- A blowout. We don't need to embarass the Zips, but harkening back to the best Badger teams in recent memory ('98 and '99, the loss to Cincinnati notwithstanding), the season will start with promise if we demolish Akron. The days of playing down to our opposition need to end.
- Sound defense. We should run all over Akron on offense. With the injuries we've had on the defensive line and to our corners, not to mention missing Casillas, are we still able to stop Akron cold? Cuz we should be able to.
- Protection. Our offensive line hasn't been as good as it could have been for a few years now. With three returning seniors and four returning starters, now is the time to put up or shut up.
- Interceptions? Can Evridge manage the game and limit his mistakes?
- John Clay. I want to see what he's about. He should get most of his carries in garbage time (which should start midway through the 3rd quarter), but I want to see what the buzz is about. I've heard doubts from people who know about those 5 stars he carried with him. So let's see.
I like Hunt's sports-guy-ish take on all things Wisconsin sports, but on this one he's wrong. Sure, it's going to be tough to get too excited about going to the game against Cal Poly in late November. Sure, it would be nice to watch a game against a national power in VaTech. Nonetheless, Bielema and Alvarez did the right thing in asking VaTech to reschedule.
Because of the way the Big Ten schedules its conference games, the athletic department didn't know at the time it scheduled VaTech for September 20, 2008, that the conference schedule would start at Michigan, then Ohio State, Penn State, at Iowa, Illinois, then at Michigan State, without any breaks. In years past, you would figure that's the toughest four teams in the Big Ten (Badgers notwithstanding) in consecutive weeks. Today it's the five toughest in six weeks, with nemesis Iowa as the "off" week.
If you like watching Wisconsin play for a shot at the Big Ten title, or a shot at a BCS or the Capital One bowl, you like Bielema and Alvarez's decision to put off VaTech. If VaTech were September 13, instead of Fresno State, that would be fine. If VaTech were coming in 2009 on Sept 19 (currently an open date), followed by Michigan State, then at Minnesota, again, fine. But even Ohio State wouldn't want our schedule with VaTech added on September 20.
It's nice to have high profile games against nationally recognizable teams. We'd all like to see more of them, but not at the expense of reason. With the Big Ten doing what it did to the Badgers on scheduling, VaTech needed to go.
In the mean time, we can look forward to a big game at Fresno State (no slouch), and future dates with Pac-10 powers Arizona State and Oregon State (quietly the 3rd best team in the Pac-10 this decade), yes, Virginia Tech, and maybe (hopefully?) even Notre Dame (see here).
AP has us at #13, USA Today/Coaches have us at #12, Steele has us at #13, Athlon at #12, CFN at #10, ESPN at #12, Sports Illustrated/Stewart Mandel at #12. That's pretty consistent, if nothing else. Only Ohio State is ranked above us in the Big Ten, with Penn State and Illinois generally next (not necessarily in that order).
The rankings are really more about national title shots than anything else, with BCS bowl implications being a distant second. While it's nice to have a high preseason ranking (as we do), playing it out on the field is what will determine our success, including our bowl picture. The BigTen Network has a decent discussion of our schedule:
The keys on the BCS side of things are Fresno State, and the gauntlet of Big Ten teams we start the conference schedule with. If we can go 2-1 to start conference play, we have a legit shot at sharing a Big Ten title, if not better. On the other hand, 1-2 or worse could mean another second rate bowl. Time to get playing . . .
Finally, Time Warner and the BTN reach a deal. With a few days to spare.
For my part, I'm on Comcast (also a recent deal). My house is strange, I admit, but just yesterday we had our cable installed four our annual four months of college football. We'll cancel it after the national title game in January.
Let the games (on the Big Ten Network) begin!
this is Week 2's and what's the soundtrack? Bruce Springsteen . . . Born to Run.
Gilreath is starting at one WR spot and one surprise is Maurice Moore and Kyle Jefferson listed as co-starters (with an "or") at the other spot. Nick Toon, Al's son, is #2 behind Gilreath, meaning he's made up some ground lost to injury last year.
No suprise on the defensive side of things, except the minor one that Jonathan Casillas is listed as starting for Akron. Don't know if that means his knee is coming along quickly, or if Bielema is just being optimistic. Of the positions up for grabs, as indicated earlier, Jaevery McFadden is the middle linebacker, with Culmer St. Jean listed behind him. Hodge relegated to special teams. On the corners, Mario Goins has grabbed one spot, and Allan Langford and Niles Brinkley are sharing the other (with the "or" designation). Hopefully that means Brinkley's really pushed Langford (sounds like Langford's ACL recovered well). Finally, Jay Valai is the starting strong safety, cementing his move ahead of Aubrey Pleasant.
Bielema is still holding off on naming a kicker. Fischer is currently leading in the kickoff and short field goal duties, Welch is the leader for longer field goals.
Two interior lineman, one from either side of the ball, a 259 pound road-grading fullback, and a the hardest hitter on the defense who is often described as "mad" or "crazy." That's who this team picked to represent them.
Hard nosed. Your 2008 Badgers.
Makes you want to go out and hit someone:
King Barry's exploits hardly need explaining, but it isn't a stretch to say he put Wisconsin football on the map. Before becoming a Badger, he was a scholarship linebacker for Nebraska, a scholarship he credits with sending him to college. He was an assistant for the legendary Hayden Fry at Iowa, then went to Notre Dame, where he was Lou Holtz's defensive coordinator for the last national champion Fighting Irish squad. Then he came to ailing Wisconsin.
At the time, Wisconsin had an all-time winning percentage of .545, good enough for 65th on the all-time list. In the 80s, the Badgers had a dismal .408 winning percentage, 9th in the Big Ten, only ahead of Northwestern. Wisconsin had won only one bowl game in its history, beating a 6-5-1 Kansas State squad in 1982, and hadn't been to a bowl since 1984. So Barry leaves the all-mighty Notre Dame, in the midst of Holtz's best years there, and takes the helm in Madison. In his first season he wins exactly once, beating Ball State in week two before dropping nine straight. An auspicious beginning.
But Alvarez knew Wisconsin could be something better that what it was. Anyone who's ever met with him in person knows the force of his personality: he's someone who knows what he's doing, and knows he will do it. Recruiting players away from Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, and Notre Dame with the promise of immediate playing time, only four years later he had the Badgers winning the Rose Bowl behind power running, a game-controlling quarterback, and an opportunistic bend-but-don't-break defense.
Then came Ron Dayne. Alvarez provides much of the credit for the Badger turnaround to Dayne. Dayne lived up to his nickname, "Great Dayne," but the Badger lines continued to open holes for him, and Alvarez kept upgrading the talent in Madison. By the time Barry handed the reigns to Bret Bielema, he had amassed a .615 winning percentage at Wisconsin, behind only Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State in the Big Ten, good enough for 30th nationwide. From 1993 to 2005, as King Barry's turnaround was more or less complete, Wisconsin was #15 among major D-1A football programs (what is now BCS) in winning percentage, hundreths of a point behind Penn State.
Alvarez's three Rose Bowl wins were tops among the Big Ten during his tenure, and the Badgers are still the only Big Ten team to win three Rose Bowls in a decade and the only Big Ten team to win back-to-back Rose Bowls. Alvarez took Wisconsin to 11 bowl games, including 7 "New Year's Day bowls," going 8-3 (3rd among teams with 10 or more bowl games over that period).
As opposed to the decade before his arrival when the Badgers looked up at everyone in the Big Ten, now everyone save Michigan and Ohio State look up at Wisconsin. That's quite a legacy.
And what a way to go out. A heavy underdog to Auburn going into the Capital One Bowl, "SEC speed" was supposed to make the plodding Badgers look like pylons. Instead it was the Badgers' speed and execution, not to mention stifling defense, that gave King Barry one last hurrah, with a run-away victory over the favored Plainsmen and John Stocco kneeling on the ball inside Auburn's 10 for a 24-10 win.
Good on ya, King Barry. Congratulations!
In other news, the days of sending Taylor Mehlhaff out for a "routine" 50-yard field goal are over. Not that it's any real surprise. Junior kicker Matt Fischer looks to be the more accurate kicker, and will likely handle the closer kicks, but Redshirt Freshman Philip Welch will handle the longer distance kicks and probably the kick-offs. He's got a "live" leg, but not quite up to Mehlhaff standards. That should come over time (with some luck).
(1) With practice Jay is getting better at this;
(2) PJ seems like a nice kid (FWIW, Barry Sanders is his favorite back);
(3) UW AD's communications was smart to do this thing: as a fan I'm genuinely liking these guys more and more just for watching them clown around a little bit. Nice to see them as people rather than just football players.
Why is this Texan coming North? It doesn't hurt that his brother, Charlie, wears the green and gold:
Nothing more to add from yesteraday's two-a-day, other than what the Journal Sentinel already wrote.
So goes the conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Playing in a small but racuous stadium in California's central valley will tell us how well we stack up against a pass-happy no-defense playing opponent. How many more of those are there on our schedule?
In other words, that game will tell us whether the Badgers can beat Fresno State on the road. Nothing more. Defense provides the biggest concern for Bucky, and the Bulldogs passing game will test our hobbled corners and as-of-yet marginal safeties. But Fresno State is the only team on our schedule that has that kind of a passing attack. The Badgers miss Purdue this year. Michigan is breaking in a new run-oriented spread. Ohio State is a running team. Penn State is breaking in a new quarterback with a traditionally run-oriented offense. Michigan State runs an offense much like Ohio State's. Iowa's QB won't be mistaken for a gunslinger. Juice, at Illinois, certainly won't either. And Indiana runs a run-oriented spread. Sorry to let everyone down, but how our defense performs against Fresno State will tell us very little about the rest of the season. Unless Cal Poly grew a nasty passing game while I wasn't paying attention.
On the other side of the ball? The same. Fresno State's defense is undersized and struggles against the run. You may have heard, we're kind of built to run. It wouldn't surprise anyone to see us run all over the Bulldogs (while they may pass all over us). So what will that tell us about the rest of the season? You guessed it: nothing. If anyone here thinks Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State is going to let us just line up the ball and successfully pound it play after play, they are kidding themselves. The same is true for Michigan State, Iowa, and Illinois. Ok, so Indiana and Minnesota might be suspect, but our season will long be more or less determined by the time those games hit.
So enjoy the Valley. Enjoy seeing the Badgers facing a tough road test early in the season. But don't use it as a guage for the year. You'll be disappointed.
From the sound of this interview and other things heard and said around the Camp, new OL coach Bostad works these guys really, really hard. With the senior leadership, size, and work ethic these guys have, this could be one of the truly special lines in Badger history.
Saturday was the Badgers' first two-a-day, though Bielema called it a little short because he was pleased with what he saw. In the scrimmage Saturday morning, Allan Evridge led the #1 offense on a nice 80-yard scoring drive, including three 3rd down conversions. Based on Bielema's comments and his play so far this fall, Evridge has locked up the starting position. More interesting, perhaps, is Scott Tolzein looking like he may be passing Dustin Scherer for the #2 spot. When it comes to preparing for the future, that move makes a lot of sense, as it could lead to Tolzein having two years as a starter, followed by heralded true-freshman Curt Phillips taking over with two years of his own. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves on "super-recruits" just yet; more on that later.
Quarterback isn't the only position battle going on right now (and it sounds like it's not really a battle at this point). At the right corner spot, Bielema said that Langford is the guy right now, over Goins. Moreover, there's a lot of talk about sophomore Niles Brinkley making noise and pushing for playing time at corner. Don't know where that puts Goins, but I'm sure he's not done just yet. At the other backfield position that's up for grabs, no new news on the strong safety position. The smart money's still on Valai.
At middle linebacker, not only is Jaevery McFadden looking like the starter, but Elijah Hodge may not even be the next man in. Bielema said Culmer St. Jean could be #2.
The other position that's up for grabs is wide receiver. Gilreath and Jefferson (who's changed from #14 to #7) are still the probably day-1 starters, but it sounds like they are being pushed by Isaac Anderson, Maurice Moore, and Daven Jones. Nick Toon sounds like he might be a bit further back, but still showing some positive signs. Now, if you read uwbadgers.com for your news, and just watched Bielema's comments, you'd think our passing game is looking great. The good folks from the BigTen Network weren't so sure. In their wrap-up (below), they questioned whether the Badgers can play from behind, or handle second-and-longs against the quality defenses, "based on what we saw out there today." That's not so rosy. ESPN's Adam Rittenberg feels much the same way, focusing more on our receivers' hands (here, and here).
The BigTen Network was in Madison to catch-up on the Badgers' preseason.
Coach gave a pretty decent interview to the network (available on Comcast on August 15), complete with a reference to Purdue's basketball-on-grass:
There is no battle at tight end, where Travis Beckum is obviously still the man (though he's missed a couple of practices a little dinged up -- he's back for today's practices). As Badger fans know, his backup, or co-tight end when Chryst lines up with two, is Garrett Graham, who has been showing off his great hands this week. Unfortunately Mickey Turner, Graham's backup, came down badly on a shoulder and is expected to miss 1-2 weeks.
Last thing on the position front, recruitniks will be interested to hear that Jake Bscherer looks like he's still edging out 5-star wonder Josh Oglesby for the offensive line's "jumbo package." (Because, you know, they aren't big enough already, averaging 319 pounds up front.) It's interesting to see how much people expect Oglesby and Clay to contribute (and to a lesser extent Phillips at QB) because of their recruit rankings. College ball is a lot different than high school ball. More than just size and inherent ability, there is a lot more thinking and studying of the game going on. A wide receiver who can make a spectacular grab may still sit if he can't make a downfield block. A running back who hits the hole hard and fast will sit if he can't read and pick-up the linebacker blitz. That's not to say those three guys won't be great players, but just because they were freaks of nature in high school doesn't mean they will supplant proven contributers at Camp Randall.
As a wrap-up, here is the video of some of our players answering questions on Saturday. I found Casillas (last in the que) the most interesting as he says candidly about the defense, "last year we needed to play safe a lot," because "we weren't that good."
Here are coach Bielema's comments to the media from Friday and Saturday. Finally, here are the "plays of the week" from last week, according to the athletic department. Hmm. Not all that spectacular, really; mostly practice footage. Chris Pressley is a beast (towards the end).
One last thing from the weekend: big thanks to the good people over at the Journal Sentinel who not only do a great job covering the Badgers (I think that's Potrykus's bald head in the Friday video of Bielema after practice), but also saw fit to link this blog among their Badger fan cites. Many thanks!!
On that note, Bielema is holding Chapman (ACL), Henry (ACL), and Shaughnessy (broken fibula) back from going full bore right now. Particularly, it sounds like Chapman and Henry aren't all the way back from their knee injuries, but they are close. He also held Beckum out of practice yesterday because he was hurting in the "lower body." Given that he's gained 17 pounds since last season (to build his draft prospects from a blocking TE standpoint) and sat out part of the Spring with an injury, it seems like the better part of valor to let one of the nation's top tight ends take a day off to recuperate.
On the injury bad news front, junior defensive lineman Brandon Hoey "hung up his jersey" yesterday after not progressing like he wanted from back surgery in the Spring. UW is doing the right thing and getting him a medical scholarship so that he doesn't lose the benefit of his education.
Some other bits from the day's wrap-up:
Bielema said the three positions most up for grabs during camp are middle (mike) linebacker, strong safety, and "one of the corners." Breaking that down, after Hodge didn't impress as much as was hoped at MLB last season, Jaevery McFadden is apparently looking like a candidate to replace him. Although sized more like an outside linebacker, Bielema pointed out that when defending the spread, speed is more important than size. Seeing as how roughly 8 teams in the BigTen run some kind of a spread, McFadden is in position to supplant Hodge.
At strong safety, Jay Valai replaced Aubrey Pleasant as the starting SS in the Spring, but the competion is still open. Valai needs to be more consistent, and waiting in the wings is transfer Chris Maragos, who while "still learning the position" continues to impress.
The "one" corner position is right corner and it's post-ACL Langford vs. Mario Goins, who put on a good show in the Spring while Langford was recovering from surgery. Bottom line is this one is up in the air with Langford back.
Finally, everyone says PJ Hill looks as good as he ever has. For the first time he was a full participant in winter and summer conditioning, as well as Spring ball. He's slimmer, faster, and stronger than he's been. Or so they say. That can't be anything but good.
Bielema's comments to reporters yesterday are on video, here. Wednesday's are here. What can we say? The guy likes his windbreakers.
PJ Hill, Allan Evridge, and Travis Beckum were made available to reporters, here. In summary, they have been well coached . . . not to answer questions about Lance Smith. He was a good player, now he's gone, next question? Evridge and Beckum refused to create any quarterback controversy where there really isn't one (true, Bielema has withheld naming a starter, but he's all but said it's Evridge, barring a big surprise). Everyone had a good summer of working out, conditioning, and spending time singing kumbaya, or something like that. As has been reported, Evridge is pretty mobile -- Beckum compared him to Tyler Donovan in that way.
Also, Jai Valai's imbedded reporting, styled "Man to Man" debuted with a clowning session with Beckum, here. Nothing of substance, but they are having a good time. On that note, Beckum seems like a great kid. I have nothing to base this on other than interviews and his play on the field, but on what little I have he seems like a real asset to Badger football and not just on the field.
- Lance Smith is eligible and Bielema is working to help him transfer to a 1-AA so that he can see the field immediately. It was Bielema's decision to end his career at UW because he needs "a fresh start."
- One of our offensive lineman recruits, Chris Gardner, isn't coming. It sounds like he was borderline eligible to begin with and has decided not to enroll. Vague, but that's it.
- Josh Nettles (CB) isn't currently academically eligible and will miss camp. If he becomes eligible, he will be back with the team.
On injuries, Bielema stressed how good everyone looked. Today's practice was helmets only, no pads, so the staff can't really evaluate how guys react to contact, but Bielema is hopeful.
Regarding the quarterbacks, he gave the strongest coachspeak yet (that's what he's calling his recorded interviews with players segments, too) that Evridge is the guy, but needs to improve his consistency. The bigger question for me is who's number two? He said this is Scherer's opportunity to try to get on the field, but then gave very high praise to Tolzein who, "does it all right."
On spreading the ball around to the three solid running backs, Bielema seems to be happy with his predicament and plans to run the ball, "until they stop it." "The easiest way to advance the football is to run it." Indeed. I wonder if he isn't overselling this before the Badgers get to the competitive part of the schedule (beginning with Fresno State).
Finally, Coach, it's August 4th. Why a windbreaker?
First, the early edition of the 2008 Badger Media Guide (300 pages of pdf).
The UW athletic department's Assistant Director for Communications lays out the plan to get the word out on practice here. It's robust. Coach speaks, blogs, sideline reporting, practice plays of the week. Forget me, looks like UWbadgers.com is the place for your fall camp news. Here's a menu of what's on tap at uwbadgers.com: Menu.
Here's Bielema's first "Coach Speak" segment, interviewing new "player correspondent," Jai Valai (sophomore, currently #1 on the depth chart for SS, passing Aubrey Pleasant). Video. Valai lets on that the defensive backfield chemistry (read, communication) wasn't as good last year as in years past, and it's a priority to fix it. Apparently, Deandre Levy (senior, strong side linebacker) is crazy. I think I like that in a linebacker.
Andy Kemp's video from BigTen Media Days: Video
As usual, the Journal Sentinel has excellent coverage of practice, starting with a Camp Preview, here.
Nothing really surprising in there. Yesterday they were allowed meetings, today practice begins. On the other hand, for those of you jealous of the football team's "training table" meals, you should be -- last night was prime rib.