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Bart Houston #13 of the Wisconsin Badgers prepares for the snap in the first quater during the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic between Western Michigan and Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The American-Statesman’s Top 25 countdown: No. 13 Wisconsin

If defense really does win championships, keep an eye on the Badgers, who look like they'll have to ride theirs.

Posted July 17th, 2017

Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.

Today’s team: No. 13 Wisconsin

Best-case scenario: Lacking star power, Wisconsin continues to dominate on defense while taking advantage of the generosity shown by whoever left Ohio State and Penn State off the Badgers’ schedule.

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Worst-case scenario: Last year, Wisconsin ranked 67th in scoring and 89th in total offense. If QB Alex Hornibrook isn’t ready for prime time and the Badgers can’t replace their leading rusher, that offense may just get worse.

The key game: Nov. 25, at Minnesota. Of the first nine games on the schedule, only three will be against teams that posted a winning record last year. Iowa (8-5), Michigan (10-3) and Minnesota (9-4), however, await before the Big Ten’s championship game. Wisconsin has beaten Minnesota 13 straight times, so now would be a bad time for that streak to end.

INSIDE THE BADGERS

Coach: Paul Chryst (third year, 21-6; 40-25 overall)

2016: 11-3, 7-2 in the Big Ten (beat Western Michigan 24-16 in the Cotton Bowl)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense

Goodbye: LB T.J. Watt (Steelers, 1st round), OT Ryan Ramczyk (Saints, 1st), RB Corey Clement (Eagles, undrafted free agent)

Spring cleaning: The selections of Watt and Ramczyk gave Wisconsin two first-round picks for the first time since 2011, when J.J. Watt was one of the drafted Badgers. … Lake Travis receiver Cade Green was a member of Wisconsin’s 2017 recruiting class. … Junior cornerback Nick Nelson is eligible to play after he sat out last year following two seasons and 21 pass breakups at Hawaii.

Alex Hornibrook #12 and Beau Benzschawel #66 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrate after a touchdown in the fourth quarter during the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic between Western Michigan and Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: Alex Hornibrook, 106-181-1,262, 9/7

Rushing: Bradrick Shaw, 88-457-5 (3rd)

Receiving: TE Troy Fumagalli, 47-580-2 (1st); WR Jazz Peavy, 43-635-5 (2nd)

Tackles: ILB T.J. Edwards, 89 (1st)

Sacks: OLB Garret Dooley, 3.5 (t-3rd); DE Alec James, 3.5 (t-3rd)

RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (2)

Offense: G Beau Benzschawel (2nd team), TE Troy Fumagalli (2nd)

Defense: None

T.J. Edwards #53, Alec James #57, and Leon Jacobs #32 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrate after an interception in the fourth quarter during the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic between Western Michigan and Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

WISCONSIN: FYI

He’s back: Hornibrook threw for 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns last year while splitting snaps with Bart Houston. He also was intercepted seven times.

Coming home: Jim Leonhard replaced new Cal coach Justin Wilcox as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator in February. Both Leonhard and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph played at Wisconsin. Chryst and tight end coach Mickey Turner also are ex-Badgers.

Defense Junior tight end Zander Neuville scored the only touchdown of Wisconsin’s spring game. The defense-highlighted scrimmage shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise, though. The Badgers ranked third against the run last year (98.8 YPG), and 30th against the pass (202.6 YPG).

Wisconsin's schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 1Utah State
Sept. 9Florida Atlantic
Sept. 16at BYU
Sept. 30Northwestern*W, 21-7
Oct. 7at Nebraska*W, 23-17
Oct. 14Purdue*W, 49-20
Oct. 21Maryland*
Oct. 28at Illinois*W, 48-3
Nov. 4at Indiana*
Nov. 11Iowa*W, 17-9
Nov. 18Michigan*L, 14-7
Nov. 25at MinnesotaW, 31-17
* Big Ten game

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGBOWL GAME
TOTAL49-10 (30-11)3-2 in bowls
20128-6 (4-4)12th/NRL Rose
20139-4 (6-2)23rd/22ndL Capital One
201411-3 (7-1)14th/18thW Outback
201510-3 (6-2)20th/21stW Holiday
201611-3 (7-2)NR/9thW Cotton

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

 

2016 NATIONAL STAT RANKS

Scoring: 67th (28.4 ppg)

Points allowed: 4th (15.6 ppg)

Passing: 104th (179.1 ypg)

Rushing: 39th (203.1 ypg)

Total off.: 89th (382.1 ypg)

Total def.: 7th (301.4 ypg)

 

OUR TOP 25 SO FAR

No. 25: Boise State

No. 24: Oregon

No. 23: Tennessee

No. 22: Texas

No. 21: Kansas State

No. 20: Miami

No. 19: West Virginia

No. 18: South Florida

No. 17: Florida

No. 16: Stanford

No. 15: Louisville

No. 14: Georgia

No. 13: Wisconsin

No. 12: Coming Tuesday. Want a hint? One of this school’s traditions is the handing down of the No. 18 jersey that symbolizes on- and off-field success. This players tradition started in 2003.

BY CONFERENCE

3 schools:

Big 12 (19-West Virginia, 21-Kansas State, 22-Texas)

SEC (14-Georgia, 17-Florida, 23-Tennessee)

2 schools:

ACC (15-Louisville, 20-Miami)

Pac-12 (16-Stanford, 24-Oregon)

1 school:

AAC (18-South Florida)

Big Ten (13-Wisconsin)

Mountain West (25-Boise State)

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