Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.
Our Top 25 — so far:
Today’s team: No. 6 Wisconsin
The Badgers’ best-case scenario: Junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who threw for 2,607 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2017, cuts back on his 15 interceptions from a year ago, and a dynamic and balanced offense propels the Badgers to a Big Ten Conference title and their first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Their worst-case scenario: An inexperienced defense can’t match last season’s success, when it allowed a conference-low 262 yards and 13.9 points per contest. Those defensive lapses will cost the Badgers either during a difficult road slate or the Big Ten title game.
Inside the Badgers
Coach: Paul Chryst (fourth year, 34-7; 53-26 overall at Pittsburgh and Wisconsin)
2017: 13-1, 9-0 in the Big Ten (beat Miami 34-24 in the Orange Bowl)
Returning starters: 10 offense, 3 defense
Goodbye: CB Nick Nelson (4th, Raiders); TE Troy Fumagalli (5th, Broncos); S Natrell Jamerson (5th, Saints); LB Garret Dooley; DE Alec James; LB Jack Cichy (6th, Buccaneers); OLB Leon Jacobs (7th, Jaguars)
Spring cleaning: Graduation sapped both quantity and quality from the Big Ten’s best defense in 2017. The Badgers welcome back just three starters, and don’t overlook the departure of linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, who mentored an assembly line of future NFL linebackers such as Joe Schobert, T.J. Watt and Vince Biege. Offensively, replacing all-conference tight end Troy Fumagalli looks like the top — and darn near only — priority.
PASSING: Alex Hornibrook, 198-318-2,644, 25/15 (1st)
RUSHING: Jonathan Taylor, 299-1,977-13 (1st); Bradrick Shaw, 96-365-4 (2nd)
RECEIVING: Quintez Cephus, 30-501-6 (2nd); A.J. Taylor, 31-475-5 (3rd); Danny Davis III, 26-418-5 (4th)
TACKLES: ILB Ryan Connelly, 88 (1st); ILB T.J. Edwards, 81 (2nd)
SACKS: OLB Andrew Van Ginkel, 6.5 (T-2nd)
INTERCEPTIONS: ILB T.J. Edwards, 4 (T-1st)
Returning All-Big Ten players (11)
Offense: RB Jonathan Taylor (1st team); OG Beau Benzschawel (1st); OT Michael Deiter (1st); OT David Edwards (2nd); C Tyler Biadasz (3rd); WR Quintez Cephus (hon. mention); QB Alex Hornibrook (hon. mention)
Defense: ILB T.J. Edwards (1st); S D’Cota Dixon (3rd); ILB Ryan Connelly (hon. mention); NT Olive Sagapolu (hon. mention)
Special teams: K Rafael Gaglianone (2nd)
Stalwart OL returns all 5 starters: It’s hard to improve offensively after averaging 33.8 points and 415 yards per contest in 2017, but expect even better things from this pack of Badgers. The offensive line — always a stalwart of the Wisconsin program — returns all five starters as well as running back Jonathan Taylor, who set the single-season freshman FBS rushing record with 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Oh, and quarterback Hornibrook welcomes back his top four receivers.
Late road woes for Badgers? The biggest obstacle between the Badgers and the CFP may just be a brutal conference schedule that includes trips to the Big House at Michigan as well as that November visit to Penn State. Win those games, and nemesis Ohio State may be waiting in the Big Ten title game.
Chap could be ready to pound Wisky foes: Nakia Watson, who signed with the Badgers after running for 1,938 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior at Westlake last year, may redshirt considering the depth Wisconsin has at running back. However, Badgers running backs coach John Settle said earlier this year that the 6-foot, 230-pound Watson has the body type to endure a Big Ten season and compete immediately.
2017 national rankings
Scoring: 28th (33.8 ppg) — right above No. 29 TCU, right behind No. 27 Auburn
Points allowed: 3rd (13.9 ppg) — sandwiched near the top of the country between two ACC schools, right above No. 4 Virginia Tech, right behind No. 2 Clemson
Passing: 92nd (192.1 ypg) — right above No. 93 Iowa, right behind No. 91 (and defending national champion) Alabama
Rushing: 23rd (222.9 ypg) — sandwiched between two Sun Belt teams, right above No. 24 Georgia Southern, right behind No. 22 Appalachian State
Total offense: 51st (415.0 ypg) — right above No. 52 Utah, right behind No. 50 Connecticut
Total defense: 2nd (262.1 ypg) — right above No. 3 Michigan, right behind No. 1 Alabama
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Aug. 31 (8 p.m., ESPN)||Western Kentucky|
|Sept. 8 (11 a.m., BTN)||New Mexico|
|Sept. 15 (2:30 p.m.)||BYU||W, 40-6 in Provo|
|Sept. 22||at Iowa*||W, 38-14 in Madison|
|Oct. 6||Nebraska*||W, 38-17 in Lincoln|
|Oct. 13||at Michigan*||W, 24-10 in Madison|
|Oct. 20 (11 a.m.)||Illinois*||W, 24-10 in Champaign|
|Oct. 27||at Northwestern*||W, 33-24 in Madison|
|Nov. 10||at Penn State*|
|Nov. 17||at Purdue*||W, 17-9 in Madison|
|Nov. 24||Minnesota*||W, 31-0 in Minneapolis|
|* Big Ten game|
The key game: at Penn State, Nov. 10. Expect foul weather, high stakes and more than 100,000 full-throated fans in this brutal, late-season road trip for the Badgers.
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKINGS||BOWL, RESULT|
|2013||9-4 (6-2)||23rd / 22nd||Capital One, L|
|2014||11-3 (7-1)||14th / 18th||Outback, W|
|2015||10-3 (6-2)||20th / 21st||Holiday, W|
|2016||11-3 (7-2)||— / 9th||Cotton, W|
|2017||13-1 (9-0)||9th / 7th||Orange, W|
|Total||54-14 (25-7 Big Ten)||4-1 in bowls|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking
Our Top 25, by conferences
Big Ten — No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan
Big 12 — No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas
ACC — No. 7 Miami, No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State
SEC — No. 9 Auburn, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU
Pac-12 — No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon
Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame
Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State
AAC — No. 22 Central Florida
Coming tomorrow: Our No. 5 team
Want a hint?
This school’s coach was the first two-time winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award — but not at his current school.