Through Rose [Bowl] Colored Glasses: Iowa

National Champs, right? I mean, it's Iowa and we're asking Iowa fans to weigh in . . . Ok, that's not [entirely] fair, but the Hawkeyes do have a reputation for being overly bullish. This year Iowa loses Shonn Greene (who the Badgers turned into a superstar last season), but they return an offensive line that might make me, at 35 and never playing a down of organized football, a Heisman candidate. So, is this the 3rd act of the Kirk Ferentz story at Iowa? The one where he defies the crowd and wins that elusive title (Big Ten or better)? Here's opinion from one emminently reasonable Iowa fan and blogger, Fight for Iowa (we had this exchange a little while ago, so I've added some updates where appropriate):

(1) No Shonn Greene, and now word is Jewel Hampton may have a bum knee . . . who's going to carry the rock, and how good will he be? Does it even matter, or would I go over 100 yards per game behind that line? Is there anything at all that you worry about regarding the offensive line?

This has been all the buzz the last couple of days. The severity of Hampton's injury isn't known yet, but it is expected that he'll miss time [ed. update: Hampton is a go]. Now, Kirk Ferentz likes his experienced backs that know the offense and don't fumble. But, really there is nobody proven to be all those things at runningback. The most experienced player is Paki O'Meara, who will be serviceable if necessary, and could start the season at #1, but I expected Jeff Brinson to be the permanent starter once the season starts rolling on. Brinson was recruited by the likes for Florida and put up huge numbers in high school. By all accounts he's just as good if not better than Hampton and would have got the #2 spot last year if it weren't for ono/asthma/something issues. Also, there is incoming freshman Brandon Wegher, who also put up huge numbers in high school. He's got a lot of hype around him and is very quick. If he can pick up the offense I think he'll be the #2 back.

Oh the offensive line...if you would have asked me a month or so ago I would have been very confident that Iowa has the best o-line in the conference. However, Julian Vandervelde has an injury and will at least miss a few games. And Kyle Calloway is suspended for at least a game [ed. note: 1 game] for his drunken moped ride. So, I am not quite as confident. The line should still be good as there is tons of experience on the inside and Bryan Bulaga is a beast at tackle. Once Calloway and Vandervelde are back in the line up and the line has a chance to meld, then watch out...that line will be good.

(2) Stanzi has to be the man, right? Without Greene, can he be? It seems like Iowa always has a solid tight end, is Moeaki ready to be that guy? Is the Badger-like stereotype accurate that Iowa doesn't throw the ball unless absolutely necessary?

Stanzi is the Manzi, as they like to say. I think he'll have a good year. He definitely had his moments last year, good and bad. If he can limit the number of turnovers, then he'll be successful. He is accurate enough, mobile enough, and smart enough to lead this offense to lots of yards and points. And, yeah, he'll get his chances. Iowa is definitely a run first team, but Ken O'Keefe and Kirk Ferentz love the play action pass. A fake hand-off, then roll out by Stanzi...this play works really well for Stanzi. He is better on the move than in the pocket and can pull it down and run if necessary.

Tony Moeaki should be ready this year. He's hopefully over all his injuries and will be the starter. When healthy he has consistently produced and Iowa knows how to use their tight ends. Allen Reisner is also good at tight end and saw a lot of time last year while Moeaki was out.

(3) With the new defensive tackles, is there any hope for the opposition to run up the gut? What's the weakness of this defense?

The defensive tackle is definitely the most inexperience part of the defense. The two tackles will be Karl Klug and Mike Daniels. While they won't be King and Kroul (obviously) they should be just fine. Klug was the B10 Defensive Player of the Week way back in week 2 and made some huge plays against PSU last year. Daniels should be okay too. He's on the small side, but quick and should be able to make some plays in the backfield. Though the tackles are relatively inexperienced, the defensive ends will be the anchors of this line. Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard are a very good duo at defensive end. Though their numbers are not as flashy as some of the other ends in the conference they make a lot of big plays. Both have the size to move inside and play tackle and there is a lot more depth at end, especially with Broderick Binns. So look for Clayborn to line up at tackle next to Klug with Binns and Ballard on the outside in passing situations.

(4) I'll be honest, last year's Iowa team is a puzzle. I know, you guys could've been unbeaten on the basis of about 4 plays, but the results were still erratic: Pittsburgh, Northwestern, and Michigan State just weren't world beaters. They were decent teams that didn't give up much for free (although Pittsburgh did from time to time). The loss to Illinois and the home struggle against an awful Purdue team were puzzling, to say the least. It isn't as though those two teams had great run defenses. So Iowa beat one team that finished the season ranked, and that was at home (though to be fair, the win over Penn State was huge), and only played one other team that finished ranked (MSU, at #24). This season the schedule looks a lot rougher with Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin on the road (on paper we don't deserve mentioning with those first three). What was the story last season, and what do you make of your chances in 2009? Is CFN right to call you a "deep sleeper in the championship chase?"

Bad turnovers cost us in our 4 losses. Northwestern was a nightmare...5 turnovers and still only lose by 5. Michigan State and Illinois were more of the same (not as many turnovers, but very costly ones). And, you can blame the Pitt game on the quarterback controversy. Heck, maybe blame the Northwestern game and MSU game on that too. It took Stanzi a few games to hit his rhythm and get the turnover bug out of his system. And he hadn't really figured out yet how to win the close game. Against both Northwestern and Michigan State, Iowa drove down the field with a chance to win, but couldn't get it done.

But on to this upcoming year. I'd say a "deep sleeper" is a fair assessment. In contrast to the difficult road schedule, the home schedule is fairly easy. It's very conceivable Iowa could for 7-0 at Kinnick which is a good start to have a championship type season. Now, I think Iowa goes 2-2 on the road in the Big Ten, but I'll give you reasons why Iowa could win each game.

PSU - Iowa is lucky to get Penn State early in the year. They lost all their receivers and all of their secondary, so may still be a little green there in the 4th week. Though it is a revenge game, at night, and will be a White Out, Iowa under Ferentz has had Penn State's number (6-2).

MSU - Michigan State and Iowa are very similar teams this year. Both lose a start running back and both have tons back on defense. The differences are, Iowa returns its quarterback, and Iowa's returners on defense are good, while Michigan State's are mediocre.

Wisconsin - You know more about Wisconsin than me, but Iowa matches up very well defensively against a power run team like Wisconsin. Also, from what I've read the Badgers have a lot to replace among both lines.

OSU -'s much harder to make a case against Ohio State. Iowa hasn't won in Columbus in forever [since 1991]. But the Buckeyes only return 5 guys on offense and lose two stud linebackers in James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman.

(5) 2002-04 was a great run, and after a decade at the helm, Ferentz has Iowa fifth in the Big Ten in winning percentage, but ten points back from #3 Wisconsin, and five back from #4 Penn State (67%, 62%, and 57%, respectively; ranking is the same, but it's closer counting only Big Ten games) and no Rose Bowls (1 BCS bowl). Is that really good enough? Did last season take Ferentz off the hot-seat, or would an 8-4 year with as many arrests as wins kick-start

I think Ferentz is off of the hot seat. And 8-4 seasons will be good enough to keep him in Iowa as long as he wants to be. Yeah, arrests have been a problem...but I think it's just the media that blame Ferentz. It's been said before many time, but Ferentz has done a lot with very little. He has developed players better than just about anyone and it seems like this year at least recruiting has been going better. Realistically for Iowa, fans will be happy with a bowl game every year, with a Big Ten Title every 6-7 years.

(6) The university -- and the state -- is named for the woodsman Hawkeye from the Last of the Mohicans. How did he get to Iowa, and what made him stick as the mascot?

Wow...that's a tough questions. You're making me do research! From what I can gather, the state of Iowa originally took on the moniker the "Hawkeye State" in a tribute to the great Chief Black Hawk of the Sac Native American tribe. The University of Iowa, liked the name made a connection with the popularity of the character Hawkeye from the books, so the name stuck. Iowa's mascot is really Herky the Hawk. Though, Herky didn't come around until later. He made his first appearance at a football game in 1959.

(7) I've heard Kinnick can be a great road trip, but there's no love loss between our fan bases and some Badgers I know report some unfortunate incidents in Iowa City. Badger and Gopher fans think Iowa fans always think Iowa a national title contender, regardless of what's happening on the field, and that Ferentz is doing his best to rename the Fulmer Cup. Why is that wrong, and what is the Hawkeye take on Badger fans? I was in Madison for the Iowa game in 2007 and it seemed like everyone got along fine, even with the alcohol-fueled night start. What do you expect in Madison this time around?

We Hawkeye fans got spoiled a little bit in 2002-2004 ['02 Co-B10 champs with national champ OSU, Orange Bowl, '03 Outback victory over Florida, '04 one heck of a Capital One victory over LSU]. Three years like that in a row! That was great. So yeah, so people got a little carried away and expected years like that every year. But realistically there are very few teams that can compete on that level year in and year out and I think most Hawkeye fans understand that. I think the common conception of Badger fans is that they are rowdy, but I don't know. Nothing too bad. Maybe I'm too nice to have bad thoughts about Badger fans. I've never been to Madison but I've heard the atmosphere is great. Game-wise, I expect a closer game than last year's Shonn Greene highlight reel.

(8) I know, Bielema has a Hawkeye tattoo. What clever thing do you want to say about it?

Does the tigerhawk tattoo really bug Badger fans? That would be great if it did. I am assuming the tattoo is really some kind of telekinetic portal into the minds of the Iowa coaches that Bielema uses to find out which recruits Iowa is offering, so that he can swoop in and do the same.

We Heart Garrett Graham

Doesn't everyone? Yes. And yes.

Nice work, Bucky's 5th Quarter -- good insight on Turner and quarterback.

Media Days Bits and Pieces: Day 1

A nice follow-up at Bucky's 5th Quarter with some decent info in it. Nice work, Adam. [edit] Here's another nice piece where Adam asks the question many of us want: what's up with Sorenson? (and some other stuff)

Here's Potrykus's write-up of the same, and Badger Beat's, complete with a little sunny optimism.

Through Rose [Bowl] Colored Glasses: Michigan State

At the Big Ten Media days the coaches predicted Michigan State will come in 3rd in conference. In year three of Dantonio that isn’t a stretch. Sparty comes to Madison to kick off the Big Ten season and they hope a run for the Roses. Through Rose Bowl colored glasses? Sparty faithful hope so, and may not be delusional . . . though certainly optimistic. The bloggers at SpartyMSU and the Enlightened Spartan answered my questions to let us know what to expect on September 26.

1) Who's your quarterback?

Sparty MSU: The good thing for MSU is that we have 2 good QBs Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, and in the wings four star recruit Andrew Maxwell and Stud recruit Joe Boisture .. but at this point I think Kirk Cousins will lead the team on the field. Last year he was behind Brian Hoyer and had stats of 32-43-1 for a 74.4% comp rate. This spring I thought both QBs look sharp. I’m not too worried about the QB position…

Enlightened Spartan: 1) Actually, it really doesn't matter who our quarterbacks are, they equally shined and probably had the best Spring ball out of quarterbacks in recent memory. Both Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins are mobile and have strong arms. Each are an improvement over our serviceable, but efficient, QB Brian Hoyer .

2) Who's your running back? And is your offensive line good enough to make them look
decent? Word from the Spring Game is they were a little porous. What on earth should we
expect from your offense

SpartyMSU: For the spring game, as any spring game Lines go at half speed, and the
Spartans have been working on diversification of the offense. 2008 it was the Javon Ringer
show. He was good, why not go with your strengths. This year our backs are strong, talented,
but no Javon. So, we have to work in the passing game. And that’s what happened. Look at
the Spring Stats: 357 yards passing for both Green and the White team. Which was over
87% of the total offense for both teams, and they ran only 18 rushes each side. But for
passing the QBs were 29 for 43 (Kirk) and 20 – 28 (Keith).

Running backs will be Ashton Leggett, Andre Anderson, Caulton Ray and/or A.J.
Jimmerson. I think Leggett and Ray might start, but with a range of backups, they might

Bottom line, the ball will be in the air more this year than last.

Enlightened Spartan: Our running backs can use some work, and I've never been sold on senior AJ Jimmerson -- so it will likely be a running back-by-committee (Ashton Leggett, Andre Anderson, Caulton Ray) and you may likely see true frosh blue chippers Ed Baker or Larry Caper get the pigskin plenty this fall. Offensive line actually might be the best its been under Dantonio -- they were piss poor last year and didn't reach its potential despite two big seniors on the line: case in point was the team's 3.4 yards per carry a year ago despite the workhorse, Javon Ringer. Our wideouts need to wipe the butter off their hands and hold onto the ball this year... but have lots of experience returning (Mark Dell, Blair White, BJ Cunningham, and Charlie Gantt all should be improved). The o-line can only improve, and Joel Nitchman, Rocco Cironi, and Joel Foreman have plenty of PT (and better footwork) to make this an improved unit. Bottom line: expect an evenly balanced offense in 2009, a far cry from the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-Ringer offense last year. I expect we will be a little more efficient, in all honesty. Mark Dell may be the most improved player in the Big Ten and may rack up big-time stats behind our great QBs and a more balanced offense; he was injury plauged for most of the second half of 2008.

3) Dantonio seems to have righted the attitude issues in East Lansing. He took his first year's close losses to quality teams and turned them into close wins in his second season. He seems to get the most out of his players. However, since Michigan State last played in the Rose Bowl every team in the Big Ten except Indiana and Minnesota has made the trip. Is this the year that Michigan State makes their triumphant return (skipping Ohio State and getting Penn State and Iowa at home is a plus), or are the Spartans still a year or two away?

SpartyMSU: Can’t put the cart before the horse. Sure, all Spartans are keenly aware of the painful eons its been since we made a trip to Pasadena. But, we will return. With so much mediocre history behind us, no one in the program wants to rush in for a One and Done type of season. We are all on board for a long term rise with staying power. We want to get back to the Rose Bowl, its been since 1988 (when we beat USC 20 – 17), I still have a rose on my bedroom mirror as a daily reminder .. but, we are all behind Coach D, and have backed his long term approach. If we get to the Rose Bowl this year, We’ll take it.

Bottom Line: SpartyMSU has predicted it, so I’m packing my Bag and have Hotel reservations !

Enlightened Spartan: MSU seems to be a year away, but is improving across the board, in ALL areas of the team. I think we all should take a closer look at Dantonio's recipe... teach sound fundamental football (reduce turnovers), add in your typical, Pro Set offense to reduce spread-offense mistakes (three things can happen when you throw the football, and two are bad), add more fundamentals (reduce penalties), move to a bare-knuckles defense instead of a stunt defense, add more fundamentals (play to your position) and what do you get? A focus on defense with a minimal mistake offense, that plays games to the end. Dantonio is all about letting the other team make the mistakes as the game wears on, call their bluff, take advantage, and win on fundamentals. Results are improving as the cupboard becomes stocked with better talent.

While I'm not a believer in the recruiting services per se (eg, Keith Nichol helped Oklahoma to a Rivals-ranked Top 5 recruiting class, and now he plays for MSU), I believe you can get an IMPRESSION from them -- and the impression is that the Spartans are gaining better talent and more players who care about character & values to campus to play football. While Greg Jones is already emblematic of this on defense, you should really begin to see much more of this on the playing field as depth across the team has really begun to set in.

So, are we are year away? Probably... as we have a ton of talent returning next year. but that football is a funny shape, and you never know what might happen.

(3) Holding Iowa to 13 points was impressive, but overall the MSU defense wasn't great, and got scorched by Penn State, Ohio State, and dinged up pretty badly at Cal, too. What will make them better this season? Just how good is Greg Jones, and who else will shine for MSU?

SpartyMSU: No one in the Big Ten was as good as OSU or PSU last year, period. They were the cream of the Big Ten.. But to say the D wasn’t that great, well… ok. Not great, but we were good and better than most others in the Big Ten. We did end up in third place in the Big Ten.

Lets roll back the video Tape: MSU wasn’t First in “D”, just had middle of the road in “D” stats for 2008, MSU was # 5 in total “D” in the Big Ten in 2008, #1 in Red Zone “D”. #1 in fourth down conv. “D”. In terms of Big Ten leading tacklers, MSU had the #3 (Greg Jones), #13, #15. Of the top 15 tacklers in the Big Ten, only NU had more than 1 player, with only two. Spartans had three. And of those three, two return.

As for this season, we only get better on “D”…. 9 out of the 12 top MSU tacklers return. The D Line lost 2 starters, but are back filling with existing experienced players. LBs: Starters return. For Secondary, we lost stud Otis Wiley, but 75% of the ints. come back to the field this year, and everyone has starting experience. IN 2009, behind the “D” line, we only added depth this year.

Enlightened Spartan: I would argue the MSU defense was pretty good last year -- depends on how you define as "good." It was called on in some pretty tough situations (eg. Iowa, Wisconsin) to make big plays down the stretch when its offense, and Ringer's running, was anemic. Our wideouts dropped lots of passes last year. It was our defense that time and again bailed out MSU... at the end of games. That is Dantonio coaching, and it worked. The Spartans demonstrated that they weren't in the same league as JoePa or Ohio State -- and it showed. It's not all in the statistics -- and, we won 9 games, largely as a result of our defense, solid fundamentals, and superior coaching. Our defensive backfield has significant experience, size & speed, and is very deep.... reminds me of an Ohio State secondary. Our linebacking corps is the best we've had in 15 years, (ranked #7 nationally by Phil Steele, with Greg Jones, Eric Gordon, Adam Decker, and Josh Rouse. Lots of depth and experience here. Watch out for Trevor Anderson on the Dline, who may end up leading the Big Ten in sacks. Dantonio's best defense yet... and the majority return for another year.

(4) Starting with the painful (for us) game in 2004, the home team has won the last four games in this series, but the last two were very close; what do you think will be different this year that the Spartans will leave Madison with a win?

SpartyMSU: Please see my posting: Preview - Spartans 2009 Game 4: Wisconsin [ed. note: not sure where Sparty got the lyric sheet for On Wisconsin, but he may want to check that again.]

Spartans win…[ed. note: big! SpartyMSU sees it 28-15] !

Enlightened Spartan: It won't be different. It will be very close again. Another FG game. Yes, we'll win. Your dumb coach will screw it up again, thank you very much.

(5) The Badgers start off with a painfully soft schedule. While yours isn't all-world, the road game in South Bend the week before your trip West won't be a cake-walk (not withstanding the impressive 6-straight road wins over the Irish). Do you see the Notre Dame game as a benefit to you coming into Madison, or will that longstanding, heated rivalry take some spirit (and maybe some healthy bodies) away from the Badger game?

SpartyMSU: Spartans LOVE this rivalry (see recent posting: Preview - Spartans 2009 Game 3: Notre Dame)

We have to take the Tom Izzo attitude: play anyone, any time, anywhere. Yeah, we might be a little banged up, but I think the Spartans will know more about the Spartans, then Wisconsin will have their own insight. Come on, what weenie schedule is this ? Northern Illinois, Fresno State, and WoofWoof ? Spartans come in to Camp Randall, and we are the first real slap in the face you’ll be getting. So, The Badgers will have it more difficult than MSU by Sept. 26.

Enlightened Spartan: Don't get sold on the Irish just yet, and their over-inflated ego of an offense that scortched June "Cheater" Jonesless-Hawaii in Hawaii (that is just a joke). We've whipped their panties 9 of the last 12. It'll happen again, right after their tilt of the "wanna-bes vs. used-to-bes," Michigan and Notre Dame. And, no it won't have any bearing heading into Madison. We need to kick yer tail to be in the Big Ten race.

(6) Speaking of which, who is worse, Joe Michigan Fan or Joe Notre Dame Fan?

SpartyMSU: Michigan fans suck. I can and do respect all teams and their fans in the Big Ten and other. But Michigan fans are dicks, and they cannot deal with any verbal jousting or competitive jocularity. I think it comes due to their low self esteem fan base, who truly base their own identity to the Team. Sad really, so sad. It’s the only team I get personal threats from.

Wisc, Illinois, Ind., Notre Dame, NU, etc. We all have a good time at each other’s tailgates. But, with Michigan, its different. Its down right mean. I try to stay away form Ann Arbor on Game days.

Enlightened Spartan: Oh, God, Joe "my UM football stadium addition costs as much as your entire UM football stadium" Michigan Fan.

(7) What should everyone know about Michigan State football that you find very few people actually do know?

SpartyMSU: The pregame team walk, and the tradition of flipping pennies at the Spartan stature before the game..

Enlightend Spartan: Michigan State's football team is the only Big Ten squad mentioned in the book, The Undefeated, by Jim Dent. The book is about University of Oklahoma, their coach Bud Wilkinson, and the longest winning streak in college football history (47 games during the 1950s). MSU is noted repeatedly as a powerhouse of the era.

Ed. Note: Sparty MSU will be in Mad-Town for the game, so welcome them with open arms, and offer them a consoling beer when it’s all over!

Media Days: Coach Speak

(1) I'm jealous of Adam Hoge, Badger blogger at Bucky's 5th Quarter. He's attending Big Ten Media Days, and is providing updates. Good on him. In addition to the convenience of living in Chicago and working at BTN, something tells me Adam is single and without kids. (As a 2008 grad, he's also young enough to have a handle on Twitter.) But maybe he's just better at multitasking than me. Anyway, I'm jealous.

(2) The live chat UW set up with Coach Bielema today was what one would expect: thin on substance. Nonetheless, I think he gave two comments we can learn from: (a) expect a lot of Lance Kendricks and Garrett Graham together (Q: "I thought Garrett Graham was kind of a breakout player last year. Can you give us one or two that you think might 'breakout' this season?" A: "I believe one offensive guy is Lance Kendricks. We really felt good about him last year going into the MSU game, but unfortunately broke his leg."); and (b) JJ Watt will play some tackle depending on the game situation (I predict passing downs) (Q: "If the opener were tomorrow, who would you anticipate being the starting front four defensivlely" You mentioned JJ Watt & I've read you like his cersatility, but will he start inside?" A: "I can name our top six: Schofield [DE], Watt, Moore [DT, some DE], Stehle [DT], Kelly [DE], and Butrym [DT]. It would probably be some combination of those four. J.J. is one of our d-lineman who can play inside or outside [Moore is the other] depending on game plan and the type of offense we are going against.")

Ok, so neither of these is earth shattering. I think everyone expects a lot of 2-tight end sets (I've only written about it somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 times). But I was wondering about Watt. Originally I thought of him as an undersized tackle, but he's listed on the two-deep as a starting end. I think this clarifies that. He is probably the starting end (opposite Schofield), but may move inside from time to time. I'm guessing passing downs because guys like Kelly, Nzegwu, and Mains are pass-rush specialists (they have to be given their size). So you throw them in to rush the quarterback, but keep Watt in on the play as a solid penetrating tackle.

Pretty much the same story out of the opening address to the media today (video embedded below): three solid tight ends (with Turner playing some fullback, too); Kendricks looking to fill Beckum's H-back role, and effectively the same rundown on the defensive line. Combining the statement he made in the chat and the statement he made to the media, it's looking like: Watt, Moore (he pegged him as inside), Stehle, and Schofield.

Last thing: Bielema thinks the Badgers' success at home has hindered high profile home-and-home scheduling. Wouldn't surprise me. Generally scheduling is a tough thing to do, and our home record doesn't look too appealing to opposing teams with resumes similar to ours.

Don't have the interviews with Graham, McFadden, or Schofield up on the BTN yet, so I'm in the dark on those.

Badger Blogger Roundtable: 2009 Offense

A handful of Badger Bloggers got together to discuss the upcoming football season. Joining me are Scott Tappa of Badgercentric, Phil Mitten of Hoops Marinara (a Badger basketball blog -- nice alliteration on that one, no?), and Adam Hoge of Bucky's 5th Quarter. We started with the easier task, making sense of the offense:

What's your take on the WR's? Is Gilreath really the #1? Where does Jefferson fit in post multiple concussions?
Bucky’s Fifth Quarter: Gilreath is No. 1 right now, but I'm convinced Nick Toon will be a starter by the opener. Whether that means he takes Isaac Anderson's spot or Gilreath's, we shall see, but Toon has great size and he proved last year he could make some big catches. As for Jefferson, I think it is all up to him. I didn't really like his attitude last season after a pretty good freshman year and I think that had a lot to do with his sub-par season. Attitude plays a big part in getting over concussions as well. Jefferson has the tools to make the UW receivers a scary group, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will make it happen.

BadgerCentric: Don't think Gilreath is the #1, not strong enough. Think it's gotta be Toon. Jefferson is the deep threat, can't see sending him over the middle any more. I have faith in Gilreath and Anderson to find openings in coverage, Brandon Williams types.

Hoops Marinara: Gilreath may be our best, but he's certainly not a #1. Honestly, I wish the best for Jefferson to contribute, but at this point I am hoping for Toon and/or Anderson to pass him by, preferrably Toon so we can have a steady option on the outside to go with Graham on the inside. Gilreath is slightly overrated as a return man (still waiting for that first TD!), but he does have the ability to break a big play. Maybe Jefferson could develop into our jump ball specialist in the red zone. Work on those hands son!

On Wisconsin: I think Gilreath was #1 last season by default -- Anderson had been hurt and Toon and Jefferson were far less experienced. I think he starts this season #3, as the slot receiver. Toon probably has the most talent, although I sometimes think we all get distracted by his last name. Anderson is a better pure receiver than Gilreath. Maybe not as fast, but better hands and better size. Anderson and Toon are your starting two. Gilreath is dangerous in space, but I think he’s #3 based on his size and hands. Jefferson? He’s a good kid, but I worry a lot about his head. I can’t see him starting over any of those three, so he spells Toon and Anderson. I think this is the best group of receivers – especially when you factor in the tight ends – in more than five years (with the depth, better than Williams, Orr, and Daniels). I’m excited about our passing game . . . IF . . .

The Running Backs? Anyone else think Brown may take more than 1/3 of the snaps this season? Worried about depth?
Hoops Marinara: What me, worry? No, I think the depth is fine at RB. Wisconsin has always done well with the next man in philosophy, so the Badgers can handle a minor injury here and there and use a Ewing or an Erik Smith as needed. I am okay with Brown taking a full 3rd of the snaps if it means keeping JC the Messiah fresh.

Bucky’s Fifth Quarter: I don't think Brown gets a third of the snaps unless John Clay has to battle some injuries. Still, a fourth of the carries seems realistic because of Brown's talent. I'm not worried about depth because Montee Ball provides some emergency insurance much like Brown did during his freshman season. The difference is that UW needed Brown because Lance Smith couldn't play in road games, but if Wisconsin needs to use Ball this season because of injuries then they could pull the red-shirt early.

BadgerCentric: Hadn't thought of it, but I agree Brown might take more than a third of the snaps, a combination of his being pretty good, Clay being in his first season as the main guy, and probably more third downs than we'd like.

On Wisconsin: I’m still not sold on Clay as the every-down back. The position takes more than just running the ball hard and I think Chryst’s offense looks for more flexibility with the back (see, e.g., Calhoun, Brian). Brown provides a lot more of that. I think Brown could see as many as 40% of the snaps, though probably only about 1/4 of the carries. Regardless, if they stay healthy, I honestly think this is the best 1-2 combination in the Big Ten this year.

Tight Ends? So Graham is a beast, how dangerous is Kendricks? Will Turner really just be a fullback already at the line? Will we ever even see a true fullback with this offense?
On Wisconsin: Kendricks is dangerous enough to line up wide as a receiver every now and again, which makes sending in the right personnel tough for the defensive coordinator. I like that flexibility and with him and Graham out there you see a great 2-tight end set. That said, Mickey Turner played very well last season as a traditional tight end and several times proved he could make the catches we need that #2 tight end to make. Remember in 2006 when we went the whole season without a fullback? Worked out ok. I suspect Turner will play a fullback-ish role, but I think it will most often come after he lines up as a second tight end. I think we see very little of a traditional fullback this season. At least that’s my hope – our personnel are built for the 2-tight end set.

Hoops Marinara: I anticipate the Graham/Kendricks combo to surpass the Beckum/Graham combo ... of last season. That means accumulating more than 2008's 60+ catches, 800+ yards and 5 TDs. Very doable as long as they are both healthy.

Bucky’s Fifth Quarter: Lance Kendricks is very dangerous and we've seen in past years how much better UW's offense is when they have two tight ends that can catch the ball. As far as Turner goes, I think he gets a good amount of snaps at the traditional fullback position. The fullback has been pretty important in recent years and if they need to use him there they will.

BadgerCentric: I can see fullbacks still playing a part of this offense, seems like we're still recruiting that type of kid. Turner's a blocker, not much more. With Graham and a solid group of wide receivers, I don't see Kendricks catching more than 35 or 40 passes, max, even if he's a lot better.

And the biggie . . . who's it going to be? Who should it be? And why?
BadgerCentric: It's going to be Sherer, at least at the start. It should be ... Budmayr if he's even close to being ready. A reach? Maybe. But my sense is he's the best passer of this group, he probably wouldn't be much worse than the other guys this year, and we could have him start for four years.

On Wisconsin: I guess I just don’t trust inexperienced players and I think Sherer got a bad rap. He played very well after his first start (Iowa; that can hardly be blamed on him). He also got the ball to his WRs more than either Evridge or Donovan did, which is a positive. Did he look bad against FSU? In the second half, but he had little time to throw the ball and the offense was predictable at that point. I think we’ll see pretty solid (not spectacular) play from Dustin this year and the real battle will be redshirt Freshman Budmayr vs. Sophomore Phillips in 2010.

Hoops Marinara: Scherer to start. But it should be Phillips from Day 1. He's put a year in on the scout team already. Phillips has the running instincts that has brought Wisconsin success in the past (ie: Samuels, Bollinger) but a better arm.

Bucky’s Fifth Quarter: As of today it is going to be Dustin Sherer and should be Dustin Sherer because Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr haven't shown enough yet to be considered a starter. Still, I find it slightly peculiar that Sherer isn't one of the three players representing the Badgers at Big Ten Media Days this year. We know -- and I think the coaches know -- that this is still Dustin Sherer we are talking about. He has never shown us anything spectacular and if Curt Phillips comes on strong during camp then it wouldn't surprise me at all if Sherer didn't start the season at quarterback. At the very least, I doubt Sherer starts all 12 regular season games.

I guess on offense all that leaves is the line: How will it be with three new starters? Was Bielema serious that Konz could push Oglesby out of the starter's spot, or was he just making a point to Josh? How will Bscherer be at guard? Anyone else worried about a lack of depth at guard? Will anything stop the rash of false starts and holding penalties?
Bucky’s Fifth Quarter: I think the Peter Konz chatter was a motivational ploy to get Oglesby going. We are getting close to that point where if Oglesby isn't starting now then he might never be starting. Bscherer will be fine at guard, but probably not spectacular. Fans should be worried about the depth right now, but I think guys like Travis Frederick and Jake Current will ease those worries by the end of the season. If the false starts and holding penalties don't stop then that reflects back on the coaching staff. I think that is one of a handful of improvements that we have to see this season or the hot seat will start scorching Bielema's rear end.

On Wisconsin: Oglesby was a 5-star because of his size, but Konz wasn’t a legit threat to his position; Josh will start. The fact that they moved Bscherer to guard, rather than demoting Oglesby, tells me Josh is doing ok, if maybe not living up to all the (probably unfair) hype. I see injuries at the guard position as a real concern. Freshman lineman aren’t something you like to see, and that’s where we are if Bscherer or Nagy goes down. Bielema and Chryst need to end the penalties. I’ve never coached football, so I don’t know how to do it, but it needs to happen. If it does, I think we’re looking at a solid line, maybe as good as last year (especially considering how many games Oglesby and Nagy played significant minutes in).

BadgerCentric: The line won't be as good as last year, but I'm not worried about it. Carimi is a stud, Moffitt's solid, and the other three starters have starting experience. I could see Konz beating out Oglesby, he struggled mightily at times last year. Bscherer I see being a Matt Lawrence type, someone who's not going to be a huge plus but isn't going to be a liability.

Hoops Marinara: I am looking for a hungrier group of lineman this year that could surprise some people. Bielema is not afraid to call guys out (remember P.J. Hill's "toughen-up pills"?), so Oglesby needs to get it together quickly. Everything looks if he finally gets it, even the depth. Unfortunately, I think as long as Bielema is the head coach some undisciplined play will be the norm. We know he's less of a cool collected guy than Barry, plus he's spread himself too thin.

THE Priority

Dustin Sherer this, Curt Philips that, Jon Budmayr, maybe? It's all about the quarterback in Mad-town. Everyone knows that.


THE priority, THE problem with the Badgers is the defense. I just suffered through last year's "highlights." Sure, Evridge wasn't brilliant, and neither was Sherer (though he was a significant upgrade). Yeah, there were penalty problems and fumble problems (big penalty problems and big fumble problems). And with all that, the biggest problem I saw was with the defense. Check the numbers.

In the Big Ten, only Michigan State surrendered more points to Penn State than we did. Not Indiana, not Purdue, not Illinois.

Iowa only scored more than 24 points in conference three times; against Indiana (45), Minnesota (55), and Wisconsin (38). The only other teams they scored on more than us? FIU and Maine.

The 24 points we put up against Michigan State? That put us in good company, with Georgia (24), and only Penn State (49), Ohio State (45), Cal (38), and -- oddly -- Indiana (29) scored more. It was the 25 we gave up that was the problem.

We gave up 32 to Decker-less Minnesota. How many other conference teams let them in the 30s? None. They only got above 20 two other times in conference play.

We blew out Indiana, but not before letting them hang around with us, scoring 20 early. Only Michigan State (29) and Northwestern (21) allowed more in conference.

The 27 we allowed to Michigan? Including out-of-conference games (Utah, Miami-Ohio, Notre Dame, and Toledo), they only scored more against Purdue (42) and Minnesota (29; Michigan's only other conference win).

Oh, and Florida State's 42? They only scored more against Chattanooga (46) and Western Carolina (69).

The bottom line is in-conference while we were 5th in scoring, we were 9th in points allowed. When your conference is called the Big Ten, coming in 9th isn't so hot.

Now, let's recall how we started the year on defense:
Three 3+-year starters on the line. Two three-year starters at linebacker. A four-year starter at one corner (to be fair, Langford played his part very well all season), and Shane Carter, at safety, was supposed to be one of the team's best players, and one of two returning starting safeties (neither of whom ended up starting). This was basically the same defense that shut down Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl two years earlier and performed pretty well against Tennessee in the next Outback Bowl.

So what happened? Well, that Northwestern defense looked pretty good this season . . . with the Badgers' '06-'07 DC, Mike Hankwitz on the 'Cats sideline. I haven't given up on Dave Doeren after only one season, but the bottom line is his squad is the one that's most not living up to appropriate expectations. For better or worse he gets a clean slate this season . . .

Defense wins championships? Indeed.

Come on, Dave . . . we're counting on you . . .

Interesting Big Ten Preview


First he tells us why the conference sucks. Well, it has been a down year or two, but lost in the statistics are the actual bowl match-ups. Michigan's win over Florida in '07 was big. Ohio State's game against Texas last season was much closer than it was supposed to be, and that was with a true-frosh quarterback. USC is USC. That's what the Rose Bowl will do to you sometimes.

On to his review: he seems less enamored of the Gophers than some others and highlights the same problem I see with Illinois: Juice just isn't that good. He also rags on Sherer, but (a) it's not without reason, and (b) I have a feeling the story will be different at the end of the year. I know the conventional wisdom is we come in 8th this season. I suspect it will be more like 3rd or 4th. And no, I'm not under the influence of anything . . . except maybe my new redshirt!
The Red Shirt
Like Barry Alvarez, a decent thing we took from Notre Dame.

Hey Rudy! Step aside . . .

Yeah, Notre Dame has the tradition and the national titles and the TV contract (and unlike most of my Big Ten brethren I actually have a soft spot for the Irish), but the Rudy story just isn't that great.* The movie is pretty good. I liked the movie.

Jim Leonhard. He's the real deal. 5'8," unrecruited, walk on, became a starter, became an All-American (on one of those teams that, you know, wins bowl games -- something Notre Dame doesn't have much experience with this century), is first all-time for the Badgers in picks (tied with Fletcher with 21) and picks in a season (by himself, 11), passes defended in a season (25), all-time punt return yardage and single-season punt return yardage, was an undrafted free agent in the NFL, becomes a starter (incidentally, ahead of Notre Dame's all-American Tommy Zbikowski on the Baltimore roster) and now he makes the free-agent market dough (yup, thats a 6 with 6 zeros). Anyway, this is a nice story the Journal Sentinel pointed out. He's a classy guy on top of being one heck of a football player. Good on ya, Jim. Five feet nothin'? He's got your five feet nothin' right here:

* Rudy isn't even the best ND walk-on story. Walk-on kicker Harry Oliver stuck a dagger through one of their biggest rivals' hearts (the link is worth it to hear Michigan's pain) with this 51-yarder. Here's the Notre Dame announcer's version.

It's a Numbers Game

The new roster, complete with incoming freshmen and new numbers is up. Notable changes: Jay Valai from #12 to #2, filling the sizable shoes of Casillas and Calhoun. However, more relevant to Valai -- and even bigger shoes -- two standout corners have worn the number, Scott Starks, this Scott Starks, and all-time Badger corner Jamar Fletcher.

Kyle Jefferson takes his third number in three years (previously #14 and #7) at #3, worn by maybe THE great all-time Badger receiver, Lee Evans.

Blake Sorenson abandons #27 (my favorite number) to take up #9, most recently used by Beckum, and before him Orr; if it does for him on defense what it did for them on offense, not too shabby. Oh, and some guy named Paul Chryst also wore it once (also on offense).

Finally, J.J. Watt switches from #87, a tight-end-feeling number, to #99, a dominate-the-line kind of number (best worn, apparently, by Rick Graf, a linebacker before my time).

Some other notes:

No one on the roster is listed as a fullback.
Eric Kossoris is still listed as #32 at WR, but if so, he can't play at the same time as this fella. Something tells me Eric isn't looking at a lot of playing time on offense.

As for the incoming freshman?
Fan-favorite-in-the-making, QB Jon Budmayr will wear #5, same as that Brooks Bollinger fella.
DL David Gilbert will wear #11, worn best in my memory by Darrell Bevell and Owen Daniels, and also well by DeAndre Levy. DB Ed Withers, the Badgers' first Black All-American (twice), also wore the number.
DB Desmond Southward better be tough as he takes the #12 abandoned by Jay Valai and Tyler Donovan.
Stud LB recruit Conor O'Neill takes #13, a number ordinarily worn on offense, but I like it when linebackers wear those low numbers.
WR Jeff Duckworth is #15, worn once by some Vander Kelen guy you may have heard of.
DB Josh Peprah is #17, left behind by All-Big Ten and team MVP CB Allen Langford.
DB Darious Thomas is #23, but with DB Mario Goins already wearing #23, the newcomer appears slated to redshirt.
Highly touted RB Montee Ball may be looking to make a new number famous for Badger backs, coming in at #31.
LB Ethan Armstrong is #36 worn not too long ago by, get this, freshman linebacker Travis Beckum.
LB AJ Fenton is #39, vacated by PJ Hill.
LB Chris Borland takes #44, worn by Rose Bowl-contributing linebacker Donnel Thompson (we need some more great walk-ons . . .).
TE Jacob Peterson takes #48, which has primarily been a linebacker's number, but worth noting that Garrett Graham wore it his freshman year.
TE Brian Wozniak takes #49.
DL Tyler Dippel is #51, worn best by C "Iron" Mike Webster, a 9-time pro-bowler, and 4-time Super Bowl winner, also on the NFL's 75th anniversary team (not bad; but he left us way too soon).
LB Nick Hill is #52, worn by another center, All-American Cory Ramer, a key cog on the '93 Rose Bowl team, and an 11-year NFLer.
OL Casey Dehn is #63, also worn by a '93 Rose Bowl contributor, G Joe Rudolph (maybe Dehn will fill in some much needed depth at guard?).
OL Travis Frederick is #72. That Joe Thomas guy wore #72. No pressure though.
OL Zach Matthias is #75. All-American Tackle Chris McIntosh wore #75.
DL Ethan Hemer is also #75
OL Ryan Groy is #79. Another solid lineman, Aaron Gibson anchored the line for the '99 Rose Bowl team at #79.
Anticipated star, WR Kraig Appleton took, perhaps looking for a number to blaze his own way as a great Badger receiver, #81.
DL Shelby Harris will live in Garrett Graham's shadow at #89
DL Jordan Kohout is #91 perhaps hoping to live up to lineman Don Davey's long shadow.
DL Pat Muldoon is #92, taking over where Matt Shaughnessy left off.
TE Michael Brunner and K Pat Hughes selected #96, a number not associated with great Badger tight ends or kickers.

Always good to link to these: All-Time Badger Roster, and my take on it, here.

Gopher Follow-Up

Something of a follow-up to the Minnesota chapter of Through Rose [Bowl] Colored Glasses, the good people over at the Daily Gopher posted their Wisconsin preview, with some replies I wrote as well as those from the good folks at Bucky's 5th Quarter.