The Wisconsin Badgers are changing.
This used to be a program that had a reputation for not changing its fundamental methods. They would maintain a very specific style of play built on running the ball and play-action passing. The program which rose to prominence 30 years ago under program godfather Barry Alvarez had established a very specific identity. Entering the 2022 season, no one thought that identity would change.
Then, it did.
Wisconsin fired coach Paul Chryst in the middle of the season. It chose not to retain interim coach and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. The Badgers went outside the family and picked Luke Fickell as their new head coach. Fickell was rumored to have been interested in only two head coaching jobs if they ever came open. One was Ohio State (which is occupied), and the other was Notre Dame, which came open in 2021 but was filled by Marcus Freeman when Brian Kelly moved to LSU. Fickell is changing the way Wisconsin operates. The question is: can he help this good-but-not-great team become elite?
2023 Wisconsin Badgers Futures
Odds To Win Big Ten: +800 at MyBookie
Odds To Win National Championship: +7000 at MyBookie
Best Bet To Win Heisman
Running back Braelon Allen is listed as a +6000 choice to win the Heisman. He isn’t one of the top national contenders, but he isn’t the ultimate long shot candidate, either. If Wisconsin makes the Big Ten Championship Game and can give Ohio State or Michigan a very tough test, and the Badgers reach a New Year’s Six bowl game due to Allen having phenomenal stats, there’s an outside chance Allen could make a run at the big trophy.
The problem with Allen’s candidacy is that the Wisconsin passing game and the Wisconsin offense might not be strong and potent enough to magnify what Allen does. Wisconsin would have to make enough of a national impression on Heisman voters to elevate Allen to a top-tier position on the board. However, Wisconsin might be good enough as a team that its late-season games will be hugely important, in which case Allen will play in front of national audiences who will give him the chance to earn the award if it’s up for grabs.
Pick: Braelon Allen
Best Player Prop To Bet
Tanner Mordecai Passing Yards
Tanner Mordecai is a transfer quarterback from SMU. He comes from a team which had a pass-first approach to offense. In that regard, he doesn’t seem like a fit for Wisconsin and the way the Badgers have normally played football over the past 30 years. Wisconsin football is built on power football, running the ball between the tackles behind farm-grown Midwestern offensive linemen who punch the opponent in the mouth. The Badgers establish superiority at the line of scrimmage and wear down an opponent. When the opponent has everyone up at the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Wisconsin passes the ball as its counter-move. That was the modus operandi under coaches Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema, and Paul Chryst.
However, when Chryst got fired, the Badgers decided to hire someone outside the program. Luke Fickell has coached at Ohio State and Cincinnati. He is not a Wisconsin native and he is charting a new course for this football program. The biggest indication is that he has hired a pass-first offensive coordinator, Phil Longo. He worked at Ole Miss and North Carolina before coming to Madison. That’s why Mordecai has transferred to Wisconsin. He will be given a chance to throw the ball.
Therefore, it might seem that Mordecai should be viewed as a quarterback who will exceed any passing yard total which emerges as a 2023 betting prop. However, precisely because Wisconsin is changing its system and its style of play this year, the Badgers might have to go through the growing pains of a transition. Mordecai does not have the personnel he needs to pile up passing yards this year. Go under the total if you see a Mordecai passing yards prop bet.
Pick: Tanner Mordecai Under Passing Yards
Regular Season Win Total
The Badgers are at Washington State in nonconference play. In Big Ten play they host Iowa, are at Illinois, host Ohio State, and travel to Minnesota. You will notice that Wisconsin doesn’t have to play Michigan or Penn State this season. The Ohio State game is a very likely loss, but avoiding Michigan and Penn State means Wisconsin won’t play two of the top three teams in the conference. That’s huge.
Washington State does not have a strong offensive line, making that game a good matchup for Wisconsin. The Badgers won’t have to score a huge number of points to win that game. Their defense can probably guide them through that contest.
Examining The Schedule
Wisconsin’s season and its win total will come down to the three games against the toughest expected opponents in the Big Ten West Division: Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota. If the Badgers win two of those three games, they will likely win the division championship and finish over the win total. Last year’s team was a mess, mostly because it had a disaster at quarterback with Graham Mertz, who subsequently transferred to Florida. Tanner Mordecai might not have a great 2023 season, but even if he is only an average or slightly above average quarterback, he should represent a considerable upgrade over Mertz, who could never seem to find a rhythm in multiple seasons as the Badgers’ quarterback.
It’s worth noting that Mertz’s poor performance got Paul Chryst fired and led to Jim Leonhard not being retained as permanent head coach after his ill-fated interim stint last fall. That’s how bad Mertz was. Mordecai does not have to be spectacular to be a success at Wisconsin; he just needs to be consistent at a moderately high level of performance. He needs to make the routine plays, not the special ones.
Iowa is not a good offensive team. Neither is Illinois. Neither is Minnesota. Wisconsin doesn’t have to play a great offensive game versus those opponents. It mainly has to avoid a disaster on offense, something it couldn’t do a year ago. Ultimately, Wisconsin is not in position to max out on offense this year, but maxing out is not what will be required. The Badgers merely have to be better than they were in 2022, and that shouldn’t be a problem. Over is the best betting strategy with the Wisconsin regular season wins total.