I don’t know about you, but I still felt hungry after Wisconsin’s 34-24 Orange Bowl victory over Miami. A friend of mine likes to tease me that the Badgers are always the bridesmaid and never the bride, but this year felt different.
This year felt like we could have established ourselves as an annual national powerhouse, along with schools like Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State. But alas.
However, Wisconsin’s 2017 season, replete with a 13-1 overall record and a 7-1 record against other bowl teams, was still one of the best in program history. This despite the massive adversity the team overcame, and it should be celebrated as such.
Wisconsin Badgers Football
For starters, Wisconsin lost a lot of starters. Uber-talent and perennial injury-headache Jack Cichy was lost for the season before it began. Stud linebacker Chris Orr missed multiple games.
Top receiver Quintez Cephus injured his leg in an early November game against Indiana and would not return to the team. Troy Fumagali, Jonathan Taylor, Bradrick Shaw, Chris James, Taiwan Deal, and Danny Davis missed various amounts of time, while 2016 sensation Jazz Peavy was never on the radar.
Nevertheless, the Badgers persisted. Wisconsin began the year with a 10-0 deficit against Utah State and trounced the competition from then on. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook had an up-and-down season, but delivered in the clutch in big moments against Michigan and Miami.
Overall, he enjoyed the third best passer rating in the Big Ten, behind only Ohio State’s JT Barrett and Penn State’s Trace McSorley, both NFL prospects. Hornibrook is only a sophomore and should continue to develop nicely, especially with his young and talented group of receivers and the anticipated return of Quintez Cephus.
Jonathan Taylor was remarkable this year. The true-freshman phenom surpassed Ron Dayne and Adrian Peterson for most single season rushing yards by a freshman. His unpleasant ball-security issues plagued the offense throughout the season. But if he can exorcise that problem, he should be a Heisman favorite next year.
The Badger defense under rookie Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonard may well have been the best in the country. It dominated opponents, finishing 5th in the FBS in passing defense and third in rushing defense. It had seven All Big Ten defensive players, according to Big Ten coaches.
This stout and senior-laden unit will unfortunately lose linebacker Jack Cichy and probably TJ Edwards to the draft, and will lose other defensive stars and mainstays like Nick Nelson, Garrett Dooley, Natrell Jamerson, Joe Ferguson, D’Cota Dixon, Derrick Tindal, Leon Jacobs, Chikwe Obasih, Alec James, and Conor Sheehy to graduation.
Expect Andrew Van Ginkel, Ryan Connelly, Arrington Farrar, Isaiahh Loudermilk, and Garrett Rand to lead the Badger defense next season and continue its tradition of inflicting pain on opposing offenses’ desperate attempts to average more than 3.2 yards per carry.
The Ohio State loss was a tough one. If not for a red zone interception and/or one of several massive OSU plays, Wisconsin could have played for a national title.
But the Miami win was great. Not too long ago (Thanksgiving weekend), Miami was undefeated and ranked #2 in the country. Many will look at the Orange Bowl win as Wisconsin’s best of the season, and they are probably right. It was a complete effort, with the passing game, rushing game, d-line, secondary, and special teams all looking the part of a national contender.
Once again, Wisconsin may not have been the bride this year. But it was the really sexy, intelligent, driven, and grounded maid of honor, whose current relationship status is a hot topic. And behind Paul Chryst (now 34-7 at Wisconsin), this gritty and talented team will catch the bouquet one of these years.