With almost no sports left to speak of during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are hopeful for the return of the University of Wisconsin football team in the fall.
Headlined by their best recruiting class since 2000, which includes star offensive tackles in Trey Wedig and Jack Nelson, linebacker Nick Herbig, and potential Jonathan Taylor-replacement Jalen Berger, the Badgers are shaping up for yet another competitive season after finishing with a 10-4 record (7-3 Big Ten) and a Rose Bowl appearance in 2019.
As the Badgers head into the summer, there are many position battles to look forward to. The two biggest position battles will likely take place over quarterback, between Graham Mertz and Jack Coan, and over running back, between Garrett Groshek, Nakia Watson and Berger.
Entering 2019, most thought Mertz would take over as the next quarterback for Wisconsin at some point during the season, as he emerged as one of Wisconsin’s best quarterback recruits in recent memory. Instead, Coan performed well from the get-go, as he created a better-than-expected duo with Taylor and kept the job all season. The competition between the two quarterbacks will be interesting to watch in 2020.
As for running back, the most likely option is a platoon of Groshek, Watson and Berger. While Groshek and Watson are the returners, there is a chance Berger emerges as the best option to replace Taylor in 2020.
Looking at Wisconsin’s season ahead, they will face their usual Big Ten West opponents in Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Nebraska and Iowa. From the Big Ten East, Wisconsin draws a seemingly easier set of teams than they faced in 2019, with Indiana, Michigan and Maryland all slated to battle the Badgers.
While Wisconsin’s Big Ten schedule might be slightly easier in 2020, their non-conference schedule is almost certainly more difficult as Wisconsin will take on Southern Illinois, Appalachian State and Notre Dame.
While Appalachian State comes from the Sun Belt conference, they are no stranger to big games. They beat Michigan 34–32 in 2007 in what is regarded as one of the biggest upsets in American sports history, with Michigan ahead by 33 points entering the game. Appalachian State has also finished with a winning record in all but one season since 1994, including five consecutive bowl wins from 2015-2019.
Notre Dame is a similarly impressive program but at an elevated level. Under current Head Coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame has finished with a winning record in nine of ten seasons and a 5-4 record in nine bowl games. The Badgers will take on the Fighting Irish at Lambeau Field as part of a two-year agreement between the teams. Wisconsin will play Notre Dame again in 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
With Wisconsin’s major position battles and schedule laid out, let’s predict Wisconsin’s outcomes for 2020.
Wisconsin will have a fairly difficult September schedule, kicking off the season against Indiana at Camp Randall Sept. 4. Wisconsin follows this up with Southern Illinois (Sept. 12) and Appalachian State (Sept. 19) at Camp Randall. I think Wisconsin will manage to win all three games in front of the home crowd to start the season 3-0. The season begins to ramp up Sept. 26 when the Badgers take on Michigan on the road. The home team has won in each of the past four seasons, and I expect that trend to continue in 2020.
Wisconsin’s schedule doesn’t get any easier in October, as they begin the month with games against Notre Dame (Oct. 3) at Lambeau Field and Minnesota (Oct. 10) at Camp Randall. I think Wisconsin will manage to win both games coming off of a loss to Michigan, putting them in good position to repeat as Big Ten West champions. After an off week, Wisconsin will play Maryland (Oct. 24) on the road before matching up with Illinois (Oct. 31) at Camp Randall. Despite losing to Illinois in 2019, I think Wisconsin will dominate both of these games in 2020, putting them at 7-1 (4-0 Big Ten) at the end of two months.
Wisconsin’s final month of regular season football includes Northwestern (Nov. 7) at Wrigley Field, Purdue (Nov. 14) on the road, Nebraska (Nov. 21) at Camp Randall and Iowa (Nov. 28) on the road. I think Wisconsin should win the first three games, but the matchup with Iowa will be a tough way to end the season. Despite the fact that Wisconsin has won seven of the last eight matchups between the two teams, I’ll take Iowa in this one to put Wisconsin at 10-2 (7-1), good enough for another Big Ten West title and an appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game in December.