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Three Reasons Why Wisconsin Football Can Win the Big Ten in 2023



Wisconsin Football Head Coach Luke Fickell

Why Wisconsin football can win the Big Ten in 2023

The Wisconsin football program was directionless midway through the 2022 season.

After struggles at the beginning of the year became too much to overlook, Paul Chryst was relieved of his head coaching duties. Jim Leonhard took over shortly after and did what he needed to do as Wisconsin’s interim coach as he led the program to a win in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

However, shortly after the offseason began, Athletic Director Chris McIntosh flipped the switch and made a splash hire with Luke Fickell coming into the fold. The new era of Wisconsin football is upon us, and high expectations have already come about.

With the changes made in the program, UW could be a potential Big Ten Championship contender. With Ohio State and Michigan still being threats for the title, there’s certainly no guarantee. However, Wisconsin has the coaching staff and talent to make a run.

With that in mind, here are three reasons the new-look Badgers can win the Big Ten Championship in 2023.

A favorable 2023 schedule for Wisconsin football

Starting off, the Badgers are looking at a very favorable schedule in 2023. Here’s the official schedule for next season from the Badgers.

Looking at the schedule, UW could be undefeated by the time they take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in Madison. Due to favorable matchups against Rutgers, Purdue, and the non-conference opponents, the Badgers could have a leg up early in the year.

Wisconsin will close out the season with games against Northwestern, Nebraska, and Minnesota, all of which UW should be favored.

The Badgers could be looking at a potential undefeated or one-loss season in 2023. If so, they’ll surely be the Big Ten Championship frontrunners.

Transfer additions could be the needle-mover

Shortly after Luke Fickell took over, a slew of transfers headed to the Wisconsin football program.

In those transfer additions, the Badgers found their QB1 in Tanner Mordecai, a potential WR1 in CJ Williams, and a plug-and-play center in Jake Renfro, among other vital offensive weapons.

On the defensive side, Wisconsin brought in defensive lineman Darian Varner, cornerback Jason Maitre, and edge rusher Jeff Pietrowski to bolster a talented UW defense.

The Badgers brought in 13 total transfers, all of which will be contributors either in year one or in the future. Wisconsin already had a well-assembled team before the transfers came in. But now, the transfer additions could very well be the needle mover to get Wisconsin back in the Big Ten Championship race.

Change in offensive philosophy

Perhaps the biggest reason the Badgers could contend for the Big Ten title is the addition of Phil Longo and the change in Wisconsin’s offensive philosophy.

Longo brings in the air-raid style offense, something never before seen in Madison. With the additions of CJ Williams, Bryson Green, Will Pauling, and Quincy Burroughs, the Badgers revamped the wide receiver room to bring in guys who will benefit from the air raid offensive scheme. On top of that, adding in a seasoned vet in Tanner Mordecai, known for his gunslinger play style, is a recipe for success.

However, the benefits of the new scheme continue beyond just the wide receivers. Due to the more spread-out offense, the running back duo of Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi will be running through less packed boxes up front. The two-headed rushing attack had a big season last year, combining for 1,715 rushing yards, and under the new scheme, those numbers could rack up even higher in 2023.

The change in offensive philosophy will benefit all the position groups next season. If this scheme is executed at a high level, Wisconsin could have one of the most explosive offenses in the country as they contend for a Big Ten Championship.

The Badgers are ushering in a new era for the program in September. If UW performs up to expectations, the Big Ten will be within reach in year one under Luke Fickell.

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin football news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Jake Maier on Twitter. @JakeJMaier.

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Wisconsin Football News, Notes From First Day of Spring Practice



Wisconsin Football
Sep 3, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; General view of Camp Randall Stadium prior to the game between the Illinois State Redbirds and Wisconsin Badgers. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Luke Fickell era is officially underway, and the Wisconsin football team was back on the field for the first day of spring practice. 

Madison, Wis. – University of Wisconsin football coaches and players took the field on Saturday afternoon and started laying the foundation for what’s to come under Luke Fickell and company. 

Here’s a quick recap, with a few buttoned-up observations UW media outlets reported from the first of 15 sessions available to reporters

Wisconsin Badgers QB Pecking Order 

All eyes will be on UW’s rebuilt quarterback room heading into 2023.

While everyone is understandably excited about Tanner Mordecai’s addition to the program, I’m most interested to see who gets the reps behind him this spring because it potentially foreshadows who has a leg up in the battle for the Badgers QB1 next season.

On day one, Zach Heilprin reported that Mordecai took all the first-team reps, as expected. However, Texas A&M transfer Braedyn Locke, a player known for accuracy, took the second-team reps for the Badgers offense.

Nick Evers, Myles Burkett, and walk-on Marshall Howe filled in behind them, with freshman signal caller Cole LaCrue held out due to a left arm injury.

Word on the street is Evers has been wildly impressive since stepping onto campus and will make for a fun position battle for QB2 this season because of his immense upside.

Wisconsin Football Maintain’s 2-4-5 Defensive Alignment 

One of the most intriguing storylines of Wisconsin football spring practice is how new DC Mike Tressel plans to blend two defensive schemes. 

Last season, the Cincinnati Bearcats played 66.3% of its snaps out of a 3-3-5 personnel grouping. Jim Leonhard primarily ran a 2-4-5 during his tenure with the Badgers.

While the blending might still be a work in progress, Zach Heilprin reported that the initial first-team defensive alignment was a 2-4-5 with the following players lining up as starters: 

  • DL Isaiah Mullens 
  • DL Rodas Johnson 
  • OLB CJ Goetz
  • ILB Maema Njongmeta 
  • ILB Jordan Turner 
  • OLB Daryl Peterson 
  • CB Alexander Smith 
  • S Hunter Wohler
  • S Travian Blaylock 
  • CB Ricardo Hallman 
  • Slot Jason Maitre

No real surprises here; my only thoughts on the first unit are: It’s great to see Travian Blaylock back with the starting safeties, and he could make a significant impact in the Badgers secondary if he can stay healthy.

The other thought I had was, will Wisconsin football keep this as their base defense to help mitigate the fact there is no proven nose tackle on the roster? Instead, UW might rotate its defensive ends and linebackers more to keep them fresh and get after the QB.

It’s only day one, but this is something to watch throughout the spring as the new coaching staff forms their opinions about roster holdovers.

Wisconsin Football Offensive Line Pecking Order

I recently wrote an article suggesting that the Wisconsin football offensive line could bounce back in 2023 because of the amount of returning talent they had with the additions UW made through the transfer portal

New offensive line coach Jack Bicknell is of everyone on the Badgers O-line a clean slate this offseason. Which should help breed competition for a unit in transition.

But that won’t stop us from overreacting to Wisconsin’s day one alignment at the first spring football practice. 

First Team: 

  • LT Jack Nelson
  • LG Tanor Bortolini 
  • C Jake Renfro
  • RG Michael Furtney
  • RT Riley Mahlman 

Nothing too crazy here, but it’s definitely noteworthy that Michael Furtney, who UW’s coaching staff convinced to withdraw his name from the transfer portal, is getting the first crack with the starters. 

Furtney noted the new coaching staff was very honest about how he could improve, and, overall, he is a solid option with the starting group if he can take a step forward.

Second Team: 

  • LT Nolan Rucci 
  • LG Joe Brunner 
  • C Dylan Barrett 
  • RG Joe Huber 
  • RT Trey Wedig

My thoughts on the second unit are pretty simple: Trey Wedig is best suited to play tackle, and I won’t be surprised if he pushes for the starting right tackle spot this spring/fall. 

It was rumored that Joe Huber was coming to the Wisconsin football program to play guard, and now we have confirmation.  He’s an experienced option that could also push for a starting spot.

The overall depth of Wisconsin’s offensive line is better this season, and several players (I’m looking at you Joe Brunner) could find themselves at the top of the depth chart come week one. 

Other Wisconsin Football Notes

According to a report from Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the following players are either out for the spring or limited moving forward: 

  • TEs Clay Cundiff + Cole Dakovich + Cam Large
  • WR Bryson Green
  • DEs Darian Varner + Mike Jarvis
  • QB Cole LaCrue
  • CB Max Lofy
  • OLBs Aaron Witt + Ross Gengler
  • ILBs Aidan Vaughan + Luna Larson
  • OL Sean Timmis

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Wisconsin Football: 3 Questions for the Defense in Spring Practice



Wisconsin Football defensive coordinator Mike Tressel

Wisconsin football is undergoing a slew of changes under head coach Luke Fickell. Fortunately, this weekend marks the first of a series of 15 spring practices for UW. Fans will be able to see defensive coordinator Mike Tressel implement his 3-3-5 defensive scheme in real time. With new offensive and defensive systems, there are plenty of questions about what to expect from the Badgers.

Who Makes the Two-Deep on the Cornerback Depth Chart?

The cornerback room has undergone significant changes since Wisconsin’s bowl game. Jay Shaw and Cedric Dort Jr. – who served as starting corners last season – each exhausted their eligibility. Reserve cornerback Justin Clark also graduated, while Semar Melvin transferred to Michigan State.

There are four new cornerbacks in Madison this year. Jason Maitre, a transfer from Boston College, is as versatile as they come. During his time at BC, Maitre played in the slot, on the outside, and even started seven games at safety. Jonas Duclona and Jace Arnold, a pair of three-star recruits, enrolled early to join the Badgers during spring practice. Four-star prospect Amare Snowden will enroll this fall.

RELATED: 3 Questions for the Wisconsin Football Offense in Spring Practice

Headlining the returning cornerbacks is Alexander Smith. Smith played in the starting role to end the season after missing the first half due to injury. Ricardo Hallman started in Smith’s absence, but saw his role wane with Smith’s return. Redshirt junior Max Lofy saw the field in 12 games getting most of his work in the slot. Another redshirt junior, Amaun Williams, played in 12 games last season in a reserve role.

Wisconsin football cornerbacks Ricardo Hallman and Max Lofy

Sep 10, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Ricardo Hallman (2) celebrates with cornerback Max Lofy (12) following an interception during the first quarter against the Washington State Cougars at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Snowden may be the x-factor this fall as the depth chart shapes out. Although he will not be available for spring practice, Snowden’s athletic ability could allow him to see the field in a reserve role. In Tressel’s system that uses five defensive backs, Snowden could be used as a third cornerback as a ball-hawking threat over the center of the field. An apt role considering his talent in the outfield as a baseball player.

Who Will Start at Safety for Wisconsin Football?

Tressel is more well known for running a 3-3-5 stack system. In lieu of a third cornerback, his system often employs a third safety. Because of this, Wisconsin will need to find new contributors after a pair of key departures.

John Torchio and Titus Toler are the departures at safety from the Badgers. Torchio, who declared for the NFL Draft, led UW in 2022 with five interceptions; his 55 tackles were the fourth most on the team. Toler appeared in five games last year in a reserve role and transferred to Boise State.

UW returns two other major contributors at safety. Kamo’i Latu returns after starting alongside Torchio in 2022. The senior tied Torchio’s 55 tackles last season and also recorded two sacks and two interceptions. Latu snagged both of his interceptions in Wisconsin’s win over Northwestern. Junior Hunter Wohler, a former four star recruit, played in six games, but missed time due to injury.

Wisconsin football safety Kamo'i Latu

Nov 5, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers safety Kamo’i Latu (13) celebrates a play during the fourth quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most notable returns from injury to the Wisconsin football roster is safety Travian Blaylock. The graduate student missed the entire 2022 season after tearing his ACL. The former three star recruit appeared in every game for the Badgers during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

UW is also adding freshman Braedyn Moore at safety. The Hamilton, Ohio native was a high three star recruit that Fickell flipped from Cincinnati to Wisconsin. Moore will compete for playing time with sophomores and fellow former-three stars Austin Brown and Preston Zachman for playing time behind the likely starting three of Latu, Wohler, and Blaylock. Brown mostly saw the field on special teams last season. Zachman played in six games in 2022 before suffering a season ending injury.

What Personell Groupings Will Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator Mike Tressell Use?

Tressel has spoke numerous times about his goal to “mesh the elite” of the Cincinnati and Wisconsin defenses. Wisconsin has run a 3-4 defense in recent years, as opposed to Tressel’s 3-3-5. Regardless of that ideological difference, the newly minted UW defensive coordinator has expressed his desire to find out how to get the best out of his roster regardless of alignment.

Ideological flexibility on defense is nothing new for Wisconsin football. Although former defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard ran a 3-4 defense, that base setting changed situationally. Oftentimes, the Badgers would line-up in a nickel package bringing in an extra safety in a 2-4-5 alignment.

Tressel possesses that same flexibility. The 3-3-5 defense can be run with three cornerbacks or three safeties. On top of the 3-3-5, Tressel has used 4-3 and even 4-2-5 lineups at times. Wherever Tresell believes he can find the most talent, is likely where he will stock up his personnel on the field.

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Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Kedrick Stumbris on Twitter @KedrickStumbris.

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Wisconsin Football: 3 Questions for the Offense in Spring Practice



Wisconsin football New offensive coordinator Phil Longo

Wisconsin football begins its series of 15 spring practices this weekend. With transfers, departures, and offensive coordinator Phil Longo implementing a new scheme, there is no lack of things to watch for at spring practice. Fortunately for those interested in getting answers, every practice is open to the media. After much anticipation, fans will finally get a first look at Wisconsin football under head coach Luke Fickell.

What Role Will Wisconsin Football’s Tight Ends Play?

Following Jake Ferguson’s departure, 2022 Wisconsin’s tight ends were mostly an afterthought in the passing game. Ferguson led the Badgers with 46 catches and 3 touchdowns in 2021 (his 450 yards receiving were second to wide receiver Danny Davis). Clay Cundiff appeared to be the choice replacement for Ferguson, but he suffered a season-ending injury in just the fourth game of the season. Before the injury, Cundiff recorded nine catches, 142 receiving yards, and two touchdowns in four games.

Wisconsin football tight end Clay Cundiff

Wisconsin Badgers tight end Hayden Rucci (87) and Clay Cundiff (85) yell in excited at quarterback Graham Mertz (5) after throwing a touchdown pass in the second quarter of the game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, at Camp Randall in Madison, Wis. Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Gpg Badgers Vs Redbirds 10032022 0004

Longo’s offense plays with base personnel that includes just one tight end – a difference from some of the larger power-run packages Wisconsin football fans may be used to. The new scheme will include big changes to what the Badgers’ tight ends are asked to do in the offense too. Longo often has tight ends lined up out wide to create mismatches against defenders. Although Cundiff will be unavailable for spring practice as he continues to recover, others, including Jack Eschenbach, Cam Large, and Jack Pugh, will have to fight for their spot on the depth chart in a changing role.

How Will Wisconsin Football Quarterback Tanner Mordecai Perform?

Tanner Mordecai’s arrival in Madison immediately changed 2023 expectations for the Badgers. Spring practice will be the first opportunity for Mordecai to prove the hype is warranted. Although he will only be getting practice reps against a defense also learning a new system, Mordecai should be expected to excel early. He ran an Air Rad system at SMU and came to Wisconsin partly due to Longo’s system.

Wisconsin Football QB Tanner Mordecai

Oct 5, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) throws a pass as UCF Knights linebacker Walter Yates III (27) defends during the second half at FBC Mortgage Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Mordecai was a star at SMU, but whether his talent translates to the Power 5 level is the elephant in the room. In his two years as a starter, Mordecai threw for 7,152 yards, 72 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions. Those would be unprecedented numbers for a Badgers quarterback. The competition level in the American Athletic Conference, however, is not the same as the Big Ten. In regular season play, the Big Ten had the best average defense of any FBS conference, according to Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings. The AAC ranked seventh in that metric – only better than the Mid-American Conference and Conference-USA.

Who Is On the Offensive Line’s Starting Five?

A change in offensive philosophy could mean a shakeup on the offensive line. In recent years, Wisconsin’s offensive line has not performed at the elite level once assumed in Madison. With an increase in pass attempts, the makeup of the offensive line may be different than what was previously expected. The Badgers have historically had impeccable run-blocking linemen, but offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. – who came to Wisconsin from North Carolina with Longo – will need to assemble a more versatile unit.

Cincinnati transfer Jake Renfro will serve as the anchor at center for that unit, but the remaining roles are unclear. UW returns its starting tackles Riley Mahlman and Jack Nelson, but a new coaching staff may be looking for something different. Fickell brought his starting right tackle, Joe Huber, from Cincinnati with him; it is hard to envision Huber not having a significant role.

Wisconsin football offensive lineman Riley Mahlman

Nov 5, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Riley Mahlman (71) blocks Maryland Terrapins defensive lineman Tommy Akingbesote (99) during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

On the interior of the offensive line, Tanor Bortolini started games at all three positions. He also started a game at tight end last season. That kind of jumbo tight end package is likely not as useful in Longo’s system, but Bortolini’s versatility might be. Michael Furtney and Trey Wedig also return, who made nine and eight starts respectfully for Wisconsin last season.

There is an abundance of talent waiting to break out in the Badgers’ offensive line room as well. Redshirt sophomore JP Benzschawel and redshirt freshman Joe Brunner were four-star recruits. Redshirt sophomore Nolan Rucci was a five-star prospect coming out of high school. All three saw game action last season.

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Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Kedrick Stumbris on Twitter @KedrickStumbris.

Join the Badger Notes watch party! Stream Wisconsin Badgers games and chat with fans by following this link.


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