Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin Badgers’

weber_mike_vsOklahoma_090917 (5) TOP UNITS

Ohio State running back Mike Weber

Each year Phil Steele releases his unit rankings in his College Football Preview and given that I write the Big Ten team previews, I thought what better time to share a little insight on the reason why the units are ranked where they are.

14. Illinois Fighting Illini – Mike Epstein was Illinois leading rusher when a leg injury ended his season after five games last year. Ra’Von Bonner is the power back, while Reggie Corbin is the slasher. Epstein is a combination of the two. All three must prove they can remain healthy in the physical Big Ten.

13. Iowa Hawkeyes – Iowa has to replace two 1,000 yard rushers this year and every tailback on the roster is an underclassmen. Toren Young started one game and has power at 220 pounds. Ivory Kelly-Martin saw action in all 13 games as a true freshman and is a good change-of-pace for Young. This is a vastly inexperienced unit.

12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights – Jon Hilliman was added as a grad transfer after starting 29 games for Boston College. Despite being 225 pounds, Hilliman has good speed. Raheem Blackshear averaged 6.1 yards per carry as a true freshman last year and is quick and explosive.

11. Indiana Hoosiers – Morgan Ellison broke his left leg as a Sophomore and his right leg as a Junior in high school, which hurt his recruitment. He led the Hoosiers as true freshman last year with 704 yards and is naturally strong. Cole Gest provides the change of pace with great burst and explosion, while Mike Majette is a combination of the two.

10. Northwestern Wildcats – Northwestern is replacing their all-time leading rusher in 2018. Jeremy Larkin averaged 6.0 yards per carry last year and John Moten averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 2016. Jesse Brown is similar in size to Larkin and provides track speed.

9. Purdue Boilermakers – Tario Fuller started the first three games in 2017 and averaged 6.1 yards per carry before an ankle injury ended his season. Markell Jones has rushed for over 500 yards in each of his three seasons and has excellent hands out of the backfield. DJ Knox returned from an ACL injury in 2016 to average 6.2 yards per carry in 2017.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers – If this list only pertained to the starting running back, then Minnesota would be ranked higher. Rodney Smith followed up his 1,000 yard season in 2016 with 977 yards last year, battling thru a couple of concussions. With Shannon Brooks sitting this season out due to injury, Mohamed Ibrahim, Dominik London, and Jonathan Femi-Cole provide quality depth.

7. Nebraska Cornhuskers – Just how deep is the Nebraska running back unit? So deep that Devine Ozigbo, who has led the Huskers in rushing each of the last two seasons, will likely have three others in front of him for 2018! Greg Bell is the newcomer that was a two-time Juco All-American, Tre Bryant began last year as the starter before a knee injury ended his season after two games, and Mikale Wilbon is a multiple back that is also a receiving option.

6. Maryland Terrapins – After rushing for over 1,000 yards as a true freshman, Ty Johnson was the focal point for many defenses in 2017 as Maryland was devastated at the QB position. Lorenzo Harrison is elusive and powerful, while Anthony McFarland is fully healed from a high school injury that resulted in him taking a redshirt last year and has sprinter speed.

5. Michigan State Spartans – LJ Scott would’ve likely been an NFL draft pick in 2018, but opted to return to East Lansing for his Senior season. He’s a 230 pound bruiser. Connor Heyward is the son of the late “Iron Head” Heyward and has tremendous explosiveness and great hands. Weston Bridges brings a change of pace and has great vision, but can also run through would be tacklers.

4. Penn State Nittany Lions – Miles Sanders will have the difficult task of replacing Saquan Barkley as the feature running back, but is similarly built and is also a great receiving threat. True freshman Ricky Slade was ranked as the No. 3 running back in the 2018 recruiting class and has elite acceleration. Mark Allen is the veteran of the unit and will be the change of pace running back.

3. Michigan Wolverines – Michigan still ranks this high even after the recent news that Kareem Walker has decided to transfer to Juco. Karan Higdon earned Third Team Big Ten honors last year that can run inside or bounce outside. Chris Evans averaged over five yards per carry in 2017 and is the fastest of the running backs. O’Maury Samuels has great stop-start ability, and Berkely Edwards was added as a grad transfer that has excellent quickness.

2. Wisconsin Badgers – While Wisconsin just may have the Heisman Trophy winner for 2018 in Jonathan Taylor, this list is about the entire unit, not just the starter. Backup Bradrick Shaw is coming off an ACL injury, Taiwan Deal is coming off an ankle injury, and Chris James was limited to nine games last year and injured his ankle during spring practices.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes – No team in the Big Ten has more talent at running back than Ohio State. It can be argued that JK Dobbins and Mike Weber, who each has ran for over 1,000 yards in season, are the best combination in the nation. Add a pair of very highly touted true freshman to the mix along with Demario McCall, who will also play the H-Back position and it’s easy to see why this unit is ranked where it is.

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David Edwards

Right tackle David Edwards

The Wisconsin Badgers offensive line is often described as big and having a power rushing attack. Proving that the unit has been well stocked with superior talent, Wisconsin has had 11 offensive lineman drafted in the NFL since 2007 including five in the first round!

In head coach Paul Chryst’s first season in Madison (2015) the Badgers surprisingly averaged just 150 rushing yards per game, their fewest since 1995. Wisconsin has rebounded the last two years, improving their rushing yards per game average to 203 in 2016 and 223 last year.

Wisconsin was fortunate last year in that four of their five offensive line starters started all 14 games, with the lone exception being left guard Jon Dietzen, who still started 12. Purdue allowed just 133 rushing yards per game in 2017, but gave up a season high 295 versus the Badgers. Of their 14 games, Wisconsin was held to less rushing yards than what their opponents allowed on average just three times. Combined, Wisconsin’s opponents allowed 160 rushing yards per game, which shows that the Badgers 223 rushing yards per game average was even more impressive.

Four Badgers garnered post season honors following the 2017 season. Right tackle David Edwards (second team) and right guard Beau Benzschawel (third team) were named All-Americans, while left tackle Michael Deiter (first team) and center Tyler Biadasz (third team) were named All-Conference.

All six players that earned starts in 2017 return and the Badgers lead the country by far with 150 career starts by offensive lineman returning in 2018 (Boston College is second with 139).

Noted college football prognosticator Phil Steele named Edwards (first team), Benzschawel (first team), and Deiter (fourth team) pre-season All-American’s while Biadasz was named pre-season second team All-Conference.

Steele also projects Wisconsin to rush for 270 yards per game, the second most in the nation among non triple option teams. Based on the talent at hand along with the projected finish for 2018, it’s an easy call to name the Badgers as having the best offensive line in the nation.

 

 

Chris James

Wisconsin has produced a 1,000 yard running back 11 of last 12 years.  The Badgers head into 2017 having to replace their top two leading rushers from a year ago. Their leading returnee is sophomore Bradrick Shaw, who had 457 rushing yards. Junior Taiwan Deal has 667 career rushing yards, but underwent ankle surgery over the off season. While either would be a logical choice to take over as the feature back, there’s another player that will likely assume the role.

Chris James ran for 690 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry over 23 games for Pitt in 2014-’15. As part of head coach Paul Chryst’s last recruiting class with the Panthers, James played in every game as a true freshman, rushing for 437 yards, while averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He transferred to Wisconsin last year, playing on the practice squad during the season.

The 5’10” 216 pound junior has been compared to 2016 first team Big Ten running back Corey Clement. He has speed and quickness to make big plays in the open field, while also being sturdy enough to run between the tackles. He’s powerfully built and shifty. Despite just eight career receptions, he has the skill-set to accumulate more and is stout in picking up the blitz.

James should benefit from an offensive line that loses just 1 starter. College football expert Phil Steele said this was by far Wisconsin’s best offensive line since Chryst took over as head coach in 2015 and right guard Beau Benzschawel and center Michael Deiter each made Steele’s preseason All Big-Ten team.

It shouldn’t be a surprise if James rushes for the most yards in a season by a Badger under Chryst, provided he stays healthy. It also shouldn’t be a surprise if James is the Big Ten’s leading rusher at seasons end.

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These schools have met six times previously, with USC winning all of them, but the last meeting was in 1966! This is the fourth straight bowl game for the Trojans and they played in this exact bowl last year, beating Nebraska 45-42 (-7). In their previous three non New Years Day bowl games, USC is 2-1 SU/ATS. Head coach Clay Helton is 1-0 SU/ATS in bowls (interim in 2013). Wisconsin is bowling for the 14th straight season. They beat Auburn 34-31 (+6.5) in last years Outback Bowl, and are 4-2 SU/3-3 ATS in non New Years Day bowl games since 1996. Head coach Paul Chryst was 1-1 SU/ATS in bowls while the head coach at Pittsburgh. 

Despite just returning 11 starters with a new head coach, Wisconsin was expected to win the Big Ten West division. Corey Clement was expected to replace Melvin Gordon, but he’s been banged up. They went 3-1 in the non-conference portion of their schedule with an expected loss to Alabama, then lost their first conference game to eventual West division champion Iowa. The Badgers then won five straight, but were upset at home against Northwestern as a double-digit favorite. They finished the season with a win over Minnesota. Wisconsin held six of their opponents to either their lowest or second lowest yards total and are No. 6 in the FBS allowing 114 yards per game less then their foes average. They have a top notch defense, being superior both against the pass and the run.

USC looked like a National Title contender when the season began as their sanctions ended. At 2-0, they hosted eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford as nearly a double-digit favorite, but lost by 10. After a loss to Washington, head coach Steve Sarkisian was let go for personal reasons and defensive coordinator Clay Helton took over. They then lost to Notre Dame, but after beating Utah, controlled their fate in the South division. The Trojans went 4-1 down the stretch, losing only to Oregon as a ‘dog. USC again lost to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game. Helton was hired as the permanent head coach, but has let go of five defensive assistants since the end of the regular season.

Wisconsin enters this game plus 110 yards per game and outgained Iowa by 99 yards in their home loss. USC played against 11 bowl teams and were plus 48 yards per game, while the Badgers played just five bowl teams. While Wisconsin does have the defensive edge, USC has an abundance of skill players on offense and it will be interesting to see what side comes out on top.