The college football off-season comes down to two words: “TRANSFER PORTAL”. No team in the Big Ten has benefitted more from the portal than the Wisconsin Badgers. Before the rule change, transfer players had to sit out a year before being eligible to play. Not anymore! They’re usually eligible immediately. You lose two big-time receivers to the NFL draft, just go poach another team’s unhappy players. For example, Jordan Addison the best wide receiver in college football at the University of Pittsburgh decided to transfer to USC after an All-American season. You wouldn’t have even heard of something like this happening before the new transfer rules. The only thing that compares to the transfer portal is NBA midseason trades.
Last season, the position at Wisconsin was manned by junior quarterback Graham Mertz, who completed 57% of his passes while throwing for 2,136 yards and 19 touchdowns. However, Mertz decided to transfer to the University of Florida ahead of the 2023 season. After this off-season transfer portal let’s be honest, his decision to transfer might have been the best thing that happened to Wisconsin since Russell Wilson transferred into the program in 2012. With Mertz leaving, Wisconsin was able to hit the quarterback jackpot thanks to the portal.
The Badgers managed to pick up a couple of former 4-star quarterback recruits in Braedyn Locke (Mississippi State), Nick Evers (Oklahoma) and snagged the presumably starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai (SMU). Mordecai without a doubt is the best quarterback statistically the program has had in ages. The 6-3 214 lb. Waco, TX native completed 65% of his passes for 3,524 yards and 33 touchdowns last season for the SMU Mustangs.
The Badgers have a rich history when it comes to the running back position, and this year is no different. From Ron Dayne to, most recently, Johnathan Taylor, the Badgers have always boasted a good backfield. Braelen Allen burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2021 with 1,200 yards rushing to go with 12 touchdowns. He then followed that up with another 1200-yard season with double-digit touchdowns in the 2022 season. Behind Allen is graduate player Chez Mellusi who rushed for 800 yards in 2021. Now that defenders aren’t stacking the box, look for Allen to be in the Heisman conversation. He now has a quarterback.
The Badgers potentially have the program’s best quarterback in 10 years on the roster, so the wide receiver position has a chance to be one of the best in the Big Ten. The offense returns its leading receivers in 6-1 senior Chimere Dike and last season’s true freshman Skylar Bell. Dike caught 47 passes for 689 yards to go with six scores, and Bell, who will probably be the better of the two long-term, had 30 catches, 444 yards, and five scores. Just as the transfer portal was gold for Wisconsin at the quarterback position, it was good for the Badgers at the receiver position. As a former USC 4-star recruit, C.J. Williams enrolled in Wisconsin for Spring ball and has been nothing but impressive. The fight for the number one receiver tag will shape up to be one of the more intense battles when camp opens up this fall.
The tight end position didn’t see much action in the passing game in 2023 but it brings back a ton of experience. Jack Eschenbach, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on, is the leading man in the group. For his career, he’s caught 19 passes for 53 yards (see what I mean!). Clay Cundiff has played six games and caught three balls for 86 yards and one touchdown. As we all know, a tight end is a quarterback’s best friend, with the optimism for the quarterback position this spring. The position has the most to prove and will be relied on more this year than it has been in the past.
“Offensive Lineman U” should be the nickname instead of “Badgers.” If there is one thing the Wisconsin Badgers do year after year, it’s reload the offensive line. For the past 8 out of 10 years, the Badgers’ line has blocked for a top-three rusher in the Big Ten. Guard Tyler Beach graduated, and Joe Tippman the man in the middle, is headed to the NFL. For his replacement, look no further than another Joe as in 6-1 310-pound Joe Huber who transferred in from the University of Cincinnati, where he was All-ACC at center. Now he doesn’t actually fit the 6-6 Tippman’s shoes, but he has been productive in the ACC. He has shown this Spring he’s more than capable of being a leader on the offensive line.
Tanner Bortatelini will step in for Beach at left guard, and the lineman with the most experience is right guard Michael Furtney who’s a graduate. Jack Nelson is back at left tackle, and big-time redshirt sophomore Riley Mahlamn is back at right tackle. The line during spring ball has looked loaded and ready to block for yet another top rusher in the Big Ten.
Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK