Friday, November 30, 2007

American Gangster

Here's another reason my in-laws rule: my mother-in-law Clary watched Will on Saturday so Jana and I could go watch a movie we had been wanting to see: American Gangster. If you haven't heard of it, it stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.

Denzel is mafia legend Frank Lucas, who rules New York while bringing in top-quality herion from southeast Asia in the caskets of fallen soldiers in Vietnam. Roberts is the straight-shooting cop with the messed-up personal life who eventually brings him down, then brings down the crooked narcotics-fighting operations of the NYPD.

It was a good movie, worthwhile if that sort of genre is something you enjoy. For me, it was just another in a line of movies and shows that I have enjoyed in which the criminal is the hero: The Sopranos, The Godfather, New Jack City, etc. (Bet New Jack City has never been in the same sentence as the other two before.)

Frank Lucas is a brilliant businessman. He realizes that the business model of other drug dealers is flawed - they're not vertically integrated - so he works out a better model and exploits it for all it's worth. He is also ruthlessly disciplined, and demands the same from his employees. He recognizes the power of brand building - his product is called Blue Magic - and he protects that brand equity, chastising Cuba Gooding's character for selling a diluted product under the brand name. Aside from watching junkies lying strung out on tattered beds with infant children as a result of Lucas's product, and guys Lucas lit on fire, he was inspirational as a businessman.

Roberts' work bringing Lucas down was also great, albeit laced with luck. In the movie, at least, he pegs Lucas as a dude to be reckoned with when the latter wears an out-of-character fur coat and hat to a Frazier-Ali fight (this probably didn't happen in real life). My one criticism is that the movie spent too much time investigating Roberts' personal life. It was largely irrelevant to the overall plot, and my guess is Ridley Scott went that route to justify Crowe being a co-star.

Good flick, worth seeing. What other new movies have people seen lately?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Remember when Curtis Leskanic signed that deal? I didn't

As sure as taxes and Ben Sheets going on the DL with an ingrown toenail, every year my mom gets me one of those desk calendars with sports facts on each date. I put it on my desk at work and dutifully peel off sheet after sheet, very little registering with me. But yesterday my On This Date In Baseball calendar made me stop and laugh out loud.

On this date in baseball: November 28, 2000
Curtis Leskanic (9-3, 2.56, 12 saves) agrees to a $7.2 million, three-year incentive-laden contract with the Brewers, which can almost double based on performance. The 32-year-old closer converted 11 of 12 save chances after former Milwaukee closer Bob Wickman was traded to the Indians on July 28.

This is the most notable thing that happened on a November 28 in baseball history? Really? This didn't even make Leskanic's Wikipedia entry. (Did you realize he was on the '04 Red Sox, got a ring, and got the win in game 4 of the ALCS?)

I had to see for myself, so I went to to take a look. And you know what? This one qualifies. There are a couple other noteworthy occurrences - George Steinbrenner is suspended, Pete Rose is no longer eligible for Hall of Fame election, Hal Newhouser named AL MVP - but I suppose the faithful readers of the On This Date In Baseball calendars would be up in arms if they saw the same historical nugget repeated in two straight years.

The bigger piece of this story was that Wickman was traded (along with Steve Woodard and Jason Bere) for Richie Sexson. Good old days, when all we were trying to do was unload our all-stars for promising youngsters ... have we officially left that zone?

Bonus Curtis Leskanic material: A story from The Onion

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Outback Bowl thoughts

Following up on Andy's comment to the original Outback Bowl post:

I think that's interesting too, since everyone has basically assumed that we're not going back to the Cap One Bowl for the third straight year.

Here's my fear: Missouri or Will's alma mater, West Virginia, loses on Saturday; Ohio State goes to the national title game; Illinois goes to the Rose Bowl; Michigan then leaps into the Cap One Bowl and not the fourth-tier bowl they deserve.

Whatever, I'm happy with Tampa. We've been there three times before: losing to Georgia in 2005 and 1998 and beating Duke in 1995 (see, basketball isn't that important - we beat Duke in football 13 years ago!).

Those were wildly uneven matchups. Following the '94 season, in which we had the talent to challenge for the Big Ten or national title, we got a Duke team that had overachieved and was outclassed. The first Georgia game followed a '97 season where we were pretty mediocre, undeservedly leapfrogged Purdue in the bowl pickings because our fan like getting drunk in Florida, then watched Mike Bobo turn into Joe Montana for one morning. The last trip was the culmination of a painful late '04 collapse, when we lose our last three games after starting 9-0, including the Tucson monsoon and Minnesota blowout on a perfect Madison November day that most of us were at. What I remember from that one is how much the media hyped the Erasmus James-David Pollack defensive end matchup, which was won convincingly by Pollack.

As I said earlier, I'd really like Tennessee to be the opponent, for variety's sake. Of course, the way LSU's games have been going this season the Vols could win Saturday, bump LSU to the Capital One Bowl, and bump Florida to the Outback Bowl. I'd be okay with that, too, although we're less likely to beat Florida than Tennessee. Trying to stop Tim Tebow would be challenging and entertaining, but they run the freaking spread, and you all know how I feel about that.

Don't know much about Tennessee, but pretty sure they run a man's offense. I'd rather face Erik Ainge winging it around back there than some magician/quarterback. Ainge threw for 2,900 yards and 27 TDs this year, they seem to have a number of capable wideouts, and Arian Foster is a 1,00-yard back. Will research more once the opponent is determined for good.

-Rivals announced its all-Big Ten team. Our first teamers are Travis Beckum, Kraig Urbik, Nick Hayden, and David Gilreath as a punt returner. Our second teamers are Matt Shaughnessy, Jack Ikegwuonu, Shane Carter, and Ken DeBauche. Good to see Gilreath get some pub.

-In the Journal Sentinel's Badger Blog Dave Heller today found that a Yahoo NFL Draft columnist thinks Wisconsin expects both Becks and Ike to return next season. I'm not so sure, but we would be looking pretty damn good if they did.

Badgers headed to Outback Bowl

It's official: Wisconsin is heading to the Outback Bowl. Maybe it wasn't the bowl we hoped for at the beginning of the season, but it's our fourth straight January bowl game, and we'll get another shot at an SEC team. I've seen Tennessee and Auburn thrown around, hoping for Tennessee, since we haven't played them in over 20 years and we've played Auburn in two bowl games this century already.

Also glad a mediocre Michigan game will not be rewarded with a January bowl.

More thoughts later. Anyone aside from Polzin planning on going?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ouch - Wisconsin-Duke postgame thoughts

There's a guy I play basketball with named Adam, good guy. He's the most athletic guy we play with, great hops, quickness, good shooter, but there are certain times I can get the better of him - when he's out of condition, just lifted, otherwise indifferent, etc.

But when he's really trying, he can just embarrass dudes. Like last week. I decided to take a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and shot it rather slowly. Adam made up a big defensive gap and pretty much took the ball out of my hand before I could finish the shot. He laid the ball in at the other end - would have dunked it, but he's been slacking on his conditioning since he got married this summer.

Adam on top of his game versus the rest of us shlubs at noon ball is what came to mind watching the Wisconsin-Duke game tonight. Duke had five Adams out there, Wisconsin had five Tappas. There was a large gap in athleticism, intensity, confidence, and our kids were on the wrong end. We looked better in the second half, but by then it didn't matter.

If you're interested, I have some thoughts on the game, some obvious and some overlapping, but here goes anyway.

-Thanks for showing us the thrilling Indiana-Georgia Tech endgame, ESPN. Eric Gordon is a freaking beast. He is always on the attack and has all the elements you need to score big.

-While watching Indiana shoot free throws, the game was pretty much decided in Durham. When ESPN finally got to our game, Trevon Hughes had two fouls and was on the bench, and our kids had that Badger-in-headlights look.

-Good move to press us, wonder why more teams don't. Remember that game two years ago when Minnesota almost overcame a huge deficit at Williams by pressing? And that was Minnesota - no chance when Duke is flying around like that.

-Early on I thought "tonight would be a nice time for Marcus Landry to assert himself." He finished with seven points. I am officially worried about Marcus, something's not quite right yet. Against these cupcakes on our schedule he needs to be taking 15 shots a game so that when no one else is open, like against Duke, he's ready to create his own offense and is familiar with the role.

-Duke is about 100 times better than they were last year. Why couldn't we have played them last year? Kind of like that Why couldn't we have played Notre Dame this year? football thought.

-Dan Schulman summed it up best when he said "Everything that can go wrong is going wrong for Wisconsin."

-When we missed free throws tonight, they weren't even close.

-I'm not one of those cliche Duke haters, but watching Coach K piss and moan about calls with his team up 18 in the first half annoyed me.

-Right after K's hissy fit, Michael Flowers got called for two unbelievably bad fouls, once when Brian Zoubek got him on a moving pick, the other time when Gerald Henderson crashed into him going for an alley-oop. And the technical he got late for "pushing" Kyle Singler was ridiculous.

-We need to get some guards in here, and there's only two coming next year. Our lack of quickness against an elite team was palpable, both in handling their defensive pressure and in defending their dribble penetration. Hell, Jon Scheyer was getting to the rim like he was Steve Nash.

-How many times did their guards block our bigs' shots in close? That's tough to watch.

-Would have been nice to take advantage of our size advantage. Our inability to do so shows the importance of ball pressure on perimeter passers.

-Maybe we should have not helped off Taylor King, I understand he can shoot.

-We threw so many soft passes crosscourt.

-Can we just cancel the ACC/Big Ten Challenge? Why not match the Big Ten and Big 12?

OK, three positives to end on:
-Duke's fans seemed excited for the game, which can only mean that we're a legit opponent.
-We played pretty well in the second half, even if they outscored us by one.
-Really liked how Jon Leuer stepped up and played with confidence. It wasn't always pretty, but he showed a willingness to attack Duke rather than letting them dictate play.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I have the best in-laws

Back in Scandinavia after a Thanksgiving break done right - relaxation, reading, movies, sports, hot tub, sauna, traditional holiday food. This was in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a peaceful place. I can't thank my mother-in-law Clary enough for the way she opens up her home to me, Jana, Will, and the rest of her family around the holidays.

I also came back with an unexpected treat after hanging out with Jana's uncle John and aunt Mavis, arguably the two most generous people I've ever met. Saturday night, John and I were in the sauna changing room, discussing the Big Ten Network while Will played with a back scratcher. I mentioned that I had watched the replay of the Michigan-Appalachian State game on Friday; John said "What size T-shirt do you wear, extra large?" I nodded affirmatively, and minutes later he returned with the T-shirt pictured below.

As I mentioned awhile ago, John is a big Michigan State fan who grew up in Lansing, and while he pulls for Michigan in most non-Spartan events, he couldn't resist picking up two of these shirts - one to tease his golf partner Rosie, a good guy even if he is a Wolverines fan, and one for someone who truly appreciated the upset. Judging by my 20 minutes of giggling and gushing, I was a good fit.

You can bet this shirt will be in my bag for every future trip to the UP, or anywhere in the eastern time zone for that matter. Thanks again John!

-On a similar note, there's been a lot of chatter on the Web regarding who Michigan's next coach will be. Kirk Ferentz's name has been pretty hot - the Ann Arbor newspaper had a funny blog post about how Iowa's brushes with the law under Kirk would not be fitting of a program with such lofty character as Michigan. Puh-leeze. Michigan is no better than anyone else when it comes to such matters, deal with it. This is the kind of holier-than-thou piety that makes people hate Michigan so much.

To me the bigger deal is that Iowa has taken a big step backward in the last three years after a somewhat meteoric rise.

Also, seems that Les Miles is not a hot UM candidate right now, and that Wake Forest's Jim Grobe might be. Too bad they didn't scoop up Mike Sherman before Texas A&M did, that guy's a great coach ...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wisconsin-Georgia thoughts

OK, something went wrong with the DVR, which didn't record the Badger game last night, so we're watching the Sponge Bob Squarepants movie this morning. No big deal, since I saw the last 12 minutes live, and it seems I just missed the lowlights anyway.

When I turned the game on the Badgers were down four; by the end of the game we were up 19. From reading game stories, looking at the box score, and watching the last 12 minutes, my surface-level observations:

-Trevon Hughes needs to penetrate to set up the rest of his game. He had a putrid first half shooting last night, jacking up 3s left and right, but took it to the hole in the second half. Who saw his behind-the-back pass to Joe Krabbenhoft in the lane for a layup? That's the early favorite for pass of the year in college hoops.

-Krabbenhoft is getting himself in position to score this year, which is a huge difference than his game the last couple years, when he seemed content to be a passer and intangible guy. We need his scoring. Thirteen points, five assists, six rebounds, great all around game, the kind we can expect from him this season.

-Conversely, Marcus Landry seems to be getting shy, he only took five shots last night. We haven't needed his scoring yet, but we will soon against better teams.

-A missed dunk aside, Michael Flowers ended up playing a nice game. He's always played with a lot of energy, but it seems more apparent this year. He and Hughes are going to end up playing 35 minutes a game, because they're the only two guards that match up athletically with the type of player most of our opponents will throw out there.

-Brian Butch continues to struggle shooting - he's willing, but not converting.

-The eight-man rotation for now seems to be Flowers, Hughes, Krabby, Butch, Landry Greg Stiemsma, Jason Bohannon, and Kevin Gullikson. Would really like Jon Leuer to be one of those guys.

Duke's up next, going to be a tough one, but at least this Georgia team will have us a little bit better prepared than the other teams we've faced so far.

Upcoming Badger basketball opponents

DVR'd last nights' Wisconsin-Georgia basketball game, and will be watching it shortly. Did see the last 12 minutes or so, in which the Badgers played almost flawlessly and the Bulldogs looked like West Bend East circa 1992.

Having done little but read and watch sports for the past five days, I've had a chance to get a look at some of the Badgers' upcoming opponents. Thoughts:

-Marquette reminds me of Villanova two years ago, only not quite as good in the outside shooting department. Watching them blow out Oklahoma State the other night scared the crap out of me, but the Cowboys really played poorly. Let me get this off my chest: Jerel McNeal is their best player, not Dominic James; I saw James appear on some publication's second team All-American team and laughed - another one of mine had McNeal all-conference but not James, that's more like it.

Whether they're a good or a great team will depend on whether Ousmanne Barro and Dwight Burke are anything beyond foul accumulators. They obviously really could have used Trevor Mbakwe.

-We'll need to play a perfect game to win at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday. This Duke team probably won't rank among the all-time greats, but they're deep, talented, and versatile. Kyle Singler, contrary to reports from some of my hoophead friends who saw him play in high school, looks like the real deal. Gerald Henderson looks much improved. A guy like Brian Zoubek can bang with Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma. Demarcus Nelson is very good. And Jon Scheyer is like a taller more athletic Jason Bohannon. If Greg Paulus plays horribly, which is always a possibility, we might have a shot.

Really wish the powers that be would have set up the Wisconsin-Duke game last year, when we would have killed them, rather than pitting us against Florida State.

-Watching Ohio State get dominated by a damn good Texas A&M team makes you appreciate just how good Greg Oden and Mike Conley were as true freshmen, and how valuable Ron Lewis was to that team. The Buckeyes are going to win a lot of games this year and have some really talented youngsters, but they are not national title contenders and are going to lose to most really good teams they play. Good thing for them there aren't many of those in the Big Ten.

-Michigan State is puzzling to me. They were my early pick to win the Big Ten, but have been quite unimpressive to date, and Indiana is my clear pick at this time. Drew Neitzel, Raymar Morgan, Goran Suton, those guys are givens, what will make or break this team is those freshman guards.

-Illinois is going to have the same problems they did last year - who's going to score? They're just a bunch of scrappy overachievers who Bruce Weber is doing his best to coach up, but putting the ball in the hoop is a god-given talent on some level. And I'll say this: if Jeffrey Jordan was named Jeffrey Terwiliger, he'd be playing at Lake Forest College, not Illinois.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Darren McFadden for Heisman, more Badger-Gopher thoughts

A month or so ago I jinxed Rashard Mendenhall by trumpeting his Heisman Trophy worthiness, and this week I did it to Glenn Dorsey. By Glenn was hurt and didn't do much yesterday as LSU became the latest top-ranked team to lose.

So now I'm plugging Darren McFadden. How big was he yesterday? Four touchdowns, 200-plus yards rushing, a man among boys against a talented defense.

If I had to bet my mortgage on who wins, I'd put it on Tim Tebow, who has had a fantastic season, but McFadden is a special player who comes along once in a generation for a conference - like a Herschel Walker for the 2000s - and he's not as much a product of the system as Tebow is.

-How exciting was that game yesterday? That was the most exciting game I've seen since LSU beat Alabama ... or since Kentucky beat LSU ... or since LSU beat Auburn ... or since LSU beat Florida. I can't remember an elite team playing this many thrilling games, maybe ever. And they're not just close games, they're games with lots of tension and big plays.

How big was Arkansas to get off the mat after blowing its lead several times to rebound and finish off the Tigers on their home field? The more I watched yesterday's game, the more I appreciated Wisconsin's win over Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl. That was a damn good team - take all of yesterday's key contributors, throw in Tony Ugoh (the Colts' starting left tackle), two great defensive ends (including top 10 pick Jamaal Anderson), a great corner in Chris Houston, and a great linebacker whose name escapes me - and beating the Razorbacks was quite an accomplishment.

One big absence, though: Peyton Hills. Pretty sure he didn't play in Orlando, and he made a ton of big plays yesterday.

-Although I love an upset like Arkansas', I am sick to my stomach about the possibility of a wholly undeserving Ohio State team playing for the national title.

-While relaxing in a hot tub last night, I saw a replay of the Badgers' win over Minnesota (was that only a week ago?), mainly the fourth quarter. Some new thoughts:

On the play before Tyler Donovan's fourth down conversion run, he completed a pass to Sean Lewis, who looked really natural as a receiver subbing for the injured Travis Beckum. Thing is, Lewis appeared to push off the Gophers' DB.

On several running plays Gabe Carimi seemed to be a half-step behind the snap count, coming out of his stance slightly after the rest of the line. Didn't make a difference, though, the Minnesota guys were so slow Gabe was able to get into his block anyway.

That last touchdown Minnesota scored was even more of a fluke than I originally thought. The guy who ended up scoring, Ralph Spry, was pretty far away from the action when it happened. Also, Shane Carter was standing behind the intended receiver and Aaron Henry, if he had gone up to make a play on it, the ball might not have bounded away so high and far.

Zach Brown's last touchdown run was a thing of beauty, he did an awesome job keeping his balance and staying on his feet.

After Minnesota's botched fake punt, it appeared that Ken DeBauche hustled over to say something to the Gophers' punter, Justin Kucek. May have been innocuous, but looked like Kenny was taunting him. Kenny also pulled something like this earlier in the year when a returner had a long run called back by a penalty, forget the game. After blasting Clint Brewster for his actions and words, it's only fair to bring this to light - wish Kenny wouldn't do that.

Watching Donovan elude sacks brings to mind Michael Vick - looks like a video game character darting back and forth. Unfortunately, during one of those instances against Minnesota, while he was dancing we had three guys wide open that were missed - maybe if TD hangs in there and throws the ball instead of dancing, he hits one of those guys.

Still like Kirk DeCremer a lot, he's always around the ball.

Finally, after watching Bret Bielema's mad dash to shake Tim Brewster's hand after the game several times, I don't think there was anything wrong with it. The first time I saw it, BB looked a little too eager and gleeful. Then I thought "He just wanted to get back to his team," but after the handshake he turned around and jogged to nowhere, a la Jim Valvano. But after seeing it for a third time, it didn't seem that inappropriate, just weird. Especially since all the Badgers who weren't parading around the Dome with Paul Bunyan's Axe were exchanging pleasantries with their Gopher counterparts.

It's funny - even though I knew the outcome and was there in person, watching the final seconds unfold and the postgame with the Axe, and explaining it to Will (who didn't really get it yet), I was still giddy and excited. That's what Badger sports still do to me, I guess.

Co Co flies the coop

So the Reds think that Francisco Cordero is the missing link for a playoff bid, do they? How else would you explain Cincinnati giving the closer what I heard last night is a $46 million contract? I didn't follow the Reds that closely last season - help me out Austy - but it's safe to assume that while they probably had closer issues, the team probably has other issues that $46 million could have addressed.

That's a lot of money to spend on a closer, even a good one like Co Co, and I'm of the Billy Beane school of thought that you don't pay that much. Closers are not quite a dime a dozen, they don't quite grow on treese (excuse me - we're reading a Berenstain Bears book that talks about figures of speech), but they're not as difficult to unearth as quality starters or regular lineup contributors. I'm confident Doug Melvin will find someone to take the ball in the ninth inning.

Then again, it's different this time around. Before, when the Brewers were pulling Dan Kolbs and Derrick Turnbows off the scrap heap and turning them into closers, expectations were low - there weren't playoff berths on the line. In 2008, Milwaukee should be on the short list to win the National League Central, and there won't be time to audition three or four different guys on the fly - as bad as the division is, you can't have guys blowing saves left and right and expect to win.

With Cordero and Linebrink leaving in the last couple days, a weak spot only gets weaker. But I feel good about Melvin and Ash bringing in guys to plug the holes.

Friday, November 23, 2007

OK, let's talk about Jason Kendall

The Brewers have addressed their catching situation for the 2008 season by trading Johnny Estrada and signing Jason Kendall. As usually happens, Journal Sentinel baseball expert Tom Haudricourt summarized the move up better than anyone - if you haven't read his blog post on the subject yet, click here. Good follow-up comments by readers on this one as well.

My first thoughts were:

-Glad to get rid of Estrada. Thought trading for him was good when we did it, and he had his moments, but by the end of the season I didn't see him being part of the solution. It started in Philadelphia when he didn't run hard on a double play ball that cost them in an extra-innings loss; he did have a hamstring injury at the time, but the episode painted a picture of a player who was either out of shape or wasn't going to be able to go 100% all the time.

-As long as Kendall was signed for a reasonable salary - as Haudricourt indicates - and not the ridiculous $10 million deal Pittsburgh gave him a few years ago, then this isn't a bad deal. As long as Kendall isn't expected to throw out 50% of base stealers, hit .330, lead off, cure cancer - then he's going to be all right. He did have a terrible year in 2007, and he will need many showers to wash the Cubs stink off of him, but he's a pro and should rebound with a respesctable 2008.

-Several times I've questioned why Mike Rivera hasn't been given more of a chance to be the starting catcher, but he probably is just a journeyman.

As Haudricourt points out, the market for catchers is bleak. The overall outlook on the position is bleak, as anyone who plays fantasy baseball knows full well. Who are the plus catchers in the league nowadays? Jorge Posada, Russell Martin, Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Ben Molina, Pudge Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltamacchia, Kenji Johjima, Jason Varitek, John Buck, Miguel Olivo, Gerald Laird? Almost all of those guys have drawbacks, whether it's defense, age, health, or salary.

So I'm OK with the Brewers treating catcher as more or less a disposable position. If you get a guy who handles pitchers well, is a solid clubhouse guy, does enough in the 8 hole to turn the lineup over - and don't break the bank to get him - then you're doing just fine.

-In other news, it looks like Scott Linebrink will sign with the White Sox for roughly $5 million per year. Shrug. Trading for him was a good deal at the time, and after a rough start he got much better, but like Estrada, he wasn't an essential part of the solution. Getting two relatively high draft picks for him helps take the sting off. Probably would have liked to have the prospects we gave up for him, especially Joe Thatcher, who pitched well with San Diego down the stretch. But we've been drafting well for awhile now, and these picks should strengthen the farm system.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and thanks for reading the blog. We've been at it for about two months now, and I'm really appreciative of all the comments and feedback. Hopefully the Packers buck history and play well in Detroit today. Even if they lose, still a lot to be thankful for if you're a fan of Wisconsin sports.

Lots to talk about: Brewers sign Jason Kendall and trade Johnny Estrada, thoughts on UW's upcoming basketball opponents, and something funny a reader emailed me yesterday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Metrodome: Minnesota built it, Wisconsin owns it

Another fun trip to the Metrodome has come and gone, the last time we will see the Badgers leave that dingy stinkhole victorious. For the record, UW went 4-0 in front of me at the dome, all four games - '95, '97, '05, '07 - memorable in their own way.

Here are a few pictures from our group at the event. Special thanks to Tim Toohey for the photos, Matt and Megan Schwalbach for the hospitality and the pictures, Chris Toren for the early tailgate work, and everyone else for chipping in on the fun.

The group: Molle Polzin, Erik Olson, Brian Hermann, me, Matt Schwalbach, Tim Toohey, Will Bottinick, Eric Werner, Megan Schwalbach, Chris Toren, with Jim Polzin keeping play-by-play notes on the coaches' postgame handshake.

This was either the Badgers chopping down the goalpost with Paul Bunyan's Axe, or them beating the crap out of those annoying UM cymbals players who stood right on the end zone line.

Maybe next year, Chris - always a good sport. Feuding friends Toren and Toohey in a light moment, presumably before Toohey spilled a beer all over his seat. For the record - Toren and I emerged as Baggo champions once again, although not before dropping a game to Schwalbach and Hermann.

EO, me, and Will, taking a break from discussing The World Without Us (started reading it today).

Nothing says college football like a parking lot surrounded by skyscrapers. Welcome to Minneapolis, home of the least college-like atmosphere in the Big Ten. Even if it's not college-like, it's still tons of fun. Highlights from this spot:

-Will learns Baggo
-Molle smells brocoli
-I drop not one, but two Rolling Rocks
-The best: Toren sees a kid peeing near his Pilot, confronts him: "Hey Gopher guy! Did you pee on my car?" Then he knocks the beer out of the guy's hand. Represent! Replays were inconclusive as to whether or not the guy actually peed on the car, but Chris took care of business.

No one can deny that Will made it count. This one's for the girls.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

All-Big Ten: Where the Badgers landed

A mediocre season of football in the Big Ten has concluded, and the conference's all-league teams have been announced. The lack of true star power and bona fide first round picks is a good indicator of conference's overall strength. Scanning the lists released by the coaches and media shows a number of Badgers honored. Let's run them down:

First team: TE Travis Beckum, CB Jack Ikegwuonu, K Taylor Mehlhaff
Second team: RG Kraig Urbik, DE Matt Shaughnessy, P Ken DeBauche
Honorable mention: S Shane Carter, LB Jonathan Casillas, C Marcus Coleman, QB Tyler Donovan, DT Nick Hayden, WR Paul Hubbard

First team: Beckum, Ike, Coleman
Second team: Urbik, Mehlhaff, Shaughnessy
Honorable mention: Carter, Casillas, DeBauche, Donovan, Hayden, RB P.J. Hill


-Beckum should have been first-team last year, not second team and honorable mention, so it's nice to see the right call made this year. We'll see how All-American honors work out for him, there are some other good ones out there, and Becks' perceived blocking deficiencies might hurt him there.

-At first Ike's honors puzzled me, since he seemed to regress this year after a terrific sophomore season. But he did lead the conference in passes defended in league play, and had great games against James Hardy and Mario Manningham. Like Beckum, it will be interesting to see if he returns to school for his senior season.

-Really happy to see Coleman get the first team media nod, what an unsung member of a really solid unit. It's so hard to gauge what constitutes an all-conference center, he's usually not getting out and blocking a corner, pulling, or pancaking defenders. With a freshman left tackle, shuffling chairs around him, and a first-year starting quarterback and parade of different running backs behind him, Coleman held it all together for what turned out to be a pretty damn good offense.

-Really glad for Mehlhaff, who's been so solid for several seasons now. Replacing him next year is a major concern. Think he got a vote from the Brewster household?

-Urbik - see Coleman. Could he be the center next season?

-I expected Shaughnessy to be first team this year, but his second team status is more a reflection of the strength of the position in the conference. Really hope he comes back next year, a consistently solid performer.

-Happy for Hayden, rebounding from a poor junior season to have a strong senior season reminiscent of his 2005.

-Thought DeBauche would have a better season, but he was pretty good. He spoiled us with his first three seasons, and went out on a solid note.

-Hope Casillas is ready to make the step to first or second team as a senior, he's got the talent to do it.

-Hubbard? Really? Both of UW's starting wideouts were hurt for periods this year, and Luke Swan ended up with twice as many catches. Still, Hubbard did some nice things this year.

-Speaking of Swan, he won a Sportsmanship Award, nice touch for a classy kid.

-Donovan turned out to be much better than I thought he'd be, a playmaker every bit as much as a game manager. He'll be missed next year.

-Missing those last 3-1/2 games probably cost PJ 700 yards rushing. He would have pushed Beanie Wells for first team all-conference in that case.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Glenn Dorsey for Heisman

A few of us were sitting around after Saturday's game watching another crazy weekend of college football unfold. Oregon loses, Dennis Dixon hurt. Darren McFadden with a pedestrian game, same as Matt Ryan. West Virginia winning a big game, with Pat White and Steve Slaton sharing the spotlight. Hawaii eking one out with Colt Brennan on the bench.

The question posed by a friend who may or may not have an official Heisman Trophy vote: Who wins the Heisman?

Glenn Dorsey.

With no offensive player making a case for being the outstanding player on the outstanding team, I'm going to make the case for the best player on the best defense in the country, which is part of the best team in the country.

Here's part of a release I found on Dorsey being named a finalist for two more awards:

Dorsey is the anchor of an LSU defense that is currently ranked among the top 10 in the nation in five categories, including a No. 2 rating in total defense and a No. 4 ranking in rush defense.

In 11 games this year, Dorsey has recorded 55 tackles, 11.5 tackles for losses and six sacks for the top-ranked Tigers. He’s also batted down four passes at the line of scrimmage and added four quarterback hurries.

I love this guy, gotta love anyone who dominates from the interior line, offense or defense. True, LSU has athletes everywhere, but you've got to believe they lose another game or two without Dorsey shutting down the run.

Now, I realize my campaign will probably end up like my "Pace for Heisman '96" campaign. My friend who may or may not have an official ballot said Beanie Wells (not sure if he was kidding or not - interesting name that hasn't come up much). My money would be on Tim Tebow, who has had a terrific year statistically.

But the climate is right for a defensive player to win the Heisman, a la Charles Woodson in 1997, and Glenn Dorsey is the defensive player who deserves it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Minnesota football: A program in shambles under Tim Brewster

Conversely, if you're a Gopher football fan, there's not much to be excited about, even after a spirited effort by an overmatched group on Saturday. In his first year as coach, Tim Brewster has led Minnesota to a giant step backward, turning a program that was competitive and excellent in many areas under Glen Mason into something resembling other big-city sports "entertainment" where the game is secondary to the hoopla surrounding it. They also played with a lack of maturity and discipline resembling Miami's late '80s teams, only with 5% of the talent.

To that end, let's take two examples that were well detailed in Jim Polzin's Capital Times story last night.

-... UW senior kicker Taylor Mehlhaff was heading over to congratulate Minnesota counterpart Joel Monroe on a great game when he was approached by Clint Brewster (right), the son of the Gophers coach and a freshman quarterback on the team.

According to Mehlhaff, Clint Brewster said: "You guys are terrible. … We're 1-10 and we should have beat you.''

"I just couldn't believe he said that,'' added Mehlhaff, who made two field goals Saturday but missed as many (two) as he had all season. "I was giving their guys high-fives … and telling them good game. I just couldn't believe anyone would come up and be like that.

"And then he said, 'How many kicks did you miss today?' That's pretty bold. I just said, 'I've got to go celebrate (with) the axe.' ''

Very classy, Clint. I remember two years ago, after the Gophers' gut-wrenching loss to UW in the dome, Laurence Maroney warmly embracing Brandon Williams (both St. Louis guys). That was how this rivalry should play out - fight hard, then a big hug. Our schools and states are pretty similar, records aside, and this should be one of those mutual respect deals. We'll see if the Brewsters can learn that.

-Another thing players that mutually respect one another don't do is punch their opponents in the testicles. From Jim's story:

Bielema revealed the Mehlhaff/Clint Brewster exchange during his postgame news conference and also said he was bothered by an incident between Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker and UW cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu during the game. In the second quarter, Decker appeared to punch Ikegwuonu in the groin area while blocking him, causing Ikegwuonu to leave the game for a play.

Thing is, Decker (above) played really well Saturday, clearly getting the best of Ike, and this totally wipes that out. The Minnesota papers made a big deal out of the fact that Ike head-butted Decker at another juncture. Well, let me tell you, getting punched in the balls hurts more.

-The dome atmosphere resembled a Mike Veeck production. Fireworks. Loud piped-in music. A tire race in the end zone, the winner getting a 6-inch sub! Two drunks running through tackling dummies and doing end zone dances. People throwing Nerf footballs from the upper deck and end zone targets. Apparently, Brewster has decided the residents of Gopher Nation don't want Big Ten football, they want minor league baseball.

-And that's another thing - Gopher Nation? They can't even sell out the dome for the Wisconsin game! Most Minnesota fans left after we went up 41-27, and missed a really excited long touchdown pass. They still had a chance with a minute left. Gotta beat the traffic though. Gopher Nation? Better work on convincing the Twin Cities first, Timmy.

-One thing that stood out during the pregame festivities was the number of aggressively anti-UW shirts worn by Gopher fans. "Better dead than red." "Bucky Badger is a whore." "Buck the Fadgers." Now, I realize that similar anti-UM shirts for Badger fans probably exist, but I didn't see any Saturday, the logical time to wear them.

You know what those shirts are the sign of? An inferiority complex. You know how I know? Because those are exactly the kind of shirts we've worn (okay, I've worn) to denigrate Michigan, as they've beaten us year after year. So yeah, it's a rivalry, but it's so one-sided that the perennial loser resorts to conjuring up images of death, sexual indiscretion, and implied cuss words.

Last night when I first heard about all this crap the Gophers pulled during game, I was madder than a wet hen. Eric Decker punched Jack Ikegwuonu in the nuts!

This morning, though, with the emotions of the day worn off and a little perspective, I just feel bad for Gopher fans. Brewster could end up being a good coach, and I'm not writing him off yet. But the scene we witnessed yesterday indicated that even if he brings in some of those four-star recruits that fans are hyperventilating about, Brewster has a lot to learn about controlling his players, creating a college football environment, and winning ballgames.

Wisconsin-Minnesota postgame thoughts

Yesterday was fairly draining, but all ended well. There's going to be two posts about the game, one focusing on the game, and one focusing on what a joke of a program Tim Brewster is cultivating here at Minnesota.

-What a tremendous game by Zach Brown. Let's do some clarification here. Last week I compared him to Eddie Faulkner, a career backup. Several of my friends challenged that Zach is much better than Eddie. I will agree, but still see him as a backup, mainly because of the guys who should be ahead of him. This just speaks to the depth of the program and how the overall talent level has been upgraded in the last decade.

-Even against a horrible defense like Minnesota's, give props the line for opening the holes for Zach. And it was another next-man-in scenario, when Bill Nagy replaced the injured John Moffitt. Once again, surprising that Danny Kaye and Jake Bscherer didn't get a call, but it worked out.

-David Gilreath has been an emotional roller coaster all year, and Saturday he went out on a high note in front of the program he originally committed to. Like the running game, credit the blocking, he had gaping holes to work with, but credit him for taking advantage.

-Been up and down all year about Tyler Donovan too, and he didn't have his best game yesterday, but he won, and won with two bruised hands. The kid's tougher than nails and a winner ... can we compare him to Mike Samuel, only a better passer ... and runner?

-Once again Travis Beckum was the best player on the field. Someone in our group said "I think Travis has gone to his last class," and I can't disagree. Looks like an injured shoulder, hopefully he's ready for the bowl game.

-Love that Ben Strickland once again made a huge play to seal a win here. Our program succeeds with classy kids like Ben, not jackasses like Eric Decker and Clint Brewster.

-Elijah Hodge was hurt, Culmer St. Jean played okay in his place. Jae McFadden seemed to be back as well, didn't notice him that much.

-Another mediocre game for Jack Ikegwuonu, although getting punched in the groin by Decker didn't help.

-Thought we may have figured out how to defend the spread after beating an Indiana team with superior playmakers to the Gophers, but they really moved the ball well at times, without any semblance of a Division I running back on the field. Not having Hodge, Jason Chapman and Allen Langford might have had something to do with it.

-All Shane Carter does is catch interceptions. In a way he's comparable to Jim Leonhard, although Jimmy may have been better in run support.

-Another excellent game by the unsung hero, Ken DeBauche.

-One of my other favorite unsung players this season has been Daven Jones, and he made some intangible plays yesterday. He's done some terrific work on special teams, and I hope he ends up contributing at wide receiver to the level he was projected at coming out of high school.

-Adam Weber has a bright future for Minnesota, even if they stay with the spread. He's not nearly as athletic as I thought he was, and his passing needs polish, but he racked up over 400 yards of total offense on us.

-I'm going to miss Minnesota punter Justin Kucek, he's given Badger fans so many good memories.

Overall, we're 9-3 and have a shot to go a January bowl game. Ohio State's in a BCS game for sure; crazy things might happen to allow Illinois to get in there as well. If we play in the Outback Bowl, I hope it's against a new opponent like Tennessee. The Alamo Bowl wouldn't be bad, either, and the Big 12 opponent might be more beatable than one from the SEC.

So the regular season is over and we're not staring at a BCS game or national title game berth, but you know what? Good season. Nine wins for the fourth straight year, another winning record in Big Ten play, beat Michigan, beat Minnesota, 1,000-yard rusher, All-American tight end, undefeated at home sold out Camp Randall. All this even with a ton of injuries and other adversity. Nice job by the coaching staff keeping it all together this year.

I'm a glass-half-full guy this morning.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

badgers win

Deep breath ... Exhale.

Plenty of warts, but still satsfying.

More insightful commentary to follow.

good start to second half

That's more like it.

Love that Gilreath is doing it in front of the homw crowd.

wisconsin-minnesota halftime thoughts

Ok, here's the report from the metrodome.
We're playing the worst team in the country.

They are playing their best game of the year.

We are playing our worst.

Our all-conference kicker has missed two.

Their molasses-slow QB is running all over us.

Will makes the good point that we outplayed them over the last 12 minutes, but I'd rather be up 16-13 than down 13-10.

Just told Schwalbach I see us winning 24-20.


oh ... my ... god

Right now, I'm watching Wisconsin lose to a third-rate program, convincingly. Minnesota fires cannons after extra points, has a 30-second song to celebrate first downs, and has tire races in the end zone, the winner getting. 6-inch sub.

This can't be happening.

Friday Night Lights dimmed

MINNEAPOLS -- I'm sitting here at Schwalbach's house, watching the snow fall ... already? I suppose we used to have lots of snow on Thanksgiving most years growing up, but not lately. Had a nice meal last night at Pepito's with Toren, Schwib, Polzin, Toohey, Eric Werner, and Will, Olson, and Molle showed up later to add to the meaningful discussion.

Shockingly, few wanted to talk about the Wisconsin high school football championship games, except for someone who asked me if I'd even gone to the Iola-Scandinavia game on Thursday. I did, with Mr. Austin and Greg Loescher, but not much to report there. Some shaky early offense and special teams play put the Thunderbirds in a 14-0 hole halfway through the first quarter, and it was a steep uphill climb the rest of the way. Had I-S played a perfect or near-perfect game, Stratford could have been beaten, but there's a reason they've won five gold balls in a row - depth, execution, strategy, experience.

Great season for Iola, though, lots of fun to watch and a terrific galvanizing event for the community.

Sign of the game, held by a Stratford fan: "Iola has the car show, but we have the titles." Clever.

-Another easy win for the basketball team last night. Didn't see it, but looking at the box score, saw the Marcus Landry and Jason Bohannon led the way with 17 apiece - very encouraging. As ajs posted Friday, there's been talk that J-Bo had knee surgery over the offseason and that's set him back. I haven't seen evidence of a lingering injury or recovery, more of a deal where he's not shooting well ... although that could be a byproduct of not having his legs just right.

Never really worried about Landry, no reason for him to force his offense in these cupcake games, but nice to see that he still has it nonetheless. If we can find ways for him - and Jon Leuer - to play the 3, especially on defense, that makes our lineup awfully imposing from an shot-blocking perspective.

-Interesting to be up here in Gopher country and gauge fans' attitudes toward Tim Brewster. I suppose you have to be optimistic, but he is about to be responsible for the worst season in school history. His saving grace is allegedly his recruiting prowess, but given the number of de-commits he's had lately, that prowess is far from a given.

One member of our party wants to see if Brewster and Bret Bielema shake hands before the game, given Bret's words about how "Minnesota has been good to us" lately and Brewster's reaction to that. Hey Tim, it's not a false statement, and Minnesota has been good to Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC, et al in recent years. Do something about it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Feeling very eerie

Man, this writer’s strike has me bummed – The Office is just starting to hit its stride again and we’re going to be subjected to reruns for months. What will I write about on Thursday nights? Dog, Bounty Hunter?

Really liked last night’s episode, it was complex, brought up many elements from the past, and had ping pong. The highlights:

-Court reporter: “That’s what she said.” Michael: “ … the delivery’s all wrong, she’s butchering it.”
-Michael on Jan: “She was drinking a lot … of water.”
-Dwight to Jim: “Darrell is the client? He works here, dumbass!”
-Kelly: “Your mama’s so fat she could eat the Internet.” Kelly’s annoying turned from funny annoying to mean-spirited and unwanted annoying last night.
-Michael: “The timing was nothing short of predominant.”
-Michael: “Line.”
-Michael: “I throw myself at the mercy of the deposition.
-Toby, on the number of diary copies: “Could you make it 11?”
-Jim: “Check this out – spin serve … it works like 80% of the time.”
-Michael knocking Toby’s tray off the cafeteria table.
-Did you notice that everyone at Ryan’s table had a beard like his?
-Lawyer: “Who’s this other woman, Ryan?” Does anyone else think it’s weird that BJ Novak would make a recurring theme out of Michael thinking how hot he is? Not so much that it’s Michael, but that anyone thinks it.
-Michael on the Twins: "They hang from m' lady's chest."
-Court reporter reading back Michael’s line: “That wasn’t to go to the bathroom, that was to get out of a question.”
-Lawyer reading Michael’s diary: “I’m definitely feeling very eerie.” Michael: “Irie.”
-Wish I could spell the names of all the top ping pong players Dwight listed. Like Jana said, "That scene must have been impossible for him to memorize."

Hard-cutting Michael Flowers

Last night’s Wisconsin basketball game was another one where you can’t tell too much because the opponent was inferior. Savannah State should be playing Division II or III ball and putting the money they currently spend to maintain Division I status into academic-related endeavors. Only a couple notes:

-It’s human for basketball players to go through the motions at times when running their regular offense. God knows we did it running LeRoy Young’s flex back at West Bend East – you’re 99% sure you’re not going to get open, so the pick isn’t set as hard and the cut isn’t made as hard. Perhaps it was this lack of execution that held us back. Maybe it was lack of talent. Maybe lack of coaching.

Anyway, you can even see that creep into the Badgers as they run Bo Ryan’s flex – a good offense with good players and well-coached, but sometimes it seems like they’re just trying to get to a spot without a purpose. The thing about last night’s game that stuck out most was just how hard Michael Flowers makes his cuts. Several times Flowers went hard on the baseline, got himself open on the block, and his teammates actually got it to him; they seemed surprised he was open.

I don’t think Mike scored on any of these exchanges, but the effort and execution impressed me. It reminded me of how Devin Harris used to get open on the block back in his heyday. Keep it up buddy.

-Greg Stiemsma needs to dunk the damn ball when he’s one foot from the hoop. Last night he had several attempts from in close go awry when he tried to lay it in. Go up hard and attack the rim big guy! He had a good game, though, with 10 points, eight boards, four assists. He also seems to be trying to develop a left hand, although he didn’t convert with it last night.

-That’s one thing Jon Leuer has done so far, go hard at the rim and dunk. The young man needs to make his free throws, though, he missed the front end of two one-and-ones last night.

-Marcus Landry isn’t scoring much yet, but he had four blocks.

-Brian Butch seems comfortable with a go-to role. He’s calling for the ball and had 12 points, 10 boards, although he was only 4-of-12 from the field.

-Another really nice game for Trevon Hughes with 21 points. My one critique of him is that he’s flopping too much on defense, and he even did once on offense.

-Tim Jarmusz played three minutes, meaning he won’t redshirt. From my viewpoint, bad decision, he doesn’t look ready to contribute this year, but we are pretty thin at guard so if injuries happen he might be pressed into action.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Have to admit, I was a bit surprised when Minnesota fired Glen Mason after the Gophers' historic bowl collapse last season. Sure, he hadn't gotten them to a New Year's Day bowl game for the first time since 1961 -- 1961! -- but he had significantly upgraded the program. The U's running game was arguably the best in the nation and churned out standout back after standout back, stud lineman after stud lineman. I grudgingly admired their style of offense.

Still, it's hard to argue that the program had sort of plateaued, and the bowl game loss was just a convenient excuse to pull the trigger and get a new guy in here. So it's this Tim Brewster guy - talks a good game, but most new football coaches do. Seems energetic, the kind of guy who would insist people call him "Brew" or "Brewmeister" after just meeting him.

But dude, you've blown much of your credibility in Year One. During a preseason preview of the Gophers on the Big Ten Network, it was revealed to the entire nation (or the other six people who, like me, get the BTN), that the Goofs conclude their huddles with the chant "Big Ten champs Rose Bowl!" Further, my Athlon preseason mag reveals that Brewster took some turf from Pasadena and planted it in their locker room.


I suppose that if you're the new guy, you have to set the bar high right away, you have to say this kind of stuff. That's what Barry Alvarez did when he took over at Wisconsin, with his "Better get tickets now, because before long you're not going to be able to get them" comment. The Brewster-Alvarez comparison will also hold water if, hopefully, Minnesota finishes the season with one win, like the Badgers did in Barry's first year.

The big difference is, Barry took over for a program that had won six games in three years under Don Morton and ditched a poor offensive system, the veer, for a power game suited for the Wisconsin athletes and atmosphere. Brewster inherited an assembly line that turned out Lawrence Maroney, Marion Barber, Gary Russell, et al, and installed the flag football offense favored by perennial weaklings everywhere, the spread. He brought in the guy who ran Northwestern's finesse offense a couple years ago, for Pete's sake. I'm guessing Gopher fans would rather see Goldy gash Bucky for 400 yards rushing, like they did two years ago, than watch Adam Weber play amateur magician with his ball tricks.

Even so, Minnesota's offense isn't that bad, similar to ours numbers-wise. More importantly, the defense - which always seemed to be the red-headed stepchild under Mason, with the better athletes going to the offense - somehow has gotten even worse. They literally have the worst defense in the country - giving up 525 yards per game, dead last in Division I. They have the third-worst rushing defense (funny - Nebraska is second-worst). They have the worst passing defense. They gave up 42 points to something called Florida Atlantic.

All that being said, I'm not overconfident about Saturday's game, as you might have guessed. Two reasons: 1993, when the Badgers rolled up about 900 yards of offense but Darrell Bevell threw five picks in UW's only loss that magical season; and UNLV earlier this season, in which all of us who were there expected a 40-point Badger win, only to be treated to 58-1/2 minutes of heartburn. One other reason: the spread, although we handled Indiana's pretty well.

Bucky should win Saturday, but I'm willing to give Joel Maturi the benefit of the doubt and project Brewster as a good hire. He has the new stadium coming, which can only help, even if it's half as big as Camp Randall and sot of looks like a minor league baseball stadium. He can only recruit his home state better (love the commitment from Shady Salamon of St. Paul), his wall isn't fully built at the border yet - top wide receiver recruit Michael Floyd has committed to Notre Dame (didn't he verbal to Ohio State?). But if he stop guys like our Blake Sorenson and that Laryngitis guy from Ohio State from leaving, he'll have some talented guys the home folks can get behind.

Also, we're pulling for our old friend Phil Meyer, who did a fantastic job turning around the UW-Oshkosh football program. He's got a lot to live up to as offensive line coach, they've had some good ones there lately. We wish him nothing but the best every other day but Saturday. (Incidentally, Phil's tight with Bevell, who's, uh, struggling with the Vikes.)

So let's go with Badgers 43, Gophers 24 on Saturday, and hope that long-term, Tim Brewster is more Jim Wacker than Barry Alvarez.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Holiday gift guide to sports books ...

... or let's call it the Badgercentric Book Club.

Last week I had a post about The Last Dance, John Feinstein's latest book. It was a less-than-glowing review, but sparked a terrific thread of comments. Since comments often go unnoticed by casual browsers, I thought I'd post a list of the books recommended by Will, Pintens, ajs, Frank, and Millie.

Figure this is useful, since every year about this time I'm scratching my butt trying to think of Christmas gift ideas for myself and for $20 gift exchanges, and this might be of service. Please let us know what you think of these; for now we're going to keep it to sports books, will open up to non-sports books later. This is also by no means all the good sports books that we've read.

So here goes round one of the Badgercentric Book Club, 30 books in all. * is for Jana and Mom - I haven't read this one yet but I'd like to. ** means I highly recommend it. *** means don't bother, I can always use more boxers.

The Punch, by John Feinstein

My Losing Season, by Pat Conroy

March to Madness
, by John Feinstein

**Season on the Brink, by John Feinstein

**Loose Balls, by Terry Pluto

The Bronx is Burning, by Jonathan Mahler

**Nine Innings, by Daniel Okrent

The Breaks of the Game, by David Halberstam

Playing For Keeps, by David Halberstam

When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss

*Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, by David Maraniss

**48 Minutes, by Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto

Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty
, by Buster Olney

DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, by Ben Crmer

Bad Guys Won, by Jeff Pearlman

A Good Walk Spoiled, by John Feinstein

**A Civil War, by John Feinstein

The Majors, by John Feinstein

The Last Amateurs, by John Feinstein

Play Ball, by John Feinstein

**A Season Inside, by John Feinstein

Moneyball, by Michael Lewis

**The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis

*Fantasyland, by Sam Walker

The Numbers Game, by Alan Schwartz and Peter Gammons

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, by Warren St. John

**Miracle of St. Anthony, by Adrian Wojnarowski

**Fall River Dreams, by Bill Reynolds

The Sweet Season, by Austin Murphy

*No Bed of Roses, Chris Kennedy

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ryan Braun, Rookie of the Year

Congratulations to Milwaukee third baseman Ryan Braun, who became the first Brewer since Pat Listach in 1992 to be named Rookie of the Year. Braun edged Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the closest voting in history.

Frankly, even though Brauny had arguably the greatest offensive season ever by a rookie, he had two things working against him:

-Arguably the worst defensive season ever by a rookie
-Tulo's team finished white-hot and he played great defense

So this one's nice. Not that it was necessary, but this award is validation of the great job the Brewers have done drafting these last few years.

Where does Braun play in years to come? Maybe we could trade a couple pitchers to Tampa Bay in return for an extra designated hitter spot or two. I'm not ready to give up on him at third - he doesn't look unnatural or uncomfortable out there, it's just a matter of him getting reps. Remember how bad Rickie Weeks looked at second two years ago? He's gotten much better. If improvement isn't shown, then you've got a decision to make, and left field seems the best spot.

Now, if Prince Fielder can somehow pull off MVP, that would really be something, but I see Colorado's Matt Holliday as the guy to beat there, deservedly so.

Droppin' bombs in Ogg

Good story in today's Journal Sentinel about Will's old stomping grounds ...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Badgers win basketball opener

The Wisconsin basketball team won its season opener tonight, beating something called Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne 83-55. The Mastadons were scrappy (they are coached by former Indiana annoyance Dane Fife), considerably more athletic than Edgewood or Eau Claire, and had a nice shooter. They had us down 11 in the first half before order was restored, a decent opener for Bo Ryan's crew.

-Brian Butch and Trevon Hughes were unquestionably the stars of the night. Both guys wanted the ball (17 field goal attempts apiece) when the team was behind, both were assertive without being reckless.

Butch had 24 points and 13 rebounds in just 26 minutes, but he was playing against a much smaller front line. He moved well off the ball and with the dribble, and made all four of his free throws.

Hughes' performance was more noteworthy: 25 points, six steals, five assists, five reounds, one block in 34 minutes. His on-ball defense was really good - the block was an explosive play.

I am concerned about how many minutes Hughes played. Who is his backup? It has to be Michael Flowers, but he didn't seem to be running things much tonight.

-Same starters as in the preseason - Hughes, Butch, Joe Krabbenhoft, Greg Stiemsma, Marcus Landry. Flowers came in for Stiemsma pretty early. It's looking like a eight-man rotation, with Jon Leuer being the eighth - although he didn't get in until 8 minutes remained in the game. He played well.

-Had a small lineup of Hughes, Flowers, Jason Bohannon, Landry, and Krabby for a short bit, I like that in certain situations.

-A Kevin Gullikson sighting! I saw him play, but thought it was a mirage until scanning the box score - all zeros for our KG.

-That's 23 straight wins at home now, fifth in the nation. Kind of snuck up on you, didn't it?

-Bohannon is our best 3-point shooter, but he can't shoot a true jump shot. He made one nice move to get to about the free throw line extended, but couldn't elevate over his defender and had to pass out. That would really round out his game.

-Krabby's mom says he's had stitches 35 times in his life. Don't know if I buy it, but the guy should get a bulk discount.

-Marquette struggled to put away Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis yesterday. They go by IUPUI, why don't the Mastadons go by IUPUFW?

Next up: Savannah State, Thursday 8 p.m.

Read this presumably tongue in cheek line in Michel Hunt's Journal Sentinel column this morning:

But it's like Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema always says, next man up, and the Wolverines have exceptional substitutes, because otherwise they would not be at Michigan. Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett must be really good because, as a freshman, he already has his own Web site.

And yep, there it is: Read it and see that Schwalbach and Toohey are right on - it's going to be easy to dislike this guy.

Note: The fine print does say this site is not officially affiliated with Mallett, but still ...

Packers shut out Vikings

Wow, didn't see that one coming. As the game was starting, I ticked off a list of Minnesota's best players - Adrian Peterson, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield, Steve Hutchinson, Matt Birk, Chad Greenway, Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell - and said to Jana "How are these guys 3-5?" Then I saw Brooks Bollinger throw the ball. Poor Brooks, he shouldn't be starting, he's an emergency #3 at best and is being asked to start.

I don't think the difference between the teams is that great, aside from three things:

-Quarterback play

Of course, these three things are hugely important in the NFL, and since the Packers hold the edge in all three, you've got an easy explanation for the difference between 8-1 and 3-6.

My favorite moments were Sharper breaking up his own teammate's interception, subsequently a touchdown for Ruvell Martin, and not seeing Longwell except for the kickoff. Loved Sharper when he was here, but his outspokenness about things in Green Bay from his vantage point five hours west is really annoying. Loved Longwell when he was here, but got sick of his whining about kicking in bad weather and how nice it would be to kick in a dome like his kicking rivals. Well Ryan, you got your wish, kicking outside in January is nowhere in your future.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sunday morning sports thoughts

Thoughts on sports with Sunday morning coffee:

-Gotta love high school football. The Iola-Scandinavia Thunderbirds, who play their home games just an out-and-up away from our house, beat Fennimore Friday night in the state semifinals to advance to the state title game. We've got a great program in our little town - conference title contenders every year, always make the playoffs, went to the finals in 1999. We've also got a great senior class that has been excelling on the varsity stage since they were sophomores.

At right is a nice picture from Doug Wojcik of the Stevens Point Journal. #4 is Michael Griffin, a great basketball player who sometimes plays with us at lunchtime, stud running back and linebacker. #7 is Kody Morgan, who played on our kickball team in a tournament this summer. #10 is Dustin McAloon, whose dad is a group publisher in our company. Jordan Mortenson, the star tight end/defensive end who had three sacks last night, is a super kid and the son of a good guy who plays basketball with us every day. Colton Zimmerman, the exciting quarterback, lives down the street from us.

It's the epitome of small-town high school football.

The challenging news: the T-Birds play Stratford, who Schwalbach is familiar with from his Marshfield days. They've won the last four Division 6 state titles, and have lost one game in the last five years, to LaCrescent, which I understand is a much larger Minnesota school.

Iola's title game is at 1 p.m. Thursday, Jim Austin and I are going. Polzin, Andy - meet you there? Then we'll go catch Eden Prairie in the Dome the next night.

Bad news for Truckers fans: Clintonville lost its semifinal game Saturday afternoon to nearby New London, 28-0. Good news is nothing will be holding Polzin up from the Minnesota festivities.

-Saw something nice in the Saturday Journal Sentinel sports section. Geoff Jenkins, who is parting ways with the Brewers after a decade of loyal service, took out a full-page ad thanking the fans of Milwaukee for being so supportive during his time here. Classy move.

While reading it, a young boy at Pick 'n Save came up to me with a pen and asked me to autograph the ad for him. I obliged. (That one's for Will and Burch)

On the negative, if another team signs Jenks the Brewers won't get any compensatory draft picks, because apparently players like Nick Johnson, who was injured and didn't play last year, are deemed better than Jenkins, who hit 21 home runs. On the plus side, if Francisco Cordero or Scott Linebrink sign elsewhere, the Brewers will get first round picks. I'd rather keep them, but you know how that goes.

-It figures: Just when the Badgers' chances of having a special season evaporate - which sent by blood pressure and stress back to normal levels - here come the Packers at 7-1. They're far from perfect - no running game, still give up plenty on defense - but they're playing much better than anyone thought they would this season. Especially Brett Favre, he's been terrific. Now I get riled up for Packers games.

Of course, they could easily lose Sunday to Minnesota, which despite putrid quarterback play (sorry Brooks) still has a lot going for it. Good article about Darren Sharper in the Saturday Journal Sentinel which pretty much said Ted Thompson made a mistake letting Sharper go a couple years ago.

I can't say much about Adrian Peterson that hasn't been said, but saw an interesting anecdote in Todd Finkelmeyer's Cap Times story about Brad Childress. Seems that when Ron Dayne was a freshman Barry Alvarez put Dayne into the UNLV game in the first half, and Childress went nuts, wondering why Dayne was in there. A comment left after the story says "Kinda like he didn't want Adrian Peterson in there for the Vikings." Nice one.

-Lastly, a co-worker posed this question on Friday:

I need help figuring out an answer to a trivia question .. What was the only father and son to both lead their respective NCAA division in free throw percentage? One was Division I, the other was not. I was thinking Rick Barry and one of his sons, but I think they all played for Division I schools. Any ideas?


Wisconsin-Michigan postgame thoughts - hell yeah! (update following OSU loss)

As the tide seemed to be shifting in favor of the Wolverines in the fourth quarter, I started thinking about about what emotion would best fit my mood if we lost. Angry? Disappointed? Indifferent?

Then the defense and running game stepped in and finished things of, and I had to reverse my thinking. What emotion fits this win best? Elation? Relief? Bittersweet?

I'll go for the first. Beating Michigan never feels anything but awesome. Dominating Michigan like we did today? Even better. Forget all those what-might-have-been thoughts I was writing yesterday, it's all about the positive right now:

-Undefeated home record for the second straight year
-Still in the running for a winning conference record and the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl
-Still in the running for a 10-win season
-Could be ranked again
-Some big-time players are playing big-time football
-Michigan has a chance to lose five games this year

And make no mistake, Wisconsin dominated Michigan today. I don't care if Henne and Hart had the sniffles or whatever, we were missing five starters because of injury and didn't have a roster full of Parade All-Americans to step in for them. Consider the stats:

-First downs: UW 24, UM 17
-Rushing yards: UW 232, UM 47
-Total yards: UW 477, UM 320
-Interceptions: UW 3, UM 0
-My favorite - Time of possession: UW 38:15, UM 21:45

The thoughts:

-It was Senior Day, and the relatively small senior class carried the day. Paul Hubbard (right) was huge with seven catches for 134 yards. Tyler Donovan threw for 245 yards and a touchdown, ran for 49 yard and a touchdown, and showed some nice dance moves avoiding sacks.

Taylor Mehlhaff made all three of his field goal attempts. Ken DeBauche average 45 yards per punt with a long of 65, and put four inside the Michigan 20. Marcus Coleman and the interior line handled a damn good defensive tackle in Terrance Taylor, who had a lot of tackles but did not stop the run. Nick Hayden (left) had 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup.

-Good to see PJ get back in and try to make a go of it. I expect him to play next week, need to take a lot of get-tough pills this week. Hope Donovan is ready to play, would rather not throw Allan Evridge in there at this stage of the season. Looked like a pretty bad bruise on TD's hand.

-What is it about our punt return team at home against Michigan? They're like magnets for the ball. Nice job by the defense to get a three-and-out after that potential disaster.

-I can't get over the ESPN cameras' preoccupation with the couple hundred Michigan fans in attendance, they just kept showing those idiots.

-Shane Carter showed his strengths and weaknesses on back-to-back drives: watching Mario Manningham go right by him on the long TD pass, then making nice play on the ball for his second interception.

-When I saw the shot of what were presumably Chad Henne's parents in the stands, I thought about how pissed I would be if I was them, to come all the way from Pennsylvania to watch tough Chad wear a coat and call signals.

-The personal foul call on Deandre Levy was terrible, he stumbled and grazed Ryan Mallett's helmet. Later Obi Ezeh went helmet-to-helmet with Donovan, knocking TD out of the game, and no penalty.

-Funny to watch Manningham bitching at Mallett on the sideline, who is he, Terrell Freaking Owens? That's the kind of program they have in Ann Arbor, big-time athletes with big-time egos, just a factory churning out NFL players preloaded with NFL attitudes.

-I jotted down "Not Ike's best game," since he gave up some big plays, then look at the stat sheet and see he had an interception and four pass breakups. He also made a nice play downing a punt on the Michigan 3.

-Mallett was resourceful in escaping or almost escaping sacks. That backward shovel to the tight end was almost one of those back breaking plays.

-Mallett will be good in time, but today he was spraying the ball around like Wild Thing Vaughn. The guy was 11-for-36 - Tarvaris Jackson numbers.

-Best shot: The Badger fan wearing the I Heart Appalachian State T-shirt.

-Really nice effort by Zach Brown running for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Still think he's a career backup, a la Eddie Faulkner, but a damn good one. Nice to know we have depth at running back, a necessity in this program.

-Love how the line kept pounding Michigan - they wore down at the end and paved the way for Brown's scoring runs. That's Wisconsin football. For all the things that haven't gone as planned this year, our time of possession has still been stellar, a testament to the offensive line. The depleted defensive line played very well too, with three sacks and five TFLs.

Great win, really looking forward to Minnesota next week. The Gophers have to be the worst Big Ten team in recent memory and we should score 50 on them, but we've been upset there before and they run that damn spread offense, so anything's possible.

**ADD, 5:41 p.m. - Wow, Ohio State loses at home to Illinois. Didn't think it was impossible, but unlikely. Huge win for that program - the sleeping giant is waking up. What does it mean? Need to think about it a bit, but on first blush:

-Ohio State probably beats Michigan next week and "settles" for the Rose Bowl, not the BCS title game ... although who knows?
-Michigan goes Cap One Bowl, which is fitting, they didn't deserve the Rose Bowl with the lackluster year they've had.
-Ironically, beating Ohio State may push the Illini down to the Outback Bowl. Is my thinking right on this?
-Now it's between us and Penn State for the Alamo and Champs Sports bowls. New Year's Day seems unlikely. Wouldn't mind mixing things up and playing an ACC or Big 12 team in a bowl.

All this could change if Ohio State only falls a few spots in the BCS standings, since conference championship games, especially the Big 12 and SEC, could knock a couple high-ranking one-loss teams down a peg. We might have to wait until the first weekend in December to know our bowl fate, thanks to the domino effect of all these other teams.

More thoughts on this Monday when the updated BCS standings come out. #1 Kansas anybody?