5 candidates to become the face of Wisconsin football in 2022
Wisconsin is inching closer to spring practice, which is always a crucial period for a developmental program with plenty of players stepping into new roles. As the offseason rolls along, here’s a look at 5 players who could become the face of the program this fall.
Assuming he stays healthy, Braelon Allen is easily the No. 1 candidate for this designation. He has every look of the next great Badgers running back and will have a full offseason to prepare for a massive workload. Last offseason, he was playing a spring high school football season and was nowhere near the No. 1 back on the depth chart early in his first college season. He did not become a major part of the offense till game No. 5 and still finished with 1,268 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
Allen’s health is a major factor in how Wisconsin’s offense will operate in 2022, so it will be necessary for his other backfield mates to stay healthy and be capable of stepping in when necessary. Wisconsin’s running back depth went from over-crowded at the start of fall camp to essentially a one-man show by the end of the season when 5 backs were unavailable — 2 season-ending injuries and 3 departures from the roster.
Assuming Wisconsin does not make an addition through the transfer portal from now till Week 1, Graham Mertz will be the Badgers’ starting quarterback if he’s healthy. There is not another QB on the roster who will challenge him for the spot, and he needs to deliver this fall. Mertz played well during much of Wisconsin’s 7-game winning streak last season, but the passing game struggled against the best opponents on the schedule.
The Caleb Williams-to-Wisconsin rumors made for an entertaining few weeks, but Mertz is highly likely to be the guy under center for the Badgers. He hasn’t lived up to what the recruiting sites projected him to be, but he’ll have another chance to prove himself in 2022.
Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense continues to develop excellent linebackers and send them off to the NFL, and Nick Herbig should be projected to have another fantastic season. His play was overshadowed by a fantastic inside linebacker duo with Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn last season, but Herbig is the lone returning linebacker starter, with a ton of younger players vying for playing time around him.
Herbig finished with a team-high 9 sacks last season in addition to 14.5 tackles for loss with 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. If he remains a disruptor in opponent backfields this fall, he could be the next Wisconsin linebacker headed to the pros.
Wisconsin’s starting safeties Scott Nelson and Collin Wilder are no longer on the roster, and Hunter Wohler could land a starting role this fall. He is a bit of a wild card to put on this list without a ton of experience and there’s no guarantee he will start, but coaches seem to rave about him whenever they get the chance. He was apparently deemed good enough to play in all 13 games and burn a redshirt season mostly on special teams, but his role will be much bigger in 2022. Whenever he earned snaps on the defensive end, he made an impact and is a potential star at the position.
Wohler finished the season with 17 tackles including 3 for loss and a sack. John Torchio is likely to be a starter, while Wohler and Travion Blaylock compete for the other starting safety spot, though they will all see plenty of snaps.
Wisconsin will not have its top 3 pass catchers from last season with Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor and Jake Ferguson no longer on the roster, so Chimere Dike will have a starting role as the top returning receiver. Last season, he caught 19 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown as he gets ready to step in as the No. 1 wideout. The Badgers will have an inexperienced wide receiver room, so the development of the younger players will be significant for what Wisconsin’s passing game can be.
Markus Allen seems likely to be the other starting wide receiver, but other candidates include Skyler Bell, Stephan Bracey, Tommy McIntosh, Vinny Anthony and Keontez Lewis. This is will be an important spring for this group behind Dike, who needs all the help he can get as Mertz’s go-to guy.