Wisconsin football has been one of the most consistent programs running in the Big Ten, outside of Ohio State, and the Badgers have been the regular favorite in the Big Ten West Division for a while now. That probably won't be changing in 2022, although the Badgers do have a bit of a chip on their shoulders this spring after not fulfilling their goals in 2021.
Related: Spring 2022 Big Ten Power Rankings
Blowout losses in back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Michigan dropped Wisconsin to 1-3, a far cry from the expectations the Badgers have come to expect of themselves in Madison. But they stayed the course and went on a run of seven straight wins, highlighted by a 20-point victory over Iowa. But a loss in the final game of the regular season to rival Minnesota kept Wisconsin from playing for a Big Ten title, and allowed Iowa to bypass them on the way to Indianapolis to face Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game.
So as spring football practices renew hope in Madison, there is a good amount of work to be done across the roster before the fall. Here are some key things to pay attention to with Wisconsin's spring football practices this year.
5 Storylines to Watch During Wisconsin's Spring Practice
1. New offensive coordinator Bobby Engram gets to work
There is a new offensive coordinator in Madison this season, and he brings some NFL coaching background to the table. Engram is reuniting with head coach Paul Chryst from their brief time together at Pittsburgh, and Engram is looking to stick to Wisconsin's bread and butter running the ball. The former Penn State wide receiver is joining the Wisconsin staff after eight years as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens.
2. Another year for Graham Mertz
There won't be any quarterback controversy in Madison this year, although offseason transfer portal activity would suggest Mertz shouldn't be too complacent. After Wisconsin reportedly was in the mix for former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams in the transfer portal (Williams eventually followed Lincoln Riley to USC), the pressure for Mertz should be on after some up-and-down moments in his collegiate career. For now, this is still Mertz's team and Chryst is not in a rush to pull him out of the job.
3. Big shoes to fill at inside linebacker
Aside from running backs, one of the most stable positions for Wisconsin over the years has been the linebackers. But this spring sees the Badgers looking to replace two big names with Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal each leaving for the NFL. There are players with some experience competing for the starting jobs in the heart of the Wisconsin defense, including Maema Njongmeta and Jordan Turner, but this should be considered a wide-open competition.
4. Finding a new go-to receiving target
The OC-QB combo of Engram and Mertz will look to establish a new go-to connection in the passing game. Following graduation, NFL departures, and transfer portal activity, Wisconsin is in need of learning who it can trust to catch some passes in 2022. That includes at the tight end position, where Jake Ferguson leaves a big hole to fill in the offensive game plan. Experience is lacking in the receiver and tight end positions in Madison.
5. Theme of the spring: Finish!
One of the biggest reasons Wisconsin was held back from playing for a Big Ten championship last season was its struggles finishing off drives. Wisconsin had 52 trips into the red zone in 2021 but just 28 of those ended with a touchdown. Wisconsin had the Big Ten's eighth-ranked red zone touchdown percentage in 2021. If the Badgers can finish off a few more possessions, they should find their way back to the Big Ten title game in 2022.
Podcast: Spring QB Battles, How NIL Collectives Will Impact CFB and Big Magazine News from Athlon Sports