We are 14 Saturdays away from Wisconsin taking the field at Camp Randall Stadium and kicking off their 2021 football season.
2020 brought a flurry of worst-case scenarios for the team, as starting QB Jack Coan broke his foot before the season, the program experienced a COVID-19 outbreak, injuries plagued a few top positions and Graham Mertz wasn’t able to find his rhythm.
2021 will probably bring a few more best-case scenarios for Paul Chryst’s team. But today, I’m here to look at the five worst-case scenarios (again) for the 2021 Wisconsin Badgers:
1. Graham Mertz doesn't improve
Kelli Steffes, UW Athletics
First, foremost and most obvious: the 2021 Wisconsin Badgers will go as far as QB Graham Mertz takes them. We saw what happened last season when he took care of the football and completed the necessary passes. Wisconsin went 4-0 in those games. When he struggled with ball security and lost confidence in his accuracy? The Badgers went 0-3 and could barely score a point. Worst case scenario? We don't see a sophomore year jump from Mertz and the team is held back by a turnover-prone and inefficient offense
2. Jalen Berger isn't the 25-carry, 3-down back many project him to be
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
As soon as Jalen Berger touched the field last season, his ceiling in the Wisconsin offense became clear as day. Berger is fast, can catch and already has inside vision that you don't expect to see from a true freshman. I mean, new running backs coach Gary Brown took little time before comparing him to former Cowboy RB and NFL All-Pro DeMarco Murray. All that said, Berger did not surpass 15 carries in any of his four games of action last season. I don't know if it was the coaching staff easing him in, the presence of Garrett Groshek or some other factor. It just needs to be noticed that he had exactly 15 carries in every appearance last season. What does that mean? I have no idea. What I do know is the Badgers desperately need Berger to turn into their workhorse back. The position behind him isn't clear in the slightest and, frankly, Berger's talent paired with 25-30 carries-per-game should lead to an extremely successful offense. Worst case scenario? Berger remains a 15-carry running back and Wisconsin needs to develop sub-par depth options to spell him in important situations. (Disclaimer: If Braelon Allen is ready to play as a true freshman OR if the Badgers land former Clemson RB Chez Mellusi in the transfer portal, the severity of this scenario will drop significantly.)
3. No answers emerge at defensive end
Credit: Wisconsin Athletics
Defensive end is the only position on the 2021 Badgers that will see solely new faces come in and start. Matt Henningsen has a bunch of experience, but the departure of Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand leaves a wide-open position---a position that is pivotal to what Jim Leonhard wants to do on the defensive side of the football. Henningsen, Rodas Johnson, Isaiah Mullens, Isaac Townsend and more will battle for the spot. The two that emerge, though, will need to bring it this season if the Badgers want to get back to the top of the Big Ten West. Worst case scenario? The position becomes a glaring weakness on the 2021 Wisconsin defense and teams including Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota have no trouble running all over the Badgers
4. Injuries (again)
Credit - Kelli Steffes, UW Athletics
This is true for any team in college football. But for a Wisconsin team that lost their starting quarterback, top two receivers, top cornerback and more last season, a healthy football team would be a welcome sight this fall. Worst case scenario? Injuries continue to plague Wisconsin's top positions and even though we see glimpses of impressive play, those ailments weigh the team down and keep them from winning the Big Ten
5. Minnesota figures out how to play defense, Spencer Petras significantly improves his game
Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
While these two scenarios are technically out of Wisconsin's control, they will play a big role in the final stretch of the season. For Wisconsin to return to the top of the west, the Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers will both need to be wins. And life for the Badgers will be made much easier if Minnesota continues to play horrid defense and Iowa QB Spencer Petras doesn't take a massive step forward. Worst case scenario? P.J. Fleck somehow turns his team into a defensive force, Petras becomes a really good thrower and Wisconsin isn't able to win both of those contests.
For more 2021 season preview: