Jan. 07, 2017
Coming into the year, not many people expected Wisconsin to win more than eight games. The Badgers had a daunting schedule and had to break in a new starting quarterback. People like Colin Cowherd predicted 6-6 and many thought similar. Bucky had a number of seniors it had to replace and there were question marks all over. The Big Ten Championship game had a disappointing result, giving away a 28-7 lead. However, considering expectations, a 10-3 season far exceeded what most people thought would happen. On Jan. 2, the Badgers will make their first appearance in the Cotton Bowl against undefeated Western Michigan out of the Mid-American Conference.
Before the season, I remember looking at the schedule and hoping for seven or so wins. Many were thinking the Badgers were going to struggle to make a bowl, but Wisconsin went through the rest of the division unscathed to return to Indy. Joel Stave, while not perfect, was a solid quarterback who left as the all-time winningest QB in school history. Alex Erickson was a reliable target who is playing well with Cincinnati in the NFL. On defense, Joe Schobert was an All-American at linebacker and the team had to replace three defensive backs. Wisconsin also had to replace defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who left for LSU. Then the Badgers had to replace center Dan Voltz, who had to retire prior to the season with injuries.
Somehow, even with the many losses, the team did even better. The Badgers replaced Aranda with former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and the team didn’t skip a beat. With Aranda last season, Wisconsin was the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, but played a very soft schedule. This year, Wilcox’s crew is No. 4 in the nation in scoring defense against a significantly tougher schedule. T.J. Watt filled in for Schobert and was an All-American as well. Despite losing three members of a very good secondary, the defensive backfield was a strength this season. Many thought the cornerbacks, Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal, were going to be a solid duo. They turned it up a notch in 2016. The safeties were thought to be a liability going into this season, but the pair of Leo Musso and D’Cota Dixon exceeded expectations and then some. The duo has combined to pick off nine passes on the year and have made some of the most significant plays this season.
Even fully healthy, it looked like Bucky was in for a major challenge, but the injuries came in early and often. It all started with starting linebacker T.J. Edwards, who broke his foot a month before the season started and missed the opener against LSU. Against the Tigers, the Badgers also lost linebacker Chris Orr for the season with a torn ACL on the first defensive play of the season. Wisconsin had to deal with so many injuries this season that it was pretty remarkable that the team kept rolling along to another 10-win season. Bucky had injuries on the offensive line the first half of the season, as well as losing a number of other key players.
One of those injuries was Jack Cichy, yet another linebacker. He was named a midseason All-American by Sports Illustrated who was the best player on the field against Ohio State. Coming into the season, Cichy was best-known for his performance against USC in last year’s Holiday Bowl in which he had three sacks in as many plays. At the time of his injury, he was the leading tackler for the Badgers with 60 and had seven tackles for loss in the seven games he played in. Against Iowa in late October, he tore a pectoral muscle causing him to miss the remainder of the season. But against the Hawkeyes, he played the remainder of the game despite the injury. He is one tough dude and I am looking forward to his return in 2017.
This has been a real fun season so far. I have been to three games (LSU, Purdue, Penn State) this season and I was able to attend College Gameday twice. The team had so many injuries and to see lesser known players step in and play almost as well. The Badgers played with so much heart this year and it put a smile on my face. Bucky is so loaded with juniors that many thought this team was a year away. Now, Wisconsin has a big final game against Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, but if Watt and Ryan Ramczyk come back for their final seasons, the Badgers will be a contender for the College Football Playoff.