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Wisconsin Football Transfer Portal Needs: How Far Will Fickell Go?



Wisconsin Football; Badgers head coach Luke Fickell on the Badgers sidelines vs. Rutgers
Oct 7, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell greets players during the third quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Luke Fickell’s first year at the realm for the Wisconsin Badgers football program should be seen as a success, sporting a 7-5 regular season record, two rivalry trophies, and some gritty wins despite a battle-wounded roster.

En route to booking Wisconsin their 22nd straight ticket to a bowl game, Fickell put his coaching expertise on display through many comeback wins, chemistry building, and persevering through some tough losses. His field-level abilities are undeniably special, but he was also given the keys to this program for another chief reason — his master recruiting.

It’s that time of the year again, folks. How hard will Fickell and his staff hit the transfer portal this time around, and which position groups will they target the most?

Wisconsin Football Could Land the Portal’s Top Quarterback

With sixth-year senior Tanner Mordecai hanging the cleats for his collegiate career, comes the Badgers in need of a new starting quarterback ahead of the 2024 season. To give redshirt freshman Braedyn Locke another year or two to gel, Wisconsin will likely turn to the transfer portal to name a new No. 1 — and they’ve got some solid options.

The obvious first choice is senior Will Howard out of Kansas State. The West Chester, Pennsylvania native is coming off a stellar season in the Big 12, throwing for 2,643 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Howard recorded the 20th-best QB rating in the nation at 75.5 and also rushed for an outstanding 384 yards and nine touchdowns.

247 Sports writes that Wisconsin “would classify as one of the QB-needy programs who will kick the tires on Howard”. The 6’5″, 242 lbs. slinger should, and will likely be, one of Fickell’s top targets this offseason.

If the Badgers are unable to snatch Howard, Mississippi State’s Will Rogers is a name they will certainly look into. In fact, they probably already have him on the radar.

The 6’2″, Brandon, Mississippi native is nothing short of a stud. Rogers was sidelined for a solid chunk of the season this year, but threw for 3,974 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2022, and an incredible 4,739 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2021. He’s thrown for the second-most yards and fourth-most touchdowns in SEC history, and is projected to be one of the nation’s best passers with a new system next season.

Will he follow in Braedyn Locke’s footsteps and become the next ex-Bulldog to shine at Camp Randall, or has the staff seen enough in Locke to name him their starter ahead of a tough 2024 schedule?

I think we see a brand-new quarterback next year in Madison.

Former Bearcat Reunion in Madison?

Junior safety Bryon Threats announced his plans to leave Cincinnati and enter the transfer portal on Tuesday.

Fortunately for Wisconsin football fans, the Columbus, Ohio native has already played two seasons under Luke Fickell. Given the possibility that Badger star safety Hunter Wohler will declare for the NFL draft, Coach Fick and co. will be on the hunt for another experienced safety in the coming months.

In Threats’ 2022 season under Fickell, he recorded an impressive 58 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two interceptions. In the following year under new management, his stats remained very similar, at 57 tackles, one sack, and one interception.

Fickell’s decision to bring former Bearcat receiver Will Pauling to Madison was arguably his best move yet. Will he rely on another former player of his to bolster an already solid secondary ahead of the 2024 season?

This one seems really likely.

How Many More Offensive Weapons Does Wisconsin Football Need?

Let’s start with the wide receiver room.

Chimere Dike is likely gone, leaving Will Pauling, Bryson Green, C.J. Williams, Vinny Anthony, Skylar Bell, and Quincy Burroughs on the roster (provided they all stay).

There’s a solid chance that at least one or two Badger wideouts will hit the transfer portal this offseason. Regardless, the staff will almost certainly look to improve this group before facing a load of tough defenses next season. Wisconsin has already extended an offer to D-III receiver Jaden Richardson from Tufts University, who recorded 1,564 yards and 20 touchdowns in only 19 appearances with the team.

Purdue’s Deion Burks is another name the Badgers should attempt to reel in. The sophomore transfer was a bright spot in a messy Boilermakers offense, putting up 629 yards and seven touchdowns in 2023. Some may remember that Burks posed a big threat against the Badgers earlier this season, notching 73 yards on only six catches in West Lafayette.

Another pass-catcher the Badgers should target is North Texas transfer Ja’Mori Maclin. The sophomore out of Kirkwood, Missouri was phenomenal in 2023, recording 1,004 yards and a whopping 11 touchdowns across the year. He’s already proved his worth against some solid schools, putting up 122 yards against Cal and 71 yards against a strong Tulane side.

Now, let’s move to the running back group.

On Tuesday afternoon, star running back Braelon Allen deservingly declared for the 2024 NFL draft, leaving Jackson Acker and (potentially) Chez Mellusi as current starting options in the backfield.

Here’s where it gets tricky –the  Wisconsin football team’s next wave of freshmen running backs is absolutely stacked. Four-star, 92-rated Dilin Jones, three-star, 89-rated Darion Dupree, and three-star, 86-rated Gideon Ituka are set to join the Badgers next season, and all are coming off outstanding senior seasons in high school (ratings per 247 Sports).

With the talent on display, each back has the potential to crack Fickell’s lineup in year one with the squad. To put it in perspective, ESPN has Jones as their seventh-best running back in the class of 2024, followed by Dupree at 49, and Ituka at 88. Man, are Badger fans in for a treat?

So, does Fickell hit the transfer portal for a clear-cut No. 1, or does he rely on the talents of Acker, potentially Mellusi, and his fantastic pool of recruits?

The options in the position group are thin, with Michigan State’s Jordon Simmons, Kansas State’s Treshaun Ward, and Miami’s Don Chaney Jr. at the top. If it’s not going to be one of those three — or maybe a few more that pop up on the way — Wisconsin might just ride with what they’ve got.

It’s going to be one heck of an offseason in Madison.

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Christian Rasic is a correspondent and current University of Wisconsin student. His writing has been featured in top media publications such as Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, Chat Sports, Sportspyder, and Yardbarker.