The Wisconsin Badgers season opener is about a month away, and here’s a look at 10 questions I have for this team as training camp gets set to open up.

1. What should we take away from 2020?

The stop-and-start nature of the 2020 preseason and regular season made it a struggle for teams in the B1G to get into any type of rhythm, so it’s hard to know what to take away from 2020, especially in this conference. We saw this with plenty of the usual teams at the top as Penn State started the season 0-5, Michigan finished 2-4 and Wisconsin did not have an above .500 B1G record for the first time since 2012. Expect the conference’s top programs to make a big resurgence after a full offseason.

2. Who is the real Graham Mertz?

In his debut, Graham Mertz put his name into the program record books in a fantastic opening-night victory over Illinois.  However, in his final 6 games, Mertz completed 57% of his passes for 165 yards per game with 4 touchdown and 5 interceptions. With COVID-19, an injured throwing shoulder and injured offensive weapons, there are plenty of excuses for Mertz’s numbers. Anybody who jumped off the bandwagon after last season, come back onboard, because Mertz is about as talented as it gets, and he will show why all the top teams in the sport went after him as a recruit.

3. How will pass catchers bounce back?

Mertz did not have much experience to throw to last season with Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor missing most of the season with injuries, but they will be back due to the extra year of eligibility rule. Behind them are promising young receivers Chimere Dike, Devin Chandler and A.J. Abbott, along with veteran Jack Dunn. Jake Ferguson is a future NFL tight end. All of a sudden, the Badgers have a deep group of pass catchers.

4. What’s up at running back?

Jalen Berger will be the starter, but he played in just 4 games as a true freshman last year, and there are not many proven options behind him. Isaac Guerendo and Julius Davis were unable to practice much this spring with injuries, and the Badgers now have 4 running backs entering in this recruiting class. True freshman Braelon Allen is a physical freak and while it appeared he would play defense, he is expected to get his college football career started at running back. Wisconsin went to the transfer portal for former Clemson back Chez Mellusi. This is an extremely crowded backfield, so we’ll see who emerges.

5. How does Wisconsin handle a coaching shakeup?

The Badgers no longer have last year’s quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr, defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield and running backs coach John Settle. Ross Kolodziej moved from strength coach to defensive line coach, Wisconsin brought in Gary Brown to coach running backs and Hank Poteat to lead the cornerbacks. Joe Rudolph was the offensive coordinator last season, but Paul Chryst is reclaiming that role as the play-caller and will work closely with the quarterbacks, which should be very beneficial to Mertz’s development.

6. How quickly can the defensive line come together?

Wisconsin needs to replace Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk. Matt Henningsen and Isaiah Mullens are the two obvious replacements at defensive end, but the depth behind them is uncertain. This group, which includes Keeanu Benton in the middle, will need to be ready right from the start as 3 of Wisconsin’s first 4 games come against Penn State, Michigan and Notre Dame.

7. Can Wisconsin get to the quarterback?

The previous section leads into this one as the defensive line will play a big part of this. If Wisconsin’s defensive line can hold its own, it will allow the linebackers to get after the quarterback at a higher rate than they did last season. The Badgers’ secondary is experienced and should give plenty of sack opportunities for this linebacker group, which is the strength of the defense. Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal were fantastic last season up the middle, and Nick Herbig appears to be the next outside linebacker star for the Badgers. The sack rate should improve from last season.

8. Who can challenge Wisconsin in the West?

Iowa is going to be the biggest challenger. The Hawkeyes closed out strong with 6 straight wins last season, but they need to replace a lot of production in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Even after a breakout 2019 season with 11 wins, Minnesota is still a program that failed to finish with an above .500 regular season record in 3 of 4 seasons under PJ Fleck. The Gophers were a mess defensively last season, and it will be interesting to see what they can do without an elite wide receiver to go to.

9. What’s the future of Jim Leonhard?

Jim Leonhard’s name figures to come up every offseason with plenty of football teams wanting his talents as a defensive coordinator. This will likely come up again after the season, but I’m not sure what type of job he would leave Wisconsin for. He reportedly had an offer from the Green Bay Packers to run their defense, and he’s turned down top college programs in the past. Leonhard clearly does not want to leave Madison at this point, and it makes me wonder if there is already somewhat of an agreement in place for him to be the next Badgers’ head coach.

10. What’s the win range for this team?

The Badgers are favored to win every game on their schedule. Still, Wisconsin should find itself in plenty of close games this season with few guaranteed wins. Because of all that, I’ll set the floor at 9-3 with 11-1 as the ceiling. If the Badgers finish 8-4 or worse, something went really wrong with this team; and if they run through the regular season undefeated, Wisconsin will have taken the next step as a program.