It didn’t take long for Sonny Dykes to adjust to life in Fort Worth after a 4-year stint at crosstown rival SMU. One offseason, a new offensive concept, a new defensive formation, and a new standard for the Horned Frogs entering a new chapter in the program’s history.

Just over a year following the firing of Gary Patterson, who put TCU on the map from the WAC to the Big 12, the Horned Frogs will be playing for a national title Monday night against top-ranked Georgia in Los Angeles. If Dykes can transform a lesser program into a contender in one offseason, what can the 1st-year coaches of 2023 do at institutions with better funding? With top-notch complexes? With better recruits?

Which brings us to Luke Fickell, who will look to turn Wisconsin into the TCU of the Midwest. Never say never in the world of college football. Dykes was projected to finish with 6 wins max in Year 1. He doubled that before the Big 12 championship game and is looking for his 14th win come Monday at SoFi Stadium.

Fickell can recruit. He can elevate the level of play of 2- and 3-star talents to have them go toe-to-toe with blue-blood programs like Alabama and Georgia come January. Most of all, he wins. He won 57 games during his 6 seasons at Cincinnati, 3 of which ended with 11+ victories.

And remember when “the little guys” couldn’t make it to the College Football Playoff?  Cincinnati walked so TCU could run. That’s because of Fickell, who now will look to bring Wisconsin back to the pinnacle of B1G play in his 1st season.

Here are 10 questions that fans should be wondering about entering a new year and era of Badgers football.

Tanner Mordecai: The next Joe Burrow or Everett Golson?

Fickell wasted little time hitting the transfer portal for a veteran quarterback to give new offensive coordinator Phil Longo a passer to run his system. SMU’s Tanner Mordecai has been raised on Air Raid football. He learned the concept during his time at Oklahoma. He perfected it as Dykes’ quarterback with the Mustangs during the 2021 season.

Mordecai isn’t coming to Madison to compete for a starting job. He’s here to stabilize the new-look offense under another Mike Leach disciple in Longo, who recently brought national recognition to Drake Maye at UNC. A 2-year starter for the Mustangs, Mordecai had options in the transfer portal but chose Wisconsin because of the pedigree and potential of both Longo and the program.

What version of a highly-touted transfer quarterback will the Badgers get: A Joe Burrow-esque type, or an Everett Golson reincarnation?

Burrow left Ohio State after losing out on the starting job to Dwyane Haskins. Within 2 years, he went from being an undrafted free-agent prospect to Heisman Trophy winner, future No. 1 pick and captain of arguably the greatest offense to grace a football field in the common era of college football at LSU.

Golson wasn’t so lucky. After leading Notre Dame to a national title game berth in 2012, he transferred to Florida State for more national recognition. His tenure ended with a benching, minimal results and eventually a change of heart on the sport he mastered in South Bend.

Mordecai likely can’t win the B1G alone, especially with programs such as Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State all looking like CFP contenders. Still, if there’s any chance the super senior can channel a bit of the bayou Bengal who captivated a nation in 2019, perhaps the Badgers are looking at a trip to Indianapolis entering the final month of play.

Which quarterback leaves?

Wisconsin is set at the game’s most crucial position. Exit Graham Mertz, enter Mordecai. He’s not the only passer to join the program since Fickell took over for Paul Chryst, either.

And he’s not the only one likely to leave before the start of next season.

Former Oklahoma standout recruit Nick Evers committed to the Badgers prior to Wisconsin’s 24-17 win over Oklahoma State in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Coming from a more balanced version of the Air Raid, Evers has the tools that Longo is looking for in terms of immediate success. But with 2 transfers entering the mix, 1 player likely will need to head to the portal.

Chase Wolf, who threw for 116 yards and a touchdown as Mertz’s replacement, said he would return to Madison next season to win the QB1 title. Does that change with Mordecai entering the mix? It’s easy to beat out prospects with upside. It’s another thing to outcompete a player who already has a head start on the new offensive scheme.

The same goes for Myles Burkett, who was passed over by the staff for Wolf for the bowl game. There are plenty of non-Power 5 programs looking for quarterbacks, and Burkett could become an immediate contributor and difference-maker for an offense should he elect to test the portal.

What will the running back usage be like?

The Air Raid offense is predicated on trusting the passing game. Most offensive play-callers basically use the run game as a side dish rather than the main course.

But most programs don’t have a talent like Braelon Allen in their backfield or a capable runner like Chez Mellusi as a complementary No. 2 option. Longo knows this, and likely will do his best to orchestrate more of a balanced offense come 2023.

Allen rushed for over 1,200 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry en route to a 17-touchdown season. Mellusi, who only scored 2 touchdowns, averaged 4.6 yards per run. Even when running the show in Chapel Hill, Longo never had a running back of Allen’s caliber.

Last season, the Tar Heels averaged 198.3 rushing yards per game, 290.0 passing yards per game and 36.3 points per game. They also totaled 526 pass attempts against 506 rushing attempts, meaning the offense was convincingly balanced. Maybe that’ll be the case come next season, especially if Allen remains healthy for a full season.

Who is the No. 1 receiver?

Wisconsin’s receiving corps was good last season under offensive coordinator Bobby Engram. Good, but not great. Every team needs an alpha to lead the show, but it felt like most of the pass-catchers were on the same level. Will that change in 1 offseason?

Chimere Dike led the team in receptions (47) and yards (689). Skyler Bell showed off a vertical presence with 4 explosive catches over 25 yards. Keontez Lewis averaged 15.7 yards per reception, and the Badgers will be getting back Markus Allen, who elected to return for his sophomore season after a brief stint in the transfer portal.

One of those 4 will likely need to take the lead in the receiving room. Which one improves enough this offseason to become Mordecai’s next top target?

Done in the transfer portal?

Fickell is implementing change in Madison. With change comes needs, and several positions still could be addressed via the transfer portal.

Outside of Evers and Mordecai, the Badgers have added 1 player via the portal in Boston College defensive back Jason Maitre. The offensive line needs a tune-up with Joe Tippmann declaring for the NFL Draft and Logan Brown being dismissed from the team back in October. The same could be said for cornerback as 5 players have left the program since the season finale loss to Minnesota, including standout Semar Melvin.

One player on defense isn’t enough to transform a program overnight. Fickell, a defensive mind, has pieces in play, but it’s not enough to likely remain a top-10 unit for a second season under new defensive coordinator Mike Tressel.

Who is the new pass-rushing machine?

Both outside linebacker Nick Herbig and defensive tackle Keeanu Benton opted out to prepare for the draft. They were Wisconsin’s top 2 pass-rushers, combining for 15.5 of the Badgers’ 31 sacks.

CJ Goetz appears to be coming back next season after he wasn’t listed as 1 of the 15 seniors who were honored on Senior Day in November. Two sacks aren’t enough to send fear down the spines of opponents in the B1G. And outside of Goetz, only inside linebacker Maema Njongmeta recorded more than 3 sacks in the front 7. Five total defensive players registered 2 sacks. Three more registered 1.

Who is the defensive leader following John Torchio’s departure?

Torchio announced following the bowl win that he would enter the draft. Known for his hard-hitting style in the open field, it was his leadership in the locker room that set him apart. Now, the Badgers will need to replace 2 key pieces to their defense.

Hunter Wohler and 6th-year senior Travian Blaylock likely will fight for starting reps throughout spring practice. As for the “leader” aspect, Kamo’i Latu and Njongmeta are 2 prime candidates to take over the duties. Njongmeta led the team with 95 tackles and ranked second with 11.5 tackles for loss. Meanwhile, Latu, a transfer from Utah, averaged 5 tackles per game and was vital against the run when playing in the box.

The same defensive formation?

With Tressel following Fickell to Wisconsin, we could potentially see a shift in the defensive look. Longtime Badgers DC Jim Leonhard implemented a 3-4 look with a rotation at inside linebacker. Tressell runs more of a 3-3-5 formation, similar to that of TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie.

The biggest difference in the formation is the nickel position. Gillespie runs with 3 safeties on the field, as 1 is used primarily as a rotational specialist and rover. Tressel’s nickel back needs to have the coverage skills of a cornerback but the hitting demeanor of a safety.

Maitre might be the ideal option for the role since he has experience at both safety and cornerback, but perhaps Tressel is looking for more speed. Then again, Fickell could be sold on what Leonhard created over the previous 6 seasons, and change his concept rather than the personnel that’s worked.

Can the Badgers land anyone else on National Signing Day?

Currently, Wisconsin ranks 56th nationally on the 247Sports team recruiting rankings. It’s a start for a program going through change, but who else could be in play for the Badgers by February’s National Signing Day?

Can Fickell convince an offensive tackle teetering between 2-3 B1G programs to buy into his vision? How about a receiver or 2 who could compete for meaningful reps come summer practice? Is there a defensive back still weighing his options that might solve the problem in the nickel or on the perimeter?

Currently, Wisconsin has 14 players signed. Adding 2-3 more could pay dividends in the long run.

How fast can Fickell create a culture?

Fickell was brought in by AD Chris McIntosh because the current culture wasn’t meeting the standard. Firing Chryst did little to change the program’s status. And while Leonhard is the pride of Madison, the results remained the same.

Culture isn’t established overnight. Dykes needed a full offseason — plus several prospects via the transfer portal — to bring stability to TCU. Fickell impressed turning Cincinnati into one of the more consistent Group of 5 programs in the country, but he also went 4-8 in his inaugural year.

Even the best coaches struggle in Year 1. Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe during his first year at Alabama before taking over as the czar of college football. Kirby Smart lost to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech en route to 8-5. Brian Kelly upset Alabama during Year 1 at LSU, only to be boat-raced by Texas A&M less than a month later.

Culture matters. It’s why Fickell was hired from the get-go. But until consistency and continuity are implemented, it’s best to lessen all expectations and aspirations.