Wisconsin football survey results: Team trajectory, coaching, recruiting and more

Earlier this month, you had a chance to take The Athletic’s Wisconsin football fan survey to answer a wide range of questions on Paul Chryst’s progress as head coach, program expectations, recruiting, what you think the team’s record will be next season and much more.

In total, we received 869 responses to the survey, which can be viewed with a couple different purposes in mind: To gauge the pulse of the fan base right now and to generate a comparison to when we first put out a survey like this two years ago. What we learned was that Badgers fans have largely taken a measured, reasonable approach but that some things have definitely changed since 2020.

And now, it’s time to unveil the results:

How would you rate Paul Chryst’s performance through seven seasons as Wisconsin’s head coach? (1: Poor; 5: Excellent)

5: 9.1 percent
4: 63.3 percent
3: 24.8 percent
2: 1.9 percent
1: 0.8 percent

Chryst is 65-23 overall at Wisconsin, including 43-16 in the Big Ten. But the Badgers also have failed to win the Big Ten West in each of the last two seasons, which represents the first time Chryst has gone consecutive seasons at Wisconsin without a West Division title. As a result, these numbers have dipped compared to two years ago, when Wisconsin was coming off an appearance in the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl. Of the fans who voted, 72.4 percent rated this category as either a 4 or a 5. In 2020, 98.2 percent rated Chryst as a 4 or a 5, with 50.1 percent selecting 5.

How would you rate your overall satisfaction with the current state of Wisconsin’s football program? (1: Poor; 5: Excellent)

5: 7.4 percent
49.7 percent
3: 34.9 percent
2: 6.9 percent
1: 1.2 percent

No surprise that overall satisfaction, while still generally positive, has declined following a 13-7 stretch over the past two seasons that included appearances in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl. While 51.1 percent of respondents gave this category a 5 two years ago, that number is now at 7.4 percent. Meanwhile, 34.9 percent of respondents list their satisfaction as a 3, up significantly from 2.0 percent in 2020.

How would you rate Chryst’s performance as an on-field coach? (1: Poor; 5: Excellent)

5:6.1 percent
41.3 percent
3: 40.6 percent
2: 9.9 percent
1: 2.1 percent

Wisconsin had qualified for three Big Ten championship games in a four-year stretch under Chryst when fans were last polled on this topic. Back then, 59.7 percent of respondents gave Chryst a 4, with 28.8 percent giving a 5. Only 10.4 percent of fans gave Chryst’s on-field coaching performance a 3.

But Wisconsin has lost its share of big games over the past two years, including a 23-13 loss to Minnesota last season that prevented the Badgers from capturing the West Division. That game featured a critical coaching mistake when Wisconsin inexplicably sent its punt team onto the field on fourth-and-1 from its own 21 with 4:26 remaining while trailing by 10 points. Following a false start that brought up a fourth-and-6, the offense was sent back onto the field. Chryst acknowledged afterward that the team “never should’ve been even thinking the punt” and that “everything goes through me.”

How would you rate Chryst’s performance as a recruiter? (1: Poor; 5: Excellent)

5: 7.1 percent
40.1 percent
3: 36.8 percent
2: 12.1 percent
1: 4.0 percent

Wisconsin compiled its three best recruiting classes in program history from 2019-21 (more on that later). The Badgers’ 2022 class didn’t possess the same firepower but also was a much smaller group with 15 signees. The biggest change Chryst made was building out his recruiting department this offseason with the largest staff during his tenure, led by former tight ends coach Mickey Turner. That came about roughly nine months after director of player personnel Saeed Khalif left for Michigan State. During our initial survey two years ago, 88.8 percent of respondents gave Chryst a 4 or a 5 for his overall performance as a recruiter, including 40.8 percent voting for a 5.

How would you rate the job Chryst did with the offseason coaching moves on his staff? (1: Poor; 5: Excellent)

5: 22.4 percent
47.3 percent
3: 24.8 percent
2: 3.9 percent
1: 1.7 percent

It has been a particularly busy offseason for Chryst, whose offensive coaching staff is different at every spot other than wide receiver. Chryst brought in Bobby Engram to serve as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and moved Bob Bostad from inside linebackers coach over to the O-line to replace Joe Rudolph. Former special teams coordinator Chris Haering is now the tight ends coach, and Al Johnson is in charge of the running backs.

Chryst still has to find another inside linebackers coach after Bill Sheridan — who is under NCAA investigation for alleged recruiting violations while an Air Force assistant — resigned less than three months after taking over at Wisconsin. Fans overall seemed pleased with the changes Chryst made, though the results of those decisions will unfold in the coming seasons.

How confident are you that Wisconsin’s revamped recruiting department now under Mickey Turner can successfully bring in top-25 recruiting classes?

Totally confident: 6.8 percent
Fairly confident:
31.7 percent
43.2 percent
Fairly unconfident: 14.7 percent
Totally unconfident: 3.6 percent

Wisconsin has produced just one top-25 class in the online ranking era, as its 2021 class ranked No. 16. But that class came on the heels of a 2019 class that ranked No. 29 and a 2020 class that ranked No. 26. Turner has a big task ahead of him, and many fans expressed uncertainty about the future. Potentially contributing to that uncertainty is how name, image and likeness compensation could impact Wisconsin’s plans relative to other programs, particularly those with collectives already established.

How confident are you that Wisconsin’s passing offense will improve next season?

Totally confident: 5.2 percent
Fairly confident:
34.7 percent
Unsure: 32.7 percent
Fairly unconfident: 22.1 percent
Totally unconfident: 5.4 percent

Wisconsin ranked 120th nationally in passing yards per game and 87th in completion percentage. Quarterback Graham Mertz returns for his third season as the starter, and his improvement will be vital for the Badgers to take necessary steps forward next season. With a new wide receiver corps and a revised offense, the most fan votes went to “fairly confident” in this category. But plenty said they either weren’t sure or weren’t entirely confident that any changes will make a difference next season.

How confident are you that new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram will improve the offense next season?

Totally confident: 9.1 percent
Fairly confident:
49.2 percent
Unsure: 34.5 percent
Fairly unconfident: 6.1 percent
Totally unconfident: 1.1 percent

There was both optimism and uncertainty about how Engram will change the offense for the better next season, which is understandable considering fans have yet to see what has been going on behind the scenes. Based on spring practices, Engram appears to be trying to utilize more of the team’s playmakers, but the fruits of his labor won’t be on display until the season opener Sept. 3 against Illinois State.

Which of the following most aligns with your realistic expectation for this program?

Reach the College Football Playoff every few seasons: 4.6 percent
Win the Big Ten championship every few seasons
: 46.5 percent
Contend for the Big Ten West title every season: 44.6 percent
Qualify for a bowl game every season: 4.2 percent

This question was posed two years ago, and there has been a slight shift in the responses. In 2020, 62.9 percent of respondents voted that their realistic expectation was for Wisconsin to win the Big Ten championship every few seasons, with 26.1 percent picking contending for the Big Ten West title every season. But after two seasons in which Wisconsin didn’t win the West, some voters shifted toward contention for a division title, although winning the league championship remained in the No. 1 overall spot.

Will Wisconsin win the Big Ten championship in the next five years?

Yes: 41.9 percent
No, but it will win the Big Ten West division:
56.7 percent
No, and it won’t win the Big Ten West division: 1.4 percent

Just how much have things changed in the span of two years? Well, this question pretty much sums it up. In 2020, 90.3 percent of respondents said the Badgers would win the Big Ten championship in the next five years. At that time, Wisconsin was coming off a season in which it led No. 1 Ohio State 21-7 at halftime of the league title game before losing 34-21. Now, only 41.9 percent of voters believe the Badgers will win the Big Ten title game in the next five years. Wisconsin last won the Big Ten championship in 2012.

How likely do you think it is that Wisconsin reaches the College Football Playoff in the next five years?

Certain: 0.8 percent
18.6 percent
66.7 percent
No chance: 13.9 percent

This is another area Wisconsin seems to be farther away from now than it was two years ago, according to the results of our survey. In 2020, the leading vote getter was “likely” at 44.2 percent, with unlikely second at 41.0 percent. But two-thirds of respondents picked unlikely this time around. Wisconsin has yet to qualify for the College Football Playoff since the first season of its existence in 2014. The Badgers cracked the top 10 of the CFP voting during the 2016, 2017 and 2019 seasons but failed to win the Big Ten championship in any of those seasons.

How likely do you think it is that Wisconsin will win a national championship in the next 10 years?

Certain: 0.5 percent
3.4 percent
54.7 percent
No chance: 41.4 percent

If fans don’t think Wisconsin is likely to reach the College Football Playoff, then they certainly don’t foresee the Badgers winning a national title. It would take a Herculean type of season for Wisconsin to get through the Big Ten and reach the Playoff in the first place. A national championship would require two more victories against programs such as Alabama or Georgia.

Which Wisconsin offensive position group are you most optimistic about for next season?

Running back/fullback: 53.8 percent
Offensive line: 39.2 percent
Wide receiver: 5.4 percent
Quarterback: 1.3 percent
Tight end: 0.4 percent

Fans expressed plenty of optimism about Wisconsin’s running backs, even as Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo work back from season-ending injuries. Much of that thought likely comes from Braelon Allen, who ran for 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns as a true freshman last season. The offensive line, which returns starters Jack Nelson, Tyler Beach and Joe Tippmann, earned the second-most votes.

Which offensive position group are you least optimistic about for next season?

Quarterback: 60.3 percent
Tight end: 27.1 percent
Wide receiver: 11.5 percent
Offensive line: 1.1 percent
Running back/fullback: 0.0 percent

Quarterback was far and away the top choice here. Graham Mertz is coming off a season in which he completed 59.5 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Mertz has started 20 career games, and his performance figures to dictate what happens with the offense next season. Chase Wolf is the only other quarterback on the roster to have appeared in a college game. Wisconsin’s tight ends, which must replace Jake Ferguson, also is a position of concern among the fans.

Which defensive position group are you most optimistic about for next season?

Outside linebacker: 54.2 percent
Defensive line: 22.2 percent
Inside linebacker: 13.8 percent
Cornerback: 8.1 percent
Safety: 1.7 percent

Wisconsin’s outside linebackers are loaded with talent, beginning with returning starter Nick Herbig. C.J. Goetz, Darryl Peterson, Kaden Johnson and T.J. Bollers all showed their potential during spring practice. More than half of respondents said they’re most optimistic about what that group can achieve. The defensive line, led by Keeanu Benton and Isaiah Mullens, received 22.2 percent of the vote. It’s interesting to note that inside linebacker earned more votes than cornerback, even though Wisconsin replenished its cornerback depth with three transfers who have played in 132 career games with 59 starts. Inside linebackers Tatum Grass and Jordan Turner, who ended the spring with the top group, played a total of 87 defensive snaps last season.

Which defensive position group are you least optimistic about for next season?

Safety: 49.6 percent
Cornerback: 26.5 percent
Inside linebacker: 14.6 percent
Defensive line: 7.1 percent
Outside linebacker: 2.0 percent

Lack of safety depth was the biggest concern for Wisconsin’s defense out of the spring, and fans voted accordingly. With Travian Blaylock sustaining a right leg injury in practice, Hunter Wohler and John Torchio were the only healthy scholarship players at the position. Wisconsin has since added Utah transfer Kamo’i Latu. Overall, 76.1 percent of the votes went to the Badgers’ secondary.

Is Wisconsin closing the gap on Ohio State?

No, and the Badgers’ gap is widening: 59.0 percent
No, but the Badgers are keeping pace: 38.3 percent
Yes: 2.7 percent

Wisconsin opens Big Ten play with a pivotal game at Ohio State on Sept. 24. Although Michigan beat Ohio State last season to win the East Division and eventually reach the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes have generally been the gold standard in the league. Wisconsin has lost eight consecutive games to Ohio State, including three Big Ten title games, and last beat the Buckeyes in 2010.

The majority of voters said Wisconsin’s gap against Ohio State is widening. Ohio State has been to the CFP four times and was there as recently as two seasons ago. Ohio State continues to dominate in recruiting and performs at a level that Wisconsin simply cannot match. Ohio State’s 2020 recruiting class ranked No. 5, its 2021 class was No. 2 and its 2022 class was No. 4. Wisconsin has not produced a single top-15 class during the online ranking era and has broken the top 25 just once.

Will Wisconsin’s three highest-rated recruiting classes in 2019, 2020 and 2021 help propel the Badgers into the College Football Playoff?

No: 85.0 percent
Yes: 15.0 percent

This question was posed in the survey two years ago about the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes. At the time, 58 percent of respondents voted that, yes, the two best Badgers recruiting classes would help Wisconsin reach the CFP. Much of that excitement likely stemmed from Graham Mertz, a four-star prospect in the 2019 class and the highest-rated prep quarterback signee in program history.

Mertz had finished his true freshman season but had yet to start a game for Wisconsin. Over the ensuing two years, he is 13-7 as a starter, and the Badgers have not won the Big Ten West. Even with Wisconsin adding its best-ever class in 2021, it wasn’t enough to convince voters this time that the Badgers can break through and be a playoff team.

What will Wisconsin’s final regular-season record be in 2022?

12-0: 0.5 percent
3.8 percent
30.9 percent
9-3: 44.9 percent
8-4: 18.5 percent
7-5 or worse: 1.4 percent

Wisconsin has some tough road games next season, including against Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa — teams that went a combined 22-5 in the Big Ten regular season. Those three games could go a long way toward determining how many losses Wisconsin winds up with next season. A 9-3 season, as 44.9 percent of voters predict, likely won’t be good enough for Wisconsin to win the West Division if all three of the Badgers’ losses come during conference play. No three-loss team in conference play has won the West before.

How much longer do you think Paul Chryst will remain as Wisconsin’s coach?

1-3 seasons: 19.7 percent
4-6 seasons:
46.3 percent
7-9 seasons: 23.3 percent
10 or more seasons: 10.7 percent

Two years ago, 39.9 percent of voters said Chryst would be at Wisconsin for 10 or more seasons — the top response among the choices. This time around, 10 or more seasons received the lowest vote total. If Chryst remains at Wisconsin for another 10 seasons and reaches 17 as head coach, that mark would surpass Barry Alvarez, who spent 16 seasons as Badgers head coach.

How much longer do you think defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will remain at Wisconsin?

1-3 seasons: 55.1 percent
4-6 seasons: 15.3 percent
7-9 seasons: 4.2 percent
10 or more seasons: 25.4 percent

Leonhard’s coaching future is a constant question among Badgers fans. Two years ago, 62.8 percent of respondents said he would only be at Wisconsin for 1-3 seasons longer. Voters again believe Leonhard won’t remain in Madison for long. But Leonhard has continued to be committed to the Badgers. In February 2021, he turned down an opportunity to be the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers.

Which Big Ten West team do you think will pose the greatest challenge to Wisconsin regularly winning the division in future seasons?

Iowa: 73.0 percent
Minnesota: 17.5 percent
Nebraska: 5.1 percent
Illinois: 2.0 percent
Purdue: 1.4 percent
Northwestern: 1.0 percent

Iowa wins this category in a runaway, even though Wisconsin has won eight of the last 10 matchups between the two schools. Last season, Wisconsin defeated No. 9 Iowa 27-7 in Madison, but the Hawkeyes still went on to win the Big Ten West. Iowa beat Wisconsin 28-7 in 2021. Minnesota was the only other West Division school to receive more than 5.1 percent of the vote. The Gophers have won two of the last four games— including a 23-13 victory in the regular-season finale in November — after the Badgers had won 14 consecutive games in the border battle.

(Top photo: Vincent Carchietta / USA TODAY Sports)

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