A reader and frequent contributor to the Open Jim mailbag suggested I include my updated projection of the University of Wisconsin football team’s record each week and, hey, it’s not a bad idea if the goal is to make fun of me for being horrible at predicting how the Badgers will do each week.
Let’s start with the fact that I forecasted a 10-2 finish for UW when the season began. I’ve been wrong in game predictions about the losses to Penn State and Michigan and the win over Purdue. If you’re scoring at home, that makes both me and the Badgers 4-3 on the season.
So here goes nothing: My new season prediction is 8-4. I’m predicting a UW win this week but still don’t trust the Badgers enough not to stumble at some point during this final five-game stretch.
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Why are there so many players leaving? Is there a cancer somewhere?— David Zeier (@CheeseheadinOH) October 25, 2021
Are you concerned with what seems to be an alarming number of departures from the football program mid season?— Derek Detert (@Deetztreatz) October 26, 2021
I’d be alarmed — and concerned about a cancer growing somewhere inside the program — if this wasn’t a growing issue in college sports. Student-athletes are transferring at high rates in football, men’s basketball and other sports as well.
It’s definitely something to keep an eye on at UW. Perhaps there’s a problem if a larger-than-usual number of players leave after the season.
But I think it’s important to examine these issues on a case-by-case basis before jumping to any conclusions.
Wide receiver Devin Chandler announced last week his decision to transfer, apparently because he was unhappy with how he was being used. That’s unfortunate and not a great look for the program, but I don’t see it as a sign of anything disturbing going on behind the scenes.
Finally, reserve offensive lineman Kayden Lyles announced this week that he’s going to play somewhere else for his final season of eligibility. Again, this is a playing-time issue and I don’t blame Lyles for finding somewhere he can get on the field.
The timing isn’t ideal, but Colten Bartholomew and I had a good discussion about this on the podcast this week. It’s a weird time in college sports because of the NCAA’s decision to give student-athletes a free season of eligibility in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That was the right move, but it throws scholarship numbers out of whack and leaves coaches and players scrambling to find the right fit before rosters fill up.
I think players such as Chandler and Lyles simply are trying to beat the rush of transfers after the season. They’re getting in the front of the line in hopes of finding a place to play before spots are gone.
But again, this transfer situation is worth monitoring.
Given all the recent losses (Berger, Lyles, Chandler, other RBs) how do you foresee the Badgers modifying their recruiting class for 2022? It’s a bit late but will they try to fill some additional slots or pocket them for the next year?— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) October 25, 2021
UW made a surprise addition Tuesday when Michigan State cornerback Kalon Gervin announced he’ll be joining the Badgers next season as a graduate transfer. That adds some much-needed experience to a position in which UW will have to replace starters Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams.
Considering the Badgers are down three tailbacks from where they began the season, that’s a position I’d like to see addressed either in the prep ranks or transfer portal. Jaydn Ott, a four-star prospect out of California, visited UW earlier this month, but the Badgers would have to beat four Pac-12 programs — Oregon, Cal, Colorado and Arizona — to get him.
Getting a tailback from the transfer portal won’t be easy, in my opinion, because playing time will be limited at a position that includes Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi, unless Mellusi decides to leave early and take a shot at the NFL draft. So UW is in a weird spot: It needs to add depth, but it’s not an attractive landing spot for a tailback who wants carries right away.
I don’t think Lyles’ departure changes much. UW is still in the running for two highly regarded in-state interior offensive linemen: Billy Schrauth (St. Mary’s Springs in Fond du Lac), who is down to UW, Notre Dame and Ohio State; and Carson Hinzman (St. Croix Falls), who is considering UW, Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota.
One more spot that UW coach Paul Chryst has to be considering addressing in the offseason, depending on how the rest of the season goes, is quarterback. If Graham Mertz doesn’t show improvement over the final five games of the regular season, and whatever comes beyond that, is there a player in the transfer portal who could step in and give the Badgers a better option at that position? And would UW even be an attractive option to a transfer quarterback considering how anemic its passing game has been the past two seasons?
Can the Badger football team win without passing more than 10 times a game?— JMW123 (@jmw1235) October 25, 2021
UW seemed proud of the fact that it beat Purdue while only attempting eight passes, as I wrote after the game Saturday, but Chryst and the Badgers realize that’s a formula that rarely will work.
And it almost certainly won’t work against Iowa, though I do think UW has found something in its running game and will be able to move the ball on the ground against the Hawkeyes.
Does Chryst have any confidence in the passing game? I don’t see how the Badgers can win this weekend without throwing it more than they have the last couple of weeks.— Erik Grinde (@egrinde) October 25, 2021
It doesn’t appear so, and why should he? This passing game, save for some promising moments here and there, hasn’t been able to perform consistently basically since the 2020 season opener.
I actually was impressed with Mertz early in the game at Purdue. He was 3 of 3 on UW’s first scoring drive and 5 of 5 overall at one point, but he didn’t complete a pass over the final 38-plus minutes of the game. Of course, he only had three attempts in that span.
Mertz going against a ball-hawking secondary like Iowa’s is scary, but the Badgers can’t win this game without some help from its passing game. I’d take this line from Mertz: 9 of 15 for 100 yards and, most importantly, no turnovers.
The passing game is worse than the Wisconsin average (which means it’s awful). Is it due mostly to:— Bill_Woj (@Slough_Creek) October 26, 2021
1) Lack of Pass Protection?
2) Receivers not getting open?
3) Antiquated passing scheme?
4) QB play?
If you say a combo, maybe rank these and comment on why it could improve
It’s probably a combination of all of them, but Nos. 1 and 4 are absolutely the biggest issues.
1B. Poor pass protection
3. Scheme, though I’d hesitate to call it antiquated. Jack Coan was second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency two seasons ago.
4. Receivers not getting open. I think this is a decent group of receivers, but there’s not a stud like Quintez Cephus in the group, and I think that hurts.
How much does the apparent increase in confidence for the O line help the passing game going forward? Will Mertz be able to take advantage of the “new” O line’s performance?— Paul Yochum'63 (@PaulYochum63) October 26, 2021
While I think the offensive line has made big improvements in run blocking over the past three games, pass protection is still a big issue.
What I’d still like to see — and this probably is wishful thinking — is the play-action pass game opening up now that Allen and Mellusi are running the ball so well. But there’s still the matter of protecting Mertz long enough for receivers to get open downfield.
Wisco #2 defense in the nation. Iowa #3 defense in the nation. We looking at first team to 10 on Saturday?— whitey (@Whiteywilhelm) October 25, 2021
Iowa beat Penn State 6-4 in 2004, and I’m tempted to predict a score along those lines, maybe something like 7-6. Certainly something well below the over/under of 36½, which is ridiculously low but probably still way too high.
But here’s what would scare me about that number: These two great defenses going against these two awful offenses could lead to a point total that gets driven up by defensive scores or turnovers that lead to short fields for the offense.
Not really. We’re not allowed to watch practices during the season and Hill, as UW’s No. 4 quarterback, would be working with the scout team and not getting any meaningful reps with the UW offense at this point.
From what I saw of Hill in training camp, he looked like he needed a lot more time before he’ll be ready to play. But it’s not easy to judge a player in his first camp. Bowl game developmental practices and the spring will be opportunities to get a better feel for his progress.
No idea over here, why i ask. Can Keenau Benton have any chance of being drafted at the end of this year?— Trevor Donahue (@trev_diesel) October 26, 2021
He’s eligible, yes, and I certainly think he’ll be playing in the NFL at some point. Will he leave after his junior season? It’s too early to say, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate he’d be anything better than a mid- to late-round pick at this point. There’s a lot of football left to be played this season, so December would be a better time to answer this question.
routinely battling cold shooting with strong defensive efforts. This year defensive struggles are certain. However, do we finally see an uptick in offensive efficiencies with this group? Beyond Davis, where are the points coming from? Who gets better? Who surprises?— WISkeylover54 (@WISkeylover54) October 25, 2021
I actually think defense is going to have to carry UW at times, though post defense is a concern because UW is inexperienced at the center spot and will face some absolute monsters at that position in Big Ten play.
UW is going to have to rely heavily on Johnny Davis and Brad Davison for scoring. Tyler Wahl is going to have to help out in that area. I’m not sure where else it’s going to come from consistently, though I think sophomores Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson both have a lot of upside and offensive skills.
Who gets better? I think UW needs Davis to make a huge jump. I’m talking a second- or third-team All-Big Ten type season if the Badgers are going to overachieve.
Who surprises? I’m not sure he qualifies, but point guard Chucky Hepburn is going to play a lot and become a fan favorite. There will be growing pains — he’s a true freshman playing the most important position on the court — but there’s a lot to like about Hepburn’s game and it’s been a few years since UW has had a pass-first point guard.
With the Badgers being young this year, do you think the “fresh start” will make Greg Gard and the Badgers a better team overall?— Play For March (@playformarch) October 25, 2021
Better than last year? I don’t think so. As frustrating as the 2020-21 campaign was for the Badgers and their fans, they still finished sixth in the Big Ten and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
I’d be surprised if UW matches or exceeds either of those marks this season.
But I do think this team will be intriguing to watch and I expect it to get better as the season progresses. There are so many new faces and so much youth, so it’s going to take some time for UW to form an identity in a really tough conference.
To the extent anyone cares about UW men’s hockey, is the Granato experiment coming to an end? Its almost impossible for UW hockey to be this bad given the facilities and history— Steve Schuster (@SteveSc84123682) October 26, 2021
While the Granato era largely has been underwhelming — he’s 84-86-13 overall, including 53-52-11 in Big Ten play — have you already forgotten that the Badgers are seven months removed from a regular-season conference title.
Even with the early flameout in the NCAA Tournament, I think that Big Ten championship bought Granato some time.
Hi Jim. With other teams (eg., the Mets) expressing interest in David Stearns and the report that Stearns has just a year left on his contract with the Brewers, what do you think are the chances that Stearns leaves the Brewers a year from now?
— Marty in Madison (via email)
It’s a good question, Marty, because Stearns was a Mets fan while growing up in New York. It’s also fair to wonder whether Stearns eventually would like to work for a large-market club where the budget wasn’t so tight.
But the Brewers are in control here. Owner Mark Attanasio wisely promoted Stearns from general manager to president of baseball operations in January 2019, a move that made it impossible for other teams to land Stearns while he’s still under contract with Milwaukee.
How long is that deal? It’s unclear, though the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this month that Stearns has another year on his contract plus a club option for 2023.
The New York Post reported that the Mets were denied permission to talk to Stearns about running their department and a new — and familiar — name emerged this week in that hiring search: Brewers general manager Matt Arnold.
Stearns says his family is happy in Milwaukee. There’s unfinished business for Stearns and the Brewers, and Attanasio no doubt is working to extend Stearns’ deal beyond the two years he’s locked in with the club.
You like providing grades after games. What grade would you give the Packers' defense after 7 games? I'm at a solid "B". Given all the injuries, that defense performed well yesterday. 2 TO, 3/4 on 4th down stops, blocked FG, 3 sacks. All with out Smith Bros, Jaire, King.— Sean Stephenson (@sgstephenson) October 25, 2021
My answer: an incomplete.
But if forced to go with a grade, I’m with you that giving the Packers a “B” makes the most sense at this point.
On one hand, the injuries have been a major factor and it’s impressive that the defense hasn’t collapsed with so many key playmakers missing. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry deserves credit for getting this unit to be solid week after week.
But — and this is important — I’m hesitant to praise the defense too much until it goes against some of the best offenses in the NFL. And that time is coming soon.
Badgers fans on Twitter have new hope — and lingering skepticism — after Wisconsin puts Purdue in check
Full speed ahead
Run Bucky run! Nice to see RB U doing what it does best. How about that defense too !— Dennis Semrau (@DennisSemrau) October 23, 2021
Hold on now!
Keeping 'em on their toes
This offensive scheme will beat the very good/league teams. They brought back the successful unbalance and Paul Chryst definitely has the intellect, innovation, creativity and passion to run a unbalanced offense when necessary. Great coached game.— No Más 🦡 (@JoRy_MaMa) October 23, 2021
So close, yet so far
We are a perfectly decent team so long as the defense forces turnovers and our passing game is unnecessary. But the inability to pound the ball in from the 1 at the end of the first half is concerning.— Craig Smith (@smithcp1) October 23, 2021
It checks out
Where would the Badgers be without Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonard? This team needs to eliminate turnovers and penalties. The formula to compete for the Western Division Title? Run the ball, play suffocating defense, and keep QB Graham Mertz from losing the game.— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) October 23, 2021
Just what the doctor ordered
Felt good— Manu Raju (@mkraju) October 23, 2021
Know when to delegate
Looks like a Wisconsin O but Paul needs to hire a QB coach— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) October 23, 2021
Sure, let's go with 'different'
IF all the offense is run game, why have #5 on the field at all? How bout putting one of the unused WRs at wildcat QB? Would that be worse, better, or at least different?— Fletcher Keyes (@FletcherKeyes) October 23, 2021
Three steps to success
Reduce TO, develop a short passing game (at least 15-20 passes per game) and help the OT’s with chip blocking on obvious passing downs— Wayne Horman (@wayne_horman) October 23, 2021
Woulda won by 40 if the offense could hold onto the ball.— Nicholas~Bucks in 6 (@Nicholaswisco) October 23, 2021
How long has it been?
The first vintage Badger game in a long time. If not for the 2 turnovers it could’ve been a shutout.— Kurt Sagendorph (@ksagendo) October 23, 2021
It's a numbers game
Pumped for the W. Just wish that H2 offense (no TOs, dominant running game) was the every game offense. D is INCREDIBLE. Worried Iowa might cause 5-10 turnovers next week…— Mark Wolfgram (@markwwolfgram) October 23, 2021
How sweet it is
It was really fun to watch!— chris van wagner (@CVWhoops) October 23, 2021
Only a matter of time
Do what you do best, but at some point we're going to have to throw the ball effectively.— Robert Burtch (@rlburtch) October 23, 2021
Our defense is Superman and our offense is Jimmy Olsen. The lack of a dedicated offensive coordinator is a glaring problem. Beach should not be starting. Beyond that, I'm heartened to see the continued emergence of Allen (despite fumbles today)— MK (@Mike_Kowieski) October 23, 2021
Split the difference
Glass half full: D was again magnificent and we had a solid run game. Beat a “ranked” opponent on the road.— Russ Evansen (@waunaruss) October 23, 2021
Glass half empty: We have a QB who cannot throw and I wouldn’t blame them if every WR on the team entered the portal.
Praise Jimmy and that D. 8 passes, 0 yards in 2nd half. 1/11 on 3rd down. Chryst really needs a new offensive coordinator. Mertz is made for shot gun, can see the field better— ChazB (@chazb33) October 23, 2021
The fine taste of victory
I think I will have a Boilermaker to celebrate. Purdue a Top 25 power was shut down and Badger continue to roll over ranked opponents.nothing new for this program.— mike kerry (@BadgerMike) October 23, 2021
Moving in the right direction
Felt like a typical Badger game for a change. Clean up the turnovers and penalties.— Kevin (@dcbadger7) October 23, 2021
Still not sold
A shame a defense this solid is being wasted this year. If they can run like that again next week, I’ll start buying into the no passing philosophy. For now, not holding my breath…— C.J. Boehler (@CJBoehler) October 23, 2021
Take what you can get
Happy for the W on the road.— Stephanie Kowalski (@sdkowalski1) October 23, 2021
Flipping the switch
Wow. Completely different team. Great to win that turnover battle!— EJ Temme (@ej_temme) October 23, 2021
Best of the bunch
Good 2021 UW win. Mertz took what was there except for 1 play and the defense was ludicrous. O line leaned on ppl for days— Ben Moser (@TheMrMoser) October 23, 2021
And on that one ...
Purdon't— Corey Otis (@CoreyWOtis) October 23, 2021
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