Grades for Wisconsin at the quarter pole of the season

These types of articles are normally reserved for the middle of the season when you’ve likely got six or more games to judge a team on. But with Wisconsin’s bye coming after just three weeks — and no other break in the action until the first or second week of December — we decided to undertake an effort to grade what we’ve seen so far in a 3-0 start for the Badgers. Is it fair to do so with such a small sample size? Probably not. But here we go.

Quarterback: B+

Save for a rough outing late in the second quarter and most of the second half against Florida Atlantic, Alex Hornibrook has been fantastic in his second year as a starter. After throwing nine touchdowns all of last year, the sophomore has thrown eight already and is on pace to break Russell Wilson’s single-season school record of 33. And perhaps even more importantly, he’s got just one interception.

The competition will certainly pick up in Big Ten play, but Hornibrook looks like the quarterback many envisioned coming into the year.

Running back: A-

If we were grading this based on Jonathan Taylor alone, it would have easily been an A+. The New Jersey native has been terrific in averaging 146 yards per game — tops for any freshman in the country. He’s still learning and isn’t perfect, but his blend of power, speed and balance make him a terror for defenses.

The rest of the running back group has been up and down. Junior Chris James was anxious and struggled in his debut against Utah State, before bouncing back with a 100-yard outing in a win over Florida Atlantic. Sophomore Bradrick Shaw looked solid as the starter in the opener, but an injury kept him out in Week 2, and it seems unlikely he’ll get his job back this season considering what Taylor has done.

The freshman is the lead dog here and is the reason for such a high grade.

Wide receiver: B

All of the wide receivers have taken a significant leap from a year ago, especially Quintez Cephus. The sophomore already has three touchdowns and has become Wisconsin’s No. 1 option on the outside.

A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Jazz Peavy have all been involved and looked solid, but the overall grade suffers due to the drops in the first two weeks. Still, this group has the makings of being the deepest Wisconsin has had in recent memory. Their final grade figures to be much higher.

Tight ends: A-

Troy Fumagalli was outstanding in the first two games, gaining nearly 100 yards each week. He caught his third touchdown of the year against BYU in what was an otherwise quiet game for the preseason All-American. The senior has also been part of a strong rushing attack that is currently second in the Big Ten.

Outside of junior Zander Neuville’s impressive touchdown catch against Utah State, he and sophomore Kyle Penniston have not really been heavily involved in the passing game, combining for five catches through three games. They, like Fumagalli, still play a vital role in the run game.

LISTEN: The latest edition of our Wisconsin podcast ‘The Camp’

Offensive line: B

The numbers would suggest Wisconsin has been off the charts good along the line, as the Badgers rank 14th in the country in rushing at 275 yards per game and are giving up about one sack per game. But while they’ve been pretty good, in only one game — against BYU — were they the dominating unit many thought they would be. While the game was still in doubt, they opened huge running holes and allowed Hornibrook to have all day to pass. If they can get that kind of effort on a week-to-week basis, their end of the of season grade will jump significantly.

Defensive line: B+

Wisconsin’s defense isn’t designed for the linemen to have big numbers, and that has certainly played out for the group in the first three games as they’ve combined for just one tackle for loss. But they’ve played a role in helping the Badgers limit opponents to 90.6 yards per game on the ground, good enough for 15th in the nation.

They’ve done it largely without senior Chikwe Obasih (knee), who remains sidelined indefinitely . While it’s been a challenge without him, redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk has filled in nicely behind senior starters Alec James and Conor Sheehy.

Linebackers: A-

Teams have been able to run the ball early in games against Wisconsin, but that’s been more about scheme than anything physical. Once they’ve had a chance to digest what they’re seeing, it’s been lights out for opposing offenses.

At inside linebacker, sophomore Chris Orr leads the team in tackles coming off a missed season with a torn ACL, while junior T.J. Edwards has continued to evolve as a playmaker, coming up with three tackles for loss and two interceptions. Junior Ryan Connelly has been solid, too.

On the outside, senior Leon Jacobs leads Wisconsin with four tackles for loss, senior Garret Dooley has been solid on the edge, and junior Andrew Van Ginkel has proven to be the pass rusher the Badgers needed with his two sacks.

Secondary: B

Wisconsin has been up in its games, so the passing numbers for the opposition aren’t great indicators of how well the secondary is playing — and they are playing well. The only concern here is the issues they had in communication in the first two games, including on a play that resulted in a long touchdown for Florida Atlantic. But none of those things showed up against BYU, and it’s possible they just needed time to adjust with several new faces seeing the field for the first time.

Special teams: B+

The Badgers have been solid here, with kicker Rafael Gaglianone going 3 of 4 on field goals, while Anthony Lotti has dropped four of his 10 punts inside the 20-yard line. With kickoffs split between Zach Hintze and P.J. Rosowski, Wisconsin is allowing opponents to start — on average — at their own 22-yard line.

The return units with Nick Nelson and Taylor, especially the latter on kickoff, have been one or two blocks away from taking one back for a score.

Overall: A-

After an uneven first two weeks, Wisconsin showed against BYU what it can be and what many believe it will be. That’s reflected in the overall grade, as we add in the promise shown and the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately factor.

Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook earns B1G honor

MADISON — As expected, Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook earned his first career Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors on Monday.

The sophomore picked up the award after going 18 of 19 for 256 yards and four touchdowns in the Badgers’ 40-6 whipping of BYU. Hornibrook set the school record for completion percentage (94.7 percent) in a single game, while also setting career highs in yards, touchdowns and pass efficiency rating.

The lone incompletion on the day came on a dropped pass and Hornibrook has now topped 200 yards in each of his first three games this year after doing it just once in nine starts a year ago.

Hornibrook becomes the second Wisconsin player to earn the award this year, joining freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who ran for 225 yards against Florida Atlantic last week.

Wisconsin is off this week. The 9th-ranked Badgers will return to the field Sept. 30 when they open Big Ten play against Northwestern.

Preview: (9) Wisconsin vs Florida Atlantic

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (1-0) vs the Florida Atlantic Owls (0-1)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: BTN with Kevin Kugler and Matt Millen in the booth, and Lisa Byington on the sideline.

The last time: This is the first ever meeting between the two schools

The series: N/A

The line: Wisconsin -33

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)

OUT

Game:

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
DE Chikwe Obasih (knee)
WR Kendric Pryor (face)
WR George Rushing (leg)
FB Jake Whalen (head)

Season:

LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) A one-time thing or a pattern?

After the way Wisconsin stumbled through much of the first half against Utah State in its opener, the Badgers need to show that it was a one-time thing and not something that will haunt them all year. If forced to choose what we might see on Saturday, we’d say it wasn’t something fans should worry about. But the anxiety will grow significantly if they struggle early against a Florida Atlantic team that Navy beat by 23 points last week.

2) See some improvement

Coach Paul Chryst doesn’t put much stock in the notion of team’s make their biggest jumps from the first game to the second, but he’s certainly looking for significant improvement in a number of areas, perhaps most notably when it comes to penalties. One of the most disciplined teams in the country in 2016, Wisconsin was called for nine penalties against Utah State — more than in any game a year ago. The Badgers need to clean it up, especially those happening before the play starts.

3) Time to dominate

One of the more surprising aspects of the Badgers slow start against Utah State was the inability of the offensive line to create running lanes and keep pressure off of quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Communication issues played a role, for sure, but the size and talent of the line is too great to not move teams like the Aggies and Florida Atlantic off the ball. While Wisconsin ended up rushing for 233 yards, the Badgers still need to show they can do it from the jump, especially against a Owls defense that allowed Navy to run for more than 400 yards in their opener.

4) More Jonathan Taylor

Nearly every player that made their debut a week ago lived up to the hype, but none more so than running back Jonathan Taylor. He showed off his speed, vision, balance and explosiveness in running for 87 yards and a touchdown. Now, with sophomore Bradrick Shaw a little dinged up, we could see a whole lot more of Taylor on Saturday. And if he capitalizes on it, he could stake his claim to being Wisconsin’s lead back moving forward.

5) Hurricane Irma

While five of the seven FBS teams that call Florida home cancelled their games this weekend due to Hurricane Irma, the storm bearing down on South Florida did not deter the Owls from making the trip to Madison. How will what’s happening back home impact the play of 18-to-23-year-old college students who left homes that may not be there when they get back?

And what about the eight players from the state of Florida on the Wisconsin roster? How focused can anyone expect them to be when their families are dealing with a storm of this magnitude?

The debate over whether the game should be played is pointless — it’s obviously going to happen. But the storm’s impact mentally for players on both sides is relevant and something to watch.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin is 16-1 under coach Paul Chryst when holding teams to 100 yards or less on the ground.

Alex Hornibrook has thrown 73 passes since his last interception, a stretch that covers seven games. The quarterback’s last interception came in the fourth quarter of Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska last October.

Wisconsin’s 59 points against Utah State were the most under Chryst since he returned as coach in 2015, and the most they’ve put up when he’s been calling plays since hanging 62 on Purdue on Nov. 5, 2011.

After taking the ball away from Utah State four times in the opener, the Badgers are averaging three turnovers forced per game over their last six contests.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 52, Florida Atlantic 13 (1-0 on the season, 1-0 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 53, Florida Atlantic 14 (1-0 on the season, 1-0 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 56, Florida Atlantic 10 (1-0 on the season, 1-0 against the spread)

No. 9 Wisconsin overcomes a slow start to whip Utah State 59-10

MADISON — It took nearly 29 minutes, but No. 9 Wisconsin finally woke up. And once it did, the Badgers turned into a steamroller, scoring 59 unanswered points, including 49 in the second half, to beat Utah State 59-10 on Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

Play of the Game

Utah State led 10-7 with 1:01 left in the first half and had a first-and-10 at its own 18-yard line. The Badgers had just gotten their first points of the game, so it would have made sense for the Aggies to be satisfied with their lead and head into halftime. They apparently weren’t satisfied, as quarterback Kent Myers came out throwing and it turned into a disaster. His short toss to Carson Terrell on first down went off the receiver’s hands and right into the waiting arms of linebacker T.J. Edwards.

“That was huge,” safety D’Cota Dixon said afterwards. “It was the hammer and the nail. That’s exactly what you need, especially when you’re down. It was exactly what we needed.”

The interception only led to a field goal, but it was the first of many mistakes the rest of the way for Utah State, which would go on to turn the ball over four times.

Game Balls

Offense: TE Troy Fumagalli

Others were flashier, but the senior posted a career-high 105 yards receiving, picking up where he left off in Wisconsin’s Cotton Bowl victory last January.

His 15-yard catch on third-and-12 in the second quarter kept the Badgers first scoring drive of the game going, and then quarterback Alex Hornibrook found him wide open on third-and-2 early in the third quarter for a 23-yard touchdown.

With his big night, Fumagalli now sits fifth all-time in receiving yards for a tight end at Wisconsin, and will likely end up with the second-most by the time his career is over.

Defense: ILB T.J. Edwards

The junior was everywhere on Friday night, collecting seven tackles, one tackle for loss, picking off one pass and breaking up two more throws. His interception late in the second quarter proved to be the turning point in a game that Utah State led at that point.

But it wasn’t just the numbers for Edwards. It was the passion he played with, finishing off tackles with an emphasis. It was everything you’d expect out of one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten.

Special Teams: K Rafael Gaglianone

He only kicked one field goal — from just 29 yards — but Gaglianone gets the game ball because it was his first time on the field since suffering a season-ending back injury last September.

Wisconsin didn’t need his leg to win on Friday night, but history would suggest they’ll need it at some point this season.

Video of the Game

In their own words

Jonathan Taylor describes his first career touchdown, a 13-yard scamper in the third quarter.

Quote of the Day

“I always describe Coach Chryst as a dad away from home. He’s just the same guy. He’s very smooth, very calm, very collected. But, as a father would when a child needs to be disciplined and needs to be talked to, he will discipline us. He just honestly told us the truth. We were beating ourselves a lot.”

— Dixon on the loud and direct message that coach Paul Chryst gave the team at halftime on Friday night.

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin’s captains were defensive end Alec James, wide receiver Jazz Peavy, tight end Troy Fumagalli and safety Natrell Jamerson. The honorary captain was Al Toon, a member of UW’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

— Several true freshmen made their debuts on Friday, including running back Jonathan Taylor, wide receiver Danny Davis, quarterback Jack Coan, cornerback Madison Cone and long snapper Adam Bay.

— Fumagalli wore No. 48 in honor of senior linebacker Jack Cichy, who will miss the year with a torn ACL. Fumagalli said it was just a one time thing, but that he really wanted to do it to show Cichy how much he meant to the team.

— Junior Zander Neuville’s first career catch turned into his first career touchdown, as he tightroped down the sideline for the 28-yard score early in the third quarter. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the extra effort of Danny Davis, who managed to block three different guys to help get the tight end into the end zone.

— Wisconsin trailed 10-0 in the first half. It was the first time the Badgers had trailed by double digits in a non-conference home game since 2012 against — you guessed it — Utah State. The Badgers won that game 16-14.

Inside the Numbers

15:19 — That’s how long it took for Wisconsin to go from down 10-0 to up 38-10.

87 — That’s the number of rushing yards for freshman Jonathan Taylor in his first career game. It included a pretty 41-yard run on the first play of the second half to jump start the offense.

99 — That was the length of Joe Ferguson’s interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the longest return in school history.

3 — That’s the number of touchdowns Alex Hornibrook threw on Friday night, a career high and 1/3 of what he threw all of last year.

478 — That’s the number of yards Wisconsin’s offense rolled up. It’s the third-highest total since Chryst took over as coach in 2015.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (1-0) will host Florida Atlantic next Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The Owls, in their first game under new coach Lane Kiffin, lost 42-19 to Navy on Friday.

Preview: (9) Wisconsin vs Utah State

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (0-0) vs the Utah State Aggies (0-0)

The time: 8 p.m. CDT, Friday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: ESPN with Adam Amin and Dusty Dvoracek in the booth, and Molly McGrath on the sideline.

The last time: In 2012, Utah State’s Josh Thompson missed a 37-yard field goal with 6 seconds left, allowing Wisconsin to escape with a 16-14 victory over Gary Andersen and the Aggies.

The series: Tied 1-1

The line: Wisconsin -27.5

The Badgers injury report:

OUT

Game:

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
WR Kendric Pryor (face)
WR George Rushing (leg)
FB Jake Whalen (head)

Season:

LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) The start

Wisconsin opens the 2017 season with high expectations. The Badgers are a consensus top-10 team for the first time since 2007 and nearly everyone is picking them to take home a third Big Ten West title in four years. And by all indications they are capable of fulfilling those expectations and more. On a team-wide basis, this fall camp, at least what the media got to see, was the most impressive since at least 2013. Will what we saw in practice show up when the lights come on? If it does, watch out.

2) Year No. 2 for Alex Hornibrook

Wisconsin’s offense has a number of very accomplished veterans, but it’ll go only as far as sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook takes it.

The good news is that he appears primed to lead it to new heights. After going 7-2 as a starter in 2016, Hornibrook set out to eliminate weaknesses in his game, spending his winter and spring break in California with quarterback guru George Whitfield, attending the invite-only Manning Passing Academy in June and leading player-only throwing sessions. The results, at least in fall camp, have been more than positive. His pocket presence is vastly improved and he has a little more zip on his passes, allowing him to fit throws into tighter spaces.

Fans will get to judge it for themselves on Friday, but the consensus among media members was Hornibrook took a big step from last fall.

3) The replacements

The Badgers lost a number of really talented players from their 2016 squad that are now fighting for jobs in the NFL, and many eyes will be on their replacements.

It starts at left tackle, where All-American Ryan Ramczyk left early for the draft and was a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. Wisconsin went with junior Michael Deiter as his replacement, and while he’s started 27 straight games, none of them have come at tackle. His ability to handle the edge is paramount for the offense.

In the backfield, Wisconsin lost more than 1,800 yards rushing from Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale. That void will be filled by at least three players and maybe more as junior Chris James, sophomore Bradrick Shaw and freshman Jonathan Taylor battle for carries.

On defense, outside linebacker Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt got drafted in April, but their fill-ins — seniors Garrett Dooley and Leon Jacobs — are more than capable of stepping up, especially Jacobs, who had a monster fall camp and has the makings of a dominant pass rusher.

And in the secondary, where cornerback Sojourn Shelton and safety Leo Musso needed to be replaced, the Badgers appear to have top-flight options in the form of transfer Nick Nelson at cornerback and wide receiver-turned-cornerback-turned safety in senior Natrell Jamerson.

4) Young guys on deck

Wisconsin isn’t known for playing a lot of true freshmen, but there are a number of them in the two-deep, including three at skill positions.

Jack Coan beat out redshirt freshman Kare Lyles for the backup quarterback job, Taylor’s performance in the final few weeks of fall camp has the coaching staff salivating over his potential and wide receiver Danny Davis has proven to be as good as his 4-star recruiting ranking suggests.

Taylor and Davis are almost guarantees to play, while it remains to be seen how coach Paul Chryst wants to use Coan in blowout situations.

5) Back in time

After two so-so years, the Wisconsin offensive line looks to be on the verge of returning to the dominating form it’s showed so often over the last 25 years. There aren’t any seniors, but nearly all the contributors are in their third or fourth years in the program, having gained the strength and experience necessary for success. Utah State’s defensive line might not be the greatest test, but it is the first and it’s one the line is ready to attack.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin has won 37 straight home games against non-conference teams, the second-longest streak in the country. The last loss came in 2003.

Friday will be the sixth time the Badgers have opened the season with a night game at home. They are 4-1 in those games, including a 51-17 whipping of UNLV in 2011.

Senior Troy Fumagalli needs 81 yards to move into fifth-place for career receiving yards among tight ends in Wisconsin history. If he puts up the same numbers he did a year ago — 580 yards — he would finish his career with the second-most yards for a tight end at UW.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 41, Utah State 3 (0-0 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 44, Utah State 6 (0-0 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 42 , Utah State 7 (0-0 on the season)

Wisconsin football: Predicting the depth chart

MADISON — The University of Wisconsin will unveil its first depth chart of the season on Sunday as the Badgers begin preparations for their opener against Utah State on Friday.

Before they do, though, we thought we’d take a shot at what it might look like.

Quarterback:

1) Alex Hornibrook (RS SO)
2) Jack Coan (FR)

Notes: The last practice the media saw was on Aug. 12, and to that point Hornibrook was having a very strong fall camp. After going 7-2 as a starter in 2016, the redshirt sophomore is now the clear leader of the offense and appears poised for big things this fall.

Coan, meanwhile, bested Kare Lyles to earn the backup job. The true freshman is still very raw, but he’s got the physical tools to be a very good quarterback at some point in his Wisconsin career.

Tailback

1) Bradrick Shaw (RS SO) OR Chris James (JR)
3) Jonathan Taylor (FR)

Fullback

1) Alec Ingold (JR)
2) Austin Ramesh (SR)

Notes: Shaw and James figure to each get the ball plenty this fall, though it’s unclear who will get the first snap of the season.

Behind them, things are a little murky. When healthy, junior Taiwan Deal is worthy of playing time. Unfortunately for him, he rarely has been and that was the case in fall camp. His absence allowed the most talked about player in the last 10 days — Taylor — to make big strides. The New Jersey product is in line for a much bigger role than anyone expected at the start of camp.

Wide receiver

1) Jazz Peavy (SR) and Quintez Cephus (SO)
2) A.J. Taylor (SO) and Danny Davis (FR)

Notes: Highlight catches were the norm at practice this fall for Wisconsin, and these four made a lot of them. Peavy is dynamic with the ball in his hands, Cephus is a big play waiting to happen, Taylor is a much more polished route runner than a year ago and Davis runs and moves better than the coaches thought he would.

Injuries hit the position in fall camp, and it’s unclear when senior George Rushing (leg) and redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor (moped accident) will return.

Tight end

1) Troy Fumagalli (SR)
2) Kyle Penniston (RS SO)
3) Zander Neuville (JR)

Notes: Fumagalli is one of the best tight ends in the country and that showed during fall camp. Penniston and Neuville will both get plenty of time, with the former a nice threat in the passing game. If injuries hit, redshirt freshman Luke Benzschawel could work his way into the rotation.

Offensive line

LT: Michael Deiter (JR) and Cole Van Lanen (RS FR)
LG: Jon Dietzen (RS SO) and Micah Kapoi (JR)
C: Tyler Biadasz (RS FR) and Brett Connors (JR)
RG: Beau Benzschawel (JR) and Jason Erdmann (RS SO)
RT: David Edwards (RS SO) and Patrick Kasl (RS FR)

Notes: If the starting five can stay healthy, it has a chance to be a dominant group. But recent history suggests everyone won’t stay healthy and that makes depth important. Wisconsin can manage an injury at guard or center, but if one of the tackles were to go down things could get dicey.

Defensive line

DE: Alec James (SR) or Chikwe Obasih (SR)
NG: Olive Sagapolu (JR) and Garrett Rand (SO)
DE: Conor Sheehy (SR) and Isaiahh Loudermilk (RS FR)

Notes: Wisconsin is loaded along the line, starting with the three seniors and Sagapolu, but the future is also very bright with Rand and Loudermilk.

Linebackers

OLB: Leon Jacobs (SR) and Zack Baun (RS SO)
ILB: T.J. Edwards (JR) and Arrington Farrar (JR)
ILB: Chris Orr (RS SO) and Ryan Connelly (JR)
OLB: Garrett Dooley (SR) and Andrew Van Ginkel (JR)

Notes: Even after losing senior Jack Cichy to a torn ACL in camp, the inside linebackers are stacked with Edwards, Orr and Connelly.

On the outside, Jacobs has the chance to be an absolute terror when rushing the passer.

Secondary:

CB: Nick Nelson (JR) and Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS FR)
S: D’Cota Dixon (JR) and Joe Ferguson (SR)
S: Natrell Jamerson (SR) and Patrick Johnson (SO)
CB: Derrick Tindal (SR) and Lubern Figaro (SR)

Notes: The hype around Nelson, a transfer from Hawaii, is real and deserved. With him and Tindal, the Badgers have one of the better tandems in the Big Ten.

Carriere-Williams and Figaro were still battling for the nickel spot when camp closed to the media.

Jamerson continued to look more and more comfortable at safety after moving from cornerback, while Dixon is ready to build on what was a pretty good first year as a starter.

Special teams:

Kicker: Rafael Gaglianone (JR) and Zach Hintze (RS SO)
Punter: Anthony Lotti (SO) and P.J. Rosowski (JR)
Kickoff: Rosowski

Kick return: A.J. Taylor (RS SO) and Chris James (JR)
Punt return: Nick Nelson (JR) and Jazz Peavy (SR)

Longsnapper:

Adam Bay (FR)

Notes: Gaglianone seemed to be hitting the ball well during camp and is now fully healthy after missing the final 11 games of 2016 with a back injury. Rosowski earned a scholarship this week in large part due to his work on kickoffs.

Nelson is extremely smooth as a punt returner, while Taylor and James are nice options as kick returners.

Wisconsin has its No. 2 quarterback

MADISON — Following Wisconsin’s scrimmage last Friday, coach Paul Chryst said it was too early to name a No. 2 quarterback. Six days later, Chryst has made a decision.

During a Thursday night appearance on 100.5 FM in Madison, the third-year coach said true freshman Jack Coan would serve as Alex Hornibrook’s backup in 2017. Coan beat out redshirt freshman Kare Lyles for the job.

A 3-star recruit, the Sayville, N.Y. native enrolled early after setting Long Island career records by throwing for 9,787 yards and 128 touchdowns. He added another 2,551 yards and 33 touchdowns on the ground.

During spring practice and fall camp, Coan flashed the attributes that allowed him to be so prolific as a prep, though his lack of experience was evident in terms of his inconsistency.

It remains unclear how Chryst will choose to use his backup quarterbacks. Most coaches wouldn’t want to burn a true freshman’s redshirt year just for some mop-up duty, but Chryst also has to make sure Coan is ready if Hornibrook were to miss any significant time.

If Coan does play, he’ll have done something few others at Wisconsin have in the last 30 years. Using a true freshman at quarterback in Madison is almost unheard of, with the last one to start a game being Lionel Crawford in 1988.

Wisconsin will open its season Sept. 1 against Utah State at Camp Randall Stadium.

Badgers excited for a healthy Taiwan Deal at running back

MADISON — Paul Chryst doesn’t normally offer up information on his own. Ask him a question about his team or a player and you’ll usually get something from the third-year coach, but he rarely volunteers anything without prompting. That’s what made his comments a few months ago about Taiwan Deal noteworthy.

Following the spring game in April, the Wisconsin coach was asked about the battle at running back between sophomore Bradrick Shaw and junior Chris James. After talking about those two, though, he brought up Deal’s name, saying they were excited to get him back after he missed the entire spring following offseason surgery.

The answer caught a few people off guard considering Deal had all of 12 carries in the final three months of the 2016 season and finished the year with 164 yards and no touchdowns. While it was known he’d been dealing with an ankle injury, most didn’t know how bad it actually was. It happened early in the year, and he never felt right the rest of the way. But Deal had surgery on the ankle after the season, took part in summer workouts and is now ready to push for time in a backfield that needs to replace 405 carries and 1,881 yards of production from a year ago.

“He healed up in the spring, had a great summer,” running backs coach John Settle said Friday. “The strength staff is fired up about how he finished the summer. Nobody is happier than he is to take the field without the worries of his ankle popping out on him.”

LISTEN: RBs coach John Settle talks Chris James, Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal

Deal has rarely been healthy in his time at Wisconsin. He suffered a broken hand as a true freshman that led him to redshirt, had 503 yards and six touchdowns in 2015 but was plagued by an ankle injury over the second half of the year, and then was barely heard from after the month of September last fall.

“That’s been the frustrating thing for us,” Settle said of Deal’s injury issues. “Talent-wise, he’s probably the most natural of a guy we’ve had on the roster. But he’s always had something that’s been nagging him and couldn’t reach his full potential, in my mind.”

At 6-foot-1, 219 pounds, Deal has show an ability to run with power and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his limited action as a sophomore. While Shaw and James both had strong springs, the belief at this point is there won’t be one back that dominates the carries, with the Badgers willing to spread the wealth to all that deserve it and that should include Deal — if he can stay healthy.

“He now feels good about where he is,” Settle said. “He’s chomping at the bit and ready to go.”

Practice No. 1

Wisconsin hit the field for the first practice of fall camp on Saturday. Here are a few things that stood out.

— As we first reported on Friday, junior Michael Deiter did indeed line up at left tackle with the first-team offense. Splitting his time between center and guard the last two years, Deiter has started 27 straight games and is now being asked to fill the void left by All-American Ryan Ramczyk, who was taken in the first round of the NFL draft in April. But the move, at least according to Chryst, isn’t that big of a deal and may not even be permanent.

“It was permanent today,” the coach said. “But he’s still going to have to do some center stuff and guard [stuff]. As we go through camp you’ll see a lot of guys moving. I wouldn’t try to make that any [kind of] lead story for anybody.”

The rest of the first-team line had sophomore Jon Dietzen at left guard, redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz at center, junior Beau Benzschawel at right guard and sophomore David Edwards at right tackle.

The second line consisted of redshirt freshman Cole Van Lanen at LT, junior Micah Kapoi at LG, junior Brett Connors at C, sophomore Jason Erdmann at RG and redshirt freshman Patrick Kasl at RT.

LISTEN: OC Joe Rudolph is very high on center Tyler Biadasz

— The closest thing to a play of the day was quarterback Alex Hornibrook hooking up with wide receiver Jazz Peavy for a long touchdown in 7-on-7 drills. The senior put a double move on the cornerback and had 10 yards of separation by the time the ball found him.

— There were no surprises on the defensive depth chart with the first-team looking like this:

DL: senior Conor Sheehy, junior Olive Sagapolu, senior Alec James
OLB: seniors Garrett Dooley, Leon Jacobs
ILB: senior Jack Cichy, junior T.J. Edwards
CB: senior Derrick Tindal, junior Nick Nelson
S: senior Natrell Jamerson, junior D’Cota Dixon

— During the special teams period, Peavy, Nelson and a pair of true freshmen — WRs Danny Davis and Cade Green — were back as punt returners.

The versatile Michael Deiter, Alex Hornibrook works with Peyton Manning and a practice in Milwaukee

MADISON — What appeared to be a move out of necessity in the spring has turned into a legitimate possibility for the University of Wisconsin.

When the Badgers open fall camp on Saturday, junior Michael Deiter, who has started a total of 27 games at left guard and center the last two years, will be lining up at left tackle with the first-team offense. The Curtice, Ohio native saw time at the position near the end of spring when sophomore David Edwards went down with an ankle injury, but it was unclear if the move would be long-term. While things can certainly change before Wisconsin opens the season on Sept. 1 against Utah State, Deiter is penciled in as the replacement for All-American Ryan Ramczyk.

“I was more comfortable than I expected,” Deiter said of the move on Friday afternoon at Wisconsin’s local media day. “The transition wasn’t as intense as I thought it was going to be. It was pretty natural. I’m really excited to see what I can do at the start of camp out there.”

Edwards will open camp back at right tackle, which is where he started the final seven games of the 2016 season. He’s expected to battle redshirt freshman Patrick Kasl for that job.

LISTEN: OC Joe Rudolph on what Michael Deiter’s versatility could mean for him in the NFL

Wisconsin, especially during coach Paul Chryst’s tenure, has been focused on trying to get its best five players on the field along the line no matter the positions the guys are playing. By having Deiter at left tackle, and Edwards back on the right side, the coaching staff thinks, at least at this point, this is the best way to do it.

The move of Deiter could not be possible without the emergence of redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz. Though he had never played center before coming to Wisconsin, the 6-foot-3, 316-pound, Biadasz took right to the position and the staff almost used him a year ago when injuries cropped up. In the spring, with several players sitting out, the Amherst, Wis., product took almost all of the first-team reps at center to put himself in the mix.

“Tyler wants it. You feel that, and the players feel that throughout the room,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said Friday. “He’s tough. He worked from day one. He wants the stress of making the right calls and executing. That’s why he’s got a right — and a great opportunity — to start at center.”

Practice in Milwaukee

Wisconsin will take fall camp on the road this year, with the school announcing Friday it will hold a practice in Milwaukee that will be open to the public. The team will then take in a Milwaukee Brewers game.

“I’ve always felt it would be great for Wisconsin to go to Milwaukee,” Chryst said. “You appreciate all the fans from the Milwaukee area that come here all the time.”

The practice will take place on Aug. 10 at Custer Stadium and should help to break up the monotony that takes hold during fall camp.

“I thought it’d be a good day for us,” Chryst said. “And then to be able to tie in something that would be a good experience for our players, go the Brewer game, I thought it’d be a good day.”

Alex Hornibrook with Peyton Manning

Named Wisconsin’s starting quarterback before spring practice, Alex Hornibrook continued his push to improve this offseason. The redshirt sophomore was among more than 40 college quarterbacks invited to take part in the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana in late June.

Started by former NFL quarterback Archie Manning in 1996, the camp is described as the premier offensive football skills camp in the nation for QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs. Two of Manning’s sons that went on to star in the NFL as quarterbacks — Peyton and Eli — are a part of it, which made it special for Hornibrook.

“The coolest thing was probably just being around Peyton and Eli,” Hornibrook said. “Those are two guys I’ve looked up to my whole life. Peyton is still my all-time favorite quarterback. To be able to be there and learn from him was an awesome experience.”

LISTEN: Alex Hornibrook talks about how he came to be a Peyton Manning fan.

Scholarship players missing

The Badgers can carry 105 players on their fall camp roster, so scholarship guys rarely get left off. But that will be the case this fall for a few of them.

Four guys — right tackle Jake Maxwell, linebacker Mason Stokke, cornerback Faion Hicks and running back Sam Broadner — were not on the roster distributed to the media on Friday due to injuries. Maxwell had offseason shoulder surgery and missed spring practice. Stokke sustained a knee injury and Chryst said during Big Ten media days in Chicago that he suffered a setback this summer. Hicks, an early enrollee, underwent shoulder surgery midway through spring practice. And Broadner suffered a knee injury in the spring game.

It’s unclear when, or if, any of the four will be able to join the team at any point during fall camp.

A fifth player, junior nose guard Jeremy Patterson, was also not included on the roster. A 3-star recruit out of Georgia, the 6-foot-3, 351-pound Patterson has been unable to get on the field for any meaningful snaps in his career and had been passed by some younger players in the spring.

Quote of the day

“Center, two guards, two tackles.”

— Rudolph when asked by a reporter what his lineup along the offensive line would be if they had a game tomorrow.

Wisconsin picked to win the B1G West

Writers that cover the Big Ten either really like Wisconsin or really have a low opinion of the Big Ten West. Either way, the Badgers are the overwhelming favorite to win their division for a third time in four years.

Cleveland.com polled 38 media members that cover the conference, and 31 picked Wisconsin to repeat in the West, while five had Northwestern and two chose Nebraska. In the East, Ohio State was also the pick of most, garnering 34 first-place votes, with defending Big Ten champion Penn State getting seven votes and Michigan getting one.

As for the title game, just four of the 31 writers that picked Wisconsin to make it there actually had them winning in Indianapolis. Three had the Badgers beating Ohio State and another had them over Penn State.

Overall, Ohio State was picked to win the Big Ten championship by 29 of the writers.

The poll also asked which teams would make the College Football Playoff, and Wisconsin got four votes as the only Big Ten team to make it, while one voter had Wisconsin and Ohio State both making it.

The writers also voted on offensive and defensive players of the year, with a first-place vote counting for three points, a second-place vote counting for two points and a third-place vote counting for one point.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was the runaway winner on offense, garnering 103 points and 30 first-place votes. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook received two points and tight end Troy Fumagalli got one.

On defense, Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis managed just beat out Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell – 61 points to 59 points. Wisconsin linebackers Jack Cichy (10 points, 1 first-place vote) and T.J. Edwards (7 points, 1 first-place vote) finished seventh and 10th respectively in the voting.

Full results via Cleveland.com:

BIG TEN EAST

1. Ohio State, 260 points (34 first-place votes)
2. Penn State, 231.5 (7)
3. Michigan, 192 (1)
4. Michigan State, 128
5. Indiana, 114
6. Maryland, 100.5
7. Rutgers, 38
(first-place votes equal more than 38 because of some ties for first)

BIG TEN WEST

1. Wisconsin, 259 points (31 first-place votes)
2. Northwestern, 219 (5)
3. Nebraska, 176.5 (2)
4. Iowa, 164.5
5. Minnesota, 131
6. Purdue, 57
6. Illinois, 57

Here were the predictions for the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis on Dec. 2.

Ohio State over Wisconsin (22)
Ohio State over Northwestern (5)
Ohio State over Nebraska (2)
Wisconsin over Ohio State (3)
Wisconsin over Penn State (1)
Penn State over Wisconsin (4)
Michigan over Wisconsin (1)

BIG TEN PRESEASON OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB, 103 points (30 first-place votes)
2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB, 59 points (5)
3. Trace McSorley, Penn State QB, 30 points (2)
4. Justin Jackson, Northwestern RB, 25 points (1)
5. Mike Weber, Ohio State RB, 2 points
5. L.J. Scott, Michigan State RB, 2 points
5. Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin QB, 2 points
5. Rodney Smith, Minnesota RB, 2 points
9. Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin TE, 1 point
9. Simmie Cobbs, Indiana WR, 1 point
9. Jamarco Jones, Ohio State LT, 1 point

PRESEASON BIG TEN DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

1. Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State DE, 61 points (11 first-place votes)
2. Josey Jewell, Iowa LB, 59 points (12)
3. Rashan Gary, Michigan DE, 23 points (3)
4. Tegray Scales, Indiana LB, 19 points (4)
5. Jerome Baker, Ohio State LB, 12 points (2)
6. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State DE, 11 points (2)
7. Jack Cichy, Wisconsin LB, 10 points (1)
8. Maurice Hurst, Michigan DT, 9 points (1)
9. Marcus Allen, Penn State S, 9 points
10. T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin LB, 7 points (1)
11. Nick Bosa, Ohio State, DE 4 points (1)
12. Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern S, 2 points
13. Steven Richardson, Minnesota DT, 1 point
13. Blessuan Austin, Rutgers CB, 1 point