The Badgers return a loaded squad and should be the favorites in the Big Ten West once again
Head coach Paul Chryst's Wisconsin Badgers turned in an amazing 2017 campaign. Led by a breakout freshman superstar at running back, Wisconsin finished 13-1, going perfect in the regular season before losing a six-point heart-breaker to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Badgers were in and around the College Football Playoff conversation all season and with what this team has returning that should be the case again in 2018. Wisconsin's quest for a division, conference and national title starts this spring.
5 Storylines to Watch During Wisconsin's Spring Practice
1. Business as usual up front
It should be death and taxes for the Badgers along the offensive line. They started six different players in 2017 and all six return. Tackle Michael Deiter and guard Beau Benzschawel would have like been very high picks in the upcoming NFL draft. Instead, they'll be the cornerstones of what should be one of (if not the best) offensive lines in the country.
2. The evolution of Alex Hornibrook
Hornibrook (above, right) has been under fire since he arrived in Madison due to his inconsistent play. He has every tool needed to be a big-time quarterback on a championship-caliber team, and it looked like he turned a corner toward the end of 2017. His performance against Miami in the Orange Bowl (23-of-34, 258 yards, 4 TDs) was nothing short of marvelous. Keep an eye on whether or not he continues that momentum into the spring.
3. Replacing a legend at tight end
The only major loss the Badgers suffered on offense was the graduation of Troy Fumagalli — quite simply one of the best tight ends we've seen in college football in a long time. Replacing him won't be easy, and there will be a lot of competition for that crucial role in the Badger offense this spring. Look for Kyle Penniston, Luke Benzschawel and Jake Ferguson to eat up snaps as Zander Neuville continues to recover from an ACL tear.
4. The emergence of early enrollee Bryson Williams on the defensive line
Williams is a talented, athletic and intelligent defensive tackle from Lincoln, Nebraska, who turned down two different Cornhuskers coaching staffs and a chance to play in Bud Foster's system at Virginia Tech. With the lack of proven depth on Wisconsin's defensive line, you could see Williams step into a regular role and dominate during the spring session. Badger fans that paid close attention to Nebraska before they entered the Big Ten may be reminded a bit of Ndamukong Suh when they watch Williams operate. He's obviously not on Suh's level yet, but the potential is there and Williams could be a wild card for the Badgers’ defense this season.
5. Getting comfortable in the defensive backfield
The Badgers saw a lot of experience walk out the door of their defensive backfield when their 2017s season concluded. Luckily, there are some talented players waiting in the wings who should be able to get their feet under them during spring practice. D'Cota Dixon will no doubt be the vocal and physical leader of the unit. He'll likely be joined at the safety spot by Patrick Johnson — a guy who has the tools to become a star in the Big Ten. At corner, look for a group of about five guy to battle for those spots. Dontye Carriere-Williams, Madison Cone, Caesar Williams, Faion Hicks and Donte Burton all figure to be in the mix.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation and Bleacher Report. He has covered the Big Ten Conference extensively throughout his career. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.