Close, but no Burnt Orange Cigar

Update, 1/20/09: the new rumor is the deal isn't dead . . . yet.

With ESPN's help, Texas and Wisconsin were trying to work out a home-and-home with the Badgers playing at Austin this coming fall. Unfortunately, the return date in Madison couldn't happen before 2013, and they scrapped the deal.

Too bad. I suspect the fan base would have loved it, even with a four year wait for the return.

Moreover, it's too bad we couldn't reshuffle a game or two to make it work. It's hard to get marquis teams like Texas to come to Madison. I'm disappointed the athletic department couldn't make this one happen.

Here's the link:

A little clarification on my perspective is in order. These things aren't easy. They are negotiations. You don't just pick up the phone and say, "hey, let's play a game." There's a reason the Badger athletic department didn't make the deal and it likely has to do with the terms, i.e. Texas's position in the negotiations. Nonetheless, it's a shame it didn't happen.

The Capital Times reports a slightly different reason that the deal hasn't worked (yet): each team wants to preserve their 7 home games. This makes a lot of sense. What joe-fan may not realize is selling football tickets is the lifeblood of athletic departments. Giving up that seventh game means a lot of lost revenue for the department. That's not going to happen. Unless they can find a way that both teams play 7 home games, the deal can't happen.

Notes in the Off-Season

The Champs Sports bowl was the most watched bowl game on cable TV, and higher than 3 bowl games on network TV. So people wanted to see us play Florida State; that's good. Too bad they saw us take the 3rd worst beating of the bowl season. It still stings.

Scott Tappa at Badgercentric has a nice look at Badger running backs over the years.

A little noticed tidbit in the State Journal tells us that someone new will take over football scheduling duties. That said, Bielema and whomever the new assistant is take their direction from the AD, so don't expect to see big changes on the scheduling front. So probably little noticed for a reason.

Interesting summary of Paul Chryst's discussion of the quarterback situation with Mike Lucas and Matt lePay.

2009 Depth and Recruiting

News is we just landed a second Conor O'Neal from Florida (ok, the first is Conor "O'Neill"). O'Neal is a defensive tackle, O'Neill is a weakside linebacker. That's just weird.

I'm no recruiting guru, but I am interested in what our team will look like in 2009; that relates to the Badgers' biggest recruiting needs. Unfortunately, as I look at the 2009 class (as Scout and Rivals report it), I'm not filled with a sense of optimism. That isn't to say we aren't bringing in great kids -- I'm sure we are. The problem I see is what positions we aren't back filling.
Here are my projected depth charts, first the offense. The number corresponds to the year of eligibility the player is in (4 = senior, whether 4th or 5th year, 1 = freshman, which in this case would be redshirt, as all of these players were on the roster in 2008). An asterisk means the player was rated a 4-star recruit, and two means a 5-star (only Oglesby). After the first two players listed (except at TE down to Byrne, the WR position with Jones and halfback with Ewing), it's not even guesswork, it's more just putting the players somewhere on the list.

At quarterback I have Phillips or Scherer, and I'm handicapping Phillips to take the starting role. Jones was recruited as a linebacker, but listed as a running back last season. Given his size, and our lack of fullbacks, I'm projecting him as a fullback. That's pure guesswork. The dotted lines around the fullback position indicate that I expect to see more two tight end or three wide receiver sets based on our lack of fullbacks and our depth at TE and WR. Putting a healthy Kendricks out there with Graham has to be enticing to Chryst. Likewise, using Gilreath in the slot, with Anderson and Toon on the outside also looks pretty good (or one of the other guys, maybe a healthy Jefferson -- I have Toon as the starter over Jefferson because I wonder about Kyle's ability to play post-concussions). So, not much use of the fullback for 2009. And even with Hill leaving, tailback looks fine with Clay, then Brown, Ewing, and Smith. Preisler isn't likely to see the field in that role.

That's all well and good. But the hole is obvious: offensive guards. Who will be on the 2-deep? You see that OL RSF box? Offensive line, redshirt freshman. Only Garner was recruited, and at tackle. We have good tackles on the two-deep, but we aren't exactly stacked there. Garner will likely need to stay there and will probably make the 2-deep at some point in 2009 (if someone gets injured), or if not, in 2010. So, no players recruited who are in line to play guard. Current will be the go-to guy, assuming Moffitt stays healthy, but we still need another (and should have two or more). And who's on the recruiting chart for the 2009 class (in any case notoriously a difficult position to start as a true-freshman)? Ryan Croy, listed at 270. Does one of the tackle recruits switch over (both are listed a touch over 300)? One of the defensive tackles? Only the most recent O'Neal has the size and it doesn't look like he's projected anywhere but on defense. Burge and Cromwell, two players not "signed," tipped the scales just over 300 pounds last season (or so says the roster), so we should probably expect them to fill in those guard positions on the two-deep. Nonetheless, our line looks to be dangerously thin in 2009.

The less urgent concern is at wide receiver. We have a lot right now, but most are juniors and seniors, so we need to develop depth. Again, unfortunately, the 2009 recruiting class doesn't look great. We currently have one wide receiver in it (Jeff Duckworth). Next year we better bring in a bunch, or we'll be really thin in 2011.
What about the defense?

I'm surprised to see that tackle doesn't look bad at all. If Grimes, Hoey, or Konz prove worthy, we're in pretty good shape there. Likewise for defensive end (especially if Westphal lives up to his billing). After the injuries we suffered to our touted defensive line recruits over the last few years, it looks like we're finally healthy there again. We have an embarrassment of riches at corner (and a lot of those guys seem to have plenty of upside). Although I'd like to assume some of those guys might fill in at safety, they don't appear to have safety size -- at least not when they were listed on the '08 roster. Nonetheless, we're in pretty good shape at safety in the short run, with two solid players at each position, and two more previous recruits waiting in the wings (which is good, since we lose 3 or the 4 safeties on the present 2-deep for 2010). Middle linebacker looks fine, especially if Rouse turns out, but on the outside? Pretty thin. Not desperate like the offensive line, but thin.

In our present recruiting class we only have three players projected at linebacker, two on the outside. Fortunately one of them is the other Conor O'Neill, but he's pretty small to step right in and play. A.J. Fenton, one of our bigger name recruits, is closer to playing weight (but still not there). It used to be, under Alvarez, all the extra running back recruits we brought in would switch to linebacker (or at least that was the rumor, and what one of them who was my classmate told me). But we don't have a huge number of running backs around for that, and Dex Jones switched the other way last season. Everywhere else on the defense we seem to have pretty good depth spread out by class, but at linebacker, we're in need. If we don't get them this year, we need to get them in 2010.

We're still a few weeks from signing day, so we'll see . . .

The Cynic: Bowling For Fun, and other odds and ends from Florida

Say what you will (Michael Hunt) about the BCS, USC, Texas, Utah, the SEC, the MWC, fairness, money, legitimacy, mythical national championships, whatever . . . that bowl game last night was fantastic. That's what college football bowls should be. Two very good teams that can beat each other on any given night (and they could).

This is a Badger Blog, so here are some things relevant to the Badgers: the single most important key to the game was Oklahoma's two first downs inside the Florida 10 yielding no points. Bret!?! Listen up!! At the time I said, "yeah, Bob Stoops, slam that thing in from the 1 on 4th down. You can do it. Make a statement." I was wrong. Bob Stoops was wrong. Oklahoma fans everywhere were wrong. Take the points. Now, if you're in a bad spot, and you know that everything is stacked against you, maybe going for it is the right option, but I'll tell you what: if Oklahoma gets 3 points from either trip inside the 10, that's a very different ball game. And that early? You never know. Take the points.

Why? With another three points, is Sam Bradford forcing a deep throw with 5 minutes left in the game? No. Now, a bunch of things would've been different, but the bottom line is Oklahoma is up three in a close game. TAKE THE POINTS, Bret. I swear, as a Badger fan, I will never again question taking the points in a competitive game.

Ok, three more things that were "keys." (1) Defense getting off the field on third down. Florida did, Oklahoma didn't. The Sooners routinely allowed Florida to convert even third-and-longs. That, folks, is how you lose football games. (2) Percy Harvin. The kid is sick. Speedy and slippery. I wish we had one of him. (3) Tim Tebow. Solid arm, solid legs, silly size for a quarterback. Great player.

Now, onto the juicy stuff: Tebow, God, and idiotic sports announcers. This isn't a blog about Christianity, but . . . (here goes nothing) I practice my faith much differently than Tebow does. While we appear to agree on some fundamentals, his evangelicizing irks me. I don't like it. I don't like John 3:16 eye black. I don't like the religious gesticulations after touchdowns, and I don't like the, "first, I'd like to thank Jesus Christ for [choosing me over the Sooners]." But I'll take it a step further: it's not what I'd do, but it's also not right for me to judge him for his apparently authentic faith. (This does not mean that I no longer mind athletes prattling on about how Jesus blessed them because they scored a touchdown or made a tackle, then take their guns into night clubs, get a little too funky with the local ladies, and generally don't act Christian at all; deeds, not words, my friends). So I don't like it, but I also won't turn my back on the kid because he's different than me. So there.

Not that it isn't difficult. God didn't choose him over the Sooners (or at least I don't think so). And those announcers!?! Good God (to turn a phrase), get off his . . . um . . . lap. Seriously. These are the same people who tell us that Florida "throttled" Oklahoma (to use ESPN's terminology). Yeah, like George Bush throttled Al Gore in 2000. Folks, until that last pick-turned-touchdown drive, that game could've gone either way. Florida won, and good for them, but there was no "throttling." But this is about Tebow. When announcers, who are well known idiots for saying things that preposterous, can't stop fawning over Tebow the Messiah ("you'll be a better person for spending ten minutes in his precence"), it makes it easy to dislike the kid. Seriously, that kind of talk did Tebow's reputation more harm than good (at least with the 70% of Americans who recognize evolution occurs).

On the other hand, it's not Tebow that deserves the scorn, it's the announcers. So I will continue to think that Tebow is a good kid (even with the unsportsmanlike taunting -- he's a kid playing sports; I'm not proud of it, but I've done some taunting during a game this year, and I'm nowhere near as young). Really, it sounds like he's a genuinely good kid with an authentic faith (which I, for one, prefer to express differently). The announcers, on the other hand . . .

Final thought on the BCS title game: Congratulations Florida, Coach Meyer, Harvin, Tebow -- and Oklahoma, Coach Stoops, and Bradford. Well done.

PS. Remember when we went for it late against Tennessee in the '08 Outback? We should've taken the points. Then we wouldn't have needed a touchdown, just a field goal to tie it, when Donovan threw that last interception. So I repeat: TAKE THE POINTS. Badger fans? Take note.

Rumor Mill: Texas Series starting in '09?

There's a rumor floating out there that we might do a home-and-home with Texas starting this coming season.

I'm in the highly pessimistic mode on this one for a handful of reasons. It's true that we could add a date next year because we're playing @ Hawaii, meaning we can add a 13th game. It's also true that our OOC slate is pretty poor. Nonetheless, a home and home with Texas is going to be hard to come by for UW and I'm not at all sure it's what the AD really wants at this point.

Nonetheless, I thought I'd throw it out there in case it sticks so that I can look like a genius . . .

Hill to the NFL?

Potrykus, at the Journal Sentinel, is reporting PJ Hill will likely declare for the NFL draft.

edit: confirmation that he will declare for the draft.

So? Hill has been very productive for the Badgers, and will leave, whether this year or next, with the 3rd most yards in Badger history, behind Anthony Davis and Ron Dayne. His redshirt-freshman year he was a freshman all-American. So, we should be sad, right? That's the thing, I'm having a hard time getting too upset about this. When Calhoun left, that sucked. Another year with him would've been outstanding (that would've been Hill's redshirt year). Hill? I'm not so sure.

John Clay has really made strides and on talent and running ability, should get the bulk of the carries. I'm sure Hill has a better sense of blocking schemes and such, but towards the end of the year it was more and more evident that wasn't going to be enough to keep Clay out of the backfield. Moreover, Zach Brown's potential remains untapped, and as long as Clay and Hill split carries, Brown is relegated to a passing-down back, which sucks for him. Brown is a strong runner with good speed and more patient reading his blocks than either Clay or Hill (not surprising, it's harder for him to just run guys over since he gives up 30-40 pounds to them). He deserves more carries. Hill leaving opens up that opportunity for him, while kiving Brady Ewing time to develop.

Unlike 2007 and 2008, we are developing depth in the backfield again, at least at the tailback position, so the potential loss of Hill is less damaging than it would've been last season. Frankly, I don't think this will mean a drop in production from the tailbacks.

As for Hill in the NFL? I wonder what he's hearing. What I see is a big, serviceable college back, without top-end speed or great moves, who is pretty durable, but that's all. Badger detractors would call him a "system back" and I'm not sure that's wrong. Is that really what the NFL is looking for? If Darius Walker (three-year starter at Notre Dame, including the tw0 BCS appearances) didn't get drafted, I could see the same thing happening to Hill. I don't know, it just seems like a bad move for Hill. Maybe not so much for the Badgers.

That's probably not very nice, but it's how I see it.

My 2008 Badger Highs and Lows

Looking back on 2008, there are too many lows, and a disturbing lack of highs, but there were a few. To end on a high note, I'll start with what brought me down (from the benign to the truly agonizing).

(1) Regional coverage. Overall, the Big Ten Network has been a good thing. More Big Ten football on my TV (as of the last minute deal before the season began), but it isn't without it's problems. First up, was missing the first game of the year and following via ESPN's gamecast. And the Ohio State game, too (thanks, ABC/ESPN). Now, missing Akron live wasn't the biggest deal ever (afterall, it used to be the norm), but missing all but the end of the epic battle with Ohio State because the ABC regional/ESPN national thing only occurs during the 3:30 EST slot? Not good.

(2) Injuries. I started the fall worried about our d-line and corners, but it was Beckum, Casillas, McFadden, and the offensive line who bore the brunt of it this year.

(3) Las Vegas. No, seriously. I got to the car-rental line just in time to watch Michigan State line up and kick the game winner, just moments after my Blackberry told me we had an 11-point lead in the 4th quarter. Maybe it's just travelling to the State of Michigan that does something to our guys . . .

(4) Come-from-ahead losses. Obviously this is nothing new, but Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State all had things in common. And very nearly Minnesota (two years in a row), too. If you look at the last two years, this looks like a trend. Actually, it's not just being ahead and losing, it's bad second halves. Add Fresno State, the Outback Bowl, the Champs Sports Bowl, heck, even Bielema's Capital One Bowl.

(5) Florida State. I've never felt so good about our chances while watching us get blown out. Surreal. So much about that game made it look winnable, and yet . . . (this is the inverse of the Capital One Bowl against Arkansas: never was a big win more painful to watch).

(6) Iowa. I'm ok with Penn State blowing us out. Ok, not "ok," but I can deal with it. But the one-trick pony that is Iowa? How did they make our defense look so bad!?! It's not like we didn't know what was coming. It's not as though we didn't have three and four year starters in the majority of our front 7.

(7) Michigan. Of all the losses, this hurts the most. People, they finished 3-9. Utah (ok, they were pretty good), Notre Dame (mediocre), and Toledo (also 3-9) managed to beat these guys, and we didn't? What is it about Ann Arbor that we can't handle (last win there was in '94).

I could go on, but we all know this season pretty well sucked. Still, it was better than 1995 (my senior year, 4-5-2), when I skipped out on the 3-3 Thanksgiving tie against lowly Illinois, and 2001 (5-7) when we beat Ohio State in Columbus, lost at home to Fresno State, got blown out at home by Indiana, and lost to Minnesota. Probably our second-best game (after beating OSU) was a closs loss on the road to a very good Oregon team (the one the BCS screwed that year) in the second week of the year.

Highs. Not so many, but there are a few, in reverse order:

(6) (this year I can't have as many highs as lows) The Big Ten Network. I may have missed Akron, but it's because I hadn't yet figured out the DVR and regional replay. Fortunately, by the time the Iowa embarassment came along, I learned that the BTN, at least, replays the regional games later. So a little DVR action, some media blackout, and I got Indiana and Cal Poly despite the regional problem.

(5) Allan Langford. Great comeback by a player often overshadowed. During a poor year for the defense, he was the bright spot.

(4) Garrett Graham. The kid is a baller. Tight end recruits around the nation should take notice, Paul Chryst loves him some tight ends. When we couldn't pass the ball to anyone else, we could get it to him.

(3) Cal Poly. Ok, so maybe they "should have" beaten us, but kicking is a part of the game, too, and going in we knew that was a weakness (probably didn't scheme 3 missed extra points). It was an exciting game, and we came back in the second half and won. That's enough for me.

(2) Fresno State. So it turns out neither team was that good, but it was a still a great game and a fun road trip.

(1) Minnesota. It's always good to beat Minnesota. It's a little better when it puts us ahead of them in the Big Ten standings. And it's better still when you have a monstrous second-half rally to come from a two-touchdown deficit. I shouldn't gloat about our rival's epic collapse -- I have friends and family who went to Minnesota -- but after '93, I consider it all fair game.

So, at the end of the highs and lows recap, I'll leave you with a tool to try and help us feel better about the Badger's season. We're better than both teams in the national title game.

Seniors: Part 4, the Defense

Last, but not least, the Seniors we know and love on the defense. It's going to be strange not seeing Chapman, Shaughnessy, Levy, Casillas, and Langford -- each four year starters -- out there (it was strange not seeing Casillas in the Champs Sports Bowl). So, gone, but not forgotten, here are the defenders we are sending off:

#2 Jonathan Casillas, New Brunswick, New Jersey
In 1997 Barry Alvarez took the Badgers down to Florida for a match-up with Georgia. The Bulldogs embarrassed Barry’s Badgers with their speed. That was a turning point for Wisconsin, and players like Jonathan Casillas were the result: a fast, athletic outside linebacker. Casillas made a splash in Barry last battle for the Axe when in 2005 he blocked the Minnesota punt (still wearing #46), leading to the improbable game-winning touchdown. It was the ESPN’s Pontiac Game-Changing Play of the Week; especially impressive because it was the same Saturday as the “Bush Push” and Michigan’s last-second win over eventual Big Ten and Orange Bowl champ, Penn State. As a true-Sophomore, Casillas started every game at outside linebacker and flashed his speed all over the field. He was a key part of containing Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the Capital One Bowl, and had a key pass break-up in the second half to help seal the win. Fast and athletic, he excelled again in 2007. In 2008 he fought through an injury early in the season in time to make what, in retrospect, was a game-saving tackle against Fresno State, preventing a long touchdown, which led to a field goal for the Bulldogs. A three-year starter, and a team captain in 2007, Casillas was an impact player for the Badger defense throughout his career in Mad-town.

#91 Jason Chapman, Bedford Heights, Ohio
A four-year starter, Chappy was the rock for the Badger front line. As a redshirt freshman he was a 3rd-team Freshman All-American and Academic All-Big Ten. His Sophomore season he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Defensive tackles don’t tend to get a lot of glory, or even statistics, but Chappy held things down for four years, and made play after play in the offensive backfield. We won’t be surprised to see him play on Sundays.

#17 Allen Langford, Detroit, Michigan
Often overlooked when Aaron Henry or Jack Ikegwuonu were strutting their stuff, Langford was essentially a 4-year starter at the corner spot. Coming off a torn ACL in last year’s Ohio State game, this year it seemed like you never heard from him. That was because he was shutting down his guys, earning 1st-team All-Big Ten honors. His best game may have been against Cal-Poly, nearly shutting down 6’6” Ramses Barden, a sure first-day draft pick, mostly in 1-on-1 coverage. This season, Langford led the Badgers with 12 passes broken up, he was second among the secondary, first among the corners, in tackles, with 43, and had two picks. In a shaky defensive backfield, Langford was the bright spot.

#11 DeAndre Levy, Milwuakee, Wisconsin
Another 3-year starter at linebacker (strongside), Dre was the emotional leader of the defense. Maybe not the loudest, he’s intense, and a wicked hitter. He’s several times been named the Big Ten defensive player of the week, and has earned academic all-Big Ten honors. It seems like Levy and Casillas have patrolled the outsides forever, and they will be missed. This season, Dre was second on the team with 65 tackes, including 7.5 for a loss. He also had a key pick in the Fresno State game and led the team with two fumble recoveries. The Champs Sports Bowl will be his final appearance as a UW team captain.

#54 Mike Newkirk, Ladysmith, Wisconsin
A 264-pound 5th year senior defensive tackle? How’s that happen at Wisconsin? A big motor, that’s how. A pre-season Athlon second-team All-Big Ten honoree, Newk just always seemed to be on the go. Going up against meaty centers and guards all season, Newk led the team in tackles for loss (8), and was second on the team in sacks (4) and fourth in tackles (56), behind only the starting linebackers. For his trouble, he was a second-team All-Big Ten pick at the end of 2008.

#92 Matt Shaughnessy, Norwich, Connecticut
Beginning as a first-team Freshman All-American as a true-frosh, Shaughnessy has been a four-year force for the Badgers. A three-year starter at defensive end, he’s fast, strong, and finishes. He was the leading tackler among lineman in ’06, the defensive MVP in ’07, and he finished this season an honorable mention All-Big Ten honoree. Particularly in passing situations, Matt came through: in 2008 he was tied for second on the team with four sacks and he led the lineman with four pass-break-ups, including the one that Levy intercepted at Fresno State. He went out harassing Ponder in his last game as a Badger, with his head held high.

Good luck to them all in whatever life deals them next.

Thanks again to all the Seniors who represented Badger football so well.

The Cynic, New Year's Day Edition

(1) Good for Penn State for trying, but the Big Ten really isn't that good this year. Seriously, though, they couldn't at least have tried a little bump-and-run?

(2) Can anyone explain how USC lost to Oregon State and only beat Arizona 17-10?

(3) Final thought on the Rose Bowl: remember when it mattered? Stupid BCS . . .

(4) No news here, the Big XII really doesn't play much defense.

(5) Did LSU really need to go deep with the lead they had over Georgia Tech, or was it some form of league redemption policy for Georgia's loss to the Jackets? This way everyone can chant "S-E-C" again?

(6) Except for that whole Sugar Bowl thing. Yes, that was Alabama, number two in the SEC, getting stomped by a mid-major in the Sugar Bowl -- basically a home game for the Tide. Best season by a non-BCS program that I can remember. Significantly better than 1985 BYU. I'm sorry, I misheard those southern fans . . . "M-W-C!! M-W-C!!" (Took the sting off the Rose Bowl, didn't it?)

(7) Didn't there used to be an Orange Bowl? Stupid BCS.

(8) I know Hawaii's not that good, but you're gonna tell me Syracuse is!?! Next year, Weis, winning your last game won't be enough.

(9) Ok, so Sarkisian is taking over at U-Dub. Can someone please tell me on what basis Ty Willingham is still considered a decent coach?

(10) Hey, Coach Bielema! 2006 is starting to feel like a long time ago . . .