Nebraska Opponent Spring Review: Wisconsin
As Nebraska enters a critical fifth season under head coach Scott Frost in 2022, we decided to look at where things stand with the Huskers’ 12 opponents coming out of spring practices.
Today, we continue with Wisconsin, which is hoping some offseason shakeups can spark another run at a Big Ten West title in 2022.
Jon McNamara from BadgerBlitz.com gave his thoughts on the Badgers'' offseason and their upcoming matchup with Nebraska in Lincoln.
Three spring storylines to know
1. Engram brings a new identity to the offense
Wisconsin has become known as a program of stability over the past couple of decades, but the Badgers shook things up on the offensive side of the ball this offseason.
In one of the most active winters under head coach Paul Chryst, UW brought in former Penn State star receiver and long-time NFL assistant Bobby Engram as its new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.
That hire was especially notable because, until now, those were the roles - including calling the plays - that Chryst handled himself along with his head coaching duties.
It’s still unknown whether Chryst will turn over complete play-calling control to Engram this fall or if it will be a shared responsibility between them, but Engram’s influence should change things up in Madison to some degree.
2. Bostad’s return to the offensive line
From 2008-11, Bob Bostad oversaw one of the most impressive stretches of offensive line play Wisconsin has ever had.
Along with helping guide the Badgers to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 2010 and ’11 as the team’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator, he groomed eight NFL draft picks over four seasons, including three first-round selections.
Bostad left UW for the NFL from 2012-15 and then rejoined the team in 2017, but as the inside linebackers coach.
But when Joe Rudolph left to take a job at Virginia Tech in January, Chryst didn’t hesitate to give the keys to one of Wisconsin’s proudest units back to Bostad.
Expectations for that group are very high, as the hope is that Bostad can return the o-line to its once-dominant form.
3. How far can Graham Mertz take the Badgers?
After storming onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2020 and throwing five touchdowns in the season opener, Wisconsin’s offense has been a mixed bag under quarterback Graham Mertz.
A former high school All-American and the highest-rated quarterback signee in program history, Mertz only threw for 1,800 yards and had more interceptions (10) than he did touchdown passes (9) last season.
Having started the past 20 games for the Badgers, Mertz will once again take the reins of the offense in 2022 with a career record of 13-7 as a starter.
Wisconsin will always rely heavily upon its running game, especially with star running back Braelon Allen returning. But for the UW to reach its full potential, it knows it needs more balance and production through the air.
Is Mertz finally ready to play up to his lofty recruiting profile? Or will it be more of the same in his third season under center?
A new offensive coordinator might help his development, but Wisconsin’s offense will only go as far as Mertz takes it.
Early outlook on Nebraska vs. Wisconsin
McNamara: “Last year’s game was kind of a nail-biter, and I think if there had maybe two or three more minutes, maybe Nebraska comes out on top.
“Obviously, I don’t have a great perspective on Nebraska right now, but they have been competitive each and every year, and have always played Wisconsin extremely tough.
“This year, going to Nebraska, I kind of look at that game as a toss-up. I think it could go either way. I think Nebraska is moving in the right direction, and I think Wisconsin has gotten better. I think that one will go down to the wire.”
2022 win-loss prediction for Wisconsin
McNamara: “I think this is probably about an eight- or nine-win Wisconsin team, and any time you’re around there, you’re going to have a shot at making it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. That’s just the way the divisions have played out.
“So I feel like Wisconsin will absolutely be in the mix for the Big Ten title conversation because they do play in the Big Ten West.
“I think the offensive line will be improved; they should be able to run the football, and they have a better set of receivers than they did a year ago. The defense lost some guys, but they reloaded, and I think they should be good, too.
“That’s why a lot of that will ride on what Graham Mertz is able to do. I’m looking at this as maybe a two or three-loss team, and maybe when all is said and done, they finish 9-3. That’s what I’ll say right now.”