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title=wpil_keyword_linkfootball game on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021 in Las Vegas. After playing five of the first seven Big Ten Championship games, the Badgers have only been to Indianapolis once in the last four years. They missed a chance to get there in 2021 by losing to Minnesota in their regular season finale. (AP Photo/LE Baskow, File)” title=”FILE – Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen (0) and Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst confer after defeating Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl NCAA college football game on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021 in Las Vegas. After playing five of the first seven Big Ten Championship games, the Badgers have only been to Indianapolis once in the last four years. They missed a chance to get there in 2021 by losing to Minnesota in their regular season finale. (AP Photo/LE Baskow, File)” loading=”lazy”/>

FILE – Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen (0) and Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst confer after defeating Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl NCAA college football game on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021 in Las Vegas. After playing five of the first seven Big Ten Championship games, the Badgers have only been to Indianapolis once in the last four years. They missed a chance to get there in 2021 by losing to Minnesota in their regular season finale. (AP Photo/LE Baskow, File)

PA

Wisconsin used to make trips to the Big Ten championship game an almost annual excursion.

Not anymore.

After playing five of the first seven Big Ten Championship games, the Badgers have only been to Indianapolis once in the past four years. They missed a chance to get there last year when they lost to Minnesota in their regular season finale.

This gives them extra incentive as they enter the Western Division favorites once again this season. The Badgers, ranked 18th, would prefer to go further.

“The goal is to win the Big Ten, obviously,” running back Braelon Allen said. “It hasn’t been done for 10 years. That’s definitely the main focus and something we’ve been pushing all summer, our desire to be in Indianapolis and win a Big Ten championship.

Wisconsin will need consistency, which the Badgers lacked a year ago.

They lost three of their first four games before winning seven in a row once Allen landed a starring role. Then their offense exploded in Minnesota ahead of a Las Vegas Bowl win over Arizona State.

Wisconsin will try to produce a quicker start with plenty of new faces.

Coach Paul Chryst brought in former Baltimore Ravens tight ends coach Bobby Engram as offensive coordinator. On defense, the Badgers must replace eight of the top 10 tacklers in a unit that gave up the fewest yards per game and yards per play of any Football Bowl Subdivision team last season.

The defense’s inexperience means the offense needs to perform better.

Allen rushed for 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie. He’s enjoying the return of Chez Mellusi, who rushed for 815 yards in nine games last season before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

Mellusi could only watch last year as Wisconsin struggled at Minnesota when Allen was held in check.

“I was sitting on the couch,” Mellusi said. “I was at home watching this game. So it was very difficult for me. It was difficult. Not even me, I feel that everyone in this team is going to do everything they can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

MERTZ BACK AT QB

Graham Mertz is entering his third season as the starting quarterback for Wisconsin, realizing he needs to become more stable.

Mertz is 13-7 as a starter. He has a total of 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions in 13 wins. In losses, he threw 12 interceptions and three touchdowns.

It will work with new broads. Chimere Dike is the only returning badger to throw for more than 86 yards last season.

THE RETURN OF HERBIG

Although Wisconsin must reload on defense, the Badgers are returning their sack leader of 2021: outside linebacker Nick Herbig had nine sacks along with 14 ½ tackles for the loss last season.

SECONDARY TRANSFERS

Wisconsin’s defensive backfield includes many proven players who gained their experience at other schools. The Badgers added cornerbacks Just Clark (Toledo), Cedrick Dort (Kentucky) and Jay Shaw (UCLA) as well as safety Kamo’I Latu (Utah).

NEW LINEBACKERS COACH

Chryst brought in Mark D’Onofrio this summer to replace Bill Sheridan as inside linebacker coach. D’Onofrio hadn’t coached since 2018 but is a former defensive coordinator at Temple, Miami and Houston.

Sheridan joined the Wisconsin team in February after spending two years as an Air Force defensive line coach, but quit less than three months later. The NCAA is investigating Sheridan and three other former Air Force aides for potential rule violations.

Bob Bostad, who coached Wisconsin inside linebackers last season, is back in his old job as offensive line coach. Bostad previously coached Wisconsin’s offensive line from 2008 to 2011.

PROGRAM

Wisconsin doesn’t face the gauntlet it faced early last season, when its 1-3 start included losses to Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan. But the Badgers visit No. 2 Ohio on Sept. 24 and travel to No. 15 Michigan on Oct. 15. Their most notable non-conference game is a Sept. 10 home date with Washington State. The opener is Sept. 3 against Illinois State.

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25

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