Here’s why I have more confidence in Wisconsin than Ohio State in 2018
I bet you can’t find one.
Go ahead. I’ll give you some time. Search the internet and try to find a way-too-early top 25 for 2018 that had Wisconsin ranked ahead of Ohio State.
Tired of looking? OK. I’ll confess something. There was 1 writer who ranked the Badgers higher than the Buckeyes in an early top 25.
I’ll confess something else. That writer was me.
The 100 words I took to explain that ranking didn’t feel like enough for such a hot take. Well, maybe it wasn’t so much a hot take as it was a slightly unpopular opinion.
After all, didn’t we just see Ohio State beat Wisconsin on a neutral field? Isn’t it also Wisconsin who failed to win the B1G each of the last 5 seasons while Ohio State claimed 2 conference titles and 1 national title? And wasn’t it the Buckeyes who got some key returnees who held off on the NFL?
Yes, yes and yes. Those are all fair points, Ohio State peeps.
But I can make a better case for why Wisconsin will have the better season than Ohio State in 2018.
For what it’s worth, I have Wisconsin and Ohio State ranked at No. 4 and No. 5, respectively. It’s not like I’m saying that one will play in the Pinstripe Bowl and the other will win it all. I think both teams will find themselves competing for a B1G Championship and ultimately a spot in the College Football Playoff.
But why am I higher on Wisconsin’s outlook? I promise it isn’t entirely B1G West-related. I actually think with Year 2 of the P.J. Fleck era and Year 1 of the Scott Frost era will yield a more competitive division. Add in the always-pesky teams like Iowa and Northwestern, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw 5 West teams earn 7-plus wins.
Wisconsin, however, will still be heads and shoulders above all of them. Minnesota and Nebraska aren’t going to go into Camp Randall and erase a 21 or 31-point deficit next year. The Badgers do have potential land mines with trips to Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State. It’d be stunning if Wisconsin came out of that unscathed, but with how much talent Paul Chryst returns, an 11-1 regular season is certainly possible.
Wisconsin will bring back 10 — I repeat 10 — offensive starters. With Beau Benzschawel and Michael Deiter holding off on the NFL, the Badgers have their entire offensive line back. That’s the same offensive line that paved the way for Jonathan Taylor’s 1,977 rushing yards. Just in case you forgot, Taylor is back and he’s behind only Bryce Love in the early Heisman Trophy odds.
Bovada 2018 Heisman Trophy odds. Jonathan Taylor might be value. Tua with a whole year would be a fun bet. pic.twitter.com/gSg42XXiYL
— Marc Morehouse (@marcmorehouse) January 23, 2018
The battle in the trenches is where, in my opinion, Wisconsin has the definite advantage over Ohio State. For the Buckeyes, All-American Billy Price is gone, as is Jamarco Jones. OSU should still be solid up front, and it shouldn’t have any problems blocking for a 1-2 punch like J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, but give me the ground game that returns everyone and has no questions to answer.
The Buckeyes have questions on the front 7, too. They return arguably the top defensive lineman in the country in Nick Bosa, but they lost Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Tracy Sprinkle and Jalyn Holmes. They also have to replace linebackers Chris Worley and Jerome Baker. Yes, the Buckeyes have some 5-star talent set to fill those voids. But as we know, 5-star recruits aren’t guaranteed to become all-conference players.
Speaking of all-conference players, T.J. Edwards came back for another year after earning first-team All-B1G and second-team All-America honors. The likely preseason All-American will be joined by Ryan Connelly and Andrew Van Ginkel, both of whom had big breakout years for the No. 3 scoring defense in America. In the middle of the defense, Wisconsin has the leg up on Ohio State.
Both teams have major questions to answer in the secondary after losing big-time contributors, but Greg Schiano and Jim Leonhard specialize in maximizing the talent at that position. And thanks to the returns of Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon, Ohio State can match the extremely young and talented group of wideouts that Wisconsin brings back.
Roster-wise, both came out as winners after the early draft departures. Both teams kept their respective coordinators (for once) and won’t have instability as an excuse.
But there are 2 major, major things that give me pause with Ohio State.
The first might shock some people. Let me be clear. I’m a believer in Dwayne Haskins. I’m not as high on him as Urban Meyer is, but I’m a believer nonetheless.
Having said that, I question if he’s going to be a star immediately. Ohio State fans might’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a first-time starter at the quarterback position, but if often comes with some ups and downs. I think Haskins deals with some growing pains, especially with games vs. TCU (in Arlington) and at Penn State in September.
Alex Hornibrook was a first-time starter last year (kind of) and he threw an interception in nearly every game. The Badgers, however, learned how to handle that in-game adversity and still won 13 games in 2017. Part of that might’ve been that with Wisconsin’s weaker schedule, they had some room for error.
Ohio State’s schedule doesn’t allow for a whole lot of room for error. There’s a realistic chance that Ohio State is 1 of 4 B1G East teams who begin the season ranked in the top 15.
And while Haskins did everything asked of him in a limited sample size in 2017, he had 1 game of meaningful snaps. The sample size is still small. Does that mean Haskins can’t turn into a stud in his first season? Of course not. Shoot, true freshmen won the national championship.
But this is about which team I feel most confident in. I have slightly more confidence that Wisconsin can win 11 regular season games with what should be an improved Hornibrook (he did look pretty solid in that Orange Bowl win) than I have in Ohio State with a first-year starter like Haskins. Divisional strength is part of that, but it isn’t everything.
It might sound crazy to suggest that Wisconsin could finish with a better season than Ohio State. It shouldn’t though. In the last 2 seasons, the Badgers and Buckeyes are 24-4 and 23-4, respectively. They have the same conference record (16-2) and Ohio State has one more win vs. a top-25 team.
The difference hasn’t been all that significant, which isn’t changing anytime soon. In 2018, though, the slight difference favors Wisconsin.