T.J. Edwards' play in the middle of the Wisconsin defense is a big reason why the Badgers went undefeated in the regular season
The Wisconsin Badgers went through a full 12-game regular season without suffering a loss, but the hopes of winning the Big Ten championship and potentially landing a spot in the College Football Playoff will have to wait for another year. The Badgers' typical recipe of running and strong defense never skipped a beat this season despite having to replace a key running back and a couple of injuries to the defense. Before the Badgers wrap up their season in the Orange Bowl against the Miami, here is a look at the highlights of the season for Wisconsin.
Offensive MVP: Jonathan Taylor, RB
What would a Wisconsin offense be without a stud running back? This season saw the rise of Taylor (above, right), a freshman who leads the Big Ten with 1,847 rushing yards along with the second-most touchdowns on the ground (13). Taylor burst onto the scene in Week 2 with 223 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Florida Atlantic. He eclipsed the 200-yard mark two more times and has had just four games with fewer than 120 rushing yards.
Defensive MVP: T.J. Edwards, LB
The junior linebacker earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 11 tackles for a loss and 75 total tackles for the Badgers’ defense in the regular season. In addition to his big tackles, Edwards also has picked off four passes, returning one of those for a touchdown.
Best Freshman: Jonathan Taylor, RB
It should go without much debate the best freshman on the roster in Madison this season is the Big Ten's leading rusher. Taylor followed in the footsteps of a number of great running backs to come through the program before him and has continued to carry on the legacy at the position. Taylor is easily on his way to rushing for 5,000 career yards in Madison.
Best Play of the Season: Natrell Jamerson's pick-six helps hold off Northwestern
In late September, Wisconsin had to hold off a late push from Northwestern to secure a 33-24 victory. Defense played a key role in the fourth quarter with a safety and Jamerson's 36-yard interception return for a touchdown. Jamerson's play pushed the Wisconsin lead to 31-10 at the time, which was important as Northwestern scored touchdowns on their next two possessions.
Best Performance by a Player in 2017: Taylor has career day against Nebraska
We know Nebraska's defense was not exactly something to fear this season, but Jonathan Taylor put up a season-best 249 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 38-17 win in Lincoln. It was the second time in his first five games that Taylor went over 200 yards on the ground and it also was his second multi-touchdown game. Taylor has not scored two rushing touchdowns in a game since and has just one other 200-yard game to his credit (vs. Purdue).
Best Game (Team Performance): Total domination in 38-14 win against Iowa
A week after the Iowa Hawkeyes ambushed Ohio State in a 55-24 shocker, Wisconsin was on high alert with Iowa coming to Madison. But Jonathan Taylor ran for 157 yards and the Badgers’ defense allowed just 66 yards of offense. Wisconsin did have four turnovers, but the defense also forced three in a dominating effort that also saw Iowa fail to convert a third down attempt in 13 tries. The win set the tone for the Badgers to lock up the Big Ten West Division.
Defining Moment: Pitching a shutout against Minnesota to go 12-0
Wisconsin has held the upper hand on their rivals from Minnesota for a long time now, so a win was not at all surprising. But to complete a perfect 12-0 regular season by shutting out the Gophers 31-0 was a fitting end to a successful season. Doing so with their usual style against a Minnesota program attempting to generate some new sparks under the energetic P.J. Fleck was also business as usual for the Badgers.
Biggest Surprise: Alex Hornibrook didn't cost Wisconsin a win earlier
It is a good thing Wisconsin's running game and defense were up to par because Hornbrook had his ups and downs at quarterback that could have cost most teams at least once somewhere along the way. Hornibrook has 15 interceptions in 13 games this season, including three games with multiple picks. From Sept. 30 through Nov. 18, Hornibrook was picked off at least once in every game Wisconsin played.
Biggest Disappointment: Not winning the Big Ten
Simply put, finishing the season with a 12-0 record and then losing in the Big Ten Championship Game definitely puts a damper on an otherwise impressive season. Wisconsin worked hard all year long to secure a return trip to the Big Ten Championship Game a season after letting a big lead go to waste against Penn State in Indianapolis. This year, the Badgers were looking to finish what they could not a year ago, but hit a roadblock against Ohio State.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Troy Fumagalli, TE
Next year, Wisconsin will have to replace one of the nation's top tight ends after Troy Fumagalli heads off to the NFL. Fumagalli is Wisconsin's leading receiver with 43 receptions for 516 yards and four touchdowns. He has been one of the most reliable players in the Big Ten among receivers the last two seasons.
Player to Watch in 2018: Danny Davis III, WR
The running game may still be the primary focus of Wisconsin's offensive attack in 2018, but Davis may work his way into a larger role in the passing game. He got some opportunities to show what he can do early on this season and again later in the year as he’s posted 21 catches for 362 yards, good for 17.2 yards per reception.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Will the Badgers feel any need to change anything before 2018?
Paul Chryst is known to be a guy that is content running things the way that works best for Wisconsin. After missing out on the Big Ten championship in back-to-back seasons, however, could there be any sense of urgency to find something new that helps Wisconsin get over that last hurdle? There may be no need for Wisconsin to drastically change their identity or playbook before the 2018 season, but adding a few more wrinkles to use later may not be a terrible idea.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.