With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few days we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to the players’ class in terms of what they’ll be in 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.
Returning: Alex Hornibrook, Jack Coan, Kare Lyles, Danny Vanden Boom
New arrivals: Chase Wolf
Biggest question: Is Alex Hornibrook the unquestioned starter heading into 2018?
Alex Hornibrook capped off an up and down sophomore season on an absolute high. He threw four touchdowns against Miami and was named the MVP of the Orange Bowl as he earned his 20th win as a starter. Hornibrook ended up throwing the second-most touchdowns (25) in a single season by a Wisconsin quarterback, while he ranks among the top five in yards, completions and pass efficiency rating. But he also threw 15 interceptions, the most by a Wisconsin quarterback since at least 1997.
His lack of consistency was maddening for fans. In games he was on — like the Orange Bowl — the Wisconsin offense looked a bit like the ones led by Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson in 2010 and 2011, respectively, that averaged more than 40 points a game. In fact, in the four games he didn’t throw an interception, he tossed 14 of his touchdowns and the Badgers put up 41 points per game.
But it was the rollercoaster-like feeling in those other 10 games that made you think — at least before the bowl game — there could be a competition for the starting spot come spring ball. Can that really still be the case after what Hornibrook did to Miami? Most think no.
However, watching the national title game Monday night and seeing Alabama coach Nick Saban’s gutsy decision to replace Jalen Hurts, a quarterback that had helped the Tide to back-to-back championship appearances, with the young and inexperienced — but talented — Tua Tagovailoa, gives me pause in thinking that sophomore Jack Coan can’t — at some point — earn playing time. Is he ready for it? We don’t know, especially since, outside of a few garbage time throws, the media hasn’t seen Coan since August. At that point, there was a pretty wide gap between the true freshman and Hornibrook. Is that gap still significant? We’ll find out in spring practice.
Again, Hornibrook is almost surely going to be the starter in 2018 — and probably 2019 — for the Badgers. And that’s not a negative thing. He’s a proven winner that will likely break every major passing record in school history. But I think it would be foolish to simply erase everything we learned about him — good and bad — over the first 13 games of the season because of what he did in the 14th game no matter how impressive it was.
Projected depth chart:
1) Alex Hornibrook (JR)
2) Jack Coan (SO)
3) Kare Lyles (RS SO)
4) Danny Vanden Boom (RS FR) and Chase Wolf (FR)