Christmas wish list for Wisconsin football
Christmas wish list season is upon us, and everyone’s looking for something. After a quick visit to the North Pole to scout potential recruits up there, I stepped inside Santa Claus’ office, went through a few file cabinets and located a document labeled “Wisconsin Badgers Wish List,” so I took a look.
Here’s what the wish list entails for the Wisconsin football program.
It remains to be seen how many Wisconsin players will take advantage of the rule stating that the 2020 season will not count toward a year of eligibility, so this year’s seniors may come back and play next fall. The Badgers have a number of very talented seniors on the roster, including on the defensive line with Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand, as well as on the offensive line with First Team All-B1G selection Cole Van Lanen and starter Jon Dietzen.
The most impactful seniors potentially to return would be at the wide receiver position with starters Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor, both of whom missed the majority of this season with injuries. You can also throw Jack Dunn into this group because he stepped up and played a big role in the Badgers’ regular season finale victory over Minnesota. Wisconsin didn’t get a whole lot of production from its wide receivers group, and getting Davis and Pryor back would be a significant help. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph told reporters in a recent press conference that it’s likely both will be back next year. Pairing them with freshman Chimere Dike would all of a sudden give the Badgers a solid top three at wide receiver.
This ties right in to the previous item on the wish list. The Badgers had illnesses and injuries all over the offensive side of the ball at key skill positions. At quarterback, Jack Coan injured his foot during practice before the season started and never played before transferring earlier this week. In addition, Graham Mertz tested positive for the coronavirus following the first game of the season.
We just mentioned the receiver position with Davis and Pryor missing a bunch of time in addition to a few reserve wideouts. At running back, Wisconsin had three of its top four players out in the game against Minnesota, including the most talented player in the backfield with true freshman Jalen Berger, who missed the last two games after testing positive for COVID-19.
Graham Mertz progression
Yes, the top three items on the Wisconsin wish list have a lot to do with the passing game because it was tough to watch down the stretch of the season. Mertz opened up the season in dominating fashion, putting his name into the Wisconsin football record books against Illinois, but he did not look very good at all the rest of the season.
Lack of playmakers on the field was likely a contributing factor, but his accuracy and confidence appeared to dwindle as the season went along. He probably wasn’t going to begin the season as the starter for the Badgers, but with Coan out of the picture, he has a full offseason knowing he is the guy to lead this Wisconsin offense for the next few years. Mertz needs to play better because the Badgers typically do not get a player of his caliber very often at that position, and it would be a shame if this didn’t work out.
Paul Chryst play calling
This was a bit of a story halfway through the season, but apparently Wisconsin’s head coach gave up play calling duties this season to Rudolph. I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of play calling because I am not a football coach, but this seemed like a strange shakeup of the coaching duties. Calling plays is arguably what Chryst does best, and it’s one of the reasons he was able to become a head coach at the Power 5 level. Giving up one of his biggest strengths doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Whether it would’ve changed things or not, we’ll never know, but this was an offense that went through a three-game losing stretch where it didn’t score more than 7 points in any of the games.
Struggling defensive-minded head coaches
If you’re a Wisconsin fan, you should be cheering against Power 5 teams that have former defensive coordinators currently leading their program. Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard continues to be among the best-kept secrets in college football, and that’s the way Badgers fans should want it, because the Badgers continue to put together a dominant defensive unit year after year. We’re seeing teams turn to offensive-minded head coaches right now, but if there is a string of successful defensive coordinators turning into elite head coaches, Leonhard’s phone will be ringing more than it is right now.
Continued recruiting success
Wisconsin has secured its best recruiting class for three consecutive recruiting cycles, and the class of 2022 will be as difficult as it gets for this program. The Badgers are very good at identifying talent early and targeting kids that have zero or very few Power 5 offers. With all the recruiting restrictions, Wisconsin currently has zero kids committed in the class, and it’s going to be an incredible challenge with the Early Signing Period about a year away.