NCAA FB

College football analysts peg Badgers as top-15 team

We're just a tad over three months from the first game of the 2017 season for the Wisconsin Badgers -- surely you didn't forget this year's opener is on a Friday night.

With spring practices in the rear-view mirror, some of the college football analysts around the internet decided it was time to put out their "early" top 25s.

(We're not sure how spring practices affected rankings, but that's another story.)

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Coming off an 11-3 season and possessing, shall we say, not the most imposing of regular-season schedules, the Badgers are being thought highly as we ready for the summer months which precede fall camp.

As you will see below, the rankers see the Badgers as a mid-range top-25 team; none see them as top 10 but at the same point none have UW lower than 15.

Are there question marks surrounding Wisconsin? Of course, as there are for every team. But as we sit today towards the close of May, there is a positive feeling when it comes to the Badgers.

Here's the top-25 rankings we could find since May 1 along with the explanations from the analyst why they have Wisconsin ranked where they are plus any regular-season opponents who also might be ranked (Ohio State and Penn State are widely considered top-10 teams, but Wisconsin could only face either of them in the Big Ten championship).

Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com: No. 13. "The Badgers defense, now under the direction of former star safety Jim Leonhard, has the pieces to replicate last seasons Top 10 unit. Beyond established names like LB Jack Cichy and DE Conor Sheehy, Hawaii transfer CB Nick Nelson and LB Leon Jacobs had strong springs. QB Alex Hornibrook returns, as does big-play WR Jazz Peavy. RBs Bradrick Shaw and Chris James look to upgrade the rushing attack." Opponents: Michigan 16, Nebraska 23.

Yahoo Sports' Dr. Saturday: No. 13. "We thought Wisconsin was due for a down year in 2016 and ended up being way off. We wont make that mistake this year as the Badgers are our early pick to repeat in the Big Ten West. After splitting time last year, Alex Hornibrook will take the reins full time at quarterback. Playing behind a stout line, hell look the way of stud tight end Troy Fumagalli early and often. Theres some NFL talent (T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel) to replace on defense, but Jack Cichy and Chris Orr are slated to return from injury." Opponents: Michigan 12, Nebraska 22.

Steve Lassan of Athlon Sports: No. 12. "After facing one of the nations most difficult schedules in 2016, the 2017 slate for coach Paul Chryst and the Badgers is considerably easier. A crossover game against Michigan and a road trip to Nebraska are challenging, but Wisconsin wont have to play Ohio State or Penn State from the East. And after coming up just short in the Big Ten title game last year, can Chrysts team take the next step this fall? In order to knock off the East champion in Indianapolis, the Badgers need more consistency out of the passing game. The good news? Sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook is promising, and the receiving corps features All-America tight end Troy Fumagalli. Standout left tackle Ryan Ramczyk will be missed, but theres plenty of experience and talent returning to keep the offensive line among the best in the Big Ten. The trio of Bradrick Shaw, Chris James and Taiwan Deal should be enough to compensate for the loss of running back Corey Clement. New defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard inherits a unit that allowed only 15.6 points per game last season. The Badgers dont have many glaring weaknesses on this group, but linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel leave big shoes to fill. The return of Chris Orr and Jack Cichy from injury should alleviate some of the concern at linebacker. Hornibrooks development is crucial for Wisconsin to climb higher in the top 25 this season." Opponents: Michigan 10.

Brian Hamilton of SI.com: No. 13. "Tons of projected starters sat out the spring and/or the spring game for various reasons. It would appear that depth, and not standout individual talent, will be the strength at tailback and receiver. The defense lost some high-end talent to the draft but returns plenty more." Opponents: Michigan 12.

Bill Bender of The Sporting News: No. 13. "The Badgers are 21-6 the last two seasons under Paul Chryst and have a no-doubt starter at quarterback in Alex Hornibrook. The competition at running back among Bradrick Shaw, Chris James and Taiwan Deal will be interesting. Will the Badgers find a consistent back to replace Corey Clement, who rushed for 1,375 yards in 2016. The Badgers remain the favorite in the Big Ten West, and with good reason." Opponents: Michigan 9.

Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com: No. 11. "The Badgers seem well positioned to repeat as Big Ten West champions, even after losing star tailback Corey Clement and linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel. Wisconsin has a lot of depth coming back on defense, in addition to Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson, who probably grabbed one of the starting cornerback jobs during the spring. The Badgers will have a new defensive coordinator for the third straight season; defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard was promoted after Justin Wilcox was named Cal's new coach. Pitt transfer Chris James, Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal will probably share carries while trying to replace Clement's production. The Badgers miss Ohio State and Penn State during the regular season and play Michigan at home on Nov. 18." Opponents: Michigan 14.

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com: No. 15. "The running game will be great because it always is. Paul Chryst goes into the fall with the usual depth at tailback. It's just a question of whether Bradrick Shaw (four carries in the spring game), Pitt transfer Chris James or Taiwan Deal are the man. More likely, they'll share. At age 34, two years removed from the NFL as a player and in his second year as an on-field coach, Jim Leonhard becomes the defensive coordinator." Opponents: Michigan 13.

Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth's Shadow, Facing Ted Williams -- Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns