Wisco Wednesday: The Badgers are Down Bad

Mordecai went down. The defense gave up only 13, but the offense couldn’t score. Wisconsin is way behind schedule in Fickell’s year 1. 

Fickell’s first season as HC had 1 very clear and attainable goal. Win the division in the last year of its existence, and build on that success heading into 2024. The Badgers were supposed to win the West, not join the chaos. Turns out that when pundits and fans say the B1G West is bad, that includes Wisconsin. We can make excuses about the one big run Iowa had (the only TD of the game), or how the QB went down. But to put it simply: Wisconsin got owned by a team with the worst offense in America. 

Now they need to put the pieces back together and get ready for a 2 game stretch that could really take the season off the rails and into a bottomless canyon. Too hyperbolic? Fine, but Illinois is in the ultimate look ahead spot. Everyone’s looking at the OSU game in 2 weeks when the team needs to be focused on not letting Bielema beat them for the 2nd year in a row. 

The season can go in 2 very different directions based on what happens in Champaign this week. 

Looking Back: Offensive Ineptitude, Defense did enough, Locke TBD

Iowa 15
Wisconsin 6

The Mordecai era has ended

Mordecai has likely thrown his last pass as a Wisconsin Badger. Late in the 2nd quarter versus Iowa he hit his hand on a defender’s helmet and broke it. Before he came out of the game, he was yelling to the sideline “I can’t throw.” Not words you want to hear from a Quarterback. He broke his hand and is probably out for the season. 

That is sad. Was he great? Not at all. But he was an effective QB at SMU and chose to come to Wisconsin because he believed it would be a mutually beneficial union. He wanted to improve his draft stock; Wisconsin wanted C+, or better, QB play. 

Both did not get what they wanted.

Mordecai threw 3 TDs in 6 games for Wisconsin. His draft stock has definitely fallen, and Wisconsin lost 2 games they would normally expect to win.

Mordecai has 0 years of eligibility remaining and is done playing college football (unless the NCAA gives him a waiver for 1 more year – this is unlikely). 

The Locke era began

Braedyn Locke is now the starter in Wisconsin. I understand he wasn’t very impressive coming off the bench vs. Iowa, but give the kid a break. 

He’s a redshirt freshman, 19 years old, and has virtually 0 playing experience in college. Entering mid-game vs. the Iowa defense is not how any QB wants to start their career. He was 15 for 30 passing, had 122 yards, 1 INT, and 2 fumbles (1 lost). Not great. 

I’ll talk about what I think about him starting this week vs. Illinois down below. 

The Offense was a joke

6 points. Really? Western Michigan, Utah State, and Purdue were all able to score touchdowns on Iowa. Wisconsin couldn’t even come close. It’s not one thing, it’s all the things. The O-Line was poor at run blocking and in pass-pro. Allen was fine, but definitely below the “Wisconsin Standard” for RBs. Mordecai and Locke were mediocre, but that wasn’t helped by WRs not getting open. 

I’m not saying burn it down, but I wouldn’t mind some major changes to how Wisconsin does things on offense. 

The Defense did enough

In general, the defense did enough to win the football game. They gave up only 13 points; remember Iowa got a safety, that’s on Wisconsin’s offense. If you hold a team to 13, you should expect to win. 

BUT… the Defense got run on

Iowa won a game where they threw the ball for 37 total yards. That shouldn’t be possible. How did they get yards? They ran the ball, duh. Everyone knew Iowa was going to run the ball, yet Wisconsin continued to trot out their base defense and get run on. 

Obviously, the coaching staff thought Bucky’s D-Line and LBs would hold up better. But by the second half, it was clear they weren’t up to the task. Fickell or Tressel should’ve put some more big boys on the field as backup for the guys that were struggling.

Iowa couldn’t throw the ball. Why didn’t Wisco stack the box?

Iowa RB Leshon Williams had 25 carries for 174 yards. Take away the big run he had (82 yard TD), and he still had 24 carries for 92 yards. The Badgers could not stop the run.

Iowa won the West

Obviously, this is not set in stone, but it’s damn close. 

Iowa’s remaining schedule is bad. Who do you think they’re losing to?:

  • Home vs. Minnesota
  • Vs. Northwestern (Wrigley Field)
  • Home vs. Rutgers
  • Home vs. Illinois
  • At Nebraska

Rutgers? Is Rutgers their hardest game left? 

There are 3 scenarios where Iowa doesn’t win the West, and all of them make Iowa look really bad.

1st – Iowa loses 2 more games, and Wisconsin only loses to Ohio State – Wisco wins the West.
2nd – Nebraska, 3-3 Nebraska, wins out – The Cornhuskers win the West.
3rd – Iowa collapses, and loses 3 of their last 5 games – Anyone wins the West.

Yeahhhh, Iowa won the West. 

Around College Football: 

Deion Made History

They said Deion would make history at Colorado, and they were right. I just don’t think this is how “they” envisioned it. 

The Colorado Buffs were up 29-0 at halftime over the Stanford Cardinal. To be clear: Colorado is an “above average” team. Stanford is a “terrible” team. 29-0 is not a surprising halftime score. 

The surprise is what came next. Stanford came all the way back, tied the game 36-36 to send it to overtime, and won 46-43 in 2OT. History was made.

It was the largest halftime deficit overcome in Stanford football history.

And it was the largest halftime lead blown in Colorado football history. 

Deion is in the record books. 

Rutgers is no longer Butgers

From when they joined the B1G in 2014 to the end of the 2022 season Rutgers has been the far and away worst team in the B1G. Over that stretch Rutgers went 13 – 66 in Big Ten play with 3 seasons having 0 wins. When I was in college (2015-2020), we didn’t call them Rutgers. We called them Butgers.

Well, Butgers is no more. They went 3-0 in the non-con and are 2-2 in B1G play in 2023. A bowl game is almost certain at this point. The 2 losses were to Michigan (a juggernaut) and Wisconsin, and they had a shot in Madison to win that game. 

So, why do I feel so comfortable calling Rutgers “decent” now? This last week against Michigan State. I know Sparty is down bad right now, but that was a game the old Rutgers loses 100/100 times. The Scarlet Knights were down 24-6 entering the 4th quarter. Yet they came all the way back and won it – scoring an unanswered 21 pts to win 27-24

Rutgers looks like a real Big Ten team for the first time ever. 

Bielema Back From the Dead

I’ll be honest. I thought the loser of Nebraska at Illinois 2 weeks ago had a 0% chance of making a bowl game. There were too many automatic L’s left on the schedule for both teams. So when Illinois lost, I pronounced them dead. 

Then Bielema went and turned 1 of those automatic L’s into a W this past weekend. They beat Maryland, at Maryland, in their homecoming game. I may have once said Maryland would win the West this year if they were in it. Bielema is laughing at me. 

Now I don’t know what to think about Illinois, but there is certainly a path to bowl eligibility.

Looking Forward: No Expectations, Just Show Improvement

  • Odds listed were taken from FanDuel at the time of writing.

Game Preview: Wisconsin at Illinois


Wisconsin -2.5




Memorial Stadium, Champaign Illinois

Kickoff Time:

2:30 PM CT

TV Network:


Evaluating the Illinois Fighting Illini


Homecoming is the word of the week in Champaign. They are coming off their 1st conference win at Maryland for their homecoming. This week is the homecoming game for Illinois, arguably the hardest homecoming game in the B1G. And Bielema’s former home, Wisconsin, is coming to his place to face off on the gridiron. 

Bielema is 1-1 vs. Wisconsin as Illinois’ head coach. The humiliating beatdown he subjected Wisconsin to last year (34-10) was Paul Chryst’s final game as Wisconsin’s HC. As a Badgers fan, I would love it if Bucky spoils the homecoming festivities.

They Got a Running Back

Illinois was good in 2022, and then everyone got drafted. Now they are trying to figure out what they have and who is good in 2023. They still have some pieces on defense, but on offense, it’s been rough. 

Last year they had bell cow, RB Chase Brown to carry the load. He made everything easier for the offense. The defense had to respect the RPO game, and he could take over a game if need be. This year Illinois is 100th in rushing offense, so not good. But things appear to be turning around.

Enter RB Kaden Feagin

The true freshman has started the year slow, but that’s to be expected of any true freshman starting in the B1G. Last week against Maryland he had his breakout game. 19 carries for 84 yards and 1 TD doesn’t jump off the page, but he was the best player Illinois had on offense and a primary factor in the Illini getting the win. His contributions did not go unrecognized; he won B1G Freshman of the Week for his performance in Week 7. 

The Badgers can’t let a repeat of what the Iowa RB did to them happen this week if they want to win. 

How they’ve done so far:

Illinois is 3-4 right now; their goal of reaching a bowl game isn’t dead, but it is on life support. The wins have been close, and the losses have been blowouts. I don’t think anyone would call this a good team. But one doesn’t need to be “good” to make a mess in the Big Ten West. 

Week 1: Won 30-28 at home vs. Toledo
Week 2: Lost 23-34 at Kansas
Week 3: Lost 13-30 at home vs. Penn State
Week 4: Won 23-17 at home vs. FAU
Week 5: Lost 19-44 at Purdue
Week 6: Lost 7-20 at home vs. Nebraska
Week 7: Won 27-24 at Maryland

Based on the pattern above, Illinois is due to lose the next two games. It’s arbitrary things like that that give me hope for the Badgers. 

What to Watch for the Badgers

Locke, Locke, and Locke

There is only one thing Badger fans want to see on Saturday (besides all the other things that I will also talk about); how will Braedyn Locke do in his 1st career start?

Locke isn’t just “the guy we got to finish the season.” He’s also “The guy Wisconsin will roll out week 1 of 2024.” And 2024 is insane. Barring injury or Nick Evers rocketing up the depth chart, Locke will go against Alabama, Oregon, Penn State, USC, Minnesota, and Iowa next year. That would be an impossible task for a veteran – Locke is no veteran, he’s as green as it gets: 19 years old and has 0 career starts. 

Maybe there’s a silver lining in Locke getting some reps in 2023. Maybe taking some lumps now will make the Badgers better in 2024. I don’t know much, but that seems like a good thing to me

And now for the fanatical opinion: Locke will be better than Mordecai. Maybe not immediately, but it will happen. And I bank on it happening soon, Mordecai set the bar unfortunately low. Mordecai wasn’t the second coming of Russell Wilson fans were promised, he was Bart Houston round 2. 

I consider myself fairly dialed in on Wisconsin football, even in the “offseason.” Everything I read implied Locke absolutely killed it in practice, all Spring and all Summer. The competition for the QB2 job wasn’t even a competition. Wisconsin brought in Locke in February, and by mid-March the job was his. But that’s just words on paper, no one has seen him actually play (until Iowa).

That’s not quite true. Myself and some football-loving friends attended the Spring game. Yes, we were there to have fun, but we were also formulating opinions. Who looks good, who doesn’t, who’s fast, who isn’t on the field? You learn a lot watching a team live. All 4 of us had a very clear takeaway from that 2ish hour open scrimmage.

Mordecai looks rough, Locke looks great. 

We thought “Hey, it’s early, it’s only one practice, Mordecai will prove why he’s QB1 during the season.” Turns out our first and only impression was dead on. So what happens if our first impression of Locke holds true? Well, then Badger fans may be shocked when the backup proves he was QB1 all along. 

Run Defense?

I mentioned the Illinois RB, Feagin, above, but I’ll just repeat myself here. The Illinois passing game isn’t going to beat Wisconsin, but the run game might. Wisconsin tackled like crap against Iowa. It reminded me of week 1 against Buffalo: just an uninspired performance. 

Either the players have to play better, or the scheme has to change. I’m not in charge, and I’m not an expert on defensive play-calling. But maybe stack the box if Feagin starts lighting it up. Maybe give LB Njongmeta (a week 1 starter) more than 2 snaps… like he got in the Iowa game.

Don’t get run over Wisconsin. 

My Picks*

I didn’t expect Iowa to win, but I can’t say I was too surprised when I picked them to cover. Note to self, Iowa Unders are as certain as death and taxes. This week I’m choosing to be an optimist. Everyone thinks a new QB means regression; I think it’s a spark. For the game against Illinois this week, below is what I would pick – if I had to.


Take Wisconsin -2.5

Wisconsin has the bounce-back of all bounce-back games. Illinois is a bad team. They beat Maryland, but other than that, all their other games paint them as an underachiever. 


Over 42.5

It seems like every time I pick Wisconsin to hit an Over, I’m disappointed. That’s a warning for anyone who thinks taking my advice is a good idea. 42.5 is just too low, and I’ve seen Locke live once (I was at a wedding for the Iowa game); he looked pretty good to me. 

How I did last week:

Picking the Winner: Lost – Iowa won
Picking the Spread: Won – Iowa covered
Picking the O/U: Won – The Under hit

My perfect streak of picking the winner has finally ended. At least I got the Spread and O/U right. 

Season-Long Record Picking Wisconsin Games:

Picking the Winner: 5-1
Picking the Spread: 4-2
Picking the O/U: 3-3

*These picks are to express my opinion on games from a point spread perspective. I am not advocating for you, the reader, to gamble on any of these games. Please bet responsibly.

Rebound Score Prediction:

Wisconsin 31
Illinois 17

Braelon breaks 125 yards. Locke looks good in the second half after Bucky gets a lead. The players remember losing to this team last year and play inspired football. Especially after the ass-chewing Fickell probably gave them for what happened against Iowa. 

 Every week is a 1 game season now. This isn’t a look-a-head spot, it’s Wisconsin’s Super Bowl.


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This article was written by Cole Tollison and edited by Hayden Breene

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