With the Wisconsin Football season just around the corner, myself and my Wisconsin Sports Heroics colleague Ben Speiring recently chatted with Ryan Harings from the Locked On Badgers Podcast. We discussed the upcoming football season and our predictions for the year. Please give Locked On Badgers a listen!
Tell Us About Locked On Badgers
RH: I joined the Locked On network about three months ago, our goal at Locked On is to provide daily content covering local teams. For the Badgers I’m focused on football and basketball coverage and try maximize my coverage of those two programs through a combination of guest interviews, media interviews and unique perspectives. I’ve also started building a discord channel to continue building the Badgers fan community.
Who is a newcomer on both sides of the ball Badger fans should get to know?
RH: This is a great question — on the offensive side of the ball I think the newcomer to really watch for is Keontez Lewis; the UCLA transfer. Here’s a guy coming into a bit of a crowded position with younger talent, but the Badgers targeted him for a reason. Bigger bodied reciever at 6-2/200 pounds and a guy with a pretty strong recruiting pedigree. I think the Badgers are pretty set with Chimere Dike as the primary WR, but don’t be surprised if Lewis emerges in a bit of a possession WR role.
Defensively you could pick just about any of the transfer defensive backs, but I’m going to move to the front 7 and specifically ILB Jordan Turner. Wisconsin is going to struggle replacing Leo Chenel and Jack Sanborn; but Turner just looks different on film – he has a different type of speed in space that I think could really benefit the Badgers against some of the more pass-happy teams in the conference. He won’t be as good as Chenel or Sanborn, but he might be better in certain ways. I think Badgers fans are going to grow to love his brand of football.
How much of a difference do you think Bobby Engram will make in year 1 as OC?
RH: This one is really tough to say; I do think Bobby Engram isn’t leaving a great organization in the NFL to come to Wisconsin unless he believes he’s going to have a significant say in the offense and really be allowed to have a voice. That being said, if we are talking ‘year 1’ as an OC…. I can’t see a huge difference. I think its still going to be PC’s offense and Engram will likely grow into this role over the next several seasons. I love the hire; I think its a potential home-run move; but I think some of the impacts are still going to be felt down-the-road and not as much in year one. For changes I could see this year, hopefully a slightly more aggressive passing attack and some ways to get the ball into playmakers hands a little easier.
What is one of the stronger position groups on the roster and a group that could be a cause for concern?
RH: I think for stronger groups, the OLB position is obviously stacked – but let me go the the DL. I think its really really salty and tough. Lets start with Keanu Benton who in my opinion is an NFL dude that the Badgers have to be thrilled with him coming back for his senior season. The rest of the line is deep, big and tough. I think its going to be a bear to run on this group; behind Benton you have a trio of players with Mullens, Paez and Rodas Johnson ready to roll. I think the Oregon tranfer from last cycle Isaac Townsend is going to fun to watch and there’s young talent in the pipeline with James Thompson, Michael Jarvis and Cade McDonald. Really underrated group for the Badgers IMO.
For weak positions; the QB spot is it. Thats the big one and the likely the spot that is going to determine the course of the Badgers season. Not only has Graham Mertz failed to live up to the sizeable expectations, but the depth behind Mertz is shaky at best. For all the fans frustrated with Mertz, beware what might happen if he gets hurt; the position has the potential to really sink what could otherwise be a strong Badgers season.
Is this the year Graham Mertz gets over the hump?
RH: Probably not to be honest; although it certainly matters what someone considers when they say ‘get over the hump’. Can Graham Mertz improve and become a serviceable QB… I don’t think that would be crazy. However, if the thought is that Graham Mertz needs to become a upper-echelon Big Ten QB to ‘get over the hump’ I don’t think its realistic. At some level, he doesn’t have the physical tools of the the really elite QBs either with the arm or his feet and he hasn’t been accurate enough when the throws have been there. I don’t think he’s had the best support-system around him but I don’t see an elite QB when I watch Mertz.
Does Wisconsin win the Big Ten West this year?
RH: I think so; but I thought they would last year as well so take that with a grain of salt. It comes down to who do you really trust in the West and even with a poor passing attack and some offensive issues, the Badgers defense is the easiest thing to trust in the Big Ten West.
What is your record prediction and bowl game prediction?
RH: I went through the schedule game by game on one of my shows, my prediction was a 9-3 regular season with a likely appearance in the Big Ten title game.
I see losses to Ohio State either @MSU or @Iowa and a random game that always seems to happen. Wisconsin is good enough to win every game outside of Ohio State, but the offense has been too inconsistent to think this team can sweep through a really tough road slate which includes Iowa, Neb, MSU NW and OSU.
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