Dr. Saturday's 2017 Top 25 Countdown: No. 15 Wisconsin

Dr. Saturday
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/255406/" data-ylk="slk:Bradrick Shaw">Bradrick Shaw</a> could be Wisconsin’s next 1,000-yard rusher. (Getty)
Bradrick Shaw could be Wisconsin’s next 1,000-yard rusher. (Getty)

August is here and that means college football season is starting soon. The first games of the 2017 season kick off Aug. 26. And as it quickly approaches, we have 25 days to preview each of the 25 teams in our updated Dr. Saturday 2017 preseason poll. Check here every day to find out who we think the 25 best teams in the country will be. Fair warning, however. We’re probably going to be wrong.

Previous entries: No. 16 GeorgiaNo. 17 FloridaNo. 18 South Florida, No. 19 Kansas State, No. 20 TexasNo. 21 Miami, No. 22 Notre DameNo. 23 NorthwesternNo. 24 Washington StateNo. 25 North Carolina


2016 record: 11-3
Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense*

Biggest non-conference game: Sept. 16 at BYU
Biggest conference game: Nov. 18 vs. Michigan

Key returning player: QB Alex Hornibrook
Key departed player: RB Corey Clement

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Three things to know about Wisconsin

• Couple Wisconsin’s strength with a favorable schedule and you’ve got the clear favorite in the Big Ten West.

The Badgers’ two biggest conference games are at home. Wisconsin hosts Michigan on Nov. 18 and Northwestern on Sep. 30. The Northwestern game is perhaps most important given the West Division implications. It’s also a week before Wisconsin heads to Lincoln to take on Nebraska. If you’re bullish on the Huskers — we aren’t — then that game may be tough. But Nebraska may be the No. 3 team at best in the division.

Outside of the Nebraska game, things could be a lot worse when it comes to road trips outside of the jaunt to BYU. Wisconsin goes to Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota.

• Despite losing Leo Musso and TJ Watt, the Badger defense is set to be very good once again in 2017. But it’s fair to wonder if it’s going to be as good as it could be after the team announced Thursday that middle linebacker Jack Cichy would miss the season after tearing an ACL.

Cichy was set to be a star in Wisconsin’s 3-4 alignment and had 60 tackles through the first seven games of 2016 before suffering a torn pectoral muscle vs. Iowa.

His absence means TJ Edwards is the lone returning starter at linebacker. Edwards was the Badgers’ leading tackler last year with 89 tackles and also picked off three passes. Though junior Ryan Connelly, who had 59 tackles last season, figures to step in for Cichy once again. He had seven tackles for loss in 2016.

Chris Orr could factor in as well. Per BadgerBlitz.com, both he and Connelly had been working with the second unit before Cichy’s injury and Orr stepped in to play with the first team after Cichy’s injury.

But Orr is returning from an injury too. He suffered a torn ACL vs. LSU in the first game of the season.

Wisconsin will also have a new defensive coordinator. Former safety Jim Leonhard moved from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator following Justin Wilcox’s departure to Cal to be the Bears’ head coach. Leonhard is the Badgers’ third defensive coordinator in three years.

And there’s going to be change regardless, whether Justin stayed or not,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said at Big Ten media day. “We’ve lost some really good players on our defense, and we’ve got players that are stepping into new roles.”

Chryst made that comment before Cichy’s injury and it rings even truer now.

• Start getting yourself familiar with Wisconsin running back Bradrick Shaw. Oh, and Pitt transfer Chris James too.

Gone is Corey Clement, who ran for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. Dare Ogunbowale is gone too. He ran for 506 yards. Shaw, meanwhile, had 457 yards and five touchdowns while averaging over five yards a carry.

Shaw and James are now the team’s primary running backs and will be running behind a mauling offensive line that returns four starters including center Michael Deiter and guard Beau Benzschawel, a man who has a perfect name for a Wisconsin offensive lineman. Betting on one of them to get a 1,000-yard season doesn’t seem too risky. But you’d have to figure out which one will be the primary running back. And it seems like it’s a close competition.

The backs will also have some open running lanes thanks to the return of QB Alex Hornibrook as well as WR Jazz Peavy and TE Troy Fumagali. Hornibrook enters the season as the undisputed starter — he began 2016 behind Bart Houston — and should be more effective as a sophomore.

Wisconsin’s running game is going to be as good or better than it was a year ago. That should make up for any (slight) defensive regression.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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