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Brady Vernon: If you were to gauge the expectations for this Wisconsin football team, did they meet those expectations, fall short of them? Where is the program right now in terms of where people want it to be?
Drew Hamm: Coming into this season, expectations were high for the Badgers. I don’t remember if this actually ended up being true, but in the offseason there was talk that Wisconsin could be favored in every game this season! The opening game of the season quickly disabused people of the dream of an undefeated year as Wisconsin lost, at home, to a bad Penn State team. The rest of the early part of the season was a disaster as Wisconsin started off 1-3 with their only win being over Eastern Michigan.
There are myriad reasons for the poor start to the season: offensive line, uh, line changes like they were a hockey team; poor quarterback play, often due to the rotating offensive linemen; turnovers aplenty while forcing few; and conservative, predictable play-calling, usually due to the quarterback having little time to go through his progressions because of the rotating offensive line.
After the poor start, Wisconsin won seven games in a row thanks in large part to a set offensive line and forcing a ton of turnovers, while cutting down on the giveaways. The quarterback play was definitely better, but that was a low bar to clear. The regular season ended with an embarrassing loss to Minnesota, Wisconsin’s oldest rival and the most played rivalry game in the FBS, which also lost UW the Big Ten West title.
So...as far as where this program is right now? Not where they want to be to be perfectly honest. The fans aren’t happy and the players/coaches can’t be happy either. There will be changes made in the offseason to Paul Chryst’s staff and Wisconsin will hope for a turnaround similar to what Michigan and Jim Harbaugh did this year but, you know, at a little bit lower level probably.
BV: What is the Graham Mertz experience like? Do the Badgers need to go a different route at that position in the future?
DH: The Graham Mertz Experience is frustrating. It’s like riding a roller coaster but when you get to the top of the hill and you’re excited to go down it and scream, you just sort of stop and sit there for a minute then slowly go backwards. He is clearly a talented signal caller and can make throws that no Wisconsin quarterback, outside of Russell Wilson, can make. He has issues with turnovers and decision-making, but then he’ll make a beautiful read and slot a pass through two defenders for a first down. He is still young, although he seems like he has been in Madison forever, and hopefully there will be improvement next year.
That being said, Mertz should face some competition in camp for the starting role. I hope UW brings in a veteran through the transfer portal, because the guys behind Mertz, in admittedly limited action, haven’t looked up for the job. The 247 writer for Wisconsin, Evan Flood, has suggested that the Badgers bring in two QBs per recruiting cycle moving forward until they find The Guy and I am inclined to agree with him. Having, at best, a game-manager at quarterback has always put a ceiling on how high Wisconsin can go and when the QB isn’t even that, well, you find yourself in the Las Vegas Bowl after losing to your biggest rival.
BV: Is there any Sun Devil player you’re excited to see to play in this game?
DH: I know it’s kind of a boring answer, but I’m excited to see Jayden Daniels play. He is such a different style of QB than Wisconsin ever has, and also the type of QB that gives Wisconsin’s excellent defense fits. So, I’m pumped to watch him play AND pumped to see what Jim Leonhard schemes up for Wisconsin’s defense to try and limit Daniels’ contributions on the ground.
ASU’s massive interior defensive line duo is also intriguing to me because they will be the first line of defense against Wisconsin’s rushing attack, which got better throughout the year.
BV: As an outside of the Pac-12, could you share your thoughts on the Herm Edwards era in Tempe and in your opinion what you think of when you think of Arizona State football? To you, is a 8-4 record next to Arizona State’s name look like a good record for the Sun Devils?
DH: When ASU hired Edwards I thought it was a hilarious misfire of a decision, but he has proven to be far better than I thought. He has made three bowl games in four years (can’t really count COVID year against him though) and has finished second in the Pac-12 South twice while Arizona is sitting at 1-11 this year. I don’t know, man, that seems pretty good to me. The recruiting violations are funny because they contain sentences like this: “Per the investigation, the three unofficial visit prospects purchased their own entertainment and did not receive benefits from ASU while at Topgolf.”
I distinctly remember the 1996 ASU team with Jake Plummer and Pat Tillman being really, really good and since I was 11 when that happened I think that kind of colors my perception of the Sun Devils as better than they are historically. I guess I think 8-4 is a “good” record for ASU, but I also think that maybe they should be better? I don’t know, that’s a tough question, haha.
BV: Predictions for the game or an outcome you’d like to see from a player in the contest?
DH: With all of the important players opting out for ASU I think Wisconsin wins the game. While we don’t have an official UW “injury report” yet, according to reporters who were at the Badgers practice on Monday there don’t seem to be too many players missing due to COVID, so that’s another place that favors the Badgers. In two of the past three years, UW has had “disappointing” seasons and gone out and dominated their bowl game. I don’t think this game will be dominated by either team, but I’d guess Wisconsin wins by 10 to 14 points.
I’d like to see Graham Mertz have an efficient game and make one, or two if I’m getting greedy, big play down the field. I also want to see Curtis Hodges make a highlight reel catch because any time a man that large does something athletic, it’s worth noting.
Tune in to ESPN to watch the Sun Devils take on the Badgers on Dec. 30 at 8:30 MST.
DraftKings Opening Line: Wisconsin -6, O/U 41
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Wisconsin with a 61.6% chance of winning