After consecutive seasons of failing to win the B1G West, Wisconsin has plenty of concerns looking ahead to this fall. Here’s a look at the Badgers’ biggest ones this offseason and how they can be fixed.

Graham Mertz

Concern: Now in his 4th season in the program, Graham Mertz needs to improve heading into the fall because if he doesn’t, the Badgers will once again fall short of what their minimum expectation should be, which is a spot in the B1G Championship Game. Mertz’s career numbers look pretty ugly, and he came up short in big moments in 2021.

Solution: Assuming Wisconsin does not dip back into the transfer portal for a quarterback, there will be no competition for the starting spot this offseason. The Badgers took a swing for Caleb Williams, but this is Mertz’s team in 2022. He won’t be looking over his shoulder, and that’s important for the leader of the team.

Wisconsin added Bobby Engram to be the offensive coordinator, and a new set of eyes and perspective can only be a good thing for Mertz and the passing game. We saw what he is capable of during Wisconsin’s 7-game winning streak in 2021, and he completed more than 66% of his passes in 4 of the Badgers’ last 5 games. Mertz will need to develop a solid chemistry with a new group of pass catchers this offseason.

Coaching staff changes

Concern: Paul Chryst made some changes to his staff, and the most interesting move was bringing in Engram to run the offense. Additionally, Wisconsin’s Bob Bostad will move from inside linebackers coach to offensive line mentor, and Bill Sheridan was hired to coach inside linebackers. The Badgers moved tight ends coach Mickey Turner to run the recruiting department.

Solution: Wisconsin typically does well in maintaining a winning culture no matter which coaches come and go, and while any coaching staff changes can be a concern, there’s a lot to like about what Chryst did to fill open spots. Coming from the NFL, Engram should bring some new ideas to help an offense that has struggled — especially in the passing game — over the last few years. Things haven’t been working, so his addition certainly cannot hurt.

Bostad has plenty of experience coaching offensive lines and held that role with Wisconsin from 2008-2011, and Sheridan has experience as an NFL defensive coordinator, so that’s another big hire. Wisconsin finally landed a permanent replacement for Saeed Khalif to run the recruiting department with Turner. He knows all things Wisconsin as a player and coach so he can sell the program well, and he is said to be very personable on the recruiting trail.

Pass catchers

Concern: In a critical season for Mertz and the Wisconsin passing game, the Badgers will need to replace plenty of pass catchers from last year. Wisconsin no longer has its top two wide receivers in Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor, in addition to tight end Jake Ferguson and reserve wideout Jack Dunn, who saw plenty of snaps.

Solution: Without a ton of college football experience from the wide receiver group, we really don’t know what to expect from them.

Chimere Dike will need to prove he can operate as a No. 1 wide receiver and Mertz’s go-to guy when the Badgers need a play in a crucial moment. Markus Allen showed flashes as a true freshman, and behind them are likely going to be Skyler Bell, Stephan Bracey, Dean Engram, Tommy McIntosh, Vinny Anthony and Keontez Lewis. Competition should be fierce this offseason, and that’s a good thing.

New defensive leaders

Concern: Wisconsin will need to replace plenty of its team leaders on the defensive side of the ball, including the best inside linebacker duo in the country in Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn. Safety Collin Wilder developed into a team spokesman last season with a few memorable interviews with the media, but he is gone as well as the Badgers reload on defense.

Solution: Wisconsin has not had many issues reloading on defense since former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda brought the 3-4 defense to Madison in 2013. There is likely to be a slight drop off because the Badgers defense was just so dominant last season, making that unlikely to be replicated.

Nick Herbig is likely to be the next star at linebacker after leading the team in sacks in 2021. He came to Wisconsin from Hawaii based on the Badgers’ success in getting linebackers to the NFL. The other linebacker spots are up for grabs with plenty of talented players working for playing time. The Badgers’ run defense was about as good as it gets at the college level last season, and nose guard Keeanu Benton is back to clog up the middle.

Running back depth

Concern: Wisconsin has its next star running back with Braelon Allen set to take on a major workload in 2022, but the concern is who will be available behind him. Down the stretch last season, the Badgers had 5 scholarship running backs unavailable with 2 players kicked off the team, one who entered the transfer portal and two season-ending injuries.

Solution: Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo need to stay healthy. Mellusi began the 2021 season as the starting running back and was splitting time with Allen when he tore his ACL, while Guerendo has unfortunately been unable to stay healthy throughout his career but can make game-changing plays with his speed.

Once Allen became a significant part of what Wisconsin was doing offensively, he never was forced to miss a game with an injury but was clearly wearing down late in the season handling a massive workload. Wisconsin needs capable backs behind Allen in case he misses games or simply needs a breather, and Mellusi and Guerendo are the top candidates to fill those roles.