2019 Preview: With Jonathan Taylor Leading, Wisconsin Aims to Bounce Back

The SI Staff
Sports Illustrated

Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which are being collected here. Next up, it's No. 19 Wisconsin.

THE BIG STORY

Expected to contend for a playoff berth, the Badgers were one of 2018's biggest disappointments. The reason? A defense that ranked 29th in the FBS in total yardage allowed, averaging 344.2. It was the Badgers' worst defensive season since '07. This fall will be coordinator Jim Leonhard's third season in his role, and if last year's 8–5 record was an aberration in Madison, the course correction will have to start with his unit.

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CAN'T MISS

Jonathan Taylor was the best running back in college football a year ago, and there's no reason why he can't replicate his production this season. In 2018, Taylor finished with 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns—accounting for half the team's scores on the ground and more than 60% of its rushing yardage. Even with defenses focused on him, Taylor had five games with more than 200 yards.

KEY QUESTION

Who will emerge at QB? Alex Hornibrook transferred to Florida State after a turnover- and injury-plagued 2018, leaving a hole at QB. Jack Coan, who started four games last year, has the inside track at winning the job, but look out for true freshman Graham Mertz, a four-star recruit who turned down offers from Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State.

X-FACTOR

Wisconsin is known for its great offensive lines, but the Badgers' unit entering the season is as much of a work in progress as it's been during Paul Chryst's seven-year tenure in Madison. Entering this season only center Tyler Biadasz is a known quantity: The junior, who could have entered the NFL draft as a high pick, has made 27 starts. His likely linemates have eight between them. Junior tackle Cole Van Lanen and sophomores Logan Bruss and Tyler Beach all saw playing time last year, while Kayden Lyles moves to the offensive line this year after spending 2018 on the Badgers' defensive line. Together they'll try to live up to the long tradition of talented lines at Wisconsin.

OVER OR UNDER?

Under 8.5 wins. The Badgers were better than their 8–5 record indicated last year, but this year's team is nowhere near as balanced. It could really struggle during a brutal stretch that includes Michigan State and Ohio State.

THE BOTTOM LINE

After failing to reach double-digit wins for the first time in Paul Chryst's seven seasons, the Badgers are sorely in need of a bounce-back season.

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