Who's the new face of the B1G? Making the case for Jonathan Taylor
It’s not easy for a Wisconsin running back to get the credit he deserves.
Melvin Gordon, Corey Clement, James White, Montee Ball, John Clay, P.J. Hill, Brian Calhoun and Ron Dayne all did it. Surely there’s nothing out of the ordinary to watch a Wisconsin running back run for a bunch of yards and score a ton of touchdowns.
In that group alone, you have four B1G Offensive Player of the Year winners, three Heisman Trophy finalists, 10 percent of the 2,000-yard seasons in college football history, the No. 2 single-season rusher ever and the top career rusher in FBS history.
Posting a 1,000-yard season at Wisconsin is like a Watt brother making a play in the NFL. They’re a dime a dozen.
But Jonathan Taylor is not just another Badger back.
Not every Badger back nearly rushes for 2,000 yards as a true freshman. In fact, the only FBS tailback to ever accomplish that feat, of course, was Dayne. Taylor’s 1,977 yards were historically good, even for Wisconsin. He might not have set an FBS record like Dayne or earned a Heisman invite like Gordon, but Taylor’s 2017 campaign is up there as one of the most productive we’ve seen from any tailback.
Clearly, Taylor is the face of the Badgers. Production like that speaks louder than a few viral highlights.
The question is if he’s the face of the B1G.
Taylor’s case to be the face of the B1G is really an easy one to make. The guy is the early favorite to win the Heisman next year. Well, he and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins both have 6-to-1 odds to win the coveted award.
The oddsmakers at least know how good Taylor is. The question is if the casual college football fan does.
In many ways, it makes sense that Taylor didn’t get a ton of buzz for nearly hitting 2,000 yards as a true freshman. While Wisconsin was in the College Football Playoff hunt until the final buzzer of the B1G Championship, Taylor didn’t have a bunch of primetime showcase games to go off. Until the conference championship, Taylor played in one game vs. a Power 5 team that began after 3:30 p.m. ET…and it was against four-win Nebraska.
In case you didn’t hear, it wasn’t like Wisconsin’s schedule was loaded with a bunch of marquee matchups. That’s not a fault to Taylor — a former 3-star recruit — but he never got an opportunity to have a regular season moment like Saquon Barkley did:
This is a better sampling of what Taylor’s touchdowns usually looked like:
Taylor was definitely overshadowed by Barkley a bit, and understandably so. But with Barkley off to the NFL, it’s Taylor’s time to be the B1G’s best.
As crazy as it sounds, Taylor might actually be poised for an even bigger year in 2017. Why? Well, returning the entire offensive line is a start. At Wisconsin, that’s an ideal start. The fact that Alex Hornibrook is entering his third season will help, as should the return of the Badgers’ promising young receivers.
Besides that, there’s an area of Taylor’s game that he’s sure to address at length this offseason — ball security.
For all the great things the true freshman did, holding on to the football was not one of them. He fumbled eight times and lost six of them. Yikes. That cannot continue if he’s going to be in the Heisman conversation all season. Every defensive coordinator now knows that’s a weakness, and they’ll do whatever they can to try and exploit it.
Between Taylor’s fumbles and Hornibrook’s interceptions, it’s amazing that Taylor still got as many opportunities as he did to run the ball. I’d be stunned if both of their turnovers didn’t decrease in 2018.
What wouldn’t stun me is if Taylor eclipsed 2,000 yards. Wisconsin is still the favorite to win the B1G West, which means that he could have 14 games to reach that mark again. It’d be awfully hard to deny that a player with that kind of production in his first two years is anything less than the face of the conference.
Is Taylor that guy right now? He doesn’t have the experience or name recognition of Nick Bosa or Trace McSorley. If you took a straw poll, those two would probably the first that came to mind.
But could that argument shift in Taylor’s favor by the middle of 2018? Absolutely.