same, headlined by pieces like AJ Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor.
One of the biggest holes UW must fill is that of the offensive line. Michael Deiter, David Edwards and Beau Benzschawel will not be returning, but should earn a shot to succeed in the NFL. The defense is still young, but could use a boost of depth as injuries were frequent in 2018.
Fortunately, Wisconsin’s 2019 recruiting class is shaping to be one of its best.
With Mertz at the helm, names like Julius Davis (RB), Spencer Lytle (LB), Hayden Rucci (TE) and Semar Melvin (CB), among others, figure to find their footing when the opportunity arises. The strong pool of players suggests UW knows how to evaluate talent. This is especially true, since many of the prospects were unranked when they received an offer from the Badgers. And with college football’s early signing period on the horizon (Dec. 19), there is still time for head coach Paul Chryst and his staff to land a few notable names.
On to the next.