Wisconsin, which has notched four seasons with 10 wins or more since 2015, showed signs of a Big Ten contender in 2020 before COVID-19 put the Badgers on pause — they never truly regained their form en route to a 4-3 finish on the year.
“Wisconsin, again, is just in the wrong conference — because it’s Ohio State drowning out everyone else in the room, so you don’t hear a lot of noise about Wisconsin,” Pate said. “But see, you got a taste of it last year. They go into Week 1 and they … splatter Illinois all over the place. You got a taste of it and then it got taken from you. You got to see (third-year sophomore) Graham Mertz shine for one game and then it got taken from you. And what I mean from ‘taken’ is their season got derailed by COVID. And a lot of their guys — they had a wide receiver in concussion protocol for most of the year — they had guys off the roster because they tested positive and you never got to see the real Wisconsin. And so, then you fast forward a year — a lot of those names are back. I feel really good that they are one of the most underrated wide receiver rooms in America.
“Wisconsin’s got Paul Chryst, head coach there, taking over play-calling duties because what I think he’s done is he’s looked at what he’s got at quarterback — believes in Graham Mertz, one of the higher-rated quarterbacks you have there — loves his receiver room and understands they’ve got an opportunity to do something good there this year.
“And do it in a surprising fashion, because here’s how the schedule shakes out — they have some big games this year. They do every year. They play in the Big Ten. They play Penn State. They play Notre Dame. They play Michigan. I don’t think that surprises you. But it may surprise you if I tell you those three teams are among the first four they play. So I want you to think again about what I just said — if Wisconsin has quarterback figured out, if their offense is in sync, if it goes jell — if it looks, really, for an extended period of time like it did last year — who are we talking about them starting with? Penn State, installing a new offense again — even though I believe in ’em, may be shaky early on.
“Then they play Notre Dame, Jack Coan — ironically, former Wisconsin quarterback transferring down there — they’re doing new things, offensively. Michigan, they’re doing new things offensively. And so, could you catch a significant portion of the big boys on your schedule off guard or maybe off balance a little bit early in the season? ‘Cause if you do, then all of a sudden, you’ve gotten past the meat of your schedule and there you are, a prime-time contender for the Playoff conversation and all that by midseason. That’d be interesting and I don’t think a lot of people expect it.”