TAMPA, Fla. - Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor hopes to help No. 17 Wisconsin bounce back from a disappointing season, and the star running back begins that quest on the road against South Florida on Friday night. Taylor rushed for 2,194 yards along with 16 touchdowns, but the Badgers were held under 10 victories last season for the first time since 2013, although they are primed to move back into both the Big Ten and national pictures.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Wisconsin -13
"What's impressive about Jonathan to me is as great a running back as he is, and I do think he's a great running back, he cares a ton about this team and his teammates," Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst told reporters of Taylor, who boasts 4,171 rushing yards in two college seasons. "And as he continues to keep pushing to new heights, new levels and performance, he is staying unbelievably grounded." Taylor will meet a USF defense that aims to improve after allowing 247.7 rushing yards per game in 2018, which ranked 122nd out of 129 Division I teams and was a big factor as the Bulls faded down the stretch. USF won its first seven games last year before dropping the last six, but coach Charlie Strong has plenty of talent to spur optimism and told reporters Monday, "I just like the place that we're in." Senior quarterback Blake Barnett, who started the season strong before throwing seven interceptions in his last six games, returns for USF and will have a new offensive coordinator in former Florida signal-caller and SEC Player of the Year Kerwin Bell.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (2018: 8-5)
Junior Jack Coan will get the start in the opener at quarterback after being pushed by freshman Graham Mertz in the preseason, and will look to senior A.J. Taylor (team-high 521 yards) along with Danny Davis III (team-best 40 catches) among a deep receiving corps. Junior preseason All-American center Tyler Biadasz, who has started 27 consecutive games, leads the offensive line in front of Taylor and junior running back Garrett Groshek, who rushed for 425 yards (6.5 per carry) a year ago. The Badgers were 29th in the nation in total defense in 2018 and senior linebacker Zack Baun (62 tackles, one interception) leads the way.
ABOUT SOUTH FLORIDA (2018: 7-6)
Barnett threw for 2,710 yards in 11 games last season, recording 12 TD passes along with eight rushing scores, and boasts plenty of experienced weapons at his disposal. Sophomore wideout Randall St. Felix (33 catches, 679 yards) and senior tight end Mitchell Wilcox (43, 540) are key targets and sophomore Johnny Ford should be a threat as a slot receiver after rushing for 787 yards last year. Senior running back Jordan Cronkrite led the way with 1,121 yards (6.1 per carry) and nine touchdowns rushing in 2018 while seven defensive starters return, keyed by senior end Greg Reaves (89 tackles, seven for a loss).
1. South Florida WR Terrence Horne, who ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns against Georgia Tech early last season before suffering an ACL, returns for the Bulls.
2. Wisconsin junior WR Quintez Cephus (30 receptions in 2017) has been re-instated after being acquitted of sexual assault and suspended for the 2018 season.
3. The teams met in Madison, Wis. in 2014 as the Badgers earned a 27-10 victory over USF, which beat Illinois of the Big Ten last season.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 34, USF 21
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