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College Football Countdown: No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers

Former Cincinnati Coach Fickell Takes Over Program

Changes were coming after a season in which Wisconsin won back-to-back games just once. Head coach Paul Chryst led Wisconsin to at least 10 wins in four of his first five seasons. However, he was let go after the Badgers were outscored 86-31 in losses to Ohio State and Illinois in the first two Big Ten games of the season. When it comes to the college football predictions, Wisconsin comes in at No. 19 in the countdown for the second season in a row.

Luke Fickell takes over after leading Cincinnati to a 53-10 record over the last five seasons. Wisconsin is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Big Ten West Division after reaching the conference championship game six times – that is tied with Ohio State for the most since the start of the Big Ten title game in 2011.

NCAAF Countdown: No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers
Head coach Luke Fickell looks on following the game against the Temple Owls/Michael Reaves/Getty Images/AFP

The combined record of Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen, and Chryst in their first seasons at Wisconsin is 31-8 so that sets a pretty high bar for Fickell.

When looking at the college football news, Fickell didn’t come empty-handed with offensive tackle Joe Huber, interior offensive lineman Jake Renfro and receivers Quincy Burroughs and Will Pauling (12 catches as a freshman) following their coach from Cincinnati to Wisconsin. He brought in players from Cincinnati’s conference rivals as former SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai and Temple defensive lineman Darian Varner headed to Madison.

Southern California receiver C.J. Williams, Oklahoma State receiver Bryson Green (36 catches, 584 yards, and five TDs in 2022), Grand Valley cornerback Nyzier Fourquerean, Michigan State edge rusher Jeff Pietrowski and Mississippi State quarterback Braedyn Locke are other prominent transfers.

Wisconsin finished 12th out of 14 Big Ten teams in the 247sports.com recruiting database among incoming freshmen and that figures to change with Fickell in charge.

Wisconsin failed to cover against the college football picks in three of the last four games last season.

According to the college football picks, Wisconsin (+6000) is tied for 16th in the odds to win the national title.

Wisconsin Badgers

Three-year starting quarterback Graham Mertz is now at Florida. Mordecai threw for more than 7,000 yards with 72 touchdowns and 22 interceptions over the last two seasons at SMU. Wisconsin is going to an Air Raid-style of offense with the arrival of Fickell and offensive coordinator Phil Longo.

Chimere Dike returns after leading Wisconsin with 47 catches and 689 yards a season ago. Skyler Bell, Keontez Lewis, and tight end Clay Cundiff also return as they join transfers Burroughs, Pauling, Williams, and Green to give Wisconsin plenty of pass catchers.

The big question is what happens with running backs Braelon Allen, who is already a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, and Chez Mellusi. Air Raid offenses aren’t known for establishing the run. Eleven of Allen’s 15 100-yard games in his freshman and sophomore seasons came in Big Ten play.

He is priced at +7000 in the Heisman Trophy odds according to the college football betting lines.

Jack Nelson is the top offensive lineman for Wisconsin and it will be interesting to see how Huber and Renfro fit in on the O-line after coming in from Cincinnati.

Mike Tressel is the new defensive play-caller and he has plenty of talent to work with as eight starters return for a team that finished fifth in the Big Ten in total defense.

Leading tackler Maema Njongmeta joins Hunter Wohler as the top returnees. Nick Herbig, who led Wisconsin with 11 sacks a season ago, is now with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. Varner had 12½ tackles for loss and 7½ sacks last season at Temple so keep an eye on how he is utilized.

Those who bet online might be interested to know that Wisconsin was 6-5 against the spread when listed as the favorite a season ago, with six of those games going over the total.

Wisconsin was picked as the favorite to win the West Division, beating out Iowa by one point.

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The schemes will look much different from past Wisconsin teams with a new head coach and new offensive and defensive coordinators. There are some questions about how the Air Raid offense will work playing in the cold weather during the Big Ten season. The running game will factor into the success in the first season with Fickell.

Wisconsin was tied for second in the Big Ten with 86 tackles for loss and was fifth with 32 sacks. Look for more of the same in 2023.

Wisconsin is listed as the front-runner at +125 to win the Big Ten West Division title even with a lot of moving parts needing to come together.

The Luke Fickell era begins with a home game against Buffalo before hitting the road to face Washington State. The non-conference season ends against Georgia Southern so it is rather likely that Wisconsin could head into Big Ten play undefeated.

The Purdue game in the Big Ten opener could be pretty interesting while back-to-back games in October against Iowa and Illinois could decide how Fickell’s first season will play out especially with a matchup against Ohio State coming up next. The regular-season finale on the road against Minnesota could have Big Ten West Division title implications.

Wisconsin is listed by the college football spreads as a 24-point favorite against Buffalo in the season opener. The Badgers have won six of their last seven season openers.

The Badgers are coming off their first losing record in Big Ten play since 2008. That gives Fickell some work to do.

Wisconsin is coming off a seven-win season. However, more is expected in 2023 with -140 odds to go over 8½ wins during the regular season and +110 to finish under that total.

2023 Schedule

  • Sept. 2 vs Buffalo
  • Sept. 9 at Washington State
  • Sept. 16 vs Georgia Southern
  • Sept. 22 at Purdue
  • Oct. 7 vs Rutgers
  • Oct. 14 vs Iowa
  • Oct. 21 at Illinois
  • Oct. 28 vs Ohio State
  • Nov. 4 at Indiana
  • Nov. 11 vs Northwestern
  • Nov. 18 vs Nebraska
  • Nov. 25 at Minnesota

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