SI's Best Badgers

Sports Illustrated published a top-10 Badger athletes here. Hard to argue with (in reverse order) Joe Thomas, Tony Granato, Pat Richter, Michael Finley, Red Below (?? who's he?), Mark Johnson, Alando Tucker, Ron Dayne, Suzy Favor-Hamilton, and Alan Ameche.

Some others I thought of?

Mike Richter

Tim Krumrie

Troy Vincent:

Sara Bauer

Curtis Joseph

Al Toon

and Lee Evans

Chris Chelios

If part-time Badgers count, what about Crazy Legs Hirsch?

Crazy Legs Elroy Hirsch

And, of course:

Ok, so Farley went to Marquette, but as a Madison native, we claim him as our own.

Pre-Camp Depth Chart

The Journal Sentinel today published the post-Spring/pre-camp depth chart:
The only real surprise on it is Redshirt Freshman Mario Goins listed ahead of Senior Allan Langford at right corner. Langford is coming off of his blown ACL and has often been the target of Badger fan ire, but this is still a surprise. We'll see if it holds through camp. It also begs the question, who is the nickel back? Langford, or Junior transfer Chris Maragos, a second string safety Coach Bielema talked up during the BigTen media days.

More from Media Day

Coach Bielema sat down with the Wisconsin beat reporters yesterday afternoon. He was a little more open that the QB position is Evridge's to lose (like Tyler Donovan last year, someone has to beat him out).

He was more thorough updating injury status. It sounds like the d-line, Chaffee, Newkirk, DeKremer, and Shaughnessy are all a little limited headed into the fall, but that he's hopeful that they will practice together. During tw0-a-days, they are likely to only go half the time.

He's pleased with the progress of Mario Goins (CB), Chris Maragos (CB/FS), Jeff Stehle (DT) and O'Brien Schofield (DE). We should expect to see them on the two-deep and all getting significant playing time this fall.

At strong safety, Jai Valai (soph.) seems to have the upper hand, but Bielema said Aubrey Pleasant (jr.) looked as good as he ever has in the Spring, so it's not clear he's been passed over yet.

At running back, the competition is wide open. "Whoever plays best will be that [1st team] guy." Left Guard Andy Kemp told the same reporters that PJ Hill has slimmed down a little and looks as good as he ever has. This means (a) he might be a little faster; and (b) he's feeling the heat from Brown and Clay. The staff writers at the Journal Sentinel seem very high on Clay right now, going so far as to suggest that Smith or Brown should redshirt this year. Of course, that was before Bielema dismissed Smith, so probably not an issue any longer. Moreover, while Clay flashes great talent, the Wisconsin football guru I know told me that was more hype than substance. I'd be surprised if Clay took many snaps from Hill this season. As between Brown and Clay? Brown's experience last season and his ability to read and pick-up blitzes likely gives him the edge in playing time over Clay.

Whoever the feature back is, Kemp was adamant that the Badgers will "get back" to running the ball hard. The way he said it made it sound like he views that in contrast to the last couple of years.

Bielema gave out a little more detail on scheduling. He said ESPN really drove the night games, but that the financial benefit to merchants throughout Madison was an added bonus. Along those lines, he conceded that body bag games are money makers for the school and the city and that they are getting more expensive (mid-major teams are looking for a bigger payout).

Finally, Bielema is in favor of the new emphasis BigTen officials will put on flagging helmet-to-helmet hits. He's sick of seeing Michigan State jack up Kyle Jefferson, including ESPN recently featuring it on the Espy's. (here, with commentary):

He acknowledged football fans like big hits, but where player safety is concerned, he wants to see the media do the right thing. He pointed out that Penn State did when they pulled from their highlight reels the hit quarterback Michael Robinson put on Minnesota safety Brandon Owens after learning Owens suffered serious, lasting injury (no use of his arm).

The Journal Sentinel has audio to all the interviews, including Travis Beckum, DeAndre Levy, and Andy Kemp on it's Badgers page, here

The Three Power Backs

Lance Smith is suspended indefinitely. After violating the terms of his plea agreement, he needs to return to court for sentencing. I'm willing to give these kids the benefit of the doubt to a certain degree, but he plea bargained for the offense of beating up his girlfriend. Not my favorite activity. I thought the university handled the situation well last year, with the 5 road-game suspension and I think an indefinite suspension is apporpriate now. Lance had his chance at redemption and it seems he didn't take it very seriously. So, happy trails, Lance. Hope you find yourself and learn your lesson. So sorry it didn't happen sooner.

As for the Badgers, what does it mean? Four scholarship backs. That's not a lot, but when the first three are Hill, Brown, and Clay, I can't say I'm at all worried. Losing Smith means losing the speed back; the guy who keeps the defense honest. I had high hopes for Smith and thought he had more potential than Hill with more versatility, but it's time to move on, and Brown and Clay can help.

All three of these guys are straight ahead, downhill backs. Brown showed real promise last year, the rumors keep swirling around Clay that he'll live up to the hype (though I've heard from well placed individuals in the football program that he was overhyped), and Hill? Two straight 1000 yard seasons are nothing to sneeze at. So we'll see more of Brown and Clay to keep Hill healthier, and our opponents know that every time Evridge hands the ball off, someone's going to get a new bruise. I'm ok with that.

It may also mean that Chryst will get more creative using his tight ends (something he's already quite good at). With Graham looking so good last year as a compliment to Beckum, will we see some clever plays out of a two-tight end set? I bet we do.

Media Day: Bielema's Bits

Here's what Coach had to say . . .

A summary is what you're after? Here's what I took away from Coach's comments (my additional editorial in italics):
17: he's excited about all of his returning starters and looking forward to seeing this team on the field.
On defensive injuries: Langford and Henry are ready to go, but Shaughnessy will be limited early in the season. (I'm concerned about what Shaughnessy's limitations will mean for our thin defensive line.)

More on the defense: they will spend twice the time they did last year practicing to defend the spread. (thank goodness; it didn't take a rocket scientist to see that the Citadel (!!) was killing us with it.) Bielema also pointed out that Michigan's Rich Rodriguez was a coach with Paul Chryst a while back, so the Badger staff has some familiarity with what Rodriguez may bring to Big Blue's offense.

On the offense Bielema suggested we will run the ball hard with a traditional downhill mentality: Pressley leading our backs into the line. (I wonder if he isn't overselling this; Chryst's three years on offense have shown he likes misdirection and short yardage passing). He's seeing solid improvement among our now-sophomore wide receivers, which is encouraging. However . . .

At QB, Evridge is the starter. Bielema won't say it, but it's fairly plain (he did say his decision will be official no fewer than ten days before the opener against Akron). Evridge needs to work on his accuracy (e.g., he's not happy with Evridge's accuracy, which is hurting his effectiveness in Chryst's controlled passing attack). On the other hand, Coach referred to the other guys learning how to run the huddle and read adjustments, things Evridge has proven he can do. Bielema recruited Evridge to KSU (and will stick with him). He also referenced Youtube videos of how Kansas introduced Alan to NCAA football, something the other guys haven't had:

Bielema is going to take the green shirts off of the quarterbacks in Fall camp to let them get a taste of the real thing. Still, is it really going to look like this?
(More Evridge, courtesy of Youtube)

On who else to watch in the BigTen, although he mentioned Indiana and Northwestern, MSU and D'Antonio were first out of his mouth, and I suspect first on his mind. He mentioned all the trouble they gave us in Madison last year. He clearly thinks the Spartans are on the rise.

On Michigan expected to struggle? That's a "misprint." He doesn't buy it, based on Rodriguez's coaching skill and Carr's recruiting.

On all the other questions about Michigan? Tongue firmly planted in cheek, he thanked the reporters for inviting him to a Michigan press conference.

On scheduling, he isn't ashamed of Akron. He pointed out that when the Marshall deal was done, Marshall was pretty good (see Leftwich and Moss for examples), pointing out they upset then #4 Kansas State (when Bielema was coaching in Manhatten). As for Cal Poly, they were the only team available that week (within reason, I'm sure), and with a BigTen season starting with Michigan, Ohio State, then Penn State, he didn't want Virginia Tech the week before. While Cal Poly is a drag (notwithstanding that my brother went there), I can understand his (and Alvarez's) thinking there.

Speaking of scheduling, he's excited to have a little extra home field advantage with two night games against Ohio State and Penn State. He's looking forward to Badger fans "relaxing" in the stadium parking lot for a couple of extra hours and providing a "festive" environment at game time. I was there for Iowa last year. I don't remember "relaxing," but I do remember "festive." Good on ya, Coach.

On clock rule changes. He likes the 40-second clock between plays to even out what he sees as inconsistencies between refereeing crews (he went out of his way to say they are all excellent, of course). He's not happy about the clock restart rule change after the ball goes out of bounds and thinks it will hurt teams trying to rally from a deficit in the 4th quarter. He also made light of his kicking game shenanigans against Penn State two years ago, taking advantage of the silly clock changes in 2005.

Finally (this wasn't the last thing he talked about, but it's at the bottom of the list of things I cared about), he's sick of hearing about the BigTen not being very good because of OSU's struggles in the national title game. He points to the last three Capital One bowls as the antidote to that line of thinking.

Big Ten Media Days

Start today. Follow the action yourself at the BigTen Network.

More to come . . .

Ohio Recruiting Pipeline: Open

Rivals and the Journal Sentinel are reporting the Badgers picked up their 11th recruit for the '09 class, getting a verbal from Jeff Duckworth of Cincinnati, OH (Scout: 2*, Rivals: NR, ESPN: NR). Duckworth is a 6' 195 lb. wide receiver who is reported to run a 4.5 40.

I'm not really a recruiting junky, but we've gotten some great wide receiver talent from Ohio before, including no less than Chris Chambers and Lee Evans. Current Badgers from the Buckeye state include Lance Smith, Shane Carter, Prince Moody and wide receivers Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson, and Daven Jones. With Ohio State basically full on recruits (around 24, if I'm not mistaken), we could see more Buckeyes become Bucky's. Bielema and his staff beat out Indiana, and to a lesser extent Michigan State and Illinois for Duckworth.

Here's his recruiting video from Rivals (which all look practically the same to me).

Here's hoping he can live up to the reputation of those who preceeded him:

Analyzing the Schedule: "Pre-Season"

Taking a run through our schedule, we'll start with the "pre-season," the games before BigTen competition starts.

First up is Akron. According to my favorite preview authority (scroll down 'til you find it at #95), the Badgers shouldn't have much to worry about. The Zips aren't effective in the passing game, last year ranked at the bottom of the MAC (12th) for total offense and moved all the way up to 9th in the MAC for total defense. Sure, they're returning their quarterbacks . . . both of them. I'm a firm believer that two starting quarterbacks means you don't have one starter. No surprise, the Badgers should come out and steamroll the Zips.

Next is the Marshall Thundering Herd out of Conference USA. It's been a long time since Randy Moss and Byron Leftwich roamed the Marshall sidelines. Again, my preview authority tells me we don't have much to worry about. Last season the Herd threw the ball pretty well, which could be a concern given the state of the Badger defensive line and the corners, but their senior quarterback graduated and is replaced by a rookie with virtually no experience. Marchall's defense ranked 110th in the NCAA last season, and is unlikely to contain our rushing game. You are Marshall? Welcome to Camp Randall . . .

So . . . on to Fresno State. You don't need to have a long memory to worry about this game. Fresno State gave USC all they could handle in 2005, at USC. And 2001? I don't even want to think about IT.

Pat Hill's anyone, anywhere, anytime scheduling *philosophy* (bravado) somehow managed to land a home-and-home that brings the Badgers out to California's agricultrual valley (thus the green "V" you see on the back of the FSU helmets), for what Hill calls, "probably the biggest game in the history of the San Joaquin Valley." In addition to being a huge boon to the Fresno State Athletic Department, the pre-season top 25 Bulldogs hope to launch their BCS dreams with a win over the Badgers. There's reason to believe they will.

With 10 returning starters on offense an offense that was #21 in total offense last year, Fresno boasts a quality Senior quarterback, Brandstater, speedy receivers, and a talented tight end to make up an explosive passing game. Not exactly the Badger defense's strong suit going into this season. Yikes. On top of that, a big, veteran line, and quality running backs. An experienced, balanced, and explosive offense. So that's not so good.

On the plus side, the Badgers should be able to work over the Fresno defense. Giving up over 400 yards a game and nearly 27 points, they ranked 92nd in scoring defense last year. From 2007 to 2008, they lost two starters from their line, and an outside linebacker. Up front, where they need to stop the run, the Bulldog front 7 gives up a ton of weight and experience to the Badgers. Their tackles are 280 and 265 pounds (the latter is a freshman), and their ends are 270 and 245 (or 250). The linebackers, too, are small, coming in at 210, 225, and 210. In addition, the linebacking corps is young (sophomores and a junior), and thin. In short, the 300+ lb. heifers the Badgers will run at them, followed by fullbacks that outwiegh many of the Bulldog lineman, then the wallop that Hill and Brown pack, and the Badgers should be able to consistently chew up yards and clock.

So both teams should move the ball and score, what about the intangibles? The special teams are a wash, with both replacing their kickers. Fresno State is a small stadium, but with a good crowd. After a long flight, the Badgers may struggle a bit to get going. Fans of BCS teams everywhere like to think of these kinds of games as a walk in the park, but we should all know better. After playing Fresno State a few years back, Cal players commented that it was like taking all the all-state and all-conference players in California that were told they were too small to play bigtime college football, and putting them on the same team. They are speedy, talented, hit hard, and they are supremely motivated to upset the "big time" teams.

Whether the Badgers leave with a win or a loss, they will leave bruised, battered, and thankful they have a week off before they welcome Michigan and the start of the BigTen season.

Questions for Camp?

There are a lot of reasons for Badger fans to get excited right now. We're returning a lot of talent and a lot of experience. Nonetheless, there are a handful of nagging questions about the 2008 Badger squad.

Coach Bielema gave a nice little chat to ESPN (courtesy of the Journal Sentinel) which told us what we already knew: Evridge hasn't been named the starting QB yet, but probably will be, and our running game is in good hands. With Hill, Brown, Smith, and Clay all vying for playing time, there's an embarrassment of riches at the tailback spot. We have two big senior fullbacks to lead for them and to help out in protection. Then there's the line.

"Big uglies," indeed, Coach. If you liked Barry-Ball, this line is for you: Carimi (6'8," 299 lb.) and Bscherer (6'7," 297) are both great options at Left Tackle, with Bscherer getting good experience last fall; Senior Andy Kemp (6'6," 316) is going into his third year as a full-time starter at left guard; likewise Senior Craig Urbik (6'6," 328) has been starting for what seems like forever; flanked by Senior returning starter Eric Vanden Heuvel (6'7," 321) with uber-recruit and now red-shirt Frosh Josh Oglesby (6'7," 338) backing him at right tackle. Sophomore John Moffitt (6'4," 317) at center is the biggest unknown on the line. So four returning starters, a bunch of large bodies, and some big, solid, practiced and highly touted recruits waiting in the wings. It's enough to make any 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust enthusiast drool. A devoted follower of King Barry, I need a slobber rag.

So, Bielema tells us the Badgers will run the ball. No doubt. It's going to be tough to stop. But that doesn't answer any of the pre-camp questions, which mostly focus on the defense:

(1) How are the back-ups for the defensive line coming along? Shaughnessy broke his fibula in the Spring (is expected for Fall camp, but how much is expected of him?), Chapman sat the Spring Game, and Newkirk has fought back injuries most of his career in Mad-town and underwent shoulder surgery last winter. A D-line that looks like a MASH unit isn't a great way to start a season. Without quality depth, we're going to have a hard time controlling the line when we're on D.

(2) How are our corners looking? Henry had an encouraging Freshman campaign, but both he and Langford are returning from blown ACLs and haven't practiced since last season. Langford never necessarily dazzled Badger fans to begin with. And who's our nickel back?

(3) How are our new kickers? Losing the older DeBauche hurts, losing Mehlhaff is agony. The importance of touch-backs and having a guy who you can confidently turn to for 3 pts from 50 yards are vastly underrated. Those are hidden yards and points the Badgers will likely miss.

oh, and . . .

(4) Who is our new Quarterback? Is there really any doubt that it's Evridge? With our running game, he's not going to need to be the second-coming of Ron Vanderkelen -- or even John Stocco -- but just moving the pile isn't going to cut it against the defenses Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State will throw at us in the first three weeks of the BigTen season. Can he get Gilreath and Jefferson the ball? Can he find Beckum on that little crossing pattern Chryst loves? Will he avoid making the big mistakes? Basically, can a first year starter (ok, so he had a few games nearly a decade ago at K-State) be Darrell Bevell incarnate?

Stay tuned, fall camp is just a few weeks away.

July 18th -- Oh, the Agony!

I'm practically coming out of my skin. It's Friday, July 18th. Fall practices haven't started yet. The Badgers won't take the field for another six weeks. There's practically no news about college football (how Iowa is doing in the Fulmer Cup and how long before Ike finally goes to trial hardly count). The season is so close at hand, and yet so far . . .

Mercy. The anticipation is killing me.

On Wisconsin!