2016 season review: Big Ten West champ Wisconsin off to 15th straight bowl
When 2016 dawned, myriad questions loomed over Wisconsin. Who would be the quarterback? What would the departure of defensive coordinator Dava Aranda to LSU mean? Would the offensive line be better? Who would be the go-to wideout?
Well, the Badgers answered all of those questions en route to a Big Ten-best fourth league title game. So, that’s two 10-win seasons in two years for Paul Chryst, who is thriving back at his alma mater. Not bad.
This year’s Big Ten West champ did it with a terrific defense and yet another powerful rushing attack that is No. 4 in the Big Ten (204.5 ypg) and is led by the blocking of tackle Ryan Ramczyk and center Michael Dieter. When the Badgers took to the air, QBs Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook looked for TE Troy Fumagalli and WR Jazz Peavy. Named league coach of the year by the coaches, Chryst tabbed Justin Wilcox to coordinate the defense, and he did a standout job. The Badgers are No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (15.5 ppg), No. 3 in total defense (303.0 ypg) and No. 1 in rushing defense (96.9 ypg). The best corps of linebackers in the Big Ten set the tone: T.J. Watt, T.J. Edwards, Vince Biegel and Jack Cichy. Up front, Conor Sheehy, Alec James and Chikwe Obasih led the way. And the secondary is paced by CBs Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal along with Ss Leo Musso and D’Cota Dixon.
Add it all up, and UW is headed to a 15th bowl in a row, last missing in 2001. In fact, since 1993, Wisconsin has missed just two bowls (1995 and 2001).
Record: 10-3 overall; 7-2 Big Ten/1st West
Bowl: Cotton vs. Western Michigan
High point: When the season began, most looked at the start of Wisconsin’s Big Ten schedule and fainted. How would the Badgers survive games vs. LSU, at Michigan State, at Michigan, vs. Ohio State, at Iowa and vs. Nebraska? Well, Wisconsin did just fine, thank you. The high point had to be the season-opening win vs. then-top 5 LSU at iconic Lambeau Field. The win gave the then-unranked Badgers immediate credibility and set the tone for a team that would once again make it to Indy.
Low point: The Badgers caught the nation’s attention with a 4-0 start that included wins vs. No. 5 LSU in Green Bay (16-14) and at No. 8 Michigan State (30-6). But Wisconsin came back to earth with back-to-back losses, falling at No. 4 Michigan (14-7) and vs. No. 2 Ohio State (30-23 in OT). Another bummer: Blowing a 28-7 lead late in the first half in the Big Ten title game and losing to No. 7 Penn State, 38-31.
Offensive MVP: RB Corey Clement. After injury limited him to just 221 yards rushing in 2015, Clement came back with a vengeance as a senior. He leads the Big Ten with 108.7 yards rushing per game, gaining 1,304 yards on a league-high 292 carries with 14 TDs. The 5-11, 227-pound Clement has 3,021 career rushing yards and will leave with a place among the pantheon of great Badger running backs.
Defensive MVP: LB T.J. Watt. He probably should have been the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Nonetheless, J.J.’s little brother still basked in a lot of glory as an All-Big Ten pick in 2016 who is third in the Big Ten in sacks (.81 per game) and No. 7 in TFLs (1.12 per game). The 6-5, 243-pound junior is a sideline-to-sideline force and the leader of the Big Ten’s best unit of linebackers.
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