The wide receiving corps for the Wisconsin Badgers has been here before. The situation is certainly different, and murkier than in the past, but the result is the same.
On Saturday night when Quintez Cephus announced on Twitter that he would be taking a leave of absence due to an on-going legal battle over an incident that occurred in April of this year. Cephus is due in Dane County Court on Thursday, August 23rd at 10:30 am (CT) where he will be facing charges of 2nd degree Assault-Intoxicated victim and 3rd degree sexual assault.
On Monday afternoon he was suspended from the football team for a violation of the UW Department of Athletics’ Student-Athlete Discipline Policy. The University announced that he will be suspended from competition and practice pending the availability of further information relating to his case.
In 2017 Cephus emerged as the top receiver for Wisconsin. He played in the team’s first nine games, starting eight of them, prior to a season-ending injury to his leg against Indiana in early November.
After that point A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis, and Kendric Pryor all emerged as viable options on the outside for quarterback Alex Hornibrook. They’ll need to be just as good, if not better, while the legal battle ensues for Cephus. There’s no doubting what Cephus has brought to the field when on it, but the drop off in overall talent at that position may not be as big as one may think.
The other issue at hand is that Davis was named in the criminal complaint as well, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. That was uncovered late Monday afternoon. Davis has not been charged of any crime as of Tuesday morning.
“We lose a lot of Q’s juice, a lot of his energy,” Taylor said about Cephus’ leave of absence. “What we’re going to have to do as an offense is really just come together, play as a team, take it one play at a time and get back to Wisconsin Football and be gritty.”
An injury is rarely, if ever, a good thing for a team to endure. There’s no doubting that Wisconsin would have been better in 2017 with Cephus on the field and they would have been more talented with him in the lineup at the present as well. The bright spot for the Badgers is that as a group they know how to handle an absence, whether it’s due to an injury or something else.
“It’s definitely a different mentality, different mindset that comes along with that uncertainty, but at the same time we have done it before,” Taylor said. “We have worked, we know how to work. I mean, we’re going to put our heads down and grind but it’s definitely different. Definitely different.”
Taylor added in that the group as a whole has been in contact with Cephus since Saturday night’s announcement. However, neither Taylor nor Davis would divulge much more information about the situation past that.
A few things that may have made 2017’s situation easier was the fact that there was certainty that Cephus would not be coming back and the fact that Wisconsin was already nine games into the season. Now, the Badgers have a fresh start, and incredibly high expectations. The Associated Press released the preseason poll on Monday and had the Badgers tied for their highest preseason ranking ever at #4.
That ranking is good enough for the best in the Big Ten, edging out Ohio State by one spot. Many pundits have picked Wisconsin to win the conference and advance to the program’s first ever College Football Playoff.
Wisconsin is certainly deserving of a ranking that high, although many will partly attribute it to the uncertainty surrounding Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer as he is on administrative leave for the time being.
“I bet you none of these guys know anything about that and they probably won’t,” Davis said following practice on Monday afternoon. “We stay off that social media, stuff like that. That’s what Wisconsin does a great job of. Coach Chryst implements it a lot. We don’t care about the outside noise, we don’t care about none of that. We come as a whole team and we grind. We do everything we’ve got to do to be a better team. We take it one game at a time. I could give a damn about the AP Poll. We just go out there and play as a team and have fun.”
The Badgers now enter a season filled with both uncertainty and expectations, but as always, they’re going to feel as if there is something to prove.
“We have to come in with the mindset that we’ve got to shock, we’ve got to shock everybody,” Taylor said. “That’s just our mindset, we want to be the best. If we don’t go in with that kind of mentality, then I don’t think we can get that accomplished.”