Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor is a big reason why the Badgers are 6-0 and on their way to another Big Ten West Division title
Everything appears to be going according to plan in Madison, Wisconsin this season. The Wisconsin Badgers continue to work their way up the rankings and are one of the last undefeated teams in the country left standing. The seasons may be changing, but the recipe for Wisconsin's success remains consistent with a powerful running game and a defense shutting down their opponents.
Wisconsin also has benefited from quite a favorable schedule this season, which is not overlooked when comparing various College Football Playoff contenders. However, these Badgers look to have as good a shot to win the Big Ten midway through the season as Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan.
Here is a quick look at where Wisconsin has been this season and where we are going next in the 2017 season.
Offensive MVP: RB Jonathan Taylor
In a conference with plenty of talented running backs, Wisconsin's freshman leads the Big Ten with 986 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He has already put together three 200-yard rushing performances and is on a pace that surpasses former Wisconsin Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne's 2,0000-yard freshman season.
Defensive MVP: LB Garrett Dooley
The senior Badger linebacker hits the midway point of the season tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks with 5.5 (Michigan's Chase Winovich also has 5.5 sacks), and Dooley also is third in the conference in tackles for a loss with 8.5 this season. He should continue to make key plays on defense the rest of the way.
Best Moment of the First Half: Safety against Northwestern seals a win
There has not been a bunch of drama for Wisconsin on the field so far this season with an average margin of victory of 23 points per game, but Northwestern gave the Badgers a mild scare. Northwestern took a 10-7 lead to halftime in Madison in late September before the Badgers seemed to grab control of the game in the second half to build a 31-10 lead. The Wildcats scored a couple of touchdowns in the fourth quarter and had the ball once again, but Wisconsin brought down Clayton Thorson in the end zone for a safety in the final minute of the game to preserve what would end up being a 33-24 victory to keep the undefeated season going.
Best Newcomer: RB Jonathan Taylor
It cannot be overstated just how much of an impact Taylor has had for the Badgers this season. Even for a team that always seems to have a good running back in the fold, what Taylor is doing is impressive.
Biggest Surprise: Wisconsin's defense hasn't skipped a beat despite key injuries
Wisconsin's defense has generally been pretty reliable over the years, but the losses of linebacker Jack Cichy and defensive end Chikwe Obasih (and a handful of others) figured to hamper Wisconsin's defensive effort at least a little bit. Whether due to the favorable schedule or just because Wisconsin has been stocked on defense, the Badgers keep locking down their opponents every week.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Can the Badgers get to Indianapolis without a loss?
Wisconsin appears to be in a prime position to make a return trip to the Big Ten Championship Game without a loss. Getting to Indianapolis at 12-0 to face the East Division champion puts Wisconsin right in position to make their first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
2. Will Taylor break 2,000 rushing yards?
Taylor is nearly halfway to the 2,000-yard mark, and given the luxury of a potential Big Ten Championship Game and at least one additional postseason game in the bowl season after that, it seems inevitable Taylor will crack the 2,000-yard mark. But can he do it in the regular season? It will not come easily with Michigan among the opponents still to play.
3. Can Alex Hornibrook avoid key mistakes?
Wisconsin is a team that can get by on the ground, but there should be some concern about what Hornibrook (above, right) will do in a key situation. sophomore quarterback has been picked off five times in the last three games with just three touchdowns passes in the box score. If a team does manage to limit the running game, Hornibrook will have to make some plays.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 18 vs. Michigan
The Wolverines may not have much of anything going on offense, but the defense Michigan brings to the table is not to be forgotten. The possibility of this being a Big Ten Championship Game preview two weeks ahead of the actual game is still a possibility, but this should be a good defensive battle in Madison regardless.
2. Nov. 11 vs. Iowa
The Hawkeyes come to Madison in mid-November looking for an upset. With Michigan coming up the following week, Wisconsin cannot afford to look past running back Akrum Wadley and the Iowa defense.
3. Nov. 4 at Indiana
The Hoosiers have given Ohio State and Michigan a couple of good games, and Indiana even managed to slow down Penn State for a good amount of time. But the Hoosiers just cannot seem to get over the hump and make a play or two to flip a game their way against the top programs in the Big Ten. But going to Bloomington appears to be tricky this season.
4. Nov. 25 at Minnesota
Wisconsin has dominated this rivalry for a while now, and that does not appear likely to change this season. P.J. Fleck may be lining up some good things for Minnesota's future, but Wisconsin is just too strong and deep in all areas compared to Minnesota. Badgers hold on to Paul Bunyan's Axe for at least another year.
5. Oct. 21 Maryland
The Terrapins are already banged up and lacking depth, and they have not fared particularly well on the road against the top Big Ten programs since joining the conference. This one could get ugly in a hurry in favor of Wisconsin.
6. Oct. 28 at Illinois
After taking on Maryland, Wisconsin gets what should be another fairly easy game on the road against Illinois. The Illini have a long way to go to be competitive, as evidenced by a 35-24 loss at home to Rutgers.
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of @BadgerFootball)