The Wisconsin Badgers have long been a symbol of consistency within the Big Ten conference. Since Barry Alvarez took the helm in 1990, the program has been a force to be reckoned with, despite multiple coaching changes. For three decades, Wisconsin’s formula remained the same: a hard-hitting, run-heavy style of play. However, in 2023, the program is set for some significant changes.
The 2022 season began with a 2-3 record, leading to the dismissal of head coach Paul Chryst. Jim Leonhard, the former defensive coordinator and presumed future head coach, was named interim but ultimately not given the permanent position. Instead, Wisconsin turned to Luke Fickell, the ex-Ohio State linebacker who had recently guided Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff. This marked a new era for the Badgers.
Fickell’s arrival signaled a shift in strategy, as the ground-and-pound style synonymous with Wisconsin football was replaced with a spread offense. Phil Longo, the former offensive coordinator at North Carolina, was brought in to oversee the change. Longo’s past success with quarterbacks like Sam Howell and Drake Maye suggested a more aerial approach for Wisconsin, though he emphasized that the power run game would still be an essential aspect of the new offense.
Graham Mertz, the former starting quarterback, transferred to Florida, making way for Tanner Mordecai, Nick Evers, and Baedyn Locke to compete for the starting role. Mordecai, with his extensive experience, is the favorite to win the job.
On the defensive side, Mike Tressel, the nephew of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, was named defensive coordinator. Tressel previously served in the same role at Cincinnati under Fickell and has a wealth of Big Ten experience from his 14 seasons at Michigan State. Wisconsin’s defense is expected to undergo some changes, but they won’t be as drastic as those seen on offense.
Players to watch include quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who threw for over 7,000 yards and 72 touchdowns during his time at SMU. Running back Braelon Allen, who rushed for over 1,200 yards in each of his first two seasons, is also expected to play a significant role in the new-look offense. Wide receiver C.J. Williams, a former four-star recruit transferring from USC, will look to make an impact in the receiving corps. On defense, linebacker Darryl Peterson is expected to step up in the absence of Nick Herbig and C.J. Goetz.
This spring is crucial for the Badgers as they navigate the significant changes brought on by the new coaching staff and systems. While there will be growing pains and adjustments, Wisconsin has a strong history in the Big Ten West and will aim to compete for a division title and Big Ten Championship Game appearance. As USC and UCLA prepare to join the conference, the Badgers must make the most of this transitional period to maintain their status as a powerhouse in the Big Ten.