Sunday, August 31, 2008

UW-Akron thoughts

The first thing I thought was, That's the closest I've ever come to actually predicting the final score of a game. Two points, not bad.

Overall, about what you'd expect from an opener against a weak MAC team. Lots of good, but lots to work on, too.

-P.J. Hill does look better proportioned, although his rear end is still quite prominent. I remember watching warmups before the season opener in Cleveland two years ago and the guy next to me saying P.J. looked like a guard that had gone through the wash. Great description, but doesn't fit as much any more.

No matter what the guy looks like, he can play — great feet, great burst, great strength to punish tacklers at the end of the play and move piles. Can't get too greedy, though, like he did on the fumble.

-So Akron plays a 3-3-5 defense. How's that working out for them? I just can't see that as an effective defensive setup against anyone anymore, even the Spread, which can gash you with runs if you aren't in the right spot.

-Great catch by Garrett Graham on Allan Evridge's first pass. As long as Travis Beckum comes back from this injury and is in tune with Evridge, his absence for these first couple games will mean good things for Graham and Lance Kendricks, who looked like he belonged out there. Graham blocked really well, too.

-Evridge made a really nice ball fake on the touchdown pass to Graham. Overall he played well, with the obvious exceptions being the interception he threw in the end zone on a terrible pass, and the almost-intercepted ball in the first quarter. Gotta tighten that up, but he's excused for having some rust. Also liked the way he ran the ball with power, although he didn't seem ready to take the hit at the end.

-Early on O'Brien Schofield made a great spin move to record a sack. If he's anything above average it's a huge plus for the defensive line. Matt Shaughnessy was active early from the other end spot.

-I want to single out two linemen for their play: John Moffitt and Andy Kemp, who showed great athleticism. On P.J.'s first long run, Moffitt pulled to open up a hole. A pulling center? Haven't seen that around here since Al Johnson, I believe.

Kemp was equally proficient pulling, throwing the key block on P.J.'s 1-yard touchdown run later, absolutely burying his guy. These two guys are the least-heralded of the Badgers' five starters (and you could throw in Josh Oglesby, too), but if they're able to do these sorts of things against better defensive fronts, it will really make life easier for our backs.

-So all facemask penalties are going to be 15 yards this year in college? I don't like that rule. The one called on Jae McFadden early was definitely a 15-yarder under the old standards, but some just aren't that malicious.

-Glad to see Evridge and Paul Chryst get Kyle Jefferson involved early. After suffering a case of the drops in camp, it was nice to see him get some easy catches in space and make yards after the catch. Now let's see him stretch defenses like he did at times last year.

-Zach Brown looked faster than I remembered on a run around left end. He should be solid again, if not considerably better than solid.

-The third-stringer, John Clay, looks like a beast just lined up in the backfield. He ran well today, closed the game strong.

-David Gilreath should have caught that pass in the end zone, Evridge threw a nice ball. The upside to that was it let Philip Welch come in and get a field goal under his belt. His kickoffs were generally OK, not Taylor Mehlhaff-esque, but Akron's vaunted kickoff return game didn't break anything long.

-We had problems covering their tight end. Jay Valai did not stand out as having a great performance. Allen Langford and Mario Goins covered well, with the exception of a play where Langford got beat deep but the pass was off-target.

-Brad Nortman only got one punt in, but it was a good one. Not so worried about that spot, for the moment.

-McFadden seemed to play pretty well, he was in on a lot of tackles (11).

-Only saw Oglesby in the Jumbo package, not Jake Bscherer, and Carimi was in at left tackle on the game's final possession. Is Bscherer redshirting?

-Read that Kirk DeCremer is likely done playing college football. That's a big loss, I really liked what he showed last year as a pass rusher and guy who in general was around the ball a lot.

-Akron's quarterback, Chris Jacquemain, had horrible footwork and arm mechanics. Our pressure had something to do with that, but even on plays where there wasn't much pressure his fundamentals were atrocious.

-Saw a clip of Terrelle Pryor in Ohio State's game against Youngstown State, he looks like the second coming of Vince Young.

-Finally, Ian Allen, the analyst on the Big Ten Network's broadcast, gave quite possibly the worst performance of a guy in that spot that I have ever heard. Not even exaggerating here, he was absolutely awful. Almost everything he said was 100% wrong — worse than generic or cliche, it was wrong. Please, BTN, don't send him to any more of our games this year, he's the analyst Minnesota deserves.

We rushed for more than 400 yards and put up what looked like a box score from a high school game. Good start, and the run-all-the-time was the approach I advocated, but it would be nice to see a little more diversity next week.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Points on the board

Didn't see today's win over Akron yet, listened to the first half while driving to a wedding reception in Edgerton. My only thought at this time is that I'm disappointed we left so many points on the board in the first half. It should have been 35-7 at halftime, not 17-10. Some guys have to tighten up their games.

But a win's a win, and Michigan lost, so it's a beautiful day.

More after watching the game.

Breaking down the schedule

Put the 2008 team poster up in my office earlier this week, and during phone calls have found myself staring at the Badgers' 2008 schedule. Here's how I see it going;

August 30: vs. Akron. Win. Won't be pretty, but should be a good game to establish a dominant ground game and see guys like Blake Sorensen and Garrett Graham play big roles in place of injured starters.

September 6: vs. Marshall. Win. Ten years ago I went to see Marshall play Bowling Green at Bowling Green with my boss at the time, Mickey Johnson, a huge Thundering Herd backer. Chad Pennington, Doug Chapman, and Byron Leftwich were on that Marshall team, and Randy Moss had just left. Somehow BG won. Can't see this Herd team posing much of a threat.

September 13, at Fresno State. Loss. The talk about the Badgers' weak non-conference schedule continues, but considering that they will be clear underdog in one of their non-conference games, why is that? Further, if Virginia Tech had remained on the schedule, Wisconsin's non-conference schedule would easily be the toughest of any BCS team. Still, don't see us winning this one, and if we do it'll be a huge boost.

September 27, at Michigan. Win. Michigan is down a bit this year but still has lots of talent. Still, the main reason I'm picking win here is our bye week before this game, it should give guys like Beckum and Casillas more time to heal up. Michigan has a bye before this game, too.

October 4, vs. Ohio State. Win. This ends up being OSU's one regular season loss, but they still win the conference. This game's on the offensive line and P.J. Hill, they need to impose their will on this one. The atmosphere at Camp Randall will be electric for this one.

October 11, vs. Penn State. Win. PSU has some players, but I just can't see them winning a night game in Madison.

October 18, at Iowa. Win. This should be the easiest game in this brutal stretch, but that isn't a given. No way Bielema lets the team let down for this one.

October 25, vs. Illinois. Loss. Last year's 31-26 loss to the Illini in Champaign wasn't that close. We got are butts kicked in that one, and even though they lost Mendenhall and Leman, they've got a lot of big-time recruits who will be coming into their own this year.

November 1, at Michigan State. Loss. Still can't shake that image of our horrendous tackling against Sparty in Madison last year, and one of the guys we had so much trouble bringing down, Javon Ringer, is back.

November 8, at Indiana. Win. Finally, what should be a breather after a brutal two-month stretch.

November 15, vs. Minnesota. Win. Who will still be eligible for the Gophers by then? (Apparently Brew's incoming Minnesota freshmen have the lowest composite ACT scores of eight schools that responded to the Star-Trib's request for such data; Wisconsin's were the highest, although Northwestern's were probably even higher.)

November 22, vs. Cal Poly. Win. Yeah, an anti-climactic way to end the regular season, but at this point, a win's a win.

January 1, vs. LSU, Capital One Bowl. Win. Here again? LSU's lines are dominant, but they've got a huge question mark at quarterback and are missing some playmakers on defense. This is where they landed after their last national title, and they lost to Iowa in a terrific game. I see something similar this year.

10-3, no conference championship, but a double-digit win total and January bowl. What would you think of that?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Season preview

So here we are, perched on another season that could hold big things for the Badgers. Many people are calling for a BCS bowl for UW, and mentioning "Wisconsin" and "national title" in the same sentence, although never throwing "will win the" in between. Ohio State is the clear favorite, but we've seen clear favorites fall before, right?

But from my basement, it doesn't seem like this will be the season Wisconsin will end its Big Ten championship drought. It seems more like a nine-win season that ends in Orlando or Tampa.

The schedule's too tough. The question marks too abundant. The injury bug too vicious.

Of course, the Badgers' schedule and roster have looked less promising in years past and the team has produced big results; 1998 comes to mind. But there's a folly in college sports comparing teams more than a couple years apart. The Badger football program in 2008 is completely different than it was in 1998 — coaching staff, offensive approach, home stadium.

I'm not going to waste bandwidth discussing the well-hashed out keys for the season: quarterback play, secondary inexperience, defensive line injuries, kicking game questions. Here are my two biggest keys for Badger success this season:

The offensive line has to block better. Sounds obvious, right? But it's not. As I wrote earlier this summer, I believe our offensive line has been overrated as a result of many years of producing top-notch blockers and good running games. Recently, the State Journal's Tom Mulhern wrote a good story about the alarming rate at which Badger quarterbacks have been sacked in recent years.

The pieces are in place for this to be a really good line. Kraig Urbik is one of the best guards in the country. Gabe Carimi is an athletic youngster who has the makings of a star. Andy Kemp and Eric Vanden Heuvel have tons of starting experience at guard and tackle. And John Moffitt was promising in his first experience last year.

The offensive line has to be dominant this year. If this line is stellar, everything falls in place: the running game grinds out 4-plus yards per carry, setting up reasonable distances on second and third down; less pressure on Allan Evridge to be anything more than a game manager, more time for him to read defenses and his young receivers to get open; more touchdowns, less field goal attempts for our unproven kickers; scoreless drives ending further up the field, lessening the pressure on a true freshman punter; a decisive edge in time of possession gives the defense rest and makes opposing offenses more predictable.

For all the talk of Ron Dayne and Tom Burke and Brent Moss, the Badgers' Rose Bowl teams of the last two decades have been built around Joe Panos and Cory Raymer and Chris McIntosh and Aaron Gibson. The 12-1 team of 2006 is inexplicably overlooked, but it was led by Joe Thomas. If the 2008 offensive line rises to the occasion, this year can be special.

How will the defense play under Dave Doeren? Like the San Antonio Spurs and Bret Saberhagen, the Badger defense seems to adopt an every-other-year performance schedule. Dominant in 2004 and 2006. Sieve-like in 2005 and 2007. But, as cautioned earlier, past performance means nothing, given the completely new cast of characters.

That said, the defense could be special in 2008. When Bret Bielema came on board in 2004, he gave a jolt of energy to a unit that had gone stale under Kevin Cosgrove. When Mike Hankwitz came in in 2006, his new approach worked well. Can Doeren do the same thing now that he's running things himself?

As much as energy and scheme play into it, it depends on a lot the play of certain individuals. Matt Shaughnessy has to elevate his play beyond the second team all-conference level he's been at the last two years. Deandre Levy and Jonathan Casillas have to make as many big plays as they did in 2006, if not more. Shane Carter has to round out his game and become a better tackler.

Most of the preseason focus on the defense has been on the new guys who need to step in and contribute: Mario Goins, Niles Brinkley, Jay Valai, Jae McFadden. Their play is important, undoubtedly — if any of those guys are terrible and suitable replacements aren't found, the defense is in trouble.

But to me, the key is more our good players playing great. If Shaughnessy, Casillas, Levy, et al are spectacular, the newbies' warts won't be as visible.

So in a nutshell, I think it is more important that our good players perform at a great level than it is for our unproven players to perform at an acceptable level. If the first happens, the second will be a natural byproduct.

Akron preview

Opening Day is tomorrow, and I'm very excited. Unfortunately, my chances of seeing the game live are not great, as I'll be attending a good friend's wedding reception in Edgerton.

It won't be the last time I'll miss a game, and it certainly isn't the first. In fact, tomorrow is my fifth wedding anniversary. I can still remember huddling in my parents' room at the Ramada in Marquette, Mich., with friends watching the Badgers' opener at West Virginia. About halfway through the second quarter I realized that I wasn't dressed yet and was due at the church in less than an hour for pictures. It ended up being a close game that the Badgers won, but aside from the win over Ohio State at Camp Randall, 2003 was an unremarkable season.

Here's hoping 2008 is more remarkable.

A season preview is coming up later today, but let's talk about Akron for a minute. And no more.

This has the makings of a sloppy game. By all accounts, Akron isn't very good, but will probably come in spunky and looking to play well enough to provide a boost going into the MAC season.

As has been well-documented, we are riddled with injuries and have lots of question marks. Travis Beckum's hamstring. Chris Pressley's hand. Jonathan Casillas's knee. All of the other guy coming off 2007 or offseason injuries — Matt Shaughnessy, Allen Langford, Jason Chapman, Kirk DeCremer.

Throw in Allan Evridge's first start, inconsistency at wide receiver and cornerback, and a new kicker, and this game might not be the blowout it appears to be on the surface.

Bodog has us favored by 27. I'll say we don't cover that: Wisconsin 36, Akron 17. We focus on pounding the ball down Akron's throats, with P.J. Hill and Zach Brown both scoring rushing touchdowns. Garrett Graham has the Badgers' lone receiving touchdown. The UW defense bends but doesn't break much, and Jay Valai forces a big turnover.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Big Ten Network: More Polzin please!

Tonight Jim Polzin, who in my opinion is one of the top three Badger football beat writers, made his debut appearance on the Big Ten Network. He briefly answered the host's question about what Bret Bielema will be looking for Saturday against Akron, touching on new cornerbacks Mario Goins and Niles Brinkley.

In our house the program was pre-empted by Barack Obama's acceptance speech, but we watched Big Ten Tonight right afterward. My wife, an avowed Obamaniac, was considerably more excited to see Jim. Looks like we have another Polziniac on board.

Here's hoping BTN viewers get a steady diet of Jim (heh heh) throughout the course of the season. The good news is it seems Time Warner and Comcast are breaking down and carrying BTN. Because you don't want to miss the Akron game!

Short Big Ten preview

Just about Opening Day, and thought I'd get down some predictions for the upcoming season. Badger predictions tomorrow, conference predictions today.

Predicted order of finish:

1. Ohio State. Can't remember the last time the difference between the best team in a conference and everyone else was this large. Like they needed Terrelle Pryor! And I love that they're playing USC, that takes balls, just like it did for them to play Texas a couple years back. We're playing for second.

If we beat them — and we've got a shot — it will be interesting to see if it's a springboard to bigger things like 1999, or a bright spot in an otherwise blah year, like 2001 and 2003.

2. Illinois. Yeah, I know they lost Mendenhall and Leman, but for some reason the guy I can't shake is Vontae Davis, their standout cornerback, and the feeling I can't shake is how they dominated us for half in Madison two years ago when they were terrible. Juice is bound to figure out how to hit Benn consistently soon, and we don't match up well against that dude.

3. Wisconsin. Too many good players to fall much further, too many questions to win 'em all.

4. Penn State. They have 5-3 written all over them. Losing linebacker Sean Lee costs them any shot at the conference championship. Watch them win just enough games to go to a bowl and postpone Paterno retirement talk.

5. Michigan. Better kick them while they're down, which ought to be the case this year. They still have enough talented mercenaries from around the country to win more than they lose.

6. Michigan State. Dantonio has them on the right track. Sporting News said we'd beat Ohio State, but our national title hopes will end in East Lansing. I'd probably take that over beating Michigan State and losing to Ohio State.

7. Purdue. Curtis Painter might not end up being all-conference or even lead his team to a winning record, but I suspect PU will pull a significant upset this season.

8. Iowa. And to think I wanted the Packers to hire Kirk Ferentz instead of Mike McCarthy to get Ferentz out of the Big Ten. This is a program in free fall; interestingly it's happening as Ferentz's highly-touted recruiting classes comprise the core of the roster.

9. Indiana. Figure Kellen Lewis is good for two wins by himself. Too many other key losses to win a bowl berth.

10. Northwestern. Figure they'll score 50 on someone they shouldn't, but give up almost that many most games.

11. M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A. Toohey emailed us a story that MarQueis Gray, Timmy Brewster's big quarterback recruit, might be academically ineligible this season. Shocker! They've got some talent with Weber at QB and Decker at receiver, but unless all their JUCO guys make an immediate impact on defense, this team's going to give up a lot of points again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

We're talkin' about practice

Over the weekend I was able to record the Big Ten Network's broadcast of a Badger football practice, which appears to have aired about two weeks ago. Allan Evridge hadn't yet been named the starter, and Jonathan Casillas wasn't hurt yet.

Missed the first half-hour, but was able to catch the 11-on-11 red zone drills, which was fun. Some observations from that:

-Kyle Jefferson had two pretty bad drops, including one in the end zone, and drew some pretty sharp criticism from Bret Bielema ("That's weak Kyle!"). Gotta make those catches Kyle!

-Zach Brown had a nice catch, as well as a nice touchdown run from a Spread-type formation.

-O'Brien Schofield ran a nice stunt to come clean on a pass rush. It would be nice if this kid gave us 5-6 sacks this season, because my sense is he's seen as a placeholder for now.

-David Gilreath made a nice catch on a ball thrown behind him.

-Overall Evridge looked pretty good, didn't have any critical errors and his passes were generally on target.

-Dustin Sherer did not look good. He threw a terrible pass in the end zone that Mario Goins picked off. Sherer did, however, come right back with a nice pass to Garrett Graham.

-John Clay ran well, but it was three other things he did that stood out: he looked confident on a blitz pickup, made a nice catch out of the backfield, and chipped on a pass rusher on his way into a passing route. These were not things he was asked to do in high school, but are so important in earning him playing time this year.

-Mickey Turner lined up at fullback with the second string in some formations. He's a pretty versatile blocker.

-BTN showed a lengthy clip of what, as far as I can tell, was P.J. Hill and some other Badgers talking about what they were eating. Riveting stuff. As has been reported elsewhere, P.J.'s body looks better than I remember it.

By the way, there's a new line from Bodog on how many yards and touchdowns P.J. is going to run for this year: the over-under on yards is 1,075, touchdowns is 13-1/2. I'll take the over on yards, the under on touchdowns.

-Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith were talking about the linebacker position, and how the Badger defense is built to defend the Spread. Really? I suppose so, but let's start seeing that come to fruition with some killer performances against Spread teams.

-On a similar note, Bielema told the crew that he thought with so many Spread offenses used nowadays, running a traditional offense gives Wisconsin an edge. Who prepares to face a fullback or two tight ends nowadays? Good point. His other valid point was that the Badger defense doesn't see actual Spread much during practice.

-DiNardo sees nine wins for the Badgers, Griffith 10. Both see a January bowl for the team (USC and West Virginia are the only other teams in college football to play in January bowls in each of the last four years). I don't know, it all looks good on paper, but something isn't quite sitting right with me.

We'll see.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Troy Vincent: Union boss?

Heard on the Packers' pregame show Friday that former Badger Troy Vincent is a leading candidate to replace the recently deceased Gene Upshaw as executive director of the NFL Players Association. Although there are several other top candidates, including Trace Armstrong and Robert Smith (you know, the guy who quit football at Ohio State to focus on his studies, who now works for ESPN), Vincent is right up there.

Along with Don Davey, Vincent was one of the last standouts of the immediate pre-Alvarez era in Madison. He was an electric athlete who didn't get much of an opportunity to showcase his skills at cornerback because opponents had such an easy time exploiting the other 10 guys on the field. Most of his highlights came as a returner.

The Packers had a chance to draft him at#5 in the 1992 NFL Draft but Ron Wolf inexplicably took the shorter, less likable Terrell Buckley, and we all know how that turned out. T-Buck talked his way out of Green Bay in a few years while Vincent went on to become a perennial Pro Bowler and one of the league's most respected players. At least Ron got that quarterback situation right.

This is a situation worth monitoring, because the NFLPA executive director post is one of the most influential in spots, especially with a new NFL collective bargaining agreement coming up soon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Breaking down the depth chart

Bret Bielema announced the Badgers' opening day depth chart last week, and here's what it looks like. Not many surprises, but a few things I feel compelled to comment on.

4 Allan Evridge, 6-2, 212, Sr.
18 Dustin Sherer, 6-4, 213, Jr.

Again, feeling strangely confident in Evridge. What might hold him back is not his performance, but the inexperience of his receiving corps, although we have arguably the best group of tight ends in the country.

39 P.J. Hill, 5-11, 236, Jr.
30 Zach Brown, 5-11, 207, So.

Is John Clay #3, or is Bradie Ewing? I really hope it doesn't matter.

44 Chris Pressley, 6-1, 259, Sr.
34 Bill Rentmeester, 6-1, 248, Sr.

Sounds like Pressley's going to miss the opener with a broken finger. Doesn't matter much, as long as we can run out of two-tight end sets, as I think we can.

Wide Receiver
85 David Gilreath, 5-11, 165, So.
1 Nick Toon, 6-3, 214, Fr. OR
13 Daven Jones, 6-1, 200, So.

Wide Receiver
3 Maurice Moore, 5-11, 167, So. OR
7 Kyle Jefferson, 6-5, 175, So.
6 Issac Anderson, 5-11, 176, So.

Right now, this looks like the weakest group of Badger wide receivers since 2002, when Lee Evans' injury forced Jonathan Orr, Brandon Williams and Darrin Charles into prominent roles prematurely. Then again, two years ago I might have said the same thing about Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard. If Jefferson becomes the big-play guy he can be, and Gilreath becomes the slippery underneath guy a la Williams, they'll be fine.

9 Travis Beckum, 6-4, 235, Sr.
84 Lance Kendricks, 6-4, 227, So.

Tight End
89 Garrett Graham, 6-4, 237, Jr.
36 Mickey Turner, 6-4, 252, Jr.

Really like what this group can do.

Left Tackle
68 Gabe Carimi, 6-8, 301, So.
78 Jake Bscherer, 6-7, 294, Jr.

Left Guard
75 Andy Kemp, 6-6, 315, Sr.
60 Jake Current, 6-4, 278, Fr. OR
66 Peter Konz, 6-6, 300, Fr.

74 John Moffitt, 6-4, 323, So.
76 Bill Nagy, 6-4, 300, So.

Right Guard
63 Kraig Urbik, 6-6, 332, Sr.
70 Kevin Zeitler, 6-4, 285, Fr.

Right Tackle
71 Eric Vanden Heuvel, 6-7, 324, Sr.
67 Josh Oglesby, 6-7, 328, Fr.

Three true freshmen on the two-deep, as well as a redshirt freshman in Oglesby. I don't see a big drop-off in the line next season.

Left End
50 O’Brien Schofield, 6-3, 232, Jr.
45 Dan Moore, 6-2, 280, Jr. OR
97 Brendan Kelly, 6-6, 230, Fr.

Left Tackle
91 Jason Chapman, 6-4, 285, Sr.
95 Patrick Butrym, 6-4, 264, Fr.

Right Tackle
54 Mike Newkirk, 6-3, 264, Sr.
79 Jeff Stehle, 6-6, 290, Jr.

Right End
92 Matt Shaughnessy, 6-6, 253, Sr.
99 Kirk DeCremer, 6-5, 230, So. OR
93 Louis Nzegwu, 6-3, 228, Fr.

Sam Linebacker
11 DeAndre Levy, 6-3, 228, Sr.
42 Erik Prather, 6-3, 227, Jr.

Mike Linebacker
47 Jaevery McFadden, 6-3, 220, Jr.
15 Culmer St. Jean, 6-1, 228, So.

Elijah Hodge isn't even on the two-deep. After his brother's outstanding career at Iowa, he was one recruit I was really excited to get, second only to Beckum in that recruiting class. But he couldn't beat out St. Jean, who was no world beater last year, and McFadden, who doesn't appear to be the second coming of Mike Singletary. Hopefully he can still pull it together and contribute in his last two seasons.

Will Linebacker
2 Jonathan Casillas, 6-2, 226, Sr.
27 Blake Sorensen, 6-1, 217, So.

Sounds like Casillas won't play against Akron, and I would bet he's not on the field much against Marshall. We're going to need him against Fresno, though.

Left Cornerback
23 Mario Goins, 6-1, 186, Fr.
7 Aaron Henry, 6-0, 191, So. OR
26 Antonio Fenelus, 5-10, 175, Fr.

Interesting to see Fenelus's name here, didn't count on him being in the mix so early in his career. I like Goins' size.

Strong Safety
12 Jay Valai, 5-9, 197, So.
8 Aubrey Pleasant, 6-1, 198, Jr.

Free Safety
25 Shane Carter, 6-2, 202, Jr.
21 Chris Maragos, 6-0, 189, Jr.

Right Cornerback
17 Allen Langford, 5-11, 189, Sr. OR
29 Niles Brinkley, 5-10, 177, So.

Special Teams
98 Brad Nortman, 6-3, 215, Fr.

96 Matt Fischer, 5-11, 179, Jr. OR
18 Philip Welch, 6-3, 190, Fr.

Long Snapper
81 Dave Peck, 6-5, 246, Sr.
57 Drew Woodward, 6-4, 228, Jr.

21 Chris Maragos, 6-0, 189, Jr.
98 Brad Nortman, 6-3, 215, Fr.

Punt Returners
85 David Gilreath, 5-11, 165, So.
3 Maurice Moore, 5-11, 167, So.

Kickoff Returners
85 David Gilreath, 5-11, 165, So.
3 Maurice Moore, 5-11, 167, So.

If Gilreath and Moore are indeed our starting receivers, that's not a lot of beef out there. Jefferson's no sumo wrestler, either. Weight and strength are not necessarily a prerequisite for success at the position, but they certainly help beating jams and in the running game.

Finally: what's with all these "ORs" that started popping up on the depth chart a couple years ago. It's a two-deep, not a three-deep — make up your mind and pick someone!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Dark Knight

On the other hand, The Dark Knight, which Jana and I saw on a rare child-less evening recently, was freaking awesome. Yeah yeah, the movie's been out forever, but those of you with more than one little one know how hard it is to get out.

Let's get this out of the way now: Heath Ledger is going to win an Oscar posthumously. Forget all the drama surrounding his unfortunate premature death. His performance was amazing, a masterful portrayal of a brilliant madman. What Jana and I found especially interesting are his multiple accounts of how he got his facial scars — anyone have theories on what that was about?

Beyond the expected crime caper fare, the movie got at current political issues. When the Joker demands Batman reveal his identity or he will keep killing innocent people, the comment is made that he shouldn't give in to the whims of a madman. Sort of like we can't give into the terrorists, so we keep fighting and hoping to inspire people while death and destruction continues to happen around us ... or something like that. On the way home I said to Jana that I bet upon seeing the movie, Dick Cheney would think "I'm Batman!"

My main criticism was that the whole Harvey Dent transformation into Two-Face hinged on the understanding that Rachel Dawes was the absolute love of his life and he couldn't live without her. Never bought that, they seemed like a couple that had been dating for a few weeks. So when she dies, yeah, he would be bummed, but would that turn him from a good guy into a criminal mastermind? It's a stretch, sort of like the stretch that Anakin Skywalker would turn to the dark side and eventually become Darth Vader because he had a dream that Padme would die — not buying it, the love connection was never convincingly built.

As a kid, I used to watch the old Batman TV shows in syndication on Channel 18, and it was great campy fun. I always enjoyed how the criminals would capture Batman, then leave an obvious flaw in their plot to kill him. The opposite was the case in this movie, where the Joker was allowed to escape from jail because of incredibly inept police work.

Dark Knight is about as far from campy fun as you can get. It was 2-1/2 intense hours in the theater. But it was well worth it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Star Wars: Clone Wars

The other night I took Will to see Star Wars: Clone Wars, an animated version of the popular franchise. If you're a 4-year-old boy who loves light sabers, laser guns, and stupid droids, it was awesome. If you're an adult who fell in love with Star Wars because above all else it was a great story, it wasn't so great.

The whole premise of the movie was that the bad guys had kidnapped Jabba the Hutt's infant son, and the Jedi, led by Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, have to rescue him to secure safe passage of the outer rim for an advantage during the Clone Wars. But wait — Count Dooku tricks Jabba into thinking it's actually the Jedi who kidnapped Stinky, so the Republic's war plans are doomed!

The whole premise was lame, sort of like a typical episode of Saved By the Bell built around a simple misunderstanding that in real life would be cleared up by smart people in 10 seconds, not 30 minutes. Only this lasted more than 90 minutes, and while Will's Gummi Bears lasted the entire flick, my popcorn was done in 25 minutes and things went downhill from there.

This movie apparently is a lead-in to what is going to be a regular TV series, and we'll probably watch it, because, well, it's still Star Wars. But the stories better get better if they hope to attract anyone over four years old. Unlike 1977, entertainment featuring laser battles and spaceships is a commodity — it's the stories that matter.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Olympic basketball

Woke up at about 4:30 a.m. this morning to feed Charlie, turned on the TV, and looked for Olympic programming on the NBC family of networks. There was something on! So I tuned in to watch ... two Chinese ladies playing ping pong.

My Olympic buzz was over.

But wait, maybe not! I took today off and have been watching the U.S.-Argentina basketball game for the last hour. The first half was alternately exhilarating -- our guys were playing to their potential and dominating for the first quarter-plus -- and frustrating -- watching these Argentinian greaseballs flop and whine their way back into the game while we got lazy on defense, settle for 3-point jumpers, and let the refs dictate play.

So now I'm fired up again and am hoping Lebron, Kobe, and company come out and humiliate Argentina in the second half. And I hope Manu Ginobili doesn't play; he's a terrific player but I can't stand his flopping and constant injuries. And I hope Dwight Howard puts a shot from Luis Scola, master of the 15-second back-down post move, into the upper deck. And I hope Lebron dunks over Andres Nocioni and finally shuts that guy up.

Yeah, I'm sick of not USA Basketball not being the best team in the world.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Badger-related Family Day thoughts

Most of Jana's shots from Family Day were of her immediate family, but here are a few other random shots from the day. Comments below.

-Jay Valai is a real ham. If you haven't seen them, he's been interviewing his teammates for a in a feature called Man-to-Man. Read Monday that he wants to become a broadcaster after he's done playing. He looks like a natural, and a fun kid to be around.

-Then I saw Aubrey Pleasant, last year's starter at strong safety, and the guy who it appears Valai (or maybe Chris Maragos) will supplant. As I watched him sign autographs for kids, I wondered what it must feel like to be such a public candidate to be replaced at your position. I suppose all you can do is keep plugging away and contribute however possible. Hopefully Pleasant will still be a contributor this year.

-Most of the starters were seated at tables and signing autographs for people, something we didn't do because what the hell is Will going to do with an autograph? Two who weren't were Niles Brinkley and Mario Goins, who could be our starting cornerbacks against Akron. Good things have been written about their play lately, which along with two bottles of Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat is helping me sleep at night.

-As noted Monday, Will and I met Kyle Jefferson, who got off to such a great start last season as a true freshman but whose play leveled off and who has had the drops in camp. We need him to be a producer this year.

-Some guy, #87 with "Watt" on the back of his jersey was active playing catch with kids and seemed to really be enjoying himself. Big guy, good build, never heard of him. Read Monday in a couple different places that he's a transfer from Central Michigan named J.J. Watt who will play defensive end for us. Apparently he's a 6-6, 265-pound Pewaukee native who has looked really good in practice and could probably have contributed this season had he not been ineligible because of transfer rules.

-Backup quarterback James Stallons is skinny, Jim Sorgi skinny. Freshman punter Brad Nortman is big, for a punter. Defensive end Louis Nzegwu seemed smaller than the 6-3 he's listed at, probably because he was letting his hair go. Defensive end Brendan Kelly, who had some nice things written about him last week, is built well for a true freshman.

-Bradie Ewing, the walk-on freshman running back everyone's been raving about, has a solid build, thick calves (running backs coach John Settle says he's pushing Johnny Clay for the #3 spot, interesting). Wide receiver Isaac Anderson is tiny. JUCO defensive end Dan Moore is solid, looks taller than his listed 6-2 but lighter than his listed 280 - maybe 6-3, 265, still plenty big to play defensive line.

-The biggest celebrity sighting I had was of Cap Times sports editor Adam Mertz, who at first didn't recognize the sweaty, Field Turf-covered bald guy calling his name from the Camp Randall turf. Mertzy was there with Rob Hernandez of the State Journal promoting Badger Beat, a Cap Times-State Journal joint Badger coverage web venture coming soon. Looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Family Fun Day pictures

Tomorrow I'll get around to some Badger-related thoughts on Family Day, but for now, I wanted to share these photos of our boys, mainly Will, at Camp Randall. Will was close to a meltdown after missing a nap and struggling when playing catch with me from 10 yards, but after touching the goal post, he got his second wind and we played football beyond the north end zone for quite a while.

It's hard to explain how happy this time was for me. I've had a lot of great times in Madison, and in Camp Randall in particular. But this takes the cake. Just look at Will's face ...

And could someone explain how our little guy, Charlie, slept in his stroller like that?

We'll be back next year!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Will and Kyle

When we first arrived in Camp Randall for Family Day on Sunday, Will saw another boy wearing a #7 jersey, and went up to compare with him. The kid looked at Will like he was wearing a Chad Henne jersey, but that wasn't Will's problem.

I asked Will if he wanted to go find the real #7, and we went off to find either Aaron Henry or Kyle Jefferson.

Jefferson's line was shorter, so we went there first. As we approached, Kyle looked at Will, turned to O'Brien Schofield next to him and said "Now there's a real jersey!"

To which Schofield said: "Yeah, a real John Stocco jersey!"


Anyway, Kyle shook Will's hand and posed for the above picture, which was pretty cool. Jana later commented about how skinny Jefferson is -- she's pretty astute, that one.

Never got around to Henry, as Will was more interested in playing ball and getting Field Turf all over himself, but that's okay.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Introducing the 2008 Badger football poster

It's pretty cool, we got a couple at Family Day today at Camp Randall. That's Will's poster obscuring me, probably for the best. After a half-hour using it as the telescope for an imaginary pirate ship, it is in pretty rough shape, but he doesn't care.

We had a great time today, will post more pictures of the day over the course of this week. In short, we had a great time, Will is getting to be a good age for enjoying this type of thing. Got me even more excited for the season!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jeff Dellenbach: Another branch on the coaching tree

Not all former Badgers who end up coaching high school end up back in Wisconsin. Like Jeff Dellenbach, who in a quiet way enjoyed a fine NFL career, primarily with the Dolphins but also with the Packers, Seahawks, and Patriots.

Dellenbach is now coaching at North Broward Prep near Miami. Looks like his top player has committed to Minnesota -- what's up with that?!?

It's interesting that one of Dellenbach's three sons is 6-1, 220, but is a long snapper for Auburn. Recently one of my friend's sons played in the Wisconsin all-star game in Oshkosh, and he was one of only two guys on the team with long snapping experience. That anecdote, plus that one from the story Will sent me earlier this summer, leads me to believe that having my kids practicing long snapping from an early age gives them a big leg up in advancing to a higher level of football.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday afternoon Badger thoughts

We're 95% sure we're headed to Madison on Sunday to attend the football team's Family Day and visit with friends. Never gone to Family Day before, but figured it would be a good chance to get some pictures of the boys with some players, and maybe hook Will on Badger football this year. He will be wearing his John Stocco/Aaron Henry jersey, hopefully we can get it signed.

When I was a boy my dad took me to one Bucks game a year, Photo Night. Every kid got their picture taken with one Bucks player, and those guys were like gods to me: Sidney Moncrief, Paul Pressey, Terry Cummings ... and to a lesser extent Fred Roberts (two years, one of my dad's favorite players) and a fellow named Keith Smith. Hopefully we can start making memories like that for Will and then Charlie.

-Speaking of Henry, looks like he's going to have more surgery on his knee and could redshirt this year. Allen Langford has not reclaimed his starting corner spot, either, apparently. So it's looking like Mario Goins and Niles Brinkley as our top two. One of my favorite Badger beat writers compared it to Fletch and Echols' freshman seasons. It reminds me more of 1995, when Cyrill Weems and Jason Suttle were in their first year as starters and did their fair share of struggling.

-Feeling better about our kicking situation than I did heading into camp. Seems like Brad Nortman is the real deal, lots of good things being written about him. Little bit surprised that Matt Fischer seems to be leading the placekicking derby.

-Feeling better about Allan Evridge at quarterback. Not sure why.

-See Johnny Clay's a bit dinged up -- and so it begins (see poll at top right) ...

-Read that Jake Bscherer and not Josh Oglesby is the odds-on favorite to be the tight end in the jumbo package. Wouldn't take that as a sign of disappointment in Oglesby, it's probably just that Bscherer is lighter and more nimble.

-Feeling like our non-conference schedule is getting criticized too much. Yes, we dropped Virginia Tech for Cal Poly, didn't like that. But we travel to Fresno State, a top 25 team. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thinking about quitting fantasy sports

On my way home from Waupaca the other day with Will and Charlie, I was listening to ESPN Radio, where the host was discussing with his guest whether or not people who play fantasy football are dorks. I don't think they are, obviously, but as the fantasy guy was arguing about all the merits of fantasy sports, which I have enjoyed playing for many years, I found myself thinking that it just isn't that fun for me anymore.

I'm thinking about quitting fantasy sports.

Which is hard to say. I've been playing fantasy sports for close to 20 years. Back in the day, my dad, brother and I played a primitive early form of fantasy football - Christian Okoye and Haywood Jeffires were studs on my first teams. Then I played with Burch, where we'd draft in Froehlich's basement and keep score by tabulating points from the box scores in Monday's paper. While in Fremont, with nothing better to do, I got into fantasy baseball, which emerged as my favorite fantasy sport to play. I've also dabbled in fantasy basketball and hockey, but don't play them any more.

Back in the day few things got me as excited as fantasy sports. I loved preparing for the draft, formulating a strategy, trying to find sleepers, etc. The drafts themselves were -- and still are -- so much fun, trash talking with your buddies, trying to beat them from the start. When my leagues started introducing a keeper component, even better -- you got to follow the same core group of guys from year to year, like a real team.

But the thrill isn't there for me anymore.

One obvious reason is that my performance has been mediocre at best. In the past few years I've managed to win a couple leagues, but just as often I've finished near the bottom (where two of my three baseball teams are soon to end up) or, worse yet, middle of the pack. The proliferation of fantasy magazines and websites eliminated what was my main advantage -- voracious reading and knowledge of the players.

Without drafting a superior team at the start of the season, you need to stay ahead of the curve with in-season adjustments, and I have not done particularly well there. I just don't have the drive needed to stay on top of things day after day like the best players do. With two kids, a wife, a more demanding job, and now two or three blogs that I enjoy writing, there's not much time for poring over Roto Times before bed. Other fantasy competitors are in similar situations, and they choose to stay on top of things; these guys finish ahead of me because they're working harder at it. Case in point: when I got back from Comic-Con, I noticed that Fernando Rodney had been picked up in all my leagues, and that one of my closers, Todd Jones, was placed on the DL several days before. Huh, would have been nice to find that out sooner.

Plus, it seems like every time I make a crucial decision, it's the wrong one, and whenever I forget to adjust my lineup I get burned. Case in point: in Schwab's keeper baseball league, an excellent competition, we get to keep eight guys from one year to the next, and after finishing a satisfying second last year I had 12-13 candidates. In several head-to-head decisions, I kept Travis Hafner, Aaron Harang, and Erik Bedard instead of Adrian Gonzalez, Ben Sheets, and Tim Lincecum.

Awful decisions, no? How about this one: Frank offered me Ryan Braun for Harang, and I turned it down. Another guy offered me Geovany Soto for Bedard, and I turned it down. And in Bedard's one good start this year, he was on my bench since he had missed his previous start with a mysterious ailment. Now when guys offer me trades I'm paralyzed, certain whether I accept or decline, the decision will make me look like an ass.

So about a month ago Corbett emailed me to sign up for fantasy football, and it took me a long time to do it because I am so freaking terrible at fantasy sports that I'd rather just buy my friends $50 worth of beer than giving a pro-rated portion of it to whoever ends up winning the league.

Even with all this self-loathing, it's still going to be hard to give up fantasy sports altogether. I love the drafts. Especially living where I do, and my child-imposed limited social life, getting together for drafts, either in-person or online, is a great way to keep friendships going.

So we'll see. Maybe in a few weeks I'll draft a killer football team and run the table. The thought of the year I drafted Peyton Manning in the second round, or when free agent pickup Dontrelle Willis lifted me to a title, remains fresh in my mind. The thrill of the chase and that one or two awesome moves are what keeps me coming back. Whether or not that thrill remains for me in 2009 is up in the air.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ryan Rohlinger: West Bend native makes big leagues

Quick side note, a Badger state-centric news item: West Bend native Ryan Rohlinger has been called up to the big leagues, and started at third base tonight for the Giants. As I write this he's 1-for-4, and drove in Randy Winn for one of San Fran's two runs. My brother and some of my friends are close to his family, and from all accounts he's a good kid.

Read his Wikipedia entry. Probably a little bit of exaggeration here, but wow, what a resume. Notice his family's resume. As far as I know, he's the first West Bend native to reach the big leagues since his uncle, Willie Mueller, who had a role as a Yankee pitcher in Major League.

Good luck Ryan, everyone who's ever lived in West Bend is pulling for you!

Cumulative rankings

Awhile back I mentioned that it would be nice to determine the Badgers' consensus preseason ranking based on a variety of reputable sources. Based on a link posted in Jim Polzin's blog last week, that work has already been done for us.

This site does a nice job using sources like Lindy's and Athlon to show consensus, and what is revealed is pretty damn close to what I would choose if forced.

Where do the Badgers fit? Nicely at #12, which can seem both perfect or too high if you ask me, depending on whether or not I've had coffee yet. A couple other sources, including Sports Illustrated, have picked Wisconsin #10.

The Badgers are also picked to finish second in the Big Ten, which also seems reasonable, although if I was playing with mortgage money I'd pick Illinois second.

Interesting that Ohio State, nobody's #1 but most people's #2 or #3, is the consensus #1. Maybe getting humiliated in two straight national title games has people gun-shy about committing them to the top spot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Are closed camp practices a big deal?

If you're an avid reader of Badger coverage in the state's big newspapers, you know that Bret Bielema has closed preseason practices to the media, breaking a longstanding tradition. Most of the team's beat writers have done at least some kvetching about this, and rightfully so -- it deprives them of the chance to see the team in-depth.

Questions I'd like to know, that a reporter observing fall camp could answer, include: how's Allan Evridge looking? How are guys like Jason Chapman, Allen Langford, and Aaron Henry looking coming off their injuries? How are the new kickers looking?

But Sunday a columnist took the complaining too far. The State Journal's Tom Oates suggested that by keeping practice closed, Bielema is dampening enthusiasm and interest in the upcoming season. Oates says that this lack of access for reporters has relegated the Badgers to a distant #3 on the state sports scene behind the Packers/Favre saga and the Brewers' playoff push.

Well, no kidding, the Badgers come in third here. But you think a beat writer chronicling Brad Nortman's punt-by-punt performance is going to push Favre and the Brewers into the background? It's an asinine argument by Oates.

The out-of-sight, out-of-mind argument was made compellingly by some commenters here last fall when the Big Ten Network's lack of penetration made catching Badger games more difficult than before. But this is a real stretch. Most fans never see practice, and guess what? UW beat writers don't after the season starts anyway!

As a former sportswriter, sure I wish Bielema would give these guys more access. Control-freak high school coaches drove us nuts.

But if I were in his shoes, and I had a big question mark at quarterback and special teams, and a number of key guys coming off inuries, I might want to keep their performance a secret too. And in the end, if that policy helps the Badgers win an extra game or two this year, then I'll take that instead of daily preseason updates on how many yards Bradie Ewing rushed for or how many touchdowns James Stallons threw.

(Ironically, after writing this post, I went to, and the lead story on the football page was titled "Media Friendly." Which brought my to another thought: maybe the program is trying to drive traffic to its original content on its own website.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Liking the Olympics

After putting the boys to bed on Friday, I grabbed the remote and started looking for something to watch. The Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics were on, but it was not my first choice.

But between innings of the Brewer game, I gave the Olympics a chance. Glad I did - I'm really getting into them, much more than I thought.

As a boy, the Olympics were a huge thing. First one I remember were the '84 Games in Los Angeles, with Carl Lewis stealing the show on the track and Mark Breland leading the boxing team. Always liked the Olympics, from track and field to basketball to volleyball to, gulp, swimming.

Beating the Soviet Union and East Germany on the field and in the medal count was huge in those Cold War times.

But they haven't been that interesting to me in recent years. I still watch, and follow the stories, but the Olympics have seemed to lack the enormity they used to carry. The Brewers are better and we're paying attention to baseball in August, NFL preseason games are underway (right now I'm watching Aaron Rodgers rather than Kerri Walsh and Misty May), and the Badgers start play in a couple weeks.

That said, the Opening Ceremonies the Chinese put on were spectacular, worthy of the money paid for a Broadway or Vegas show. The U.S.-China basketball game carried as much electricity as any basketball game I've watched recently. And last night, I found myself sitting up in bed cheering as the U.S. men's swimming relay team as they rallied late to upset the French and keep Michael Phelps' pursuit of eight gold medals alive.

(Two funny points on that: afterward Phelps and Jason Lezak tried to give each other high fives but missed -- twice, much like the faux "swimmers' high five" Erik Olson and I used to exchange after a few beers; and did you see how Garrett Weber-Gale ducked under Phelps' arm and in front of his better-known teammate after the win while both were celebrating? Smart guy, he knows where the camera is headed.)

Yes, I'll still be watching the Brewers and whatever NFL preseason game is on in the next two weeks. And no, I will absolutely not watch gymnastics.

But I've got Olympic fever again.

(Rodgers out, Brian Brohm in -- back to Kerri and Misty. For good.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Wisconsin's all-time Top 10 athletes

Last week my brother-in-law Nick (Sorgi-Romo) Barbera emailed me a link to an feature on Wisconsin's Top 10 all-time athletes. It's interesting -- here's the list:

10. Joe Thomas
9. Tony Granato
8. Pat Richter
7. Michael Finley
6. Red Below
5. Mark Johnson
4. Alando Tucker
3. Ron Dayne
2. Suzy Favor-Hamilton
1. Alan Ameche

Here's my top 20:
20. Gene Englund
19. Lee Kemp
18. Joe Thomas
17. Mark Johnson
16. Sara Bauer
15. Chris Solinsky
14. Al Toon
13. Alando Tucker

12. Amy Wickus
11. Cathy Branta
10. Kathy Butler
9. Robert Butler
8. Arlie Mucks
7. Pat O'Dea
6. Dave Schreiner/Pat Harder
5. Alan Ameche
4. Mike Eaves
3. Ron Dayne
2. Pat Richter
1. Suzy Favor-Hamilton

Don't know some of these names? Visit and do some research. Please return and discuss.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Wire, season 3

Jana and I wrapped up season three of The Wire last week, another outstanding 12 hours of television. The show is freaking addictive, the television equivalent of a book you can't put down.

They killed Stringer Bell! His fall from grace was fascinating to watch, like a Greek tragedy. The seed for the climax of season three was planted early in season two - you really have to stick with this show to realize the full payoff. Watching Omar and Brother Mouzone pop holes in String was both exhilarating and sad at the same time. We felt so bad for McNulty, who had String but the latter never knew it. It was cool to see McNulty show Avon the warrant and let him know that String had sold him out.

Bunny Colvin is the man! His Hamsterdam experiement to push drug activity into concentrated areas to salvage other areas was brilliant, out of the box thinking that was clearly lacking. His tutelage of Carver on the proper way to conduct police work was so necessary.

Go get them Cutty! Here's hoping Dennis Wise's boxing gym saves a hopper or two from the street. Chad Coleman plays Cutty with such earnest features, what a great character.

McNulty is after Beadie Russell! Really?!? It's more entertaining to watch him get tanked, crash his car, and take home the skanky waitress, right? Although it was fun to watch the late clips of him walking his new beat in the Western.

Daniels can't shake McNulty!

Marlo is ice cold! What a cold, calculating young man who is not afraid of anyone and inspires great loyalty in his people. That late courtroom scene where Avon turns around and mouths "Marlo" in sort of a sign of respect is a passing of the torch. Can't wait to see where Marlo takes it.

This might sound sick, but I wish Slim Charles would have acted on Stringer's request to whack Clay Davis. I can't stand that guy!

I'm guessing Carcetti becomes mayor after that speech to Burrell and Rawls (who's a gay bar afficionado!). Too bad for Tony Gray, who came off as a genuinely nice guy. What's going to happen to Carcetti's strategist who looks like a fish?

Poor Prez! They should never have let him keep a gun. He was so good at the nerd work ... looks like they'll keep him around, though.

Can't wait for season four!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Plug for another Big Ten site

A couple weeks ago Caleb Maxon of asked me to write a short overview of the Badger basketball team heading into 2008-09. Being on vacation, I was delighted to do so - sort of a summation of these individual player thoughts I've had over the past couple months.

Caleb graciously posted the preview right away, you can see it here.

If you're itching to get a head start preparing for the upcoming basketball season, read the other school-by-school previews Caleb has put together on the site, it's a good way to pass the offseason.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Lance Smith situation

It's been a couple weeks now, but it seems like Lance Smith is off the team. Again. I won't go into details about that situation, but in a nutshell, it's sad that a kid given a chance to escape a tough lot in life through athletics has messed up that opportunity.

From a strictly roster management standpoint, my initial thought was this:

Four good running backs seemed like too many. Three good running backs seems like not enough.

Anyone else agree with me?
The 2004 situation where Anthony Davis and Booker Stanley and Dwayne Smith all went down, leaving Matt Bernstein to start at tailback in a huge game at Iowa, reminds me of this. With P.J. Hill being injury prone (like Davis), Zach Brown being sort of a plugger (like Stanley and Smith), and John Clay being young and tall, it's not inconceivable that all three could be too nicked up to play at some point. Leaving ... Bill Rentmeester, Chris Pressley, or Erik Smith to play tailback?

Sure, call me Bob Bummer, but it's happened before and it could happen again. I'd much rather manage one talented back who can't get enough playing time than deal with a lack of talented backs.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bielema to Penn State?

Last week both Dave Heller and Jim Polzin commented in their blogs on a story from Sporting News' Matt Hayes. Both guys bring up the flaws I saw in Hayes' theory -- it's hard to see Bielema leaving for another Big Ten program (except maybe Iowa), and even after two very good seasons he's still something of an unproven commodity as a head coach.

Not wanting to rehash what those other guys wrote, let me throw this out there: is the Penn State clearly a better job than Wisconsin right now?

On the "Obviously it is, come on" side of the ledger: history, tradition, fan base, and most importantly, better local recruiting talent.

On the "Maybe it's not" side: following a legend (sorry, but JoePa dwarfs Barry here), higher expectations (could also be seen as a good thing), increased competition for Pennsylvania/New Jersey recruits (from Ohio State, Rutgers, Pitt).

Personally, I'd lean on the side of Penn State is a better job than Wisconsin, even right now and after Paterno retires. But it's not by as wide a margin as it once was.

Read some of the comments following Hayes' column, fans of other teams give Bielema much praise.