Wisconsin football team in huddle
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Buy or Sell: 2020 Wisconsin Badgers Football

August 18, 2020

In recent weeks, Brandon Vogel and Derek Peterson have been running through Big Ten programs for a “Buy or Sell” kind of opponent preview. We’ve officially reached the end. Here’s every team on the list:

Brandon Derek
Indiana Hoosiers Buy Sell
Maryland Terrapins Sell Sell
Michigan Wolverines Buy Sell
Michigan State Spartans Sell Sell
Ohio State Buckeyes Sell Buy
Penn State Nittany Lions Buy Buy
Rutgers Scarlet Knights Buy Buy
Illinois Fighting Illini Sell Sell
Iowa Hawkeyes Sell Sell
Minnesota Golden Gophers Sell Buy
Northwestern Wildcats Buy Buy
Purdue Boilermakers Buy Sell

Wisconsin has produced at least an eight-win season every year since 2009, and 17 times total since 2000. Wisconsin has hit the double-digit-wins threshold eight times in the last 11 seasons, including in 2019 when coach Paul Chryst and Co. went 10-4 to once again win the Big Ten West. The pieces change but the formula has remained intact year over year in Madison. Still, this offseason was an unprecedented one and the Badgers have leaders that need replacing on their team, namely at running back and linebacker. Are you buying or selling Wisconsin in 2020?

Brandon Vogel: Buy

This was originally a sell for me, but a very tepid one. Wisconsin is going to be just fine, don’t you worry about them, but maybe a slight step off what it had been in recent years. A huge chunk of the rushing yards are gone with the departure of Jonathan Taylor as is the guard-center-guard combo on the offensive line. Normally, this isn’t an issue in Madison. Badger Corp. just stamps out some more of what it needs and keeps rolling and historically it has fabricated some of the finest running backs and linemen in the land. Good chance Wisconsin will do that again, but the point is Badger Corp. at least has to fire up the assembly line this year and sometimes the new gears take time to mesh with the old gears. The defense has more returning production than the offense, though the key losses on that side (see below) are high-profile linebackers. That’s another position, however, where Badger Corp. has built its name with tough, dependable products. Wisconsin will have some good linebackers, don’t worry about that either. If anything, this might be more of a defense-first Wisconsin team than past versions, and that’s fine. But there were just enough replacement parts for me here to think, maybe this is a team that’s ranked 14th to 21th nationally at the end of the year instead of 6th to 13th and that was the source of my initial “sell.” Then things changed. A 10-game, conference-only schedule only seems to suit the unfeeling, precision-machined efficiency of Badger Corp. even more. The Big Ten is already a rugged league, and the new schedule becomes one that should favor the ruggedest. That’s Wisconsin, most years. Getting Appalachian State off the schedule was the final push I needed to become a buyer here. (That’s a joke, but only sort of.) Invest in Badger Corp. It was built for these times.

Derek Peterson: Buy

Wisconsin just feels beyond reproach at this point. Every time you expect the king to budge, even just a little, he remains rooted at the top like a tree. Since the conference reshuffling of 2014 brought about the creation of the Big Ten East and West divisions, Wisconsin is 30-6 against West opponents. The ingredients have changed but the recipe remains the same. I know what Wisconsin is gonna do on any given Saturday, you know what Wisconsin is gonna do, Uncle Buck pounding 40s outside by the truck knows what Wisconsin is gonna do—run the ball, beat you up on defense. Wisconsin was 22nd last season in points per play thanks to another top-flight run game. It went 10-4 thanks in part to a defense that pitched four shutouts in Wisconsin’s first six games. The Badgers were 15th in yards per carry against, 16th in yards per pass against, 23rd in turnovers forced and produced havoc plays from every level of the defense. Wisconsin’s big losses from the 2019 team include: yearly Doak Walker candidate running back Jonathan Taylor, All-American and Rimington winning center Tyler Biadasz, All-American and Butkus finalist linebacker Zack Baun, and All-Big Ten linebacker Chris Orr. On defense, that’s it, just two starters gone. Those two linebackers accounted for 154 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss and 24 sacks a season ago, but the point in listing out the four big departures is to highlight one very key thing; what is Wisconsin known for at this point? Pumping out elite-level running backs and offensive linemen on offense and pumping out elite-level linebackers on defense. I just think this program has earned the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they take a statistical step back, but there’s no other team in the division, aside from maybe Iowa—who has plenty of other problems at this point—who can match Wisconsin’s level of depth, development and physicality; I’m buying the Badgers as being the division favorite once again. I’m also a huge Graham Mertz fan, and sooner or later it will be his time in Madison. He’s a quarterback that supercharges that offense in a way few have since Russell Wilson left. Normally, this is where I’d point out the schedule, but seeing as that’s now up in the air, I’ll leave you with this: every time I’ve thought Wisconsin would slip, they proved that belief stupid. Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska are a combined 2-13 against Wisconsin since Paul Chryst took over, and until that levels out nothing changes at the top. The Badgers have won the division four times in the last six years. All the hubbub last preseason about Nebraska, then the early-year march from Minnesota, all of it was just noise that ended in Wisconsin snapping its fingers, saying “I am inevitable,” and booking a flight to Indianapolis.

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