With spring practice underway, it’s time to make my way-too-early predictions for the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers. A lot could certainly change between now and the season kickoff, so these predictions should be taken with a grain of salt but the Badgers already look poised for another memorable season.
9/1 Utah State
Unlike the past few seasons when Wisconsin opened against SEC flagship programs LSU and Alabama, the Badgers will play their easiest game first against a Utah State team that finished 3-9 overall, 1-7 in the Mountain West. I’m not a fan of blowouts but if that’s your cup of tea, this will be a football clinic as the Badgers will cruise to a 56-10 victory.
Wisconsin 56, Utah State 10
9/9 Florida Atlantic
Even though Florida Atlantic finished sixth in C-USA (3-9, 2-6) in 2016, I believe this contest will be close in the first half. New head coach Lane Kiffin has a good chunk of football experience, is a savvy play-caller, and will get a good effort from his players. Still, the Badgers are simply too talented to let this one slip away and outmatch the Owls in every facet of the game. Wisconsin pulls away to win.
Wisconsin 35, FAU 17
9/16 at BYU
If there is a game that highly concerns me, this is it as the Badgers face their first road test against a strong, competitive BYU squad. At 9-4, the Cougars finished first among the FBS independents with signature wins against Michigan State and Wyoming in the Poinsettia Bowl and lost four games by just eight total points. Sure, they lose starting quarterback Taysom Hill but they still have junior signal-caller Tanner Mangum, who set BYU freshman records for passing yards (3,377) and touchdown passes (23) in 2015. The Badgers will just be content coming out with the victory as the Cougars scare Wisconsin in a close shootout.
Wisconsin 26, BYU 20
Last season, the Northwestern Wildcats came out of nowhere to become one of the conference’s offensive juggernauts with QB Clayton Thorson, running back Justin Jackson and receiver Austin Carr (90 catches, 12 touchdowns). Even so, the Badgers won convincingly 21-7 in Evanston and this season, the Wildcats will be without Carr. It’s one less man to worry about and with the Badgers keeping Jackson in check, it will come down to Thorson versus a stingy pass defense. Wisconsin’s secondary shines in a 24-13 victory.
Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 13
10/7 at Nebraska
After coming up short in a 23-17 overtime loss to Bucky last season, which Nebraska desperately needed for a title run, the Cornhuskers will be looking for payback and Lincoln is never an easy place for opponents to play. It will show as the Badgers struggles to run the ball and develop any consistency in the passing attack throughout the game but a few late defensive stops put the ball back in Wisconsin’s hands as they kick the game-winning field goal. Badgers escape unscathed.
Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 21
Quarterback David Blough no doubt has a strong arm as he led the Big Ten with 279.3 passing yards per game and was third in the league with 3,352 yards through the air. At the same time, he threw a conference-leading 21 interceptions and losses his top three receivers. That, along with a defense that was ranked near the bottom in every major category, make this a one-sided affair and the Badgers take care of business.
Wisconsin 35, Purdue 14
Though the pass-rushing duo of T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel is gone, the Badgers still have workable replacements in Garret Dooley, Zack Baun and incoming junior-college transfer Andrew Van Ginkel and should be a perennial threat every game. Maryland gave up 49 sacks in 13 games last year and I see Wisconsin aggressively exploiting that weakness, racking up a few sacks.
Wisconsin 38, Maryland 13
10/28 at Illinois
The rushing defense of Illinois struggled mightily last year, allowing over 219 yards a game and giving up 35 touchdowns. The Illini also lose their entire starting defensive line. It will look like vintage Wisconsin as Bradrick Shaw gashes the defense for over 200 yards and several touchdowns.
Wisconsin 42, Illinois 7
11/4 at Indiana
Even though Indiana ranked third in Big Ten in yards gained (426 per game) and were competitive with the top teams, they never could close the deal due to 29 turnovers (123rd) and ranking 121st nationally in scoring touchdowns inside the red zone. The Badgers defense thrived on forcing turnovers (22 interceptions, 2nd in FBS) and limiting scores (13 touchdowns allowed, tied for 12th in FBS) in 2016, and I expect more of the same this year.
Wisconsin 31, Indiana 21
As is the usual case, the Hawkeyes will play the Badgers down to the wire in a close game that could be a showdown for the Big Ten West crown but the young Alex Hornibook shows poise in crunch time and delivers just enough under pressure to keep Wisconsin in front for good.
Wisconsin 17, Iowa 13
The stakes will be high in the most anticipated matchup of the season as the 10-0 Michigan Wolverines invade a raucous Camp Randall Stadium to take on the 10-0 Badgers. It will be a classic Big Ten showdown and a defensive chess-match as both off offenses struggle to gain any traction but in the end of a nail-bitter, the Badgers will fall just short just like 2016 in a close loss. It will sting as a College Football Playoff spot is in jeopardy but the Big Ten West will be won by that time.
Michigan 14, Wisconsin 10
Minnesota nearly pulled off a huge upset over Wisconsin last year and will surely be hungry for Paul Bunyan’s axe after a long season. The Badgers will look lethargic at first but their talent will eventually take over in a game that is closer than it should be.
Wisconsin 28, Minnesota 20
Wisconsin will be heading to their second consecutive Big Ten championship against Ohio State and will be stuck in a hard-fought, back-and-forth affair but in the end, the Badgers offense will not be able to keep pace with J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes. Hornibrook’s youth shows and as in typical Badgers fashion, they get so close only to fall short of being the undisputed top dog, 35-27. Wisconsin once again wins ten games and gets a quality New Year’s bowl game but falls short of the CFP.