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Open Jim: Should Badgers football fans be alarmed by the number of players leaving the program?
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Open Jim: Should Badgers football fans be alarmed by the number of players leaving the program?

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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.

As always, thanks for reading and sending in questions. If you’d like to contribute to an upcoming Open Jim mailbag, either drop me a question on Twitter or email it to me at

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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.

Freshman tailback Loyal Crawford and Jalen Berger were dismissed from the program. Antwan Roberts, who got into an altercation with Berger, was suspended and eventually decided to transfer.

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.

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?

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.

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.

It’s probably a combination of all of them, but Nos. 1 and 4 are absolutely the biggest issues.

My ranks:

1A. Mertz

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Contact Jim Polzin at


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