1. Will the offense bounce back?
2018 was supposed to be the program’s best offensive season since 2011. While there are some stats that suggest it wasn’t a complete train wreck, the eye test and numbers against upper level competition tells us that the Badgers fell from expectations.
Against Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, BYU, Minnesota, and Penn State (five losses), the Badgers averaged 17.3 points and 340.5 yards per game. In fact, UW was held to 21 points or less in five of those six contests and under 360 yards of total offense in four of those games — with the Doak Walker Award winner and a 2,000-yard rusher in their backfield.
Wisconsin did not follow that trend in the Pinstripe Bowl, however.
Against one of the nation’s top defenses, who came in ranked in the top 25 in all four major defensive statistical categories, Wisconsin possessed the ball for 39:47 — a season-high. Still, if we learned anything from last season, a bowl game isn’t an indication of how the following season will pan out and the Badgers still desperately need to energize its pass game, which ranked No. 116 in the country in 2018.
2. Can the Badgers overcome some huge losses on defense?
Wisconsin’s defense had to rebuild in 2018 and while they won’t be nearly as young as they were this season, 2019 offers some tough challenges.
The Badgers lose four of their top five tacklers — T.J. Edwards, D’Cota Dixon, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Ryan Connelly. UW has experienced bodies who can help replace that group, but not nearly the same star power waiting in the wings. Also don’t underestimate the loss of Olive Sagapolu, who’s been the anchor in the middle for the past three years.
While this unit got better as the season wore on, particularly the young secondary, there were a lot of games where Wisconsin’s defense was just hanging on for dear life. In 2019, there won’t be a ton of leadership to turn to either. In the projected starting lineup, there’s currently only two seniors — Chris Orr and Zack Baun.
The Badgers seemed to perform just fine in the Pinstripe Bowl without Dixon and Connelly. UW had its best performance of the season, limiting Miami to just 169 total yards and forcing five turnovers.
3. Is there a quarterback competition coming?
That’s no longer the case as Jack Coan started four of the last six games and won his final two outings. With UW unable to preserve his redshirt following multiple concussions to Hornibrook, Coan’s clock is now ticking faster as well.
Hornibrook’s future in football may be up in the air, but regardless, Coan hasn’t done much to cement himself as a strong favorite going into the spring. In fact, UW beat Miami while having him throw just 11 passes on Thursday.
Even if Hornibrook opts to play as a senior, he had far from his best season in 2018. The junior signal caller took a step back this season, completing just 59.5 percent of his pass attempts with a 13:11 touchdown:interception ratio.
We know Chase Wolf and Danny Vanden Boom have some talent and could be factors down the road. Oh, and there’s a guy by the name of Graham Mertz, who’s the most highly touted quarterback recruiting in program history during the internet era.