By Wade Flavion
MADISON- Finally we get to Badger special teams in this preview series, and I am happy to say there will be a significant amount of change in the unit going into next season.
The team will be graduating several seniors at special teams including Anthony Lotti (punter), Zach Hintze (kicker), and Connor Allen (backup punter and holder). Anthony Lotti had solid years early on UW, but after being benched last season for poor performance and another poor year this season, Wisconsin fans will be looking forward to a brighter future. Lotti averaged 39.7 yards per punt last season, which ranks 140th in FBS schools and failed to recover two fumbles in both the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl that may have caused the tide to turn against Wisconsin in both of these games. Allen took over for Lotti at the end of last season and has shown impressive consistency for Wisconsin. His abilities at holder, and as a fail-safe at punter will be missed next season for the Badgers.
The team will also be losing Zach “Touchback” Hintze who pinned opposing teams at the 25 at a record pace last season. His great leg leads the Badgers to become one of the best kick off teams in the country and allowed for him to set a school record in hitting a 62-yard field goal against Purdue. The Fond Du Lac native led the FBS with the longest field goal this season and may get a chance to showcase his talents at the next level next year.
Wisconsin is now left with one kicker, one punter, and someone who can play both positions. The team will have the incredibly consistent Adam Bay at long snapper for next season as well. Conor Schlichting is the punter left on the roster, and after working his way back from injury and walking on to the Badgers three years ago he looks primed to take the starting role. His big leg and coachability have allowed him to learn and excel at punter in only three years at the position and football in general. He did have problems with consistency at the beginning of his Wisconsin tenure, but after years to hone his craft he looks ready to take the big stage.
Another returning player is Collin Larsh who had a very inconsistent first year as a starter last season for Wisconsin. He was often only used in field goals less than 35 yards, and in those attempts, he converted them 66.7 percent of the time. This would put him as the 113th best kicker in the FBS. He had a long last season of 44 yards and was incredibly good at converting the extra point 98.1 percent of the time. Although there was inconsistency, with another year under his belt, I believe that Collin Larsh can take the next step forward to become someone that Paul Chryst can count on late in games. He may not be the best kicker, but he can sure be a good one for the Badgers.
Lastly is the former five-star kicker/punter and Under Amour all-American Blake Wilcox, who came to UW as a preferred walk-on. He is sure talented, but it will be tough for him to beat out the experience at either position going into this season. That being said, I believe that Wilcox will win either the starting kicker or punter job. He was nothing short of impressive in High School and averaged 5 yards longer per punt than Anthony Lotti did last season. In his time here at UW Wilcox has converted to kicker, and will likely try to win the job from Larsh who struggled at points last season.
The special teams will be difficult to decide how it shakes out, but we will get a better idea of who is going to start as we go into spring and fall camp.
Below I have attached my predicted depth chart for next season.
|Position||1st String||2 String||3rd String|
|Punter||Conor Schlichting||(Incoming Freshmen)|
|Kicker||Blake Wilcox||Collin Larsh|
|Longsnapper||Adam Bay||Josh Bernhagen||Peter Bowden|
|Holder||Collin Larsh||Conor Schlichting|