It’s officially the football offseason. Some teams are celebrating great seasons, while others are stuck licking their wounds and mending their broken pride. Regardless of how the 2021 season ended, all 14 Big Ten teams must put it in their rear-view mirror and look forward to the 2022 season. There have been coaching changes, outgoing and incoming transfers, players leaving for the draft, new schemes, and new expectations. The offseason allows fans to dream of a successful 2022 campaign, and it’s up to each individual program to make that a reality.
While that process has started for the teams, as fans we are beginning to ask the questions that programs need to answer to be successful. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do at Land-Grant Holy Land; Five Questions for each B1G team to answer this offseason.
After a slow start to 2021, Wisconsin came within one game of returning to the Big Ten Championship Game, ultimately losing to rival Minnesota in the last game of the season. They hope to return to dominating the West Division in 2022, but will need to answer these questions this offseason.
Can Graham Mertz take a leap?
Heading into the 2021 season, Wisconsin was on a high, expecting sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz to break out and lead them to the playoffs. The coaching staff was so confident in their young quarterback they let Jack Coan transfer to Notre Dame. Unfortunately for the Badgers that never happened. Mertz struggled all season, finishing with a measly 1,958 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Most teams will only go as far as their quarterback can take them. 2022 will be feature Mertz at the helm as a starter once again The coaching staff must leave this offseason convinced that Mertz would take a leap, or risk wasting another season as Iowa, Minnesota, and Purdue strive to take their spot at the top.
How far can Braelon Allen take them?
Wisconsin finished the 2021 season 9-4 largely in part to finding a gem in freshman running back Braelon Allen. Wisconsin literally went as far as he could carry them, winning every game where he rushed over 100 yards and losing the four games he failed to crack the century mark. Allen was a pleasant surprise in 2021, but in 2022 he will be the first name on most opposing teams’ scouting reports. Wisconsin hopes that he will carry them to the Big Ten Championship Game and beyond. That work starts this offseason.
Can Bobby Engram fix the offense?
Wisconsin has had one of the worst offenses in college football for a long time under Paul Chryst. In 2021 Chryst took all the blame, as he decided to serve as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on top of his head coaching duties. Is this the reason for the offensive struggles? There is no sure way to answer this question, but nonetheless Chryst fired himself and hired former Raven Bobby Engram to run the offense.
Engram will be tasked with keeping Wisconsin’s identity, improving the passing game, and building on young talent like Braelon Allen. It is a tall task, and this offseason will be the first step to fixing the Badgers’ offensive woes.
Who will step up at inside linebacker?
Wisconsin enters the offseason having to replace both starting inside linebackers as junior Leo Chenal and senior Jack Sanborn head to the NFL. Chenal and Sanborn are two of eight starters leaving the Badgers on defense, but arguably the most important. Wisconsin’s defense has always been led by fast, aggressive and tough linebackers. Losing two starters at the same time will not be easy to overcome.
Chryst and the coaching staff must identify at least one stud this offseason unless they want their defense to take a step back in 2022. With their offensive struggles, the last thing they can manage is a step back in defensive performance.
Can they win big with their style?
In my opinion, this is a question that the Wisconsin Badgers must ask each offseason. Similarly, they must ask what their ceiling is and if they are willing to accept that ceiling. We’re firmly in the era where it’s normal for teams to average 40-plus points per game. Even the great Nick Saban recognized that a defense and run-first approach was not the best philosophy due to the modernization of the game.
Wisconsin is not Alabama, and should not be held to that standard, but if everyone else is opening their offense it’s hard to justify an approach that does not emphasize an aggressive passing game. They have been successful with their style, but are they happy with winning the Big Ten West and running into the buzzsaw from the East? Are they happy with never making the four-team playoff field? Chryst has already hired a new offensive coordinator. This offseason is the perfect time to do some self-reflection and make their offense more potent.