It will be an uphill climb for the Badgers to repeat their 2016 success
The Wisconsin Badgers truly are the death and taxes of the college football world. Every year, we look at this team, chalk up their personnel losses, look at the schedule and underestimate them. The 2016 season was a textbook example of exactly that. We all looked at that gauntlet and decided that seven or eight wins should be considered a successful campaign. Then Wisconsin went out, won the Big Ten West Division, 11 games and the Cotton Bowl.
Death. And. Taxes.
Good luck figuring out the Badgers in 2017. They lost some NFL-caliber talent but return sneaky-good players on both sides of the ball. They'll have a young quarterback (Alex Hornibrook) with some starts under his belt and will face an underrated schedule in terms of difficulty.
So will it be more of the same for Wisconsin this fall? Athlon Sports polled a few writers to get their take on the Badgers’ realistic 2017 win/loss projection.
Wisconsin Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
The Badgers open the season with a pair of winnable games at home. Things start to get tricky when they head to Provo, Utah, to take on a tough BYU squad. After a week off, they host a Northwestern team that returns more starting experience than any other team in the Big Ten West. Trips to Lincoln and the Twin Cities to play the Cornhuskers and Golden Gophers, respectively, look like the toughest road outings Wisconsin will face. I like the fact that the Badgers get Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern all at Camp Randall.
Wisconsin's slate sets up nicely when you consider what its strengths will be. A solid offensive line should once again be the catalyst for one of the better running games in the conference. On defense, the Badgers will field a talented front seven to combat weekly matchups with some of the better running backs in the country.
All things considered, it looks like the Big Ten West will be one of the most wide-open divisions in college football. I can see Paul Chryst's club winning nine or 10 games and still failing to qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game based on which teams the Badgers lose to.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After facing one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2016, Wisconsin’s 2017 slate is significantly easier. Sure, the Badgers have to play at BYU, Minnesota, Nebraska and catch Michigan in crossover play. However, Ohio State or Penn State are gone from this year’s schedule and Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa all visit Madison. Coach Paul Chryst’s team should have one of the Big Ten’s top defenses, while the offense will continue to rely on a standout ground attack and offensive line. Sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook should take a step forward in his development. Wisconsin is the overwhelming favorite in the Big Ten West Division and should eclipse double-digit wins for the fourth year in a row.
Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna)
Fall is approaching in Madison, which means another double-digit win season and likely Big Ten title game appearance for Wisconsin is on the horizon. Few programs can match the consistency of the Badgers in the past decade — three head coaches in all — and they should field another league contender in 2017. An Alex Hornibrook-led offense that returns tight end Troy Fumagalli and several promising other skill players will be stellar, but the biggest jump may come on defense, where the line is the deepest it’s been in the three-year Paul Chryst era. A 10-2 mark is the safe bet for now, but if everything clicks, this could be a College Football Playoff contender.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
The Badgers will be hard-pressed to be as good as they were last season given some of the key departures but their record could be just as good (or better) thanks to that enticing schedule that is set up well to break in some new starters. Count me in the camp that expects some solid strides out of quarterback Alex Hornibrook and a much more balanced offensive attack in Madison for 2017, but this isn't going to be a group that blows anybody out of the water by any means. There will be growing pains on defense but there's still plenty on the roster to win the division once again and make a run at another conference title.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
The Badgers may not be the best team in the Big Ten, or even the second-best team, but they have everything in front of them to be part of the conversation for the conference title game, and perhaps the College Football Playoff as a result. The Badgers need to score a win at BYU early on and escape an upset scare from Northwestern before getting to Lincoln. Nebraska could be a toss-up, but the Badgers appear to be a more well-rounded and disciplined team at this point in time than the Cornhuskers. Even if Wisconsin loses to the Huskers, as I’m predicting, I don’t see much standing in the way of a return trip to the Big Ten Championship Game, thanks to a strong finish to the regular season with wins against Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota. If Wisconsin doesn’t reach 10 wins this season, it would be a bit of a shock.