Year after year, there was a boring preseason prediction that anyone with a pulse could make.
“Wisconsin will lead the B1G in rushing.”
Reeeeal bold, pal. Next, you’re going to tell me that Wisconsin has a solid offensive line with a couple of future pros. How about a not-so-crazy prediction that Wisconsin plays for a B1G championship?
Yes, yes and yes.
Believe it or not, Wisconsin doesn’t need Ron Dayne, Montee Ball or Melvin Gordon to lead the B1G in rushing. It makes the process much easier, but it isn’t everything.
Badger fans might’ve been clamoring for those three backs the last two years. After all, they didn’t lead the B1G in rushing. In fact, the 2015 season marked the only time in the last decade that the Badgers finished outside of the top two in the conference in rushing yards.
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But 2017 has the makings of another one of those league-leading rushing seasons. Never mind the fact that they lost seniors Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale.
There are plenty of reasons to predict that Wisconsin will finish with the B1G’s top rushing attack.
When one thinks about the loaded crop of B1G running backs in 2017, a Wisconsin back probably doesn’t come to mind. Guys like Saquon Barkley, Justin Jackson and Akrum Wadley probably top that list.
One could probably even rattle off the B1G best 1-2 backfield punches and Wisconsin probably doesn’t come to mind. Duos like Shannon Brooks/Rodney Smith, and Lorenzo Harrison/Ty Johnson probably do.
All of those aforementioned backs could have plenty of success in 2017, but Wisconsin has backfield depth and versatility that’ll be tough to slow down.
Bradrick Shaw has breakout potential as Wisconsin’s lead back. Physically, all the tools are there. He has size (6-1, 205 pounds), speed and power to thrive between the tackles in the same way many Badger backs before him did.
Despite the fact that he suffered a midseason knee injury that limited to two carries in a four-week stretch, Shaw still finished 2017 with 457 rushing yards. That was as the Badgers’ third option. As the team’s likely No. 1, the redshirt sophomore will get much more than the 88 carries he got in 2016.
But the Badger tailback who got the most spring attention was actually Pitt transfer Chris James.
After sitting out the 2016 season because of NCAA transfer rules, James flashed his versatility all spring. Paul Chryst learned how to use James effectively during his true freshman season at Pitt (87 rushes for 437 yards and four touchdowns), and he figures to make him an integral part of the rushing attack once again.
Even better, James has experience scoring touchdowns against Iowa:
If he can stay healthy, Taiwan Deal also figures to carve out a role. He was sidelined all spring, but keep in mind that deal has more experience than anyone in Wisconsin’s backfield. We could’ve easily been talking about Deal as Wisconsin’s No. 1 back entering 2017 had he not spent the last year banged up.
So Wisconsin has a three-headed rushing attack with talent, experience and versatility. Oh, and who could forget about Jazz Peavy? Sure, he’s a receiver, but the “Jazz Sweep” is arguably Wisconsin’s most dangerous run play.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking.
“How did you just write 500-plus words about Wisconsin’s rushing attack without breaking down the offensive line? What are you, new?”
I was getting there. I promise. Haven’t you ever heard of driving the point home?
More than anything, the offensive line is the reason that the Badgers are favorites to finish with the league’s best ground game. Losing Pro Football Focus’ top run-blocking tackle in Ryan Ramczyk will hurt, but the Badgers are still loaded up front.
Michael Deiter can play essentially any position on the line successfully. Beau Benzschawel is a candidate to earn first-team All-B1G honors at right guard and David Edwards could make a major leap after emerging as a redshirt freshman.
On top of that, Jon Dietzen and Jacob Maxwell both got valuable reps last year. If redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadasz can develop, Wisconsin will be a weekly nightmare for B1G defenses.
Even without Ramczyk, this unit looks as experienced and as talented as it’s been in years. It’s no secret that formula was what produced Wisconsin’s most prolific rushing seasons in the 21st century. Now, the Badgers even have a quarterback who can throw the deep ball and at least keep defenses honest against the run.
With all of that in mind, it’ll be hard not to pick the Badgers to lead the B1G in rushing.
It looks like Wisconsin is back to being a boring preseason prediction.