10 things we learned about Wisconsin football from Big Ten Media Days

The Big Ten Conference's annual football media days wrapped up Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and the two-day press junket offered some valuable insight on what to watch for this season.
From Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti and University of Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell and quarterback Tanner Mordecai making their media days debut to former Badgers defensive coordinator landing a job with a rival, there was no shortage of intriguing storylines.
With UW set to open training camp on Tuesday at UW-Platteville, here's what we learned about the Badgers and the landscape in the Big Ten heading into the 2023 campaign.
1. Media high on UW
The annual poll from media covering the conference came down to a narrow vote, but the Badgers were ultimately picked to win the Big Ten West in the Cleveland.com preseason Big Ten poll.
Receiving 20 of 37 first-place votes with 233 total points, UW was once again predicted to reach the league’s championship game before losing to a College Football Playoff participant.
Reigning conference champion Michigan (248 points with 27 first-place votes) beat out archrival Ohio State (226 with eight) in predictions for which program will win the Big Ten East.
None of the voters chose UW as the winner of the Big Ten title game, while fifteen voters said the Wolverines will defeat the Badgers in Indianapolis in that contest later this season.
Media predicts Wisconsin football resurgence in Luke Fickell's first season
2. Fan favorite switches sides
After months of speculation over the future of former defensive coordinator and interim coach Jim Leonhard, Badgers fans were stunned to learn on Tuesday where the program legend will be working this season.
Leonhard, who was passed over for the UW head coaching job in favor of Fickell in November, will be a senior defensive analyst for Illinois, which is coached by former UW coach Bret Bielema.
While analysts aren't allowed to be on-field coaches nor go on the road to recruit, they can help prepare game plans and conduct film reviews with players.
Not only is Leonhard joining a Big Ten rival, the Fighting Illini's 34-10 win over the Badgers last season was the final game of coach Paul Chryst's tenure and led to Leonhard's promotion to interim coach.
While some fans have questioned Leonhard's decision, BadgerExtra columnist Jim Polzin wrote that he sees a lot of logic in the pairing and Bielema's comments during media days only reinforced that belief.
“I see it kind of as a stepping stone for guys to make the next step,” Bielema said Wednesday. “To stay in the business, stay active and stay relevant.”
Jim Leonhard has a new role with a Wisconsin football rival
Polzin: Why another Jim Leonhard-Bret Bielema partnership makes sense
3. Junior tailback among elite company
As running back Braelon Allen gets ready for his junior season with the Badgers this fall, a panel of media members covering the conference see big things ahead for the Fond du Lac native.
Allen was one of 10 players to earn Big Ten preseason honors on Wednesday, picking up his second career conference preseason honor as the lone Badgers representative to be honored by the panel.
Allen rushed for 1,242 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, including a program-record scoring run of 96 yards in the season opener. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season and became the fifth UW running back to tally 1,000 rushing yards in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Allen was one of three UW players on hand at media days, taking questions Thursday alongside Mordecai and linebacker Maema Njongmeta.
Wisconsin football's Braelon Allen earns Big Ten preseason honors
4. Coaches, players dressed for success
With representatives from across the conference travelling to Indianapolis for two days in front of the cameras, the players and coaches made sure to go all out with their formal fashion choices.
From the well-tailored suits the coaches sported on Day 1 to the looks Fickell and Co. chose to represent UW on Day 2, it was business first for those on hand at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Here are the suits coaches, Wisconsin players wore on Day 2 of Big Ten football media days
5. New commissioner seeking NIL reform
Despite being at his first Big Ten football media days, new commissioner Tony Petitti didn't hold back when it came to his feelings on the state of college sports in the current name, image and likeness era.
Petitti's address covered a handful of topics, but some of his most pointed comments came when addressing NIL and what he called “not true NIL.”
“Much of what is happening now under the guise of NIL is not true NIL,” Petitti said, “but rather a move to a pay-for-play system that is driving recruitment and the transfer portal. This system operates away from and without institutional control, nor is it required to comply with Title IX. As a voluntary membership organization, the NCAA needs to be able to enforce its long standing rules prohibiting inducements and pay for play.”
One way Petitti feels the issue could be addressed is through a federal law governing how NIL operates.
“You're seeing states come forward and pass legislation that really is only driven for one thing: to create more competitive power in that state,” Petitti said. “And that's just not the right place for us to be."
Big Ten commissioner wants help from Congress to change 'not true NIL'
6. Ex-Badgers recruit battling with Buckeyes
A former UW recruit that got away could have a chance to take on the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium this fall if he can carve out a spot on Ohio State's offensive line.
Spring Valley native Carson Hinzman is competing for a spot with the Buckeyes, who need to replace three offensive linemen selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.
A former consensus four-star recruit who verbally committed to the Buckeyes over the Badgers in January 2022, the redshirt freshman is competing for the starting center spot after Luke Wypler left the Buckeyes for the pros.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Hinzman has been doing what it takes to earn a starting spot, but it isn't secured yet.
“He's had a very good offseason,” Day said. “He's very talented. Has the athleticism, has the intelligence. Does not have the experience, but he's a guy that we projected to have an opportunity to start this year.
“He's gonna have to go earn a spot. He hasn't earned it yet, but there's a lot of things that lead us to believe he could do that, and we're going to need him to. We’re gonna need some guys to step up on the offensive line and Carson has a bright future ahead of him.”
Wisconsin native competing for starting role with Ohio State football
7. Nittany Lions gaining ground in Wisconsin
The Buckeyes aren't the only Big Ten competition to tap the state of Wisconsin for talent.
Penn State's recruiting presence has grown in Wisconsin in recent years, with the Nittany Lions competing with the Badgers for key prospects.
While Penn State currently sits as a top-10 class for the 2024 cycle — according to 247Sports composite rankings, Rivals and On3 — it's the number of Dairy State products that jumps off the page.
That top-10 class of players includes three recruits from Wisconsin rated four-star prospects by at least one recruiting outlet: offensive linemen Garrett Sexton (Hartland Arrowhead) and Donovan Harbour (Waukesha Catholic Memorial) and running back Corey Smith (Waukesha Catholic Memorial).
How Penn State built a recruiting pipeline near Wisconsin football's home
8. UW's new offense drawing outside interest
One of the most talked about changes at UW under Fickell is the installation of the Air Raid offense under new coordinator Phil Longo.
And it's not just fans and media members who are interested in the new-look attack as the competition in the Big Ten has been intrigued by the developments in Madison.
Some of the Badgers' league foes expressed the same surprise fans did after Fickell hired Longo, whose Air Raid offense has put up big numbers at North Carolina the past four seasons but is also a significant departure from the hammering running style that had been UW’s trademark for more than 30 years.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured coach in major college football and has more experience leading teams against Badgers units than anyone in left in the sport.
“I don’t want to say surprised, but interested,” Ferentz said of UW’s left turn. “It’s different.
“I have tremendous respect for (former UW coach) Paul (Chryst) as a coach, as a player. I think he was highly underrated as a coach, me personally. His teams, the way they were coached … when we play Wisconsin, it’s going to be hard, you know that. They’ve always been well-coached."
Big Ten foes intrigued by Wisconsin football's move to the Air Raid offense
9. Wisconsin native playing key role at Northwestern
While the focus around UW is largely around the changes on the field, another Big Ten program is facing deeper questions after a shocking hazing scandal ended a veteran coach's tenure.
With Pat Fitzgerald out after 17 seasons at Northwestern following accusations of decades of abusive practices, a Wisconsin native has been tasked with helping get the program back on track.
Wales native and Kettle Moraine High School graduate David Braun is serving as interim coach of the Wildcats and was on hand in Indianapolis to field questions about the future of the program.
Doing his best to provide answers to difficult questions, Baun called it his duty to support his players through while also preparing for his first season as a head coach.
“I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to have some incredible challenges put in front of me,” Braun said Wednesday. “I’ve been out of my comfort zone at times, many times, and that’s where a lot of growth has come. I’ve never been this far outside my comfort zone.
“I walk into that facility, or hop on the phone or even in a text message … ‘Is this supporting our players? Is this serving our players?’ That’s what I’m here for right now and tried to do just that."
How a Wisconsin native plans to lead Northwestern football past hazing scandal
10. Badgers under close supervision
While the Badgers aren't facing the same off-field challenges as the Wildcats, they aren't without their own concerns and Fickell made it clear on Thursday he would be keeping a close eye on his players' conduct.
After UW had three players in legal matters this summer — with one of the players no longer with the team — Fickell said he will continue to monitor how the program is handling player discipline.
“In your first year, you’re always trying to see, ‘OK, where are our shortcomings,’” Fickell said. “So when these things come up, obviously we’re gonna try to reassess and see what that is. Through the offseason, I know for me myself, we’ve got to do a better job of making sure we all understand the parameters, the things, the expectations (of the program).
“But it’s also a great reminder to everybody within the program that this stuff is very fragile and nothing is guaranteed to you if you don’t do things the right way. And that’s a hard lesson to learn, but that’s why we study history too, right? So we’re not condemned to repeat it.”

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