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BIG TEN BREAKDOWN: Wisconsin

COACH: Paul Chryst, 52-16 entering sixth season at Wisconsin, 71-35 entering ninth season overall

2019 RECORD: 10-4, 7-2 Big Ten (first, West)

OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING (5): RG Logan Bruss, QB Jack Coan, TE Jake Ferguson, WR Kendric Pryor, LT Cole Van Lanen

DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING (8): LB Noah Burks, FS Eric Burrell, CB Faion Hicks, DE Isaiahh Loudermilk, SS Reggie Pearson, DE Garrett Rand, LB Jack Sanborn, CB Caesar Williams

SPECIALISTS RETURNING (1): PK Collin Larsh

RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS: Rushing, Nakia Watson 74-331; Passing, Jack Coan 236-339-5-2,727-18; Receiving, Jake Ferguson 33-407; Tackles, Jack Sanborn 80; Interceptions, Eric Burrell 3, Jack Sanborn 3

 KEEP AN EYE ON…

LB JACK SANBORN: Grew as his sophomore season progressed a year ago, the 6-foot-2, 232-pound linebacker led the Badgers with 80 tackles a year ago. He collected nine tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He’ll be counted on to join returning senior linebacker Noah Burks and senior ends Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand in leading a front seven which looks to build off of 2019 when Wisconsin defenders recorded a school-record 51 sacks.

RB GARRETT GROSHEK: At the onset of the 2020 season, Wisconsin doesn’t expect one back to replace the 2,003 yards two-time Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor collected a year ago before taking his game to the NFL. It will likely begin as a collaborative effort between fifth-year senior Garrett Groshek and a pair of sophomores, Nakia Watson and Isaac Guerendo. The 5-11, 220-pound Groshek has seen action in 41 games during his career and averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season. Watson was the Badgers’ second-leading rusher a year ago with 331 yards while Guerendo carried just once last season, picking up six yards. Freshman Jalen Berger could be in the mix as well. 

TE JAKE FERGUSON: The 6-foot-5, 248-pound tight end is Wisconsin’s top returning receiver. In addition to being a strong blocker, Ferguson grabbed 33 passes and covered 407 yards a year ago as a sophomore. He will join seniors Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor as the expected leaders of a Badgers’ receiving corps. Davis and Pryor will be looking to step into the spotlight after Quntez Cephus, the team leader with 59 catches in 2019, opted to forego his final year of eligibility and head to the NFL. Davis and Pryor combined for 53 receptions for 528 yards last season. 

YOU NEED TO KNOW…

With 18-game starting quarterback Jack Coan sidelined indefinitely because of foot injury suffered in a non-contact situation in practice on Oct. 3, redshirt freshman Graham Mertz moves into the top spot on the Wisconsin depth chart with sophomore Chase Wolf and junior Danny Vanden Boom now in back-up roles. The 6-3, 215-pound Mertz completed 9-of-10 passes in two games a year ago during a redshirt season, throwing for 73 yards. Coan, who threw for 2,727 yards last season, underwent successful surgery about two weeks ago and is working toward an in-season return. 

THE BIG NUMBER

233.1

Over the past four seasons, Wisconsin has averaged 233.1 rushing yards per game and given the departure of Jonathan Taylor and the injury to returning starting quarterback Jack Coan, the Badgers will likely continue to lean on a solid ground game. Wisconsin returns two offensive line starters, a group led by left tackle Cole Van Lanen.

2020 SCHEDULE

Oct. 23 – Illinois

Oct. 31 – at Nebraska

Nov. 7 – Purdue

Nov. 14 – at Michigan

Nov. 21 – at Northwestern

Nov. 28 – Minnesota

Dec. 5 – Indiana

Dec. 12 – at Iowa 

NUMEROLOGY

Where Wisconsin ranked in the Big Ten in 2019:

Scoring offense: 34.6 (Third)

Rushing offense: 240.5 (Second)

Passing offense: 201.1 (10th)

Total offense: 441.6 (Second)

Scoring defense: 16.1 (Fourth)

Rushing defense: 102.4 (Second)

Passing defense: 191.2 (Fourth)

Total defense: 293.5 (Second)

TRENDS

The Badgers’ record over the last five seasons:

2015: 10-3

2016: 11-3

2017: 13-1

2018: 8-5

2019: 10-4 

EYE ON IOWA:

Record in the last five games vs. the Hawkeyes:

2015: Iowa 10, Wisconsin 6

2016: Wisconsin 17, Iowa 9

2017: Wisconsin 38, Iowa 14

2018: Wisconsin 28, Iowa 17

2019: Wisconsin 24, Iowa 22

This article originally ran on qctimes.com.

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