Wisconsin football has dominated the Big Ten West more often than not, but will the Badgers have the goods to take the division again in 2022?
It was actually a rarity last season to not see Wisconsin football representing the Big Ten West in the conference championship affair — and even more rare that it’s not two years in a row since the program has been involved in that game. But the Badgers found their identity late in the season and now look to carry that momentum into the 2022 campaign.
The big question will be if that identity and the few returning players in Madison will be enough to take the crown in the West for yet another season.
Coming at in No. 19 on FanSided’s Preseason Top 50 Rankings, the Wisconsin Badgers!
Wisconsin football 2021 season in review
Watching Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game representing the West might not be what fans want to see, but there’s no denying the fact that a down year for Wisconsin football is better than it would be for most other programs.
Even missing out on the conference title game, the Badgers finished the year 6-3 in Big Ten play and while going 9-4 overall after they punctuated their season with a win over Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The fact of the matter is that it felt as if Wisconsin football tried to be something other than what they’ve been under Paul Chryst at times last season, which has the team now staring back at consecutive seasons in which they didn’t win a very getable division. But there are signs that the Badgers are about to get back to their roots and, as such, back to the expected form in the 2022 season.
Previewing Wisconsin Badgers offense for 2022 season
- Returning starters (5): QB Graham Mertz, RB Braelon Allen, OT Jack Nelson, OG Tyler Beach, OC Joe Tippmann
- Newcomers: WR Keontez Lewis (UCLA), 4-star OT Joe Brunner
- Impact player: Braelon Allen
We could beat around the bush in relation to quarterback Graham Mertz but the fact of the matter is that he was highly disappointing in 2021 after he flashed in the shortened 2020 campaign as a freshman. It wasn’t until, by way of injury, Braelon Allen got the nod at running back that the offense really found its form a season ago.
There still could be a look to open up the passing game more, but Allen should be the linchpin of the offense as one of the most talented and explosive runners in the country returning to any program in 2022. Even better, he has a strong group leading the way with the left side of the line looking like a moving brick wall that can clear the way. The right side of the line is unproven, but the Badgers have been accruing and developing talent that appears ready to slot in seamlessly.
Wisconsin’s biggest question is the pass-catching group as the top three targets from last year are all gone. UCLA transfer Keontez Lewis provides some promise, as does Chimere Dike, but the uncertainty at the position could very much force the Badgers’ hand in going back to relying on Allen and the rushing attack.
Previewing Wisconsin Badgers defense for 2022 season
- Returning starters (3): EDGE/LB Nick Herbig, DE Isaiah Mullens, NT Keeanu Benton
- Newcomers: CB Jay Shaw (UCLA), CB Justin Clark (Toledo), S Kamo’i Latu (Utah), 4-star DL Isaac Hamm
- Impact player: Nick Herbig
There is a distinct lack of experience in terms of returning starters on the Wisconsin defense for the 2022 season but there’s still reason to be hopeful about what the Badgers can do on this side of the ball, particularly with Nick Herbig returning at outside linebacker.
Not only was Herbig a sack artist a season ago but he’s joined by a host of versatile and talented edge players who can rotate around him. Meanwhile, the defensive line is the most experienced position group on this side of the ball and figures to be solid against the run again. As for the linebackers, there are big questions with Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal, two stars, departing, but there is talent that just has to prove itself.
While there is a ton of turnover and new faces in the secondary, hitting the transfer portal has worked extremely well for the Badgers as Jay Shaw was an All-Pac-12 performer a season ago and is joined by other experienced players who seem set to come in. The group is unproven in Madison, but the depth and talent of the position is impossible to not feel optimistic about.
Wisconsin football players awards watch for 2022 season
Braelon Allen, Doak Walker/Maxwell/Walter Camp Player of the Year
No shocks here as Allen was dominant in the 2021 season and is now looking at himself on watchlist for the best running back and best overall player in college football. Should he get the workload many expect him to behind this Wisconsin O-line, it could be an incredible season from the running back.
Joe Tippman, Rimington/Outland
Speaking of that offensive line, veteran center Joe Tippman is up for two awards on the preseason watchlist and figures to be a factor in both races this season. He’s been a mauler in the trenches for a while now and figures to be the anchor of a great unit.
Nick Herbig, Bronco Nagurski
It’s a bit shocking that Herbig is up for the Nagurski but wasn’t added to the watchlist for the Butkus Award that honors the country’s best linebacker. Regardless, he’s now the focal point of a good defense and should make his case well for the Nagurski.
Wisconsin football biggest game on 2022 schedule
My gut instinct for the biggest game for the Badgers this season was to point to the Big Ten opener against Ohio State as, even in Columbus, an old-school Wisconsin team could potentially cause the Buckeyes problems. But in terms of importance, there’s no game that stands out more than the trip to play Iowa on Nov. 12.
There are other tricky spots on the schedule for Chryst’s team, to be sure, but as they try to get back to the throne in the Big Ten West, Iowa should again be their biggest threat. And playing at Kinnick Stadium is anything but easy. It’s always a grind-it-out affair when these two foes clash but whoever comes out on top will likely be punching their ticket to the conference championship game barring any other slip-ups.
Wisconsin football best-case scenario
There should not be a problem in any world with Wisconsin handling business against Illinois State, Washington State and New Mexico State in the non-conference slate. That’s when things get rolling quickly as they head to The Shoe in Week 4.
I hinted at this already, but Wisconsin’s style of offense could present serious problems for Ohio State, especially if Jim Knowles isn’t an immediate miracle worker. The Buckeyes’ fast-paced offense puts the defense back on the field quickly, which in turn allows the Badgers to grind them down consistently with the rushing attack, which should have an advantage. With that being possible, I’m moving the Badgers to 4-0, which is followed by two more wins against Illinois and Northwestern.
Thereafter is two tests at Michigan State and at home for Purdue, but I like the talent of Wisconsin better in both of those games. Moreover, they should get past Maryland, taking them into the trip to Iowa at 9-0. And if this team can beat Ohio State, they can beat Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Because of how their brand of football matches up, there is a legitimate chance that Wisconsin football ends the regular season at 12-0 and heads to the Big Ten Championship Game with a College Football Playoff berth on the line. Do they beat Ohio State again? That’s up for debate, but being in that spot is a huge push forward for Bucky and the Boys.
Wisconsin football worst-case scenario
But now we get to where things could turn sour in Madison.
The good news is that the start at 3-0 remains intact — it’s not that much of a doomsday scenario. Having said that, if we’re talking worst-case scenario, Wisconsin isn’t getting one over on the Buckeyes early in the year. Wins at Illinois and Northwestern stay as well, but a trip to Michigan State proves tricky for the rushing attack and drops them to 5-2 heading to Purdue.
Here come the Spoilermakers, always good for a big upset, they get it to spoil Wisconsin’s homecoming on Oct. 22. Maryland could be tricky out of the open week but we won’t go that far. But thereafter, the trip to Kinnick proves fatefully painful as the Badgers fall on that Saturday. Even worse, Minnesota in their own bounce-back campaign proves to be a problem again for Chryst, leaving Wisconsin with a 7-5 overall record if things really go awry in a tough conference.
Wisconsin football 2022 season prediction
Rest easy, Wisconsin football fans; it’s going to take a lot going very badly for this team to only win seven games and is not at all where I see things ending up.
The Badgers aren’t getting one over on Ohio State, though a rematch with their style of play could be absolutely fascinating. And I think Chryst gets the program to that opportunity. I have far more faith in the Wisconsin offense and the defensive talent than I do with anything about Iowa and believe that the Badgers are superior to every other team on the schedule.
The short of that is Wisconsin going 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the Big Ten to get back to Indianapolis for another crack at taking down Ohio State, potentially punching a playoff ticket, and spoiling the Buckeyes’ chances as well.
Wisconsin football 2022 bowl game prediction
If early bowl projections are any indication, the Badgers are going to be back in a big way this season. It won’t be the Rose Bowl, but Bill Bender of Sporting News has Wisconsin football facing Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 2.
Up Next: No. 18: Michigan State Spartans
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