Wisconsin Badgers Preview 2022: Season Prediction, Breakdown, Key Games, Players

·12 min read

2012 was the last time Wisconsin won the Big Ten Championship.

The 1999 season – technically on New Year’s Day 2000 – was the last time it won the Rose Bowl.

It’s still the best Power Five program win-wise since the start of the College Football Playoff era to not make the CFP.

Wisconsin is stuck in a bit of a rut. It’s a good rut – if there can be such a thing – but it’s stuck nonetheless.

Certainly being among the very, very good has been nice – anyone who graduated from Wisconsin before 1994 will impolitely sneer at anyone who complains in any way about the last few decades of Badger sports – but it’s been tough to come up with the magic to break back through.

So what’s missing? Besides a relatively light schedule in a Big Ten that wasn’t nearly as strong as it is now and no conference championship game to deal with – sorry, saying the quiet part out loud – what does Wisconsin need to party like it’s 1999, and 1998, and 1993 again?

The pieces to do this are already there.

Great defense? Check – even if it’s not quite as strong as last year’s version.

Control the clock and own the tempo? Check.

A consistent passing game that moves the chains? Ehhhhhh, it should be fine if QB Graham Mertz can make a jump in his third year. Most importantly …

A blasting running game? It’s what Wisconsin does, and it should be able to do that again with a great group of running backs and an even  more consistent line.

This isn’t hard. The Badgers averaged under 3.4 yards per carry just four times – loss to Penn State, loss to Notre Dame, loss to Michigan, loss to Minnesota. There will be some tweaks, but run the ball, do it very well, win, move on.

How do you get out of a rut? You power through.

Wisconsin Badgers Preview
Head Coach: Paul Chryst, 65-23, 8th year at Wisconsin
11th year overall, 84-42, 2021 Preview
2021 Record: Overall: 9-4, Conference: 6-3
Offense, Defense Breakdown | Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Wisconsin Top 10 Players | Wisconsin Schedule & Analysis 

Wisconsin Badgers Preview 2022: Offense, Defense NEXT

Wisconsin Badgers Preview 2022: Offense

The Wisconsin offense is going to start airing it out a bit more? That might be a tad extreme – this isn’t going to be Air Bucky – but new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram wants to open it up a bit. He sure knows how to get a running game going – he was working with the Baltimore Ravens before this – but the passing attack needs more pop, too.

More than anything else, the offense has to move like it did over the second half of last year. The overall stats don’t quite tell the whole story – for this team, being eighth in the nation in time of possession is a bit bigger than averaging a mere 371 yards per game – but the passing game wasn’t consistent, the third down conversions weren’t there, and the line wasn’t quite as dominant as it should’ve been. However …

The offensive line should be stronger. It wasn’t bad at all – on the contrary, it was fantastic in pass protection and plowed for over 211 rushing yards per game. It’s Wisconsin, though. It’s the gold standard for offensive lines. It’s needs to own the good teams, too.

It loses OT Logan Bruss and OG Josh Seltzner, but all-star parts are back with Joe Tippmann a potentially dominant center once he’s 100% healthy, and with Jack Nelson likely to grow into a next-level talent at left tackle.

The good and the bad with the Badger front is the versatility – great when injuries strike, but rough on the consistency. This year the idea is to come up with the right five, stay with it – with a little luck – and let the issues work themselves out.

The backs are there to make this thing hum. Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi are right there with the best duos in college football, combining for over 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Allen was a breakout star, and Mellusi was fantastic before getting knocked out for the year in November.

Okay, okay, it’s been avoided long enough … can Graham Mertz become the quarterback who can take the passing game up a few notches like he’s supposed to?

The former super-recruit has been way too rocky over his two seasons – throwing ten touchdown passes and 11 picks last season – but the talent and arm are there. Two years in, the decision-making process has to speed up. Chase Wolf is a decent veteran who can step in and produce if Mertz is struggling.

The talent in the receiving corps was terrific last season, but it wasn’t able to show it often enough. It’s not starting over this year, but most of the key parts are gone – Chimere Dike is the leading returning receiver with 19 catches for 272 yards and a score.

Keontez Lewis is coming in from UCLA, Skyler Bell is a promising young deep threat, and it’s Wisconsin – there will be a decent tight ends who can catch the ball in the middle of the field. Replacing Jake Ferguson, though, is a problem.

List

Wisconsin Badgers Top 10 Players: College Football Preview 2022

Wisconsin Badgers Preview 2022: Defense

The defense put up a national championship-caliber season. For a time it was working at a historic level – finishing No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 against the run, No. 3 in third downs allowed – buuuuuuut …

There weren’t that many killer offenses on the slate. Even so, if it was so easy to be amazing everyone would do it – the D that allowed a ridiculously low, and nation’s best – 4.1 yards per play wasn’t the problem.

A whole lot of starters have to be replaced, but the program has been able to keep defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. He’s destined to be a top head coach somewhere, but for now, all the work he did to get the players working in a rotation should pay off.

The back eight is a slight concern, but …

The defensive front three will be a brick wall. Keeanu Benton on the nose and Isaiah Mullens as a 3-4 end can’t be moved. There are plenty of big parts ready to fill in when needed – forget running inside on this bunch.

The pass rush comes from the linebacking corps, but leading tackler Leo Chenal is off being a Kansas City Chief and inside presence Jack Sanborn is trying to be a Chicago Bear. Nick Herbig is back after coming up with 64 tackles and a team-high nine sacks, but the other three sports are a wee bit green. However, like on the line, the rotation should be strong.

The Badgers were fourth in the nation and No. 1 in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense, but they lose three good starters including both corners. John Torchio is back at one safety spot, and Jay Shaw is coming in from UCLA to take over one of the corner gigs.

Overall this group should be fine in time, but it would be a huge help if Justin Clark (Toledo), Cedrick Dort (Kentucky), and Bryce Carey (Northern Illinois) can play big roles early on.

Wisconsin 2022 Preview | Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Wisconsin Top 10 Players | Wisconsin Schedule & Analysis 

Wisconsin Badgers: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats NEXT

Wisconsin Badgers: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats

Wisconsin Badgers: Key To The 2022 Offense

DO NOT TURN THE BALL OVER.

It seems like this is the umpteenth year in a row when this has been the key for the team, but it remains true.

The Badgers – last in the Big Ten in giveaways – can be inexplicably bad on third downs like they were last year and be okay, and they can even get away without having a big downfield passing game. They almost never get away with a big day full of turnovers.

The D helped the cause in the win over Northwestern with four takeaways to offset the three errors from the O, and it dominated Illinois to overcome the two giveaways, but that’s not the norm.

Wisconsin was 1-3 last year and 2-11 in the last 13 games with a negative turnover margin.

Wisconsin Badgers: Key To The 2022 Defense

Tighten back up on third downs.

The Badgers were third in the nation in third down stops – allowing teams to convert just 29% of their chances – but that all got a tad loose late in the season.

Army is Army, so the midseason problems putting the team away – the Black Knights were great on third downs converting 43% – was forgivable. That was the only time in the first ten games Wisconsin allowed a team to convert more than 32% of its tries.

Nebraska moved the ball way too easily, Minnesota was able to control the game in the key win by keeping the chains rolling, and Arizona State was able to keep it sort of interesting thanks to the third down chances.

Wisconsin’s defense hadn’t allowed a team to convert 44% or better on third downs since a win over Nebraska in 2019. The Huskers, Minnesota, and Arizona State all pushed past that mark.

Wisconsin Badgers: Key Player To The 2022 Season

QB Graham Mertz. Jr.
The offensive line is loaded with potential All-Big Ten blockers. The combination of running backs is among the best in the conference, if not the nation, and the defense will be among the best in college football again.

The receiving corps has talent, but it’s relatively inexperienced. It needs a quarterback who can make everyone better and keep the offense moving.

Mertz has certainly had his moments, but he’s WAY too hot-and-cold. All he has to do is hit over 60% of his passes every week, make the third down throws, and keep the interceptions to a minimum. If he does that, the Badgers will be terrific.

Wisconsin Badgers: Key Transfer

PK Vito Calvaruso, Jr.
It’s really UCLA corner Jay Shaw, but the secondary will work itself out.

Collin Larsh hit 17-of-22 field goals last season – the misses weren’t that bad or costly – and none of the games were decided by fewer than six points. That’s probably not happening again.

The 6-3, 198-pound transfer from Arkansas was the team’s kickoff man and has yet to attempt a field goal. He’s got the leg, but he needs to be a weapon for a team with a defense that doesn’t need a whole lot of points to get the job done.

Wisconsin Key Game To The 2022 Season

at Iowa, Nov. 12
Minnesota has become a thorn in the Badgers’ side, and the road date at Nebraska is dangerous, but those two come after the trip to Iowa City.

The Hawkeyes came up with a dominant 28-7 victory in 2020, but that’s been about it. Wisconsin has won five of the last six and eight of the last ten in the series.

With road dates at Ohio State and Michigan State earlier in the year, there’s a shot Wisconsin can’t lose this and stay in the Big Ten title chase. Lose, and the pressure is on against the Huskers and Gophers.

Wisconsin Badgers: 2021 Fun Stats

– 1st Quarter Scoring: Wisconsin 62 – Opponents 23
– Time of Possession: Wisconsin 33:27 – Opponents 26:17
– Rushing Yards Per Game: Wisconsin 211 – Opponents 65

Wisconsin 2022 Preview | Offense, Defense Breakdown
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Wisconsin Top 10 Players | Wisconsin Schedule & Analysis

Wisconsin Badgers Season Prediction, What Will Happen NEXT

Wisconsin Badgers Season Prediction, What Will Happen

It’s sort of hard to get too down on a program for being disappointing after a 9-4 season with a bowl victory, but it’s time to get back to owning the Big Ten West again before 1) the divisions go away, or 2) change, and 3) USC and UCLA join the party.

There will be a great ground game, the defense will be a rock, and the passing attack will be just fine for what the offense needs it to do. The team has to win the home games and it’s got be rolling in November.

Set The Wisconsin Badgers Regular Season Win Total At … 8.5

The Badgers get three nice tune-up games in Illinois State, Washington State, and New Mexico State before the Big Ten opener at Ohio State. Win that, and it’s Game On, but that’s obviously a tough way to start. It also kicks off a run of three road games in the first four conference weeks.

Throw into the mix a road date at Michigan State followed up by a home game against a dangerous Purdue squad, and there are landmines to sidestep.

Getting an extra week off before the Maryland game is big, especially with at Iowa, at Nebraska, and Minnesota to close.

Budget in a loss to the Buckeyes, and at least one loss among the road games at Michigan State, Iowa, and Nebraska.

There’s a shot at ten wins, and nothing less than a spot in the Big Ten Championship is okay. It’ll all come down to those final three games.

Wisconsin 2022 Preview
Offense, Defense Breakdown | Keys To The Season
Wisconsin Top 10 Players | Wisconsin Schedule & Analysis

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Story originally appeared on College Football News