Another 2017 Wisconsin Season Preview

The world was one Wisconsin football season preview short. But not anymore. Other rightings: Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern, Rutgers, Maryland.

Going to Wisconsin promises to be the best 4 to 60 years of your life. The well-being of a Badgers fan is tied to one of the most dependable and productive outfits this side of 1990. Yes, even when Wisconsin goes 4-4 in conference, it has the clean-handed cosmic luck to crack the Big Ten championship game — and the momentum, by season’s end, to score 70.

Welcome to Wisconsin Privilege.

In the East Division, three of the best college football programs of all time slug it out annually. But out in the Big Ten West, everything comes easy for Wisconsin, which is asked yearly to play teams that are, at best, quality knockoffs of their own style of play; and at worst, much worse.

Indeed, being a Badgers fan is like having an uncle who lines up an interview for a cushy 9-to-5 job that will support you and your family for the rest of your life. Showing up to the job site, you find doors opening by mere mention of your surname. The interview itself involves your patiently listening while the company CEO recounts exploits he and the aforementioned uncle got into back in their halcyon days…in Madison, the “best college town in America.” What did they have in common? They both “hated school but loved college.

Meanwhile, the job, the conference titles, happiness itself — they’re there for the taking. All Wisconsin has to do is show up, run the ball, and limit turnovers to claim its God-given birthright.

Few could embody that birthright better than Paul Chryst, a native son of Madison, progeny of the former head coach of Wisconsin-Platteville, a man to the practice facility born. Football is part of the Chrystian ethos, and if Paul’s breath is foul from time to time because he drinks beer instead of water, if he slouches into a consummate Dad bod, if he precedes every remark with a self-effacing “y’know,” it’s because those things, too, are part of the Wisconsonian birthright.

There might have been concerns, early on, that Barry Alvarez, avatar of every hard-driving boss who incites the sour stomach and elevated blood pressure that plagues the average American male, would badger Chryst too much, as he’d done for Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen. But those concerns have passed as the smirk playing at the corner of Chryst’s mouth has failed to waver, his genial good humor has proven indefatigable, and success has come to his teams as naturally as it should.

True to its privileged circumstances, Wisconsin’s season is likely to be quite good. Still, one could try to jump through impossibly tiny hoops envisioning how it might go off the rails — a loss at BYU to make up for whatever ill will Andersen’s departure incited in the Mormon God; or a loss at home to Utah State, the Aggies finally making good on their near-upset in 2012 (and again, that spiteful Mormon God); or an early-season injury to Alex Hornibrook, or, or…

But nah. Relax, man. Siddown, have a beer. What’s got your goat? Everything’s gonna be fine. The variance in outcome of any Wisconsin season is not far from the average white male’s: the floor is not that low. And the ceiling? This is a stadium, bro.

Better yet, this is a Camp, and the rules are ABC: Always Be Campin’. After all, there is no overthrowing the Barry-archy. And underthrows? Well, they’re some of the smartest throws a quarterback can make. So enjoy your time in Madison, where things are the way they’ve been since 1990, and, y’know, all other things being inequal, this is probably how they’ll be forever.


Best Case Scenario

Wisconsin smoothly hands off the running game to either Bradrick Shaw, Chris James, or camp hotshot Jonathan Taylor as the Badgers break through their preconference opponents in the usual style. A spirited Northwestern squad raises UW’s heartrate in time for the roadtrip to Nebraska, where Hornibrook aces the interview with a few Jazzy bon mots to the corner endzone. Privilege keeps Wisconsin bobbing above working-class foes like Purdue, Maryland, Illinois, and Indiana, the latter game another careful edging on the road that focuses Wisconsin for its yearly tilt with Iowa, where, again, the Badgers do not lose to a more threadbare version of themselves. Vengeance is had on Michigan at home with a 14-7 win that goes Madison’s way, and Wisconsin wastes Minny to enter the Big Ten Championship undefeated. It’s a rematch with Penn State that they likewise avenge; rematches will be big in 2017. They win in the College Football Playoff as the two-seed before losing in the National Championship, proving privilege can get you 14 wins, but that last one you have to earn for yourself.

Worst Case Scenario

Wisconsin Privilege preserves a high floor when given tools like these. Consequently, even if the Badger defense is discombobulated by a new coordinator, or if no one immediately emerges in the rungame, they will do no worse than a clean preconference schedule. Assuming, again at the worst, that they go 1-1 in the NW/Neb back-to-back, they still coast through the Purdue, Maryland, and Illinois games…and improved or not, Indiana is not topping Wisconsin at home. So the Badgers face Iowa and Michigan at home. Could they lose both games? Sure, capping the season with a big win over Minnesota and a bowl opponent they crush, because the year a Wisconsin team this good doesn’t win double-digit games is a year the Bastille gets stormed and foul becomes fair. And that’s what passes for a shit season in Madison, 2017.

Most Likely Case Scenario

The last three years have been 11, 10, and 11 win seasons. The Badgers’ rich uncle is about to call with a sure-thing investment guaranteed to grow 11 wins into 12. Everything else works out, so why not this? After all, this is the best preseason Wisconsin team since 2011. It doesn’t really matter which running back has the most carries this season because the O-line was weaned on that special Badger State whole milk and will open holes big enough for Corey Clement’s ghost to gain 1,000 yards, to say nothing of the James-Shaw-Deal-Taylor committee that may top 2,500 total…or more! Alex Hornibrook powers through a manageable preconference slate with 220 YPG and only a couple picks, then proves his moxy scrambling for a couple key fourth-quarter first downs to salt away a tough win over West rival Northwestern. From there, the Badgers are a well-oiled mammal, ripping off classic Wisco win after win until Michigan comes to town. Eager to avenge their disappointing loss in Ann Arbor last season, the Badgers get out in front of their skis, and three dumb fourth quarter penalties later, the Wolverines kick a late field goal to win a defensive struggle. But fear not: history has shown that even when Wisconsin loses to Michigan, they barely suffer for it poll-wise, so the Badgers maintain their top 5 status and inside track to the New Year’s Six. Chryst puts PJ Fleck in his place the next week, and it’s off to Indianapolis once again. Unfortunately for the Badgers, they fall headfirst out of the branch of a Buckeye tree, and leave Lucas Oil Stadium dazed by the fumes of a respectable but convincing loss to eventual National Champion Ohio State. Once again unharmed by a loss to a B1G blueblood, the Badgers win a prestige bowl over South Florida and finish the season 12-2.


Did You Know?

Former Badgers quarterback Joel Stave is still haunted by the yips.

Fantasy Preview


Wisconsin quarterbacks have been ideal fantasy backups. The indistinguishable ranks of Sherer, Stocco, Stave, and Tolzien have comforted scores of fantasy owners who see their starter’s name on the injury report. But occasionally, a Badger rises above. Sophomore lefty Alex Hornibrook may just rise above. Splitting time with Bart Houston last year, Hornibrook showed a willingness to air it out and the arm strength to get away with it–sometimes. A Wisconsin offense is never going to be pass-heavy or put up gaudy stats through the air, but in this weakened fantasy QB market Hornibrook is probably about 7th at the position. Rather than back up the star, he may just lead a RB-RB-D-QB drafter to a fantasy title.

Running Back

The conventional wisdom that the Wisconsin Starting Running Back is a surefire first-round pick is being tested this season. In spots last year, Bradrick Shaw looked every bit like the heir to Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon. However, if the reports and prognosticators are believed, then the Wisconsin backfield may be a true committee for the first time in years, with Pitt transfer Chris James and Shaw as 1 and 1A. Historically, the Wisconsin offense has no trouble fielding two, if not three, viable fantasy running backs, but one has always been the clear workhorse. If they really share carries equitably this year, then it may make the most sense to grab whichever back falls into the late second round. Definite third option Taiwan Deal, recovered from injury, will steal some goal-line TDs, and camp reporters love freshman Jonathan Taylor. They need to be on your free agent radar.

Wide Receiver

Jazz Peavy is hardcore fantasy porn. He’s deadly on sweeps, screens, and returns. The more touches he gets, the more dynamic the Badgers’ offense–and someone’s fantasy team–will be. His fantasy doppelganger is, unsurprisingly, 2015 do-it-all Wisco receiver Alex Erickson, who never scored below 9 points in a game that season. At this output and in this depleted Big Ten WR class, Peavy is worth strong consideration at the end of the second round and shouldn’t slip out of the third. The rest of the Wisco wideouts are probably later round or free agent prospects, but keep a close eye on Quintez Cephus. He may emerge and make someone in your league very, very happy. A darkhorse is AJ Taylor.

Tight End

The debate over Big Ten’s best tight end is pretty much down to Penn State’s Mike Gesicki and Wisconsin stalwart and master of the one-handed-catch Troy Fumagalli. He’s likely to be overdrafted, but he’s just as likely to be the top fantasy TE.


Madison is crawling with talented Italian football players, and Rafael Gaglianone is no exception.


The Badgers lost a couple all-conference linebackers, but this group is just as deep as those mid-2000s USC teams. Wisconsin lost two of the Big Ten’s best linebackers and still boast perhaps the best group in the conference. The loss of Jack Cichy for the year fucking sucks, but Garrett Dooley and TJ Edwards are ferocious defenders, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see them both make All-Conference. The defensive backfield is a bit depleted, but safety D’Cota Dixon should shine. With Michigan reloading on D and Ohio State facing Oklahoma and an East slate, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Wisconsin atop many fantasy defense rankings, especially with such a weak schedule to exploit.


Suggested Viewing

Wisconsin’s Cotton Bowl win over Western Michigan

All of the other songs from the House of Pain album that “Jump Around” is on

Alex Hornibrook describes typical summer day

Image via Phil Roeder/BY-2.0