This is all so strange for this old Badger, who remembers the days when a .500 record would have been progress.
A fifth consecutive double-digit-win season looks like a reachable goal. So does a sixth trip to the 8-year-old Big Ten championship game.
And yet, just like last year, Wisconsin runs the risk of being ridiculed and dismissed from College Football Playoff talk because of another uninspiring non-conference schedule.
The key non-Big-Ten opponent again is—yawn—BYU. Which reminds me of the old box-office joke.
``Exactly where is BYE located?'' a caller asked the ticket office. ``And do you have good seats available.?''
There is the matter of the Big Ten road schedule, though. Everyone knows the early trip to Iowa, which has a habit of blowing up the seasons of seriously good teams, will be a tester. The games at Michigan and Penn State clearly will require big-time efforts. And Northwestern and Purdue are capable of making life difficult for teams that don’t deliver their best shot.
In other words, Wisconsin may know some disappointment if it doesn't pack its best effort.
What I like about the Badgers, though, is that Paul Chryst, 34-7 in his first three years at his alma mater, is quietly establishing himself as one of the best in the college-football business. And Jim Leonhard got off to a great start in his debut at defensive coordinator.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The Badgers also have pieces in place. Junior Alex Hornibrook is an experienced clutch performer at quarterback. Sophomore Jonathan Taylor—who had a stellar debut (1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns) as a freshman—could insert himself into the Heisman race with another big year.
And he’ll be running behind an O Line that features three All-America candidates who all could wind up as first-round NFL picks: Guard Beau Benzschawel and tackles David Edwards and Michael Deiter.
One troubling issue: Top receiver Quintez Cephus was suspended indefinitely from the team on Monday after being charged with sexual assualt. Cephus’s lawyers say he is innocent.
Wisconsin remains a run-oriented team but subtracting a receiver threat like Cephus would be a big loss.
Linebacker T.J. Edwards, also an All-America candidate, heads up a defense that returns only four starters but has enough talented newcomers to be very stout.
So there you have it. Good coaching for a talented team that was recruited to play to the Badgers’ bruising tradition that Barry Alvarez instilled when he arrived in Madison nearly 30 years ago.
Its tough road schedule will challenge Wisconsin to match last fall’s 12-0 regular season. On the other hand, Chryst has a team capable of grinding out wins under difficult circumstances. And if there’s another team capable of unseating the Badgers from their perch atop the Western Division, it’s not clear what colors that team wears heading into the season.[/membership]