Friday, November 27, 2009

John Clay to the NFL?

Last week the Journal Sentinel had a story about UW coaches seeking input about John Clay's NFL draft stock. It was an appropriate story to write: Clay is in line to be the Big Ten's offensive MVP, and as a third-year player he is eligible to enter the draft.

John has to look into it -- it's his professional vocation on the line -- but my sense is that he's best served waiting another year or even two. From my living room floor, here's how he stacks up.

Pros: Great size, lean, decent medium-range speed, pad level, nose for the end zone

Cons: Lack of breakaway speed (Fresno TD run notwithstanding), receiving ability (no chance to showcase yet), physical style has led to some injuries, ball security -- early in the year, and late in the loss to Northwestern

Without looking at all the other potential draftees among running backs, Clay seems like a third round pick at best, fifth or sixth round pick at worst. He's probably better than P.J. Hill was a year ago at this time, but not by a mile.

If Clay left, a Montee Ball-Zach Brown combo wouldn't be terrible going into next year. But a Clay-Ball-Brown rotation would be nasty and the driving force for what could be a huge 2010 for us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

UW-Maryland thoughts

Nice win against a ranked team, one that might pay big dividends come March.

I like what this team looks like right now. Good guard play. Improved outside shooting. A go-to post scorer. Lots of big bodies inside to give fouls. Young players bringing energy.

We had Duke a week from now, a game we probably won't win, but looking at the rest of the schedule I'm thinking we're 10-3 heading into the Big Ten, at worst. An Arizona-Gonzaga-Maryland-Duke run makes for a very high quality non-conference schedule.

-My one beef today is with the turnovers, way too many. And while Maryland's defense was good, the turnovers were self-inflicted. Shooting 49.1% and making 10 3-pointers can cover that up, but I'd rather hang onto the ball.

-The scoring was balanced early, then Jason Bohannon took over, then Jon Leuer, and J-Bo's free throw shooting finished things off. What did I say about J-Bo making 75% of his clean looks? Today he was 4-of-5, and when he has the ball in his hands at the end of the game I feel like it's over.

-Leuer didn't do much for awhile, but in the second half he found the places he likes to be in the post and scored on a variety of moves. At 6-10, I can't think of a lot of guys can shut him down playing behind him. Our opponents are either going to have to deny him, double him, or use footwork to push him further away from the rim.

-Really liked Ryan Evans' dunk early. No, it's not my high school infatuation with dunking, but more a reflection of aggressive play. Keaton Nankivil missed another attempt later (fouled in the process), but I still liked it.

-Trevon Hughes had a poor shooting game but did a great job on Greivis Vazquez, whose 18 points were deceiving and not impactful.

-Obviously didn't like all the turnovers, but we did have a healthy 14 assists. Also outrebounded the Terps 33-24, with Keaton, Leuer, and Mike Bruesewitz active on the offensive glass.

-In the immediate postgame Doug Gottlieb said, in praising Leuer, "You look at the Badgers and wonder who's going to replace the scoring and athleticism of Joe Krabbenhoft." Krabby was many wonderful things for our program and I love him, but those are two words that have never been pinned to him, at least not in his collegiate career.

Very productive trip to Hawaii: two wins and an understandable loss. Duke next week represents an opportunity like the Texas game two years ago -- win and the guys might start seeing something special is possible.

UW-Gonzaga thoughts

Not really disappointed with this loss. I watched Gonzaga's game at Michigan State last week, and they played Sparty really tough before losing. They're athletic, skilled, deep, balanced, and well-coached. Might not be quite as good as some of their recent editions, but they could get to that point. Beating them would have been a huge resume builder, but losing is no big deal.

Some things to like in tonight's game:

-Jon Leuer played very well. He seems to have a good sense on where he should go on the floor in order to find 8- or 10-foot jumpers, turnaround or otherwise. Trevon Hughes didn't have his best game, but we know what he's capable of. With Pop and Leuer, we've got two go-to guys who can create their own shot in different ways, which is nice.

-Jordan Taylor was my second star of the game, he played very, very well. I still see him as more of a caretaker than a scorer, but he's shown flashes of being a go-to guy. He didn't shoot free throws well.

-Both of our point guards struggled containing Demetri Goodson's penetration. Then again, there will be a lot of guys who struggle to hang with him this year.

-Keaton Nankivil missed multiple dunk attempts for the second straight night, as Erik Olson pointed out on Twitter. My response to that was that I hope Keaton keeps trying to throw those down -- better to err on the side of being overly aggressive than trying to lay it in.

-Jason Bohannon still struggles to get his shot off against good defenders. He did get a few clean looks tonight that he missed. It's to the point where against good teams, he's got to make, oh, 75% of his clean 3-point looks if we're going to end up on top.

-The ease with which Robert Sacre caught and scored in the post is disconcerting. We don't have an elite shot blocker, and our height is average, so we can't let 7-footers catch the ball four feet from the basket.

-Still searching for a plus inbounds player from under the basket. If I drew one up and emailed it to Bo Ryan, do you think he'd use it? I've got an old Leroy Young special nicknamed Pick For The Picker.

-Did you see that shot of a shirtless Bo from the team's snorkeling trip? Hot stuff!

So we get Maryland tomorrow for third place. They're projected as an NCAA tournament team, we're not, so it's another chance to build the resume. Guessing that after two hours I'll be sufficiently sick of Greivis Vasquez, a fine player who seems too cocky for my tastes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

UW-Arizona in Hawaii?

Did you watch the Badger basketball game in Hawaii last night? I didn't -- but recorded it and am watching it right now. Would rather be sleeping, but Charlie apparently would not.

Know that we won, which is great. Know that we got off to a great defensive start. Know that Pop played well, as did Nankivil, who had another explosive dunk. Know that we will typically need Jon Leuer to play more than 10 minutes to beat good teams.

I'm only midway through the first half right now, but the last thing I know is that Mike Bruesewitz looked very impressive against the Wildcats -- active, physical, versatile. See that he earned 22 minutes of playing and grabbed seven rebounds, three offensive. Frankly, if he's good enough to do that on a semi-regular basis I'll be pleasantly surprised and we'll be that much deeper and better.

At the point I'm at in the game we're shooting too many jumpers and not getting to the line, but overall the play has been good.

So we've got Gonzaga tonight. They looked very tough to me in playing Michigan State down to the wire in Lansing, so we'll have our hands full. But it's a prime time game on ESPN during a big college basketball week, so we're already winners.

Final Big Ten thoughts

I've said it several times this year, but to reiterate: the Big Ten was not good this year. The best team is unimaginative and has lots of holes. The worst team is the winningest program of all time. Lots of mediocrity in the middle. Hopefully Big Ten football can get back on track, like basketball has.

1. Ohio State. Good team. If I were a Buckeye fan (and thank goodness I'm not, couldn't look in the mirror), I would be incredibly frustrated with the offense. Yes, Jim Tressel's uber-conservative philosophy wins games and such, but they don't beat elite teams that way. They probably have the talent to do so, but not the temperament. If I'm Terrelle Pryor, I watched that Oregon-Arizona game Saturday night, saw what Jeremiah Masoli was doing in that offense, and kicking myself for casting my lot with the modern day Woody Hayes.

2. Iowa. Only scoring 12 points at home against Minnesota? Ugh. Nasty defense, though. Let's hope Kirk Ferentz jumps to Notre Dame or the NFL, he has the Hawkeyes rolling again.

3. Penn State. Saturday showed that they are clearly better than Wisconsin, because of their defense, best in the league in points allowed. Offense led the league in third down conversion perentage. Also, they won in Evanston.

4. Wisconsin. Us or Northwestern in this spot? I think we beat them by two touchdowns in Madison, one on a neutral field. We didn't beat a team that ended with a winning conference record this year. I like that we led the conference in time of possession again.

5. Northwestern. They do it with smoke and mirrors. If they jump us in the bowl selection process, it would not be undeserved.

6. Michigan State. The conference's most disappointing team. What happened? They ranked just behind Minnesota in penalties this year, shades of the Same Old Spartans. Greg Jones is the best player in the conference.

7. Purdue. I feel bad that they didn't qualify for a bowl. Their game at Camp Randall aside, they were much improved this year, but still a long way from contending for a conference title.

8. Minnesota. This is progress? In three years under Tim Brewster they've gone 1-11, 7-6 and are now 6-6 with the chance for a bowl win looking slim, whoever they play. They lose Eric Decker, and their offense was awful without him. Like Rich Rodriguez is doing at Michigan, Brew will probably make thinly veiled references to poor recruiting by his predecessor, but Glen Mason was winning consistently until he was fired. Here's what would trouble me: the Gophers were the most penalized team in the conference this year, and they sure don't have enough talent to overcome that. That's a reflection on the coaching, as it was on UW in 2008.

9. Illinois. You could say they were the most disappointing team in the conference because of all the talent on that roster, but this is what you expect from a Ron Zook team.

10. Indiana. I bet they make a bowl game next year. Like Purdue, they're not far from six or seven wins. But while their passing game is nice, their defense may be even worse next year, and it was pretty bad this year.

11. Michigan. Watched the second half of the Ohio State game Saturday, and the announcers were talking about how RichRod had shared with them that Tate Forcier was struggling academically, and discussed how Forcier's brothers had both transferred. Forcier's play declined this season, but aside from Brandon Graham, he was the lone bright spot for Michigan this season. If he leaves, they start all over again at quarterback again, which means they'll struggle again. Rodriguez talks about underperforming in February, but per Rivals, their recruiting classes have ranked (nationally) eighth in 2009, 10th in 2008, 12th in 2007, 13th in 2006, sixth in 2005. Ohio State is the only Big Ten program that has been comparable. It's coaching, dude.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Actual all-conference Badgers

So how did I do? Not bad. Underestimated John Moffitt, Jay Valai and Brad Nortman. Happy to be right on the rest.

LB Chris Borland, Fr.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year (media and coaches)
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media and coaches)
Lots of very good linebackers in the Big Ten, couldn't see him any higher than HM.

T Gabe Carimi, Jr.
First-team All-Big Ten (media)
Second-team All-Big Ten (coaches)
So the coaches think someone named Dennis Landolt from Penn State is better than Gabe? Huh.

RB John Clay, So.
Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (media and coaches)
First-team All-Big Ten (media and coaches)

TE Garrett Graham, Sr.
First-team All-Big Ten (media)
Second-team All-Big Ten (coaches)
Tony Moeaki being chosen over him on the coaches first team is a joke.

S Chris Maragos, Sr.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media and coaches)
Big Ten Sportsmanship honoree
I like the sportsmanship award more than the HM. Great honor for another great walk-on story.

G John Moffitt, Jr.
First-team All-Big Ten (media and coaches)
Who'd have thought the public face/mouth of the program would be a guard?

P Brad Nortman, So.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (coaches)
I nitpick with him, but Brad was very solid this year, few worries about him.

DE O’Brien Schofield, Sr.
First-team All-Big Ten (media and coaches)
Very surprised that both OB and Jared Odrick were first team picks over Ryan Kerrigan and the Ohio State guys.

QB Scott Tolzien, Jr.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (coaches)

WR Nick Toon, So.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media and coaches)

S Jay Valai, Jr.
Second-team All-Big Ten (coaches)
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media)

DE J.J. Watt, So.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media)

Also of interest:

-Ohio State's defense had one first team pick, Kurt Coleman.

-The coaches made Juice Williams an HM pick. Huh?

-The media made Terrelle Pryor an HM pick. Huh? The Juice/Pryor guys must have cast their votes in August.

-There weren't many top-flight running backs in the conference this season.

-Here's my favorite selection: Eric Decker was a Sportsmanship Award honoree by the coaches. Apparently no one asked Jack Ikegwuonu or his testicles.

All-conference Badgers

The Big Ten will reveal its all-conference football teams tonight, and Wisconsin should be better-represented than last year, when Allen Langford and Garrett Graham were the only two all-league Badgers. Here's how I see our potential selections breaking down.

First team
John Clay -- No brainer, leads the conference in rushing and touchdowns. Should be offensive player of the year. (Aside: it's sort of hilarious that Terrelle Pryor and Juice Williams were the odds-on picks for offensive player of the year in the preseason, isn't it?)

Gabe Carimi -- Best lineman on the league's highest-scoring offense.

Garrett Graham -- Easily the best receiving tight end in the conference, also an asset in the run game.

O'Brien Schofield -- Started really hot, and though he didn't maintain his breakneck pace as the competition stiffened, he set the tone early for a defense which exceeded expectations this year. Part of me fears that he may get lost in the shuffle of all the Big Ten's excellent defensive linemen -- Brandon Graham, Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn, Ohio State's guys -- but OB should be one of the top four.

Honorable mention
Scott Tolzien -- Had a really nice season. Other quarterbacks may have better numbers and may be more dynamic, but I'm happy with our guy.

Nick Toon -- If he played in an offense that passed more, or on a team that was behind more, his numbers would be much better and he'd be a first teamer.

Chris Maragos -- Had four interceptions and played really well, but there were at least four better defensive backs in the league this year.

J.J. Watt -- Nice debut. With Schofield gone next year expect him to elevate his game.

Chris Borland -- Can you choose a special teams player who isn't a returner or kicker? If they have a plcae for someone like this, Borland makes it. Second in the league in forced fumbles and tied for first in fumbles recovered despite only starting a handful of games. A playmaker.

John Moffitt -- A second guy from the line that led the league's top rushing attack ought to earn some sort of all-conference honors. But who? Moffitt? Josh Oglesby? Peter Konz? Kevin Zeitler? I probably picked Moffitt because he's so gregarious, but despite some rocky moments he has opened plenty of holes on the left side and pulling right.

Hopefully I forgot a guy or two, and of these second-tier guys get bumped up, but either way there have been plenty of individual performances to be happy with this year.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

UW-Northwestern box score

Reviewing the box score from our loss in Evanston, there still wasn't much to like.

-Wayne Larrivee and Chris Martin (who I probably came down on too hard on Saturday) kept talking about how Northwestern pushes tempo and shoots for 80 offensive plays. Turns out they ran 66 and we ran 65.

-They had nine penalties. If they had played a clean second half, the final score probably wouldn't have been that close.

-Same with third down conversions. The finals were 6-of-14 for them, 4-of-13 for us, but they were converting over 50% until near the end. This is an area in which we've really improved this year, on both sides of the ball, but Saturday we weren't good on third down.

-Have we run that end around to Lance Kendricks since he gained almost 100 yards on it during the Purdue game? Why not?

-Who was our defensive star of the game? Blake Sorensen led in tackles but didn't seem to make any big plays. Devin Smith broke up two passes and had seven tackles, but seemed to get burned in coverage on a regular basis. Jae McFadden had a tackle for loss and fumble recovery, but also had a blatant facemask penalty.

Chris Borland had a quiet game, credited with a forced fumble but seeing the replay I question that. O'Brien Schofield and J.J. Watt were effectively neutralized. Niles Brinkley had a big hit on Northwestern's last real possession to break up a third down pass.

How about Jeff Stehle, who tipped a pass and had a sack?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

UW-Northwestern thoughts

Any time the Badgers lose to Northwestern, in any sport, it really stings. Why? Because the school does not care about athletics. The students, faculty, alumni, surrounding area -- no one cares. Clearly.

They are the Big Ten's premier academic institution, and for that they should be lauded. That's what universities should strive for. But their facilities are laughable, their athletes less talented, their paying fans far fewer in numbers than most of the conference.

And yet, our football team never seems to win in Evanston. Much to the delight of the several thousand polite people wearing purple, whose individual cheers were audible during the broadcast. Their students rushed the field after this game, which made them 5-3, 8-4 and likely gave them an Alamo Bowl berth. Really? I thought these kids were smart.

The final margin was two points, but it wasn't that close. We were outplayed from start to finish. Winning that game would have been highway robbery. I would have taken that, of course, but it it would not have been deserved. Northwestern took it to us and got the result they deserved.

At some point in the fourth quarter Charissa Thompson remarked that the Badgers' sideline was quiet, and had been all game, while Northwestern's was enthusiastic and lively. That showed on the field. Our guys had their moments, but it felt like they were going through the motions. Northwestern played with enthusiasm and heart.

Overall, I'm still really happy with the way this season has played out, and will elaborate more on that later, but today sucked.

-I hate harping on individual guys, they're amateurs giving it their best, but Isaac Anderson had the worst game by an individual Badger in recent years that I can remember. First offensive play of the game he drops a touchdown pass. Then he muffs the kickoff return and gives us awful field position. Then his holding call wipes out a first down catch and run by Nick Toon (who had another nice game). Then he's penalized for running forward before the snap on a play in which he caught a touchdown pass. Ike's had a nice year for us, but he really struggled today.

-Thought Scott Tolzien played a nice game. He generally found open guys, although he wasn't able to avoid the pass rush at key times.

-Awesome game for Garrett Graham, who sewed up all-conference honors today. They could not hang with him.

-During the game I was writing a post on John Clay's NFL draft prospects, and remarked that his ball security has been much better since he had his problems early this year. Then he coughs it up on not much of a hit when we're driving in for the go-ahead score. In my mind he's still clearly the Big Ten's offensive player of the year, but today was not one of his better days.

-There will probably be some praise for Mike Hankwitz in the aftermath of this one, but we still scored 31 points, so their defense wasn't that good. There's a good chance we might end up leading the conference in scoring this year.

-The secondary did not have its best day today, but a lackluster pass rush had a lot to do with their struggles. Mike Kafka had plenty of time to throw, and when we did get close to him we generally weren't able to bring him down. Decent player.

-Defense made it the entire year without allowing 100 yards rushing to a Big Ten opponent. Sort of unbelievable, no?

-Can't think of a single defensive player who stood out as playing well individually today.

-I've been tough on David Gilreath for his returns this season, but that punt return for a touchdown today was really nice. Not spectacular, but excellent execution between the returner and his blockers was textbook.

-Despite the general lack of interest surrounding Northwestern sports, they still wind up having good teams from time to time because of the sheer will of leaders like Pat Fitzgerald. That guy is a hell of a coach, and as long as they hold on to him -- which should be a long time -- they will be competitive.

Boy am I glad I didn't make the trip to Evanston today!

UW-Northwestern halftime thoughts

Wow, that was horrible. Northwestern is a slightly above-average team, well-coached, but they looked like the freaking 1984 San Francisco 49ers in the first half. I honestly don't see any way we win this game, our guys look uninterested, and our coaches overmatched.

-Isaac Anderson's first half performance sums it up. On our first play he drops a touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown ball from Scott Tolzien. Later he muffs a kickoff, then doesn't realize he needs to hustle after it and get it out of the end zone.

-Tolzien has played reasonably well. Paul Chryst has done a good job of getting Garrett Graham open, and Scotty has found his tight end.

-That doesn't really matter if we can't get the running game going. I can't think of one run thus far that has indicated we're ready to bust out. And this isn't Iowa or Ohio State we're playing against here, it's Mike Hankwitz stopping us with smoke and mirrors.

-We've had absolutely no pass rush so far, so while you can say our defensive backs have been clueless, Mike Kafka has had all day to find his guys.

-Poor special teams again. We allow their slow kickoff return guy to take one back into our territory, untouched except for a pathetic tackle attempt. Brad Nortman booms a coffin corner punt almost out of Northwestern's end zone. Anderson's muff.

-On Twitter our guy Randy Kessler commented that he hates Wayne Larrivee. If he weren't the Packers' radio guy I'd hate him 100% of the time, too, now I tolerate him for three hours on Sundays. Pair him with Chris Martin, terrible all the time but even more annoying calling a game with his alma mater, Northwestern, and when we're playing poorly ... it's tough to listen to.

-Seeing the see of red at Northwestern's high school stadium (Jim Polzin estimates that in his sight line it's 80-20 UW-NU fans, although he can't see a large portion of the stands) made me feel good, but if I was with my fellow Badger fans right now I would be incredibly upset for having made the drive.

I was trying to figure out what this does for our bowl prospects, but right now I'd be better off going to help Jana paint our laundry room. We're going with a very bright yellow, in case you're interested.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Three questions from Edward

Regular reader Edward was nice enough to comment on a recent post in which he posed me three interesting questions. Here goes:

Am I going to jinx the Badgers by going to Evanston next weekend to watch them (Badgers at Northwestern is always both exciting and terrible)?

Yes, Edward, you are. I thought about seeing if NU had tickets available for the game, since it's an easy drive for me and my wife and mom would probably find some things for the boys to do in Chicago.

But then I remembered that my dad, brother, and brother-in-law went to Evanston in January to watch the Badgers play basketball, and even though we had a ton of UW fans in attendance, we lost. Glad we went, and we'll probably go again. But watching the Wisconsin football team lose on the road -- which I have not experienced since the 1998 Michigan game -- is excruciating.

The game this Saturday is really important -- for a 10-win season, January 1 bowl implications, an outside shot at a Big Ten title -- so I figured I'd play it safe and watch the game on TV. In addition, I will be wearing the same clothes I've worn every other Saturday this fall.

I think the final score of this game will be something like 24-23.

What do you think the chances of Iowa and Penn State losing and Wisconsin getting into the BCS are?

Slim and none. I'd peg the odds of either Iowa or Penn State losing at 3:1, both at 20:1. It's a long shot that Minnesota beats Iowa. I'd peg the odds of Wisconsin getting into the BCS at 100:1. Word is out that the Big Ten isn't all that hot this season, and the Ohio State-Iowa game reinforced that to the rest of the world. Plus, TCU and Boise State going to deservingly take two BCS spots away from BCS conference schools.

What is up with the bad couple weeks for Badgers in the NFL? I kind of follow them in the NFL but ... Owen Daniels gets injured for the season after Jaworski calls him the best TE in pro football, Chris Chambers gets cut because, apparently, they thought his personal life was getting in the way of his play and Jim Leonhard suffers a broken thumb. Are any Badgers actually having a good year in the NFL?

I was thinking the same thing Monday night while watching the Browns-Ravens game. The Browns are one of what seems like 10 god-awful teams in the NFL, and they are dragging the best former Badger in the pros, Joe Thomas, down with them. So I turned to this handy link I found on Twitter, which informed me that:

-Lee Evans caught two touchdown passes last week.
-Chambers averaged 20 yards per catch.
-Matt Shaughnessy had his second career sack. He's looking like a guy who turns out to be a better pro than collegian.
-Leonhard had a nice game, and might not necessarily be out.
-Some other guys did some other intangible things.

I think the ascension of Daniels, Leonhard and Thomas was something of an aberration, and what we saw last week is more in line with typical Badgers-in-the-NFL production.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

UW-Oakland thoughts

OK, I didn't watch this game. Didn't listen to it. Didn't attend it. Followed the in-game blog intermittently.

But this is a great photo, isn't it? I read that Keaton Nankivili threw down a monster dunk, and it sure looks like he did. Had a nice game -- 13 points, nine rebounds, four blocks. He was 5-for-8 from the field, but 1-for-4 on 3-pointers. Ordinarily that stat would bother me, but I like Keaton's shot from that range and hope he shoots it often.

Conversely, Jon Leuer had 12 points, but missed all three of his 3-pointers. I would rather he stay close to the basket, 15 feet and in, I like what he's doing from short range.

Pop had 15 points, but I wish he didn't have to play 35 minutes for us to beat Oakland.

Nice effort from Ryan Evans, seven rebounds in 22 minutes. It would be nice if he continued to deserve those kind of minutes.

And last but not least, Mike Bruesewitz will not be redshirting this year, played two minutes. This seems like a curious decision, with Evans looking solid and Tim Jarmusz also solid at the 3 spot. Hopefully it's not one of those Greg Stiemsma/Nankivil deals where he plays 25 minutes this year as a freshman and three years from now is looking like a really good player right when he exhausts his eligibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kyle French

This past weekend I had the opportunity to watch UW recruit Kyle French, a kicker for Menomonee Falls. My brother-in-law Nick was a star for the Falls back in the day, and the game (against Appleton North in the Division 1 semifinals) was in Oshkosh, only an hour away.

As French lined up for his first attempt, about a 40-yarder, Nick told me that when Kyle has missed this year, he's missed left. And guess which way he missed the 40-yarder? He came back and made about a 22-yarder to clinch the game in the fourth quarter.

He has plenty of leg, though, each kick he attempted had the power and trajectory you'd hope for. And, kicking from his own 40 with the aid of a slight wind, he nearly put his last kickoff through the uprights.

As long as Philip Welch stays solid, French can redshirt, mature for another year, then kick three years for the Badgers.

Interestingly, Whitefish Bay's Will Hagerup, a top punting prospect, recently chose Michigan, presumably because he didn't want to have to sit behind Brad Nortman.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Big Ten thoughts

Last week I was watching the Big Ten Network, and the studio analysts were debating a simple question: is it good for the Big Ten if Ohio State wins it every year?

One guy said yes, it's good to have a team in the national hunt every year. The other guy said no, it's better if other teams rise up and get their shots on a regular basis.

You would think that my take on this would be aligned with the latter view, and for the most part that's true. But on the other hand, Iowa, along with Minnesota, is the Big Ten program most like ours. Our states' demographics are similar, we recruit many of the same areas out of state, our staff has many Iowa connections. If they win the Big Ten, they strengthen their position relative to Wisconsin. If Ohio State wins, so what? It's like the Yankees winning the AL East. They should win the conference every year anyway, as the lone big-time school in a talent-rich state.

Saturday's Iowa-Ohio State game was much better than I thought it would be, a great credit to Iowa. A Facebook friend of mine posted a link to a good story, and I found a similar one:

Everybody a loser in Ohio State's disgusting 'victory'

Thorny victory for OSU

Ohio State is a most uninspiring conference champion and BCS qualifier, only headed to Pasadena because of a dearth of elite Big Ten teams. Their very good defense has no stars. Their most celebrated player, Terrelle Pryor, is more hype than production -- he threw for 93 yards. OSU's saving grace is they won't be embarrassed in the national title game, and since the Pac-10 also stinks this year they have a good shot to win the Rose Bowl.

Here's how I see the conference with one week to go.

1. Iowa. If Ricky Stanzi's healthy, they win in Columbus. But give that Vandenberg kid credit, he showed some guts and poise. Wish Kirk Ferentz would have had the guts to go for the win at the end of regulation.

2. Ohio State. Yawn.

3. Wisconsin. It's crazy, but if Michigan somehow beats Ohio State we would win a share of the conference title. I'd take that in a second. As long as we're picking nits on every other team, though, do we have a win over a quality team this year? Fresno State may be the best team we've beaten.

4. Penn State. It's hard to differentiate between us and PSU, but why are they ranked ahead of us? We lost to the same teams, but they lost both at home, while one of ours was on the road. We have similarly ho-hum non-conference resumes. I suppose their defense is better than ours.

5. Northwestern. They lost to Syracuse and Minnesota early, but have gotten consistently better since. My respect for Pat Fitzgerald and his staff remains the same as it was before the season.

6. Michigan State. Hope they beat Penn State, but if they don't this season has to be considered a disappointment. It may be already. Their biggest win this year is over a terrible Michigan team.

7. Minnesota. Huge win over South Dakota State. Wonder where that one will rank on Tim Brewster's resume when he needs to dust it off in another year or two. Apparently the win made the Gophers bowl eligible, so we should hope they beat Iowa on Saturday so we can possibly finish ahead of the Hawks. Fat chance of that happening, though, Minnesota looks awful now.

8. Purdue. Can't finish. Marginally better in first year under Danny Hope.

9. Illinois. Fire Zook?

10. Indiana. Can't finish. Marginally better than they were last year, Bill Lynch should be safe.

11. Michigan. I love it when Michigan-Ohio State is a no-lose situation for people who hate both teams. If Ohio State wins, Michigan fails to qualify for a bowl. If Michigan wins, we have a chance to tie for the Big Ten title. Fat chance of that happening, though. Michigan's defense is so bad even Pryor should be able to move the ball against them.

The Big Ten stinks this year. But by my count, so does the Pac-10, Big East, Big 12 and ACC.

Monday, November 16, 2009

UW-IPFW thoughts

Toggled back and forth between the Badger and Packer games Saturday afternoon and evening, and frankly the Packer game was far more interesting. As much as the Badgers' win was convincing and expected, the thing that stuck out to me was the six straight UW possessions that ended in turnovers. I'm not overly concerned, but what an ugly stretch that was.

A potential implication was that Jordan Taylor was playing the point at the start of that stretch, and Bo appeared to be making a point when he put Wquinton Smith in with about 10 minutes to play, which is unprecedented. Jordan will pull it together.

Jon Leuer looked good. He made 8 of 10 shots, and none of his field goal attempts were 3-pointers. His postgame is decisive and confident, and he made a couple mid-range jumpers.

Glad to see Ryan Evans earning minutes and playing well, he seems to be able to defend swingmen and do some things on the boards. Rob Wilson didn't hesitate on offense.

And what about Timmy Jarmusz hitting three 3-pointers and leading the team in rebounding? He's a lot like Joe Krabbenhoft, only a little better shooter and not as good a rebounder and defender.

Jason Bohannon played 31 minutes and took only three shots -- but blocked three shots. Can't imagine that'll happen again.

The Big Ten Network announcers said our game against Oakland on Wednesday will be a challenge, so that should be interesting to watch. Iowa lost to something called UTSA on Sunday, so I guess anything's possible.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

UW-Michigan box score thoughts

Had a few minutes to look over the detailed box score of the win over Michigan, and here's what stood out:

-Scott Tolzien averaged 15 yards per completion, vs. 9.2 yards for Michigan's QBs. Our passing game isn't just dinking and dunking and tossing it to the backs in the flat, it's picking up big chunks of yardage at a time.

-Our time of possession edge was 35:49 to 24:11. In the fourth quarter it was 12:02 to 2:58. For the year our averaged is 33:15 to 26:45. I love that.

-Piggybacking on that, John Clay went over 1,000 yards Saturday, which makes five straight seasons we've had a 1,000-yard rusher. This following two non-1,000-yard years after a 10-year run. Don't know why, but that streak was always really important to me, it epitomized what Wisconsin football was all about under Barry Alvarez and how it should always be. A streak like that is dependent upon featured backs staying healthy -- if Anthony Davis had stayed healthy this streak would be at 17 straight years -- but it shows that we value the run and always have good lines who can lead the way for our backs.

-I know it was just one run, but let me say again that Zach Brown looked very good on his one carry, for 12 yards. Is Montee Ball really that much better than him right now? Between the tackles, maybe, but Brown can get around the corner. Was his concussion fairly serious, or has the staff just not gotten over his fumbling?

-Nick Toon is averaging 15.1 yards per catch right now, that's pretty darn good.

-Thought Isaac Anderson looked pretty good on kickoff returns, better than David Gilreath has looked this year, although he still did a little too much stutter stepping.

-Chris Borland led us with 11 tackles, had 1.5 tackles for loss and half a sack, forced a fumble and had a QB hurry. And his performance didn't stick out one bit. Has he already gotten so good and so consistent that we're taking him for granted?

-Blake Sorensen was second in tackles with seven. His play has been quietly solid this year, much better than I expected.

-O'Brien Schofield with seven tackles, two hurries, a TFL and half a sack. Great way to cap his home career. Same for Jae McFadden, with six tackles and 2.5 TFLs.

-And let's hear it once again for Jeff Stehle, who had two TFLs and a sack in his last home game. He, Dan Moore and Patrick Butrym have really been decent at a position I figured would be a major weakness for us this year.

This Badger team won't go down in history as one of the best ever, but every week it's fun to look at these box scores and see different guys stepping in and contributing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

UW-Michigan thoughts

That was exactly the second half we were looking for! I could not be more pleased with the win -- defense played well enough, offense was in control when the game mattered, lots of guys got involved. Always good to beat Michigan, which will probably be back at some point in the near future. They've got some good playmakers, but a lot of holes on defense and in the running game.

Most points ever against Michigan? I'll take that.

-I was hard on Scott Tolzien for his first half performance. He was brilliant in the second half. Helped, of course, by the fact that he had all day to throw and his receivers were wide open. Nick Toon had another career day, Isaac Anderson was open time and again, and Garrett Graham delivered the performance we expect from him. Lance Kendricks made a really nice, athletic play on his touchdown reception. We'll give the passing game a B, but an A+ for the second half.

-John Clay won't go down as the top star of this game, but had another very good day. As I Tweeted late in the game, who is a better candidate for Big Ten offensive player of the year than him? Montee Ball got a lot of good reps, and Zach Brown had one very nice run. Reassuring to see the running back depth that our offensive needs. A- for the run game.

-So let's give props to the offensive line for the job they did protecting Tolzien in the second half and for run blocking, excellent job fellas. Jake Bscherer must have done a good job replacing Josh Oglesby. Gabe Carimi was called for two holds, one of which was a terrible call in which he had whipped his guy and the guy just twisted and fell.

-Hard to pick one guy on defense, but a lot of guys were solid. Niles Brinkley made a nice pick that should help his confidence. Devin Smith's coverage improved as the game went on. Jae McFadden had some nice player early in the second half. The Big Ten Network crew named O'Brien Schofield the defensive player of the game, he did most of his damage early.

-It's sort of incredible that we haven't allowed a Big Ten opponent to rush for 100 yards this year. Coming into the season that figured to be a weakness, with two new defensive tackles and two new linebackers. But that unit has obviously been excellent, and our success has stemmed from there.

One more Big Ten team to go, and Northwestern is always tricky. But we've guaranteed a winning conference record in a rebuilding year. The senior class that played its last home game today deserves a lot of credit for that.

Last year the Michigan game was the lowest of lows for the Badgers and their fans. This year the Michigan game is a reason for us to smile and enjoy life in red.

UW-Michigan halftime thoughts

The only reason this game is close is because of our self-inflicted wounds: Scott Tolzien's interception and his fumble Michigan returned for a fumble. Then again, they ran into our punter and had a field goal blocked, so neither team has played a spotless half.

What bothers me is something Big Ten Network analyst Chris Martin said at one point: Michigan is playing with a greater sense of urgency than we are. He was right. Michigan is fired up, we are methodical. They need to win to become bowl eligible, and they aren't going to get that win against Ohio State. We need this win to keep hopes of a 10-win regular season alive, but we're not playing like it.

-Tolzien is carving up Michigan's pass defense when he has time to throw. Their pass coverage is truly putrid, Nick Toon and Garrett Graham have been wide open a lot. Michigan does have a decent pass rush, and Brandon Graham is as good as advertised. We need to double-team him, or chip him with a tight end or back at least, because Tolzien will make plays if Graham doesn't get to him.

-We also haven't done much in the run game yet, need to pound John Clay more. From my living room, Clay was absolutely not in the end zone on that touchdown, and I'm really surprised the refs didn't overturn that call. The end-around to Lance Kendricks worked nicely again.

-Conversely, Garrett Graham was called for holding on an end-around to David Gilreath. Without having stats in front of me, I'm pretty sure Graham has been called for holding more than any of our linemen this year.

-Toon is really coming on, isn't he? Can't wait to see what he and Tolzien can do together next year.

-Huge play by J.J. Watt on the blocked field goal. It's interesting that Michigan took a delay of game penalty to try and get its kicker a better angle for the kick, but we declined it. Not sure whether or not that played into the result of that kick, but it's worth taking a look at.

-Our run defense has been solid so far. Jeff Stehle probably just played his best half of football as a Badger, in his last home game. O'Brien Schofield has had a decent game thus far as well.

Problem is, when we don't pressure Tate Forcier quickly, he's carving us up. His receivers are wide open more often than not, and he's finding them. That kid's a good player, the word is he's been in decline lately but he hasn't shown it today.

My buddy Jim Polzin just noted on Twitter that Michigan has been outscored 75-12 in the second half of its last three games. That's encouraging, but Indiana had a recent history of second half collapses and outplayed us then in our game last week. Have to go out and make it happen, not just sit around waiting for them to implode.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What to make of Michigan?

You may have seen me kidding in the past couple weeks about all of the "We're back!" proclamations coming from Michigan fans after they beat Notre Dame earlier this year, considering how much they've struggled recently. But all kidding aside, their early performance seemed to indicate that while they were probably not back to being conference title contenders, they were at least much improved over last year's horrible team.

(Quick aside: While Jana and I were in New York in August, we were in Times Square and I saw a young man wearing a "Michigan Football 2008" T-shirt. Thought it was pretty funny -- that's like wearing a "Wisconsin Football 1988" T-shirt, but probably even worse given the infrequency of poor seasons in Ann Arbor.)

But they've been losing an awful lot lately, and I'm not quite sure why. They're Michigan, and Rich Rodriguez's whining last year aside, the cupboard was not bare when Lloyd Carr left. There's talent there.

On offense, Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are good running backs. Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odom are among a roster full of high school All-American wideouts. Tate Forcier looks like the exciting playmaker they lacked last year, and Denard Robinson is an electric athlete. On defense, Brandon Graham, Donovan Warren, Stevie Brown and others are above-average players.

So why are they struggling so much? Appparently they're losing the turnover battle decisively, and they give up big plays on defense. Sounds a lot like us last year.

We should win this game. Not easily, because as I said before there's a lot of talent on that roster, and most of their coaches have had some level of success at previous stops. If we establish the running game and pick our spots in the passing game, we should put up a lot of points. Red zone trips need to end in touchdowns, not field goals like they did in the first half of our game last year. If we keep their guys in front of us on defense, chances are they'll turn the ball over eventually.

And we'll leave it at that. As readers of this blog know, the Michigan game last year was completely devastating to me (and obviously the team as well), and I lashed out with some poor-loser commentary that earned rebukes from visiting Wolverine fans. I'm working on being a better sport, and it's coming along fairly well. That should hold true this weekend ... as long as we win.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chris Borland's flying tackle

Saw the clip of Chris Borland's flying tackle in high school during the UW-Indiana game and figured it would be on YouTube. It was, here it is. This kid is amazing.

He's short for his position. He's obviously an above-average athlete, but it's not like he's an athletic freak. But his football instincts, his ability to read plays and anticipate where they're headed, are just off the charts. Can't wait to see him do something like this during his time as a Badger.

Plus a high school highlight film to boot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Big Ten thoughts

Lots of action at the top of the conference this weekend, but not much cleared up. As a Facebook friend of mine noted, Ohio State's convincing win over Penn State was less an indication of the Buckeyes' strength than it was of the Big Ten's mediocrity.

1. Iowa. Won't be the 2002 Ohio State of the 2009 season after all. Still think they're better than OSU this year, I guess we'll find out next week. If Ricky Stanzi can't go I don't like their odds.

2. Ohio State. Lots of talk about Terrelle Pryor after the Penn State win, but he still only threw for 125 yards and completed less than 50% of his passes. Iowa's defense is going to eat him up. But OSU should still win.

3. Wisconsin. Didn't look great in Bloomington, but appear to be the best of the rest.

4. Penn State. Mainly because these guys aren't all that convincing. The next two weeks, when we play teams that PSU beat convincingly, will be a good indicator.

5. Northwestern. Not so long ago they seemed dead in the water, headed for a disappointing season, but now they're bowl eligible and pulled off the biggest stunner of the year in the conference.

6. Michigan State. They're back! Oh wait, only Michigan gets to say that after beating Western Michigan.

7. Purdue. Michigan isn't playing well right now, but winning there for the first time in 43 years is huge for the program. Makes their performance in Madison look like an aberration.

8. Minnesota. Lose to Illinois at home? Yeesh.

9. Illinois. Or maybe these guys are just finally playing to their potential.

10. Indiana.

11. Michigan. Both teams suffered close losses at home, but Indiana's was to the better team. Also, unlike Michigan, the Hoosiers own at least one win over a Division 1 team since October.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

UW-Indiana box score

Thoughts from the Wisconsin-Indiana box score:

-As much as Indiana shredded our pass defense, here's an interesting stat: we averaged 17.6 yards per completion to Indiana's 12.6. On 11 attempts, that's a pretty good day for Scott Tolzien.

-If we get through a game with a roughly 5:2 run-pass ratio, we're usually going to win.

-Time of possession advantage for Badgers: 33:45 to 26:15.

-Interesting punter comparison: Brad Nortman's gross average was 44.2 to Chris Hagerup's 37.8, but Hagerup's net average was 37.0 yards to Nortman's 32.5. Touchbacks will do that to a guy. Nortman's solid, I'm not complaining, but he can work on his coffin corner touch.

-Just one end around called today, a week after Lance Kendricks ran it so well and a year after David Gilreath ran it so well against Indiana. The fake end around was employed regularly.

-No surprise that Chris Borland led the team in tackles with nine, including one for loss and his incredible interception. But Devin Smith was second with eight, an indication of how often Indiana passed. Interestingly enough I don't remember a single play Smith was involved in.

-Will Patterson led Indiana with 10 tackles, but Montee Ball flat run over him on his second touchdown run. That's a true freshman running over a senior thought to be one of the best linebackers in the conference. The future is bright for that one.

-Indiana's defense is not good, and most of their key players are seniors. Besides Patterson, there's Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew, who were rendered non-factors by Gabe Carimi, Josh Oglesby and Jake Bscherer. It's hard to see the Hoosiers getting considerably better any time soon.

-Jay Valai had a tackle for loss and pass breakup, and was generally more noticeable today than in most other games this year. Which got me thinking: he's making less highlight reel plays, but he's also whiffing on tackles less often. Overall, his play has been solid, as has that of Chris Maragos, which has helped as our young cornerbacks have had their ups and downs finding their way on the edge.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

UW-Indiana thoughts

What else can you think about this but, "Whew"? Glad we won, but that was far from the dominant four-quarter effort we should have shown against an inferior opponent in front of a crowd smaller than one you'd see at a Texas high school game.

First, give Indiana credit. They did some nice things in the passing game. Their defense got better in the second half, although it got better when our all-conference running back went to the sideline.

But we made enough plays to win on the road. Can't be too upset about that.

-Offensive MVP? How about Nick Toon. He had five catches for 123 yards, and his last two were huge. The long one set up Montee Ball's second touchdown run. The last one came on third down on a poorly-thrown ball by Scott Tolzien. If Toon doesn't make that catch, Indiana gets the ball back with a ton of momentum. Great game by Nick.

-Defensive MVP? Chris Borland is obviously top of mind; his pick in the third quarter thwarted a nice Indiana drive. But that play was made posibble by O'Brien Schofield, who hit Ben Chappell as he was throwing. Borland's stat line may be more robust, but OB came up with big plays at crucial times. What a year.

-That said, on the whole our pass rush was lackluster on the day, which is probably why our pass defense was the worst it has been since the Fresno State game. Then again, Indiana put up 24 points at Iowa, far better than we fared against that defense, as well as 28 at Northwestern and 33 at Michigan. So the Hoosiers' offense isn't bad.

-Not listening to the radio broadcast, but haven't heard yet why John Clay didn't play in the second half. He was on the sideline walking around, looked to be mentally with it. Our running game was obviously less effective with him out, but Ball played well in his first extended action -- 115 yards, two touchdowns, good ball security. We need Clay to beat good teams, though.

-Clay's status is obviously of primary concern, but I'm also worried about Josh Oglesby. When he walked off the field after holding his knee, I was optimistic, but he didn't return. He's had a good year, and Jake Bscherer, while probably not a terrible liability, isn't the force in the ground game that Oglesby is.

-I'd give Tolzien a C for his play today. Against a pass defense that bad, 194 yards isn't that hot. If his receivers hang on to those two well-thrown balls that they dropped, his numbers are significantly better. And he didn't take any sacks. Bottom line: he didn't do anything to lose the game for the Badgers, which was just what we needed today.

So Iowa loses to Northwestern, Michigan loses again, at home to the team we beat 37-0 last week. We'll see what it all means for Wisconsin after the Penn State-Ohio State game tonight. A top-flight bowl game remains a possibility.

UW-Indiana halftime thoughts

You know me: it's tough to be satisfied with the halftime score when we should be up something like 31-7 or even 31-0. Indiana is every bit as unimpressive as Purdue was last week, but the fact that this game isn't over yet is an indication of just how well we played last week and how flawed we've been today.

-Seems like it's time to get David Gilreath off returns for a game or two, it's clearly not working for him this year. That fumble couldn't be blamed on blocking.

-Scott Tolzien started shaky, the touchdown pass to Isaac Anderson notwithstanding, but got better. Of course, that's when Garrett Graham and Anderson got the dropsies, pissed away our great field position, and led to Indiana's second touchdown.

-We should be running the ball up the ball every play. John Moffitt had a terrific block on John Clay's first long run. On Clay's touchdown run, Kevin Zeitler had a nice initial combo block with Peter Konz, then moved on to the linebacker and Clay ran into the end zone untouched.

-Did you notice O'Brien Schofield and Chris Maragos make the play on kickoff coverage? I like the move to play our best guys on special teams.

-What an athletic play by Maragos on that pick. Bad decision and pass by Ben Chappell, but Maragos showed his old wide receiver skills to haul the pass in.

-This is the best Montee Ball has looked thus far, although it's probably just because the blocking is better.

-Indiana's pass defense really is horrible, our guys are wide open consistently. And yet their run defense appears to be worse.

-Interesting that we've only see the end around once so far, to Gilreath. After last year's success with this play against IU, and last week's success with Kendricks running it, you'd have expected to see it more. But that's probably what makes Paul Chryst such a good offensive coordinator.

-Around the conference, I see Iowa is losing at halftime, undoubtedly setting them up for yet another second half comeback that analysts can hyperventilate about.

-Finally, another shoutout to our rookie of the year, Chris Borland. He makes tackles for loss, stops runners short of the sticks, returns kickoffs into the other team's territory. What an awesome find by the coaching staff, can't wait to see him get better and better during his time in Madison.

Let's step on their necks early in the second half. They've had success attacking Niles Brinkley, it would be nice to not let that snowball.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What to make of Indiana?

Is it just me, or do the Badgers make you feel a little bit like the old Lou Holtz every week? We're winning, but every week I look at our opponent and see mainly their positives and the ways they could beat us, not the opposite. And we're not overwhelming enough to erase all doubt in the outcome of a game before the opening kickoff.

Take Indiana. By all accounts, they're terrible, just as they were last year, and almost every year in the past two decades. But they scare me.

They were in position to beat Michigan at the end of their Big Ten opener. They were up big on Northwestern but collapsed. They led the best team in the conference on the road in the fourth quarter but collapsed.

So they're close week after week, but can't finish. This week they could play us tough from the start but finally finish. Or this could be the week that the emotional toll of close loss after close loss catches up with them and they get blown out.

This shouldn't come as a surprise, but in my mind, the best way to blow them out would be to run the ball as often as possible. I loved the first drive against Purdue last week, all runs. Even though Indiana's run defense is better than its pass defense (especially minus Ray Fisher, their best corner), the run defense isn't very good either. Their pass defense is last in the league, but they're third with 14 interceptions and Scotty Tolzien has thrown the ball to the wrong guys at times this year.

Ignoring my inner Lou, I think the Badgers win this one by two touchdowns.

Will's first Badger game

Took Will to his first Badger game on Saturday, got a first-hand look at the Purdue game. It was a great day. Will was very patient and enjoyed all the different parts of a football Saturday in Madison: the band, Bucky's various Halloween costumes, Jump Around, and a blowout win for the good guys. And I didn't even have to keep a constant stream of food shoveling into his mouth. Can't wait to take him again!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kids Day at the Kohl Center

Friday was Kids Day at the Kohl Center, a nice event the University of Wisconsin athletic department staged because most of the state's schools were out for the day. There were a number of stations where kids could try their hand at different sports, and of course get free stuff.

The highlight came when we snuck inside to watch hockey practice, and a Badger skated over, picked up a couple pucks with his stick, and flipped them over the glass to the boys. They loved it!

Oh, and Jana told the boys the story of the 2002 Wisconsin-Northern Michigan game, in which five brave Yoopers traveled to the Kohl Center, cheered their pure little hearts out, but were mercilessly heckled by Badger fans as UW came back to win with two late goals. You can see she's still got a ways to go before she gets over it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Player development

In the wake of the disappointing 2008 football season, I wrote that perhaps the most alarming trend in the UW program under Bret Bielema's stewardship was the lack of player development. After all, it is likely that our recruiting efforts will always yield more two- and three-star players than four- and five-star, so if we're going to compete in the Big Ten we need to coach our kids up.

With four regular season games and a bowl left this season, it is not premature to say that a number of Badgers have shown significant improvement this season. Two stick out in my mind, one on offense, one on defense.

O'Brien Schofield: Something of an afterthought in a linebacker class that included Travis Beckum, Elijah Hodge and DeAndre Levy, he became a serviceable defensive end, then the best defensive end in the Big Ten. Also the team's vocal and emotional leader. Other guys like Mike Taylor, J.J. Watt, Chris Maragos and Chris Borland have made big plays this season, but Schofield has lived in opponents' backfields from the first defensive possession of the season, and gave hope that a unit that figured to be a weakness might be an asset.

Scott Tolzien: He's regressed a little against better defenses, but his play this year has been a definite upgrade over what we had last year. With lesser quarterback play, we're probably 4-4 at best this season, maybe worse. What's interesting is that Tolzien wasn't ready to play extensively last year, when Dustin Sherer and Allan Evridge disappointed. What happened for Tolzien this offseason? Better coaching? Or did the proverbial light bulb just go on?

What other Badgers have been two-star recruits, per Scout?

Going back to that class of 2005, Jonathan Casillas and P.J. Hill were both two-star recruits who are now on NFL rosters. Jae McFadden and Jeff Stehle were two-star recruits who are starting on a pretty good front seven. Garrett Graham was another two-star guy from that class, but it's hard to say he has developed in his time here since he was pretty good from the minute he started playing. The recruiting experts just missed on that one.

In the class of 2006, Gabe Carimi was a two-star recruit, and he's a future NFL left tackle. Mickey Turner, Isaac Anderson, John Moffitt, Jay Valai, Maurice Moore, Culmer St. Jean -- all two-star guys who have become big contributors to a team that has a chance to win 10 games.

A number of two-star guys who are contributing in their first and second years: Brad Nortman, Antonio Fenelus, Travis Frederick and Borland. That doesn't count Maragos, a walk-on.

Going through the lists, there aren't many guys who stick out like Schofield and Tolzien, who toiled in obscurity for several years before emerging as team leaders. The rest of these guys have just improved enough to play important roles on an above-average team. And that, not statistics or individual honors, is really the only way we will be able to gauge player development under Bielema: wins and losses.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Badgers in the NFL, good and bad

Some ups and downs for former Badger in the NFL.

Down, Owen Daniels hurt his knee and is out for the season. This one is really too bad, Daniels has established himself as one of the best tight ends around and Houston was coming on. Hopefully he can recover fully.

Up, Matt Shaughnessy had a great game against San Diego, with five tackles, including a sack and two tackles for loss.

Down, Chris Chambers, who in the same game had a big catch for San Diego, was released by the Chargers the next day. He was picked up by the Chiefs, though. He figures to have another productive year or two left as a professional.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Big Ten thoughts

One thing I forgot to mention in the Purdue game wrap-up: we're bowl eligible. Last year that came as a huge sigh of relief, which may have been the best indication of how disappointing the season was. This year it's just another thing to check off on the list of goals.

Which bowl are we headed to? I think we're clearly the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, and since Iowa doesn't look like it's headed to the national title game and neither Ohio State nor Penn State deserve a BCS bowl bid, my best guess is we're headed to the Alamo Bowl. Which would be fine. Hopefully we could play a name program like Oklahoma or Nebraska.

Big Ten thoughts heading into November:

1. Iowa. They seem a lot like 2002 Ohio State, don't they? Remember, they almost lost to Northern Iowa and Arkansas State at home. But who's going to beat them?

2. Penn State. If they played Iowa again, who would win? Probably still Iowa.

3. Ohio State. Reflection of where the conference is and where OSU you is: they're clearly in a down/rebuilding year yet no worse than third in the league.

4. Wisconsin. No complaints.

5. Michigan State. Despite losing to Minnesota last night, I still think they're the better team. On the play before Duane Bennett's immaculate reception the refs blew a replay overturn that negated an MSU fumble recovery. Still, when the other team has 143 penalties like Minnesota did, you've got to win.

6. Minnesota. Did you see those thousands of empty seats at the Gophers' new stadium last night? Maybe it was too cold; they should build a dome. Can you imagine what that place will look like when the opening season novelty wears off? What, it already has?

7. Indiana. They seem to be close to finishing a big win. Hope it doesn't happen next week.

8. Purdue. As bad as they looked yesterday, they've at least beaten some teams. They almost beat Oregon at Oregon, and Oregon blew out USC, so by that logic we'd beat USC by about 30.

9. Northwestern. I guess.

10. Michigan. That huge win over Western Michigan seems like forever ago, doesn't it? They seem to be getting comfortable down here. If they beat Purdue next week to become bowl eligible that would theoretically make them less desperate in their game against us the following week.

11. Illinois. They still stink.