Wisconsin Football: 4 bold predictions for 2021 season

Nov 21, 2020; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Nick Herbig (19) celebrates his team's fumble recovery against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 21, 2020; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Nick Herbig (19) celebrates his team's fumble recovery against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

The Wisconsin football season is under 50 days away. After a different and disappointing 2020 season, the expectations for this team are high. Many think the Badgers will bounce back and are currently favorites to win the Big Ten West. According to WynnBET, the Badgers are -108 favorites to win their division. Iowa is right behind Wisconsin at +115.

A new season brings a lot of excitement and unknowns. Things could go very well or very poorly, we just don’t know, and that’s what makes the start of a new season so fun. Anything could happen.

So with that thought, here are four bold predictions for the Wisconsin football team ahead of the 2021 football season.

The Badgers will win the Big Ten West

This may not be all that bold, but the Badgers were favorites to win the Big Ten West last year as well and finished third in the division behind Northwestern and Iowa.

This season, the Badgers have a favorable conference schedule. It’s favorable because they won’t have to face Ohio St. They will play all their normal Big Ten West opponents: Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota on the road, and they will host Iowa, Northwestern, and Nebraska. The Badgers will face Penn St., Michigan at home, and Rutgers on the road from the East division.

Out of the conference, the Badgers have a relatively difficult slate of games. They will face Eastern Michigan at home, Notre Dame in a big game at Soldier Field, and Army at home.

Even though the Wisconsin football team is favored in every game this year, I don’t think it’s likely that the Badgers run the table and go undefeated. Instead, I think it’s more likely that the Badgers end the regular season with one loss, which will be enough to capture the Big Ten West title and a date with what will most likely be Ohio St. in the Big Ten Championship yet again.

Nick Herbig will lead the Big Ten in sacks

Linebacker Nick Herbig burst onto the scene last season as a true freshman. On a defense that is perennially in the top 10, true freshmen rarely see the field. His stats may not have shown it, tallying just one tackle, a sack, but Herbig made his impact felt. He was in the backfield harassing the quarterback all game long.

Now, with another year to get bigger and more polished, I expect big things from the sophomore linebacker. He will be one of the most impactful players on this defense. It’s a bold prediction, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for Herbig to finish the season with the most sacks in the Big Ten.

Jalen Berger rushes for 1,000 yards

Like Herbig, Jalen Berger showed some flashes as a true freshman for this Wisconsin football team last season. In just four games played last season, Berger rushed for 301 yards and two touchdowns for the Badgers. He didn’t start the season as a starter, having to share carries with Garrett Groshek and Nakia Watson, who are now both out of the program.

Berger will still likely share some carries with other backs like Isaac Gurrendo, Brady Schipper, and maybe even incoming freshman Braelon Allen, but I would expect Berger to get a bulk of the carries and be the bell cow to start the season.

I don’t think Berger has an issue getting to 1,000 yards this season getting more carries and playing in more than four games.

Graham Mertz finishes in the top 3 in passing yards in the Big Ten

Which Graham Mertz will we see in 2021? If it’s the one that threw for 248 yards and five touchdowns in the opener over Illinois, I have no doubt that Mertz will be one of the leading passers in the Big Ten in 2021.

But if it’s the Mertz that showed up the rest of the season, he will probably finish about where he was last season, which was 8th in the conference.

Of course, there are probably reasons Mertz struggled the rest of the season and we could make all sorts of excuses for Mertz. He played the season with an injury, had covid and missed a significant amount of time, and lost both of his top two receivers in Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor to injury.

With another year to prepare for a much more certain season than the last, there won’t be any excuses to make for Mertz, not that he’s looking for any. I think Mertz will take a big step forward and provide a spark to this Wisconsin offense and get the passing game going like we haven’t really seen since Russell Wilson’s epic 2011 season.

Graham Mertz will finish in the top three in passing in the Big Ten in 2021.

Book it.