Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Line not offensive at all

After thinking about it, I thought the offensive line played perhaps its best game of the year against Michigan State. The first two series were rocky (Jim Polzin reported that John Moffitt offered reporters $15 not to mention his early whiffs, funny stuff), but after that the play was really solid. We ran the ball effectively against what was by far the best run defense we've faced this year, and Scott Tolzien was given time to throw.

The interesting thing is, that wasn't the offensive line as it was projected at the beginning of fall camp. In fact, only the starting tackles were as projected. As far as I could tell, the line shaped up like this:

LT: Gabe Carimi
LG: John Moffitt
C: Peter Konz
RG: Kevin Zeitler
RT: Josh Oglesby

His camp injury aside, Carimi is a given, although the hold he was called for against MSU was pretty ugly. The fact that Oglesby has been largely unmentioned thus far can only be seen as a positive. The quality of competition he's going to face is about to getting dramatically better, hopefully he's built up enough confidence to play well against the likes of Ohio State and Iowa.

The interior spots are most interesting, though. Apparently Jake Bscherer has settled into a career as a backup. Is Travis Frederick healthy enough to go, or has Konz just played well enough to keep him on the bench? Same goes for Bill Nagy and Zeitler at right guard.

Tough to say. Without extensive video review it's often hard to determine the effectiveness of individual interior linemen. But it seems clear that Bob Bostad has about eight starting-caliber linemen at his disposal. Even better, not one of these linemen is a senior. As well as the offense has played so far, it's not a stretch to say that with just about everyone scheduled to return next year, the Badgers' 2010 offense could be one of the best we've had.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Badger basketball: Not top 50?

Paging through the latest Sporting News the other night, I was excited to see a preliminary college basketball rankings page. Not excited enough to buy a full-on preview magazine, we're not far enough into football season yet, but excited nonetheless.

It was a preseason top 50, and I was interested to see where the magazine put the Badgers. On some other page, apparently. No Wisconsin.

Here are some teams that are in the top 50:

Big Ten
Michigan State
Ohio State
Michigan (Who "expert" Jimmy King says is ranked way to low at #24. I'm looking forward to reading more of his expert insights.)
That's right, Northwestern

Kansas State
Texas A&M
Northern Iowa
Western Kentucky
San Diego State
Utah State

Huh. This isn't going to be one of those "no respect" posts. Certainly the Badgers did not have a banner year in 2009, although advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament ought to count for something.

But for the Badgers to be picked behind seven Big Ten teams and that roster of ESPN off-night fodder shows just how big a hit the program's reputation took last year.

You know what? I sort of like being in this position. It's sort of like the position the football program was in entering this season: overlooked, lots to prove, no coasting on reputation and past success. Time to be hungry.

It's up to you, Bo, show the country we're not the eighth-best team in the Big Ten. Behind Northwestern. Northwestern!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Big Ten thoughts

Saturday was quite a day in the Big Ten, things didn't go according to script. Here's how I see the conference shaping up after three weeks of non-conference play and the opening week of conference games.

1. Iowa. Be honest: would you trade our program for theirs right now? Watching Iowa Saturday night reminded me of some of our best Wisconsin teams: a really tough defense and special teams doing just enough for a conservative offense. Their defense is just so good, but I think their offense is going to cost them a game or two in the Big Ten.

2. Ohio State. They looked really good too, but like Iowa their offense leaves a lot to be desired.

3. Penn State. I thought they'd beat Iowa fairly easily, but their lack of playmakers and a mediocre offensive line were exposed.

4 (tie). Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both of them obviously have holes and questions, but their play thus far has been underrated. Both have added a dimension to their offense (running game for UM, passing for UW) that makes them much more balanced and difficult to defend, but their defenses will keep them from winning the conference.

6. Michigan. They're obviously better, but all the breathless praise about how "they're back!!!" is a testament to their brand name as much as anything. Who have they beaten? Two MAC schools, Indiana by a hair at home, and a Notre Dame team that barely beat Purdue. Anyone else with that resume wouldn't be ranked.

7. Michigan State. Still think they're a bowl team with their passing game, and they have some talent in the defensive front seven. But they're playing like the old State, the one that Mark Dantonio supposedly exorcised.

8. Purdue. Better than I thought.

9. Northwestern. Not as good as I thought.

10. Illinois. Just keeps looking more and more like a typical Ron Zook product -- long on talent, short on wins.

11. Indiana. So badly wanted them to beat Michigan.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wisconsin-Michigan State box score

Here's what jumped out at me looking at the Wisconsin-Michigan State box score:

-Time of possession: UW 37:29, MSU 22:31. Lovely, that's how it should be.

-Third down conversions: UW 11 of 18, MSU 3 of 10. Converting on third down 11 times really saps the opposing defense's spirit.

-Individual rushing: Scott Tolzien, five rushes for 20 yards. I liked the first rush Paul Chryst called for Tolzien, it was effective, even if it would have looked much better with Curt Phillips running it. But every time Tolzien ran after that I cringed. We don't need him getting hurt with the way he's playing right now.

-Zach Brown's not a bad little receiver out of the backfield, is he? Probably our best there since Brian Calhoun.

-For three years now we've been talking about what a dangerous returner David Gilreath is, but is it just me, or does he look downright slow sometimes? Especially when you watch other games on Saturday, where it seems like there are so many returners out there who look like they run a 4.3 40.

-Thank goodness for Mike Taylor's emergence on defense. He led the team Saturday with eight tackles, an outstanding pick, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. Given that he's just a freshman, you can assume he'll get just keep getting better.

-Same thing for Chris Borland. In addition to all the other stuff he did that we've already discussed, he was credited with four quarterback hurries Saturday. With him and Taylor, throw in a Conor O'Neil or A.J. Fenton, and you've got a really nice group of freshman linebackers.

-O'Brien Schofield was credited with two quarterback hurries but did not record a tackle. I think he was given too much credit for causing Glenn Winston's fumble, he just sort of engaged the blocker and Winston ran into his own guy.

-Yesterday I mentioned that Blair White only had one catch for State. So did Charlie Gantt, their fine tight end, for just two yards. They have a really good group of receivers, including the tight ends, which is good because their running backs are pedestrian.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wisconsin-Michigan State thoughts

Another satisfying win for the Badgers. As the season progresses we'll learn more about just how good Michigan State actually is, but given their passing game, I still think they're a bowl team. But right now, this feels like our best win since the Fresno State road win in week 3 last season, and maybe since we beat Michigan in Madison in 2007.

Lots to like about this one:

-With 38 points, the offense is going to get the bulk of the game recap. But let's talk about the defense first. We're playing a lot of kids, most of whom haven't played much before this season.

It's going to sound funny after a game in which we allowed 395 yards passing, but I thought the defensive backs played well today. The first couple touchdowns they had came on beautiful passes and catches, not necessarily poor coverage. Chris Maragos -- until he got torched on that inexplicable 91-yard touchdown pass in the last minute of the game -- played great. Jay Valai made a bunch of tackles. Blair White, who baffled me by absolutely killing us last year, was held to one catch, which was key. Kevin Claxton showed up with a big hit. Devin Smith almost (should have) had a pick.

Lots of reps for different defensive linemen, including Louis Nzegwu's first playing time of the season, and I saw David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly in there a lot as well. Chris Borland made several nice plays on defense, including a sack and a tipped pass. Patrick Butrym contributed a couple nice plays. Mike Taylor was a force.

-The defense has forced 12 turnovers thus far, leading the Big Ten. Would be nice to keep up that pace.

-I didn't like the start, but Paul Chryst really called a great game. In the first half he passed extensively, taking advantage of MSU's suspect pass defense. That set up the run. In the second half, John Clay really ran well, which set up the pass nicely. Chryst had a good feel for the situation and rhythm of the game today, which had a lot to do with us scoring 38 points.

-Not sure how this ended up, but at one point we had run 45 of our 65 offensive plays in Michigan State territory, which also had a lot to do with us scoring 38 points.

-The other telling stat I saw was that at one point, MSU had an average of 8.4 yards to go on third down and the Badgers had 5. We were efficient on third down on both sides of the ball.

-Really proud of the way John Clay responded this week after his Wofford nightmare. He did look tentative at times, carrying the ball with two arms, but for the most part showed patience and vision and ran with authority. Just the response we needed.

-MVP was Garrett Graham, though. As this year was progressing, I was thinking that he might not rack up the numbers to earn him the sort of recognition he deserves, but three touchdown catches today really helps. We know his blocking his every bit as important as his receiving, but catches, yards, and scores will get him noticed.

-Nick Toon with another solid afternoon, ran a great route on a great call by Chryst and caught a great pass for another touchdown.

-And what can you say about Scott Tolzien? Another really solid performance. I can't think of a single play where I kicked the couch because of anything he did. They plays that stick out to me are not necessarily the touchdowns, but those little 5-yard outs he threw Lance Kendricks a couple times today. He had eight touchdowns now this season, which is more than either Dustin Sherer or Allan Evridge had last year. Easily our most pleasant surprise.

-On special teams, can I talk about Chris Borland again? Did you see him recover that onside kick? He is just so athletic. His body type doesn't allow him to fit into any nice, logical boxes, but as Chris Spielman said he is just a football player. I would stop short of calling him a legend, as Bob Griese started to. It will be fun to watch him for the next 3-1/2 years.

-Speaking of the announcers, for my money, Spielman may be the best color guy in college football, and he's stuck doing 11 a.m. games and sharing mic time with Griese, who isn't very good. Dave Pasch is solid on the play-by-play. Spielman so often makes good points one way or the other. I did like the dig Griese got in on Spielman about Purdue not having jumping around classes like Ohio State did/does.

Some things I didn't like today:

-That 91-yard touchdown we allowed in the last minute was mind-boggling. Have you ever seen anything like it?

-Zach Brown had a nightmare game. In the first half Chryst called a pitch running left that went for like minus-seven yards. We run that same play in the second half and it's a fumble that absolutely should not have happened.

-Then, on a nice catch and run Brown made for a first down, Isaac Anderson gets called for a questionable holding penalty.

Overall, what was nice about today was that those plays didn't sink us like they did last year. It was Michigan State that shots itself in the foot time after time, not us, and we made them pay for their mistakes. As Marcus Cromartie just Tweeted: "Yea we won again ... mich. st. wasn't ready."

This win negates some of the putrid taste in our mouths that last year's gaem deposited.

I'm not getting plane tickets for Los Angeles just yet, this team still has a lot to work on. But so does just about everyone else in the Big Ten. We still need to play a game on the road, let alone win one, but hey -- why not Wisconsin?

Wisconsin-Michigan State halftime thoughts

Good half against a good team. A little disappointed we didn't do more with the good field position on our second-to-last drive, but whatever.

Still having a hard time getting used to this passing-dominant offensive philosophy. It seems to be working, and the running game has been reasonably effective when used.

Two great catches by Garrett Graham for touchdowns. The first one was a lot tougher catch than the one he dropped the play before. The second one may have hit the ground, but video couldn't overturn it conclusively. If the call on the field had been incomplete, I don't think they could have overturned it the other way, either.

Have to question Mark Dantonio's decision to pull Cousins for Nichol for that series, that pick by Chris Maragos was a momentum changer.

Defensive tackles are making plays! Patrick Butrym and Dan Moore showing up on the Spartans' side of the line.

Nick Toon quietly effective as usual. Do you see him doing that Lee Evans thing where he circles his hands around each other prior to the snap? Good guy to emulate.

Mike Taylor made a great catch on his interception, that ball was thrown hard and he was falling backward.

Still loving what Chris Borland is bringing on special teams, and the ESPN announcers have seen him, too. Like to see him getting some reps as a pass rusher in obvious passing situations.

Line was struggling early, especially Moffitt, and Carimi's blatant hold nullified a really nice pass and catch, but they seem to have rebounded nicely. Looks like State's going to be blitzing a lot this afternoon.

Would be nice to get a touchdown on the opening drive of the half and really create some separation.

Friday, September 25, 2009

2008 revisited: Game 4 and Michigan State

The Tappas are in the UP this weekend, where I'll be watching the Badger game tomorrow with my favorite Michigan State fan, Jana's Uncle John. Because John means so much to me and our family, I'm going to be on best behavior during this one, or at least try my hardest.

It's not hard for me to remember when I was on my worst behavior during and after Badger games during last year's nightmare season. They both have tie-ins to Saturday's game, our fourth game of the season.

Flash back to our fourth game last year, at Michigan. We're coming off a big win at Fresno State. Michigan clearly has its worst team in recent memory, maybe history, they turn the ball over about 10 times in the first half. Yet we settle for field goals, Allan Evridge shows his penchant for turnovers, and we become one of only three teams to lose to the Wolverines.

Going back and looking at that box score again just pissed me off.

From my living room, if we don't blow that one, our confidence level stays up, we beat Ohio State the next week, and while we certainly don't run the table and go to a BCS bowl, the season goes much better.

Flash back to our last game in East Lansing. We hold Javon Ringer to 54 yards rushing. P.J. Hill and John Clay each go over 100 yards rushing. Yet Jay Valai gets called for a stupid penalty, Bret Bielema compounds the problem, and John Moffitt caps it off with a dubious holding call nullifying Clay's game-clinching run. We lost the game the way Sparty has done it traditionally, pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.

We only lost one more game the rest of the season, the bowl game against Florida State, but had we beaten Michigan State we could have avoided a losing Big Ten record and finished with eight wins. That's significant in my book.

Those were the two most painful losses in a painful season, in my book.

If this was a glass-half-full Badger blog, as it often is, you could say the silver lining to those horrible losses was that it exposed some systemic problems with the program -- quarterback play and lack of discipline chief among them -- that Bielema, his coaches, and his players have been working to fix ever since. Close wins in those situations may have allowed bad habits and tendencies to linger.

Those two days last fall, though, I wasn't a glass-half-full guy. I broke that damn glass.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rushing toward a new identity?

Wisconsin's 3-0 start to the year has not been entirely unexpected, but some parts of the Badgers' play have been. Most notable, I think you'd agree, has been the proficiency of Scott Tolzien and the passing game.

After last year's Allen Evridge-Dustin Sherer nightmare, this year's passing numbers are stunning. A 69% completion ratem, 9.2 yards per pass, 13.3 yards per catch, 226 yards per game. Great distribution to our various talented receivers. If that completion percentage were to somehow hold up, it would be the best mark in school history; the previous was 67.5% in 1993, led by Darrell Bevell.

Thing is, we're only averaging 199.3 rushing yards per game. This is only 12 yards per game less than last year's conference-leading total, and within a yard of where we were in 2007. But ...

-Take out Curt Phillips' 126 yards, and that average falls to 176 yards per game. True, Phillips' running is not a fluke, it's a legitimate facet of our offense. But it's not powerful, up-the-gut, Badger rushing.
-The per-rush average is 5.0, but take out Phillips' contribution, and the average falls to 4.76 yards per carry.
-These numbers would be just fine if we had played three BCS schools, but we didn't. We gained 258 against Wofford, when an appropriate number would have been, oh, 450.

With Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, et al still to go on the schedule, it's a safe bet that the per-game and per-carry rushing averages will decrease significantly by season's end. The passing proficiency too.

But if these trends hold to some extent, is it necessarily a bad thing? One of the things I've loved about Wisconsin football since Barry Alvarez came to Madison was the power football mentality. The big linemen, the big backs -- pound the rock! Love it.

However, our best offenses, and most often our best teams, have featured better passing teams and better offensive balance (1998 notwithstanding, sorry Mike Samuel). You don't see too many overly one-dimensional teams playing in BCS bowl games nowadays.

So I guess as long as we're gaining yards and scoring points somehow, I'll be happy. But if we could somehow get 300 yards rushing on Sparty this Saturday, I'll be happiest.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Virginia Tech beats Nebraska, Hitler blows a gasket

The other day Erik Olson sent me a link to the hilarious video on the bottom. Didn't see it live, but apparently, the end of the Virginia Tech-Nebraska game was quite surprising and, if you're a Nebraska fan, disappointing.

So imagine if Hitler was a Nebraska fan. Funny stuff. Thing is, that might as well have been me after we lost to Michigan last year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Brian Calhoun

It doesn't seem like that long ago that Brian Calhoun was tearing it up in his one year as a Badger. Because it wasn't, it was only four years ago.

Calhoun left early for the NFL draft, but it appears his professional football aspirations are over. Yesterday he posted a Tweet linking to a Milwaukee newscast piece. He's helping Joe Koch, his coach at Oak Creek, with his new gig at Milwaukee Pius. Good luck Brian!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nice Jimmy Leonhard story

This weekend Justin Perras sent me a notice about a good feature in the New York Times on UW alum Jim Leonhard. Not a long read, give it a look.

It's the kind of thing I never get tired of reading: the humble, freaky athletic kid from the sticks who made good. Everything that's right with Wisconsin football, and UW athletics in general.

Leonhard is sometimes a punchline when my friends and I start bouncing around UW announcing cliches. "Did you know Aaron Gibson can do the splits?" "Owen Daniels wants to be a meteorologist." "Did you know Jim Leonhard isn't/wasn't on scholarship?"

But just because lazy announcers relied on that tidbit too many times instead of probing deeper into his game doesn't mean it's not cool, and something to be proud of. I never thought Leonhard would have lasted this long in the NFL, let alone making it in the first place, but here he is. Outstanding.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wisconsin-Wofford thoughts

I missed the first five minutes of the Badger game yesterday. Every year my family participates in the Memory Walk, which raises funds for the Alzheimer's Association in its efforts to fight the disease. My grandfather had Alzheimer's, and it was heartbreaking to watch what the disease did to him at the end of his life. It's always good to get together with family and remember him.

So as we pulled into the parking lot of the sports bar where we would watch the game, the refs were confirming John Clay's first fumble. Then, two plays after we forced and recovered a Wofford fumble, Zach Brown coughs it up. My relatives were amused by the figurative steam coming out of my ears after those fumbles and the stupid penalties on our first scoring drive.

Of course, the second quarter made it a laugher, and everyone was giggling about how relaxed I looked. Glad my emotional torment could provide entertainment for the family.

Put the fumbles aside, good game. I was legitimately worried about Wofford's option, but this one was a complete mismatch. Reading the Journal Sentinel's recap today, I almost thought the Badgers lost. Yeah, there was sloppiness, but let's focus on the positives.

-The defense played well, especially the linebackers. Culmer St. Jean had the best game of his career, 15 tackles, two for loss, and a fumble recovery. Mike Taylor had nine tackles, two for loss, and a sack. Jae McFadden had eight tackles, one for loss. It didn't seem like the play ever reached the secondary, the front seven really maintained their individual responsibilities against the option.

-The receiving corps is really looking like the strongest unit on the team. Lance Kendricks emerged from hibernation to have a really nice game, and Garrett Graham had a touchdown. Throw in Mickey Turner's blocking and I can't see how anyone else in the country has a better group of tight ends than us. Nick Toon had another solid game, he has been playing really well this year. And Scott Tolzien is finding them.

-What more can I say about Chris Borland? First he forces a fumble. Then he makes a super-athletic play to block that punt. For the time being, we have a special teams star in the making. Bigger picture, he's going to make plays in the base defense.

Two things on that punt block: I don't think David Gilbert necessarily recovered it in bounds, or at least it was close enough that it should have been reviewed. Nice to see another true freshman making a big play. Also, the fact that Borland could get close enough to jump over the "personal protector" and block the punt shows that formation's limitations. I prefer to see the blockers engage the rushers at the line of scrimmage, rather than letting them build up a head of steam.

-Good for Erik Smith capitalizing on his playing time by running well. He hit holes well, showed power and quickness. Just as nice was that on the drive of Smith's touchdown run, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy made their season debuts. We should be operating with a full deck on the offensive line heading into the Big Ten season.

-Curt Phillips' time was productive. In my mind I compare him to Michigan's Denard Robinson, who is an electric runner at quarterback, very quick and fast. Phillips isn't as quick as Robinson, but is effective running because he's powerful. It wil be interesting to see how and when Phillips will get playing time in tighter conference games. We may go games without seeing him.

-O'Brien Schofield wasn't around the ball as much as the first two games, but he still had a big sack/forced fumble and a pressure that led to Devin Smith's interception. He's playing at an all-conference level.

-Even though he had a fumble, Zach Brown ran reasonably well.

-Lots of guys got in on defense: Kevin Rouse, Shelton Johnson, Kevin Claxton, Tony Megna, Jordan Hein, Brendan Kelly, Leonard Hubbard, Jake Current, Rob Korslin, Ricky Wagner.

Now for the not-so-good parts:

-The game wasn't a sellout, broke a fairly long streak for us. Have to imagine this is a minor protest for UW scheduling another Division I-AA team. It looked, however, like the bulk of the protesters were likely UW students, who have shifted their efforts from Tibet.

-David Gilreath had a bad game with a big negative run, and he should have caught the ball from Tolzien that was ruled a fumble. Isaac Anderson dropped a perfect pass and was called for holding on a Brown touchdown run. Maurice Moore picked up a penalty. Wideouts other than Toon have to clean it up.

-Our defensive tackles are just not making many plays, although you could say that they are occupying blockers and letting the rest of the guys make plays. But they certainly aren't disruptive forces.

-Philip Welch missed an extra point. He's been more inconsistent than anyone thought he'd be.

-Lastly, there are these fumbles, specifically Clay's. What do you make of them? I watched each of them over and over, hoping to be able to give him the benefit of the doubt, that maybe each was the result of an incredible Wofford hit. But while you have to give the Wofford defenders credit for making things happen, all three were plays in which a Division I running back needs to hold onto the ball. You can't really blame the coaches for it. You think John Settle emphasizes ball security less than other running back coaches?

The bigger issue is that through three non-conference games against teams with defenses inferior to what we'll see in the Big Ten, we have not run the ball well at all. Not to be a broken record, but Moffitt and Nagy's absences had to play a role in that, as did opposing defenses stacking up against the run. But screw that -- we're Wisconsin, and it shouldn't matter what Northern Illinois or Fresno State throw at us defensively, we should still be able to pound the rock.

We won, it wasn't as close a game as I'd feared. We made it through the non-conference season without being upset, as Michigan State, Purdue, and Northwestern were. (How about Northern Illinois?) But while I'm happy, it's still really hard to tell what type of team we had heading into the real part of the schedule.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Scoreboard watching

Wednesday night I was watching some show on the Big Ten Network where Dave Revsine was interviewing John Clay. The theme of the show seemed to be breaking down plays on film, a la Ron Jaworski, although the level of analysis does not reach Jaws'.

Revsine asked Clay to break down his lon touchdown run against Fresno State, and John didn't have much to say. Because, basically, John took the handoff, ran through a huge hole, and then ran faster than anyone on the Bulldogs' defense.

He did say, though, that he looked up at the Jumbotron in the north end zone at Camp Randall, saw himself slowing down, and veered off a bit to keep separation. I'd read stories about guys doing that, but never a player at Camp Randall. I laughed, thinking about how far we've come in such a relatively short period of time. When we were in school, the most sophisticated use of the scoreboard was the animated "check your drink for bees" and "block that kick" prompts.

As for tomorrow's game, I'm looking forward to it. Wofford apparently runs the option, which was my favorite offense as a young college football fan in the 1980s. I loved Oklahoma under Barry Switzer. Jamelle Holieway was my favorite player; when I played football in backyard or a nearby park, I was him or Jerry Rice. When he got hurt in 1987, I was crushed. In art class that year, I drew a picture of him standing, with crutches, on the sidelines of the Nebraska game.

OK, too much information ...

Anyway, the option is fun to watch, but it's got to be a bitch to defend. With all the ball fakes and sleight of hand, you've really got to watch close, as Cal Poly showed us last year. So, you ask, why does Tappa love the option but hate the Spread, which employs many of the same principals? Easy: the option combines precision and athleticism with an emphasis on road-grading lines and power.

That said, if Wofford comes into Madison and pulls off the upset, I will rip up my Jamelle Holieway drawing and never try to run the Wishbone on Madden '95 ever again. They appear to be missing their best running back, but I'm guessing they have similar players to plug in.

On our side, I want to see us run for at least 300 yards. Scott Tolzien's passing proficiency thus far this year has been a pleasant surprise, but if we're going to win in the Big Ten, we've got to get back to Wisconsin football, anchored on offense by the run game. Hopefully John Moffitt will be back at center, but I'm not counting on it. Travis Frederick or Peter Konz are fine fill-ins, but we need Moffitt to beat Big Ten teams, and he needs to get some game work before Michigan State.

Defensively, I see O'Brien Schofield having a bunch of big hits in this one, even if some of them come on Wofford's quarterback shortly after he pitches the ball. The key in this one will be our linebacker play, let's see how disciplined those guys are.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Badger Tweeters

Trying to numb my brain during the Badgers' lackluster first half against Fresno State on Saturday, I searched for as many current or former Badgers on Twitter as I could. Here's a list, sign up and follow. Some are more active and coherent than others. In fact, some were frighteningly incoherent. I guess that's what communicating in 140 characters or less does to people.

Chris Chambers
Antonio Fenelus
Tracy Webster
Devin Harris
Freddie Owens
Tim Jarmusz
Greg Stiemsma
Jon Leuer
Brett Valentyn
Jay Valai
Joe Krabbenhoft
Morris Cain
Erik Smith
Brian Calhoun
Lee Evans
J.J. Watt
Richard Kirtley
O'Brien Schofield
Louis Nzegwu
Marcus Cromartie
John Moffitt
Brian Butch

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mike Tice's kid is a Badger

Did you know that Mike Tice's son is a Badger?

During the game Saturday I was scanning the roster to familiarize myself with everyone's new numbers (Kyle Jefferson and Jay Valai are on their third numbers in three years, it appears) and the walk-ons, and I noticed that we have a quarterback from Edina, Minn., on the team. Having a good friend from Edina, Tim Toohey, I had to check it out.

His name was Nate Tice, a quarterback -- a big one at that, 6-5, 230. Still didn't put the name with the dad until I read his bio.

Had to laugh. The first thing I remembered was a funny story Erik Olson once told us about Tice the Elder. Locker room talk that I don't feel comfortable relating here, but ask Erik about it next time you see him.

Tice was easy to make fun of when he was with the Vikings, but then again, most of their coaches in the last 20 years have been. His son seems like a bright kid (Conference USA Honor Roll at Central Florida) who can hopefully contribute to our program.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shariff Chambliss

One of my favorite blog themes is updating the Badgers' coaching tree. Shariff Chambliss gives good cause for an update, as he's been named an assistant at Platteville.

Shariff seemed to be on this path after wrapping up a brief post-collegiate playing career, starting as a grad assistant for Robby Jeter at UWM. Platteville is a great next step for him. The program had a really nice season last winter, and of course that's the program Bo built into the best in Division III before moving up.

Monday, September 14, 2009

J.P. Tokoto

Saturday's game against Fresno State was obviously important for the football team, but it was equally important for the basketball team. Why? J.P. Tokoto was planning on being there.

Remember when we talked about him a few months ago after Bo Ryan offered him a scholarship? Apparently he's been blowing up since then.

When my brother-in-law told me Tokoto had been making the rounds through Tobacco Road, picking up heavy interest, I was surprised. From what I'd been told, he was a good, athletic prospect who had many areas for improvement. Looks like he's made the improvements. Duke and Kansas are among the other schools who have offered him a scholarship.

He's Rivals' #4 in the class of 2012. Wow, it's rare for a Wisconsin kid to reach those heights. Would be great to get him in Madison. Hope he likes Jump Around.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wisconsin-Fresno State box score

Sifting through the box score from the Fresno game, some random thoughts:

-Lost the time of possession battle again, by a lot -- seven minutes. In the fourth quarter, Fresno had the ball for more than 13 minutes! Of course, Clay's long touchdown run and our last drive before Fresno's tying field goal made for two short possessions. Next week I'd like to see us really pound the rock and put together some long, sustained drives against Wofford.

-Fresno converted 11-of-18 third down tries. Unlike last week, though, we seemed to get better later in this game. There were a couple times when, at least judging by the yellow line on the TV broadcast, it appeared Fresno got very favorable spots.

-I did notice this as it happened, but did you see Erik Smith carried the ball once for a loss of four yards? If I recall the announcers attributed the run to John Clay. Wonder what prompted Smith's insertion in that situation, rather than sticking to the Clay-Zach Brown tandem.

-Didn't talk about it yesterday, but how big was Isaac Anderson's long catch at the end of the first half that set up Philip Welch's long field goal? That was a really nice play, and a gutsy call by Paul Chryst -- the kind Badger fans would probably like to see more of at the end of halves.

-Also meant to make note of the really nice catch Mickey Turner made early in the second half. It was a low throw, he seemed to use his fingertips.

-Chris Borland is just so athletic, isn't he? It ended up being a nothing play, but on the last kickoff of regulation, he jumped up and nabbed the kickoff over his head. Didn't look like a typical linebacker's hands. Sure, he should have let David Gilreath catch the ball, or should have lateraled it to him, but it showed the explosiveness and skill the true freshman brings to the table. He also made a great play to down a punt at the 1-yard-line.

-O'Brien Schofield had four tackles for loss and led the team with 11 tackles. How often do you see a defensive end lead a team in tackles? Like I said yesterday, love what he's done thus far.

-Jae McFadden just continues to rack up tackles, 10 yesterday, including a sack.

-Niles Brinkley, nice to see you again! With the emergence of Devin Smith and Antonio Fenelus, Brinkley seemed to get lost in the cornerback shuffle, and while his play was certainly not flawless, his pick was really important for momentum. Fenelus had a pick, too, but the corners' play overall was not strong. They did, however, show much improvement in the second half.

-Hypothetical question: Would Shane Carter or Aubrey Pleasant have made a significant difference in the pass defense against Fresno? Sounds like there's no way they're coming back, too bad.

-Wofford got killed by South Florida in its opener, although it sounds like the game was closer than the 33-point margin. Wofford ran the ball 50 times, threw it 11. Fared much better against Charleston Southern. Should be interesting to see how we cope with the option.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Gopher stadium

What game is the Big Ten Network showing? I see a team with all yellow uniforms and glittery helmets playing in a cute little stadium ... is this a large-school Texas high school game?

Oh, that's TCF Bank Stadium. That's Minnesota's new stadium. And those uniforms might be worse than anything Oregon's ever thrown on. Probably not.

Switching back and forth between this game and Ohio State-USC, it seems to me that Adam Weber throws to Eric Decker on every single play. And he seems to be open every single time. I'd double-cover that guy if I was the team with the lightning bolt on its helmet.

Wisconsin-Fresno State thoughts

Very satisfied with the Badgers' win, lots to like. And, once again, lots on which to improve.

But let's focus on the former.

-The defense looked horrible in the first half, but the kids rallied to play a great second half and make big plays in overtime. Also give Dave Doeren for making appropriate adjustments.

-O'Brien Schofield was outstanding again, in the backfield a lot. He's playing at a much higher level than I anticipated thus far this season.

-Great play, of course, by Chris Maragos on the interception at the start of the second overtime. Fresno's quarterback, as noted earlier, had a lot of air under his throws all day, and it came back to hurt him there. Our defensive backs certainly struggled, but also made a few huge plays that they can hopefully build on.

-At one point it seemed like Johnny Clay's long touchdown run was going to be the story of the day. And it still might be. Our running game was punchless to that point, and Clay gave it a jolt. It reminded me of the first time I saw him, in the 2005 state championship game, when he busted out several runs like that against Wisconsin Rapids. It didn't look like he was running that fast, but nobody caught him.

-Another solid performance for Scott Tolzien. He had another play where he hung in against the blitz and converted a third down. Most importantly: no interceptions. No Curt Phillips, which was the sensible strategy given how important every possession was.

-Really like what Nick Toon is doing this season, most of his catches seem to come in important situations, not just that touchdown catch in overtime.

-We didn't seem to blitz as much as last week, wonder why.

-Boy, I hope our offensive line is healthy for the start of Big Ten play. Good for Peter Konz for holding his own after Travis Frederick went down, though.

-I thought Fresno would go for two after scoring the touchdown in the first overtime. Pat Hill, after all, is an eccentric genius of a coach. Don't know if you've heard this before, but his motto is "Anyone, anytime, anywhere." It's unbelievable that this guy doesn't have a WAC title to his name.

-My favorite moment of the game had nothing to do with the outcome of a play. There was a pass play to the perimeter where one of our guys made a tackle, and Jay Valai came up and decleated a Fresno lineman. That was 5-9, 201-pound Jay Valai absolutely blowing up 6-2, 280-pound Joe Bernardi. The hit adds to Valai's rep as a big hitter, and Bernardi will be embarrassed when that replay is shown.

-Michigan State loses to Central Michigan at home, maybe that game isn't as imposing as it looked eight days ago.

It's too nice outside to stay on the computer any longer, will think about this some more later. Happy to be 2-0, can't take Wofford too lightly. Seriously.

Wisconsin-Fresno State halftime thoughts

First thought is that I'm grateful we're only down four points at halftime. It seems much, much worse than that.

If you're Fresno, why wouldn't you throw the ball every single play? Even if your quarterback is throwing jump balls straight up in the air, there's a 50-50 chance there won't be a Badger within five yards. Then again, we're not tackling all that well on running plays, so pick your poison.

Not much to be encouraged about here.

-Chris Borland showed nice athleticism early, he's a keeper. Blake Sorensen made a nice play behind the line of scrimmage. O'Brien Schofield's been active again.

-And that's about it for kind words about our defense. Devin Smith just got flat toasted by Wylie on that touchdown. Antonio Fenelus bit hard on a mediocre move on Fresno's third touchdown. That followed marshmallow-soft coverage on the first drive.

-Thank God Philip Welch finally made a field goal. My initial thought was lining him up for a 55-yarder that he'd probably miss would hurt his confidence even further, but maybe this will get him going in the right direction.

-Bob Griese sounds drunk. Maybe just old. Twice he talked about Chris Maragos being here for five years. Crack open a media guide, Grease. Also, Dave Pasch, didn't realize Travis Beckum left early for the NFL.

-Liked how Chris Spielman pointed out the excellent blocking on our two touchdown runs. On Zach Brown's, Lance Kendricks, Kevin Zeitler, and Kyle Jefferson executed well. On David Gilreath's end around, Garrett Graham blocked two guys on the same play. Well done.

-On the other hand, it's concerning that thus far this season the only success we've had running the ball has come wide outside the tackles. Again, some of this is probably attributable to Bill Nagy and John Moffitt being out, and Jake Bscherer being new. But it's troubling nonetheless, and has to improve.

-Scott Tolzien's passes thus far have not appeared tight. Passing game has been OK, though.

-Kevin Claxton has a block in the back on a punt that is not fielded. Delay of game coming out of a change of possession. (Another one preceding the first play of the second half!) Ugh.

Please, Badgers, pull out this win because I really, REALLY don't want to hear any more about what a bad-ass Pat "Anyone, Anywhere" Hill is. It's really getting on my nerves.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hold it!

Perhaps among the sniffles-related stories that have unfolded surrounding the Badger football team this week -- who has the swine flu? J.J. Watt's mom brought him chicken soup? Josh Oglesby uses hand sanitizer? -- was one of the most interesting stories I've read recently.

It was a Jeff Potrykus Journal Sentinel story Thursday centered around line coach Bob Bostad's opinion of the holding call levied against Travis Frederick in the Northern Illinois game.

You should read the whole story, but here is a good quote:

"If you watch that play, the linebacker came into him, probably saw him coming up ready to engulf him, and turned his back to Travis and fell down. I talked to the officials and said we almost need to hold guys up to not get called for holding. Because this guy goes down on the ground of his own volition, and Travis is on top of him with his hand extended ... I mean, it's bad. It's getting to the point where ... "

Bostad then went on to discuss the hold called against John Moffitt in the Michigan State game last year. Had that call not been made, we would have won. Bostad caps it off with a gem:

" ... if we can't do that anymore, I might as well go coach field hockey."

I love it! Genuine candor and humor from a coach!

And really, I couldn't agree with him more. Did not see a replay of the Frederick hold, but that Moffitt call against MSU was god awful. Not only was it questionable, but it happened about 20 yards away from the play, a John Clay run around right end.

Bostad is certainly not suggesting that no one holds anymore; you certainly still see them a lot againt pass rushers. And wide receivers seem to be prone as well, just saw Hines Ward get flagged correctly, and he's arguably the best-blocking wideout on the planet.

But holding by lineman on running plays, in tight quarters where there are a lot of bodies, just shouldn't seem to happen as often as it's called. Almost as if refs have a quota to hit, like cops and speeding tickets.

Looks like Moffitt won't be ready to go again this week, so let's hope Frederick holds up well again ... no pun intended.

Speaking of sniffles stories, here is arguably the most useless story of the week, courtesy of Andy Baggot:

Postponement due to flu unlikely

No kidding. Here's betting Pat Hill doesn't give a rat's ass that Tyler Westphal spent a little more time at the toilet than usual this week.

As for the game, Fresno should be a good test, and I see this game going down to the fourth quarter like last week. But ultimately, they've got a quarterback making his first career start on the road, and Camp Randall isn't a good place for that, so I'm thinking our defense makes enough stops to win.

26-20 Badgers

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Jason Eck

I found the info on Eddie Faulkner in a roundabout way: searching for info on Jason Eck. Who the heck is Jason Eck? you ask.

He was a backup lineman for the Badgers in the late 1990s. Didn't play much, but I did remember the name.

So why the heck was I searching for info on Jason Eck? Because he apparently wrote something very funny on Twitter and I wanted to see it. What was it? According to columnist Pat Forde, Eck had this to say on the Sunday before the season started:

"Players off today … unlike Michigan."

Ha! Funny stuff. But I say "apparently" because when I visited Eck's Twitter page, the post Forde references is gone. Guess the Ball State athletic department staff got a little squeamish about having something so candid attached to it out there. Don't want to insult Mighty Michigan when they're going through a rough patch, do we?

It's this sort of sporting political correctness that leaves us with boring drones like Bill Belichick and Mike McCarthy filling the airwaves and reporters' notebooks with bland cliches that tell us nothing. Give Eck credit for being clever, even if, judging by his team's season opening performance, it appears that some Sunday practice might help them.

Sheesh, Testicle Tech (as my old boss in Fremont used to call Ball State; it's clever, get it?) needs to get some balls.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Eddie Faulkner

Cruising around the Internet during the Badger game the other night, I discovered that Eddie Faulkner is the offensive coordinator/running backs coach at Ball State. Eddie's from Muncie, Ind., so it's nice that he was able to end up in his hometown.

He's been at Ball State for five years, and that was a pretty damn good offense they had last year. This year got off to a little bit rougher start, though, they lost their opener to North Texas, one of the worst teams in college football.

I remember doing a feature on Eddie, think it was 1997, when he was backing up Ron Dayne during one of the latter's rare injury periods. He was one of those solid backups that provided the Badgers with quality depth and helped the program reach new heights in the late 1990s.

Glad that Eddie's getting a shot at being a coordinator in a Division 1 program, hopefully it leads to bigger and better things for him.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Brian Butch: Tweeter ... or Twitterer ... or whatever

This morning I got the coolest email: "Brian Butch is now following your Tweets on Twitter." Thanks Brian, I'll try to be interesting!

Full disclosure: Last night I read on that Butch was Tweeting ... or Twittering ... or whatever we're calling it. So I found him and began following. Following Twitter protocol, Brian returned the favor overnight.

Seems that Butch is playing in Greece for a team called Ilysiakos Athens. Following him will be easier with Twitter, looking forward to keeping close tabs.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wisconsin-Northern Illinois box score

During the tail end of a fantasy football draft this morning I had a chance to look at last night's box score. Some things that stood out:

-We only punted twice for a 33-yard average, but both were downed inside the 20.

-Northern held the time of possession advantage, although it was only 28 seconds.

-Forgot that Maurice Moore had a 21-yard reception in the game, he ran a nice route to get open and Tolzien hit him.

-Chris Maragos had a better game than I thought -- led the team with nine tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, and of course the game-clinching breakup. They showed him getting the team pumped up in the pregame, and it looked a tad unnatural for him, but he's off to a great start as a captain.

-O'Brien Schofield is still my player of the game with seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack. I really liked how Dave Doeren changed up OB's positioning and stance, he looks natural without his hand on the ground, on foot in front of the other.

-Great start for J.J. Watt, six tackles, half a sack, a hurry and a tip. He and Schofield were great, but I'm a little concerned that the tackles didn't even seem to be on the field. Then again, Northern didn't exactly run all over us, so maybe they just did a good job occupying blockers.

-Culmer St. Jean was credited with a couple hurries, he had his moments, as did Blake Sorensen. Devin Smith was active with six tackles.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wisconsin-Northern Illinois thoughts

Phew. That was a lot closer than it had to be. Was it just me, or were you all having flashbacks to last year after Schofield's forced fumble was not allowed to be reviewed? The sequence of events that followed seemed straight out of last year's script -- penalty keeps drive alive for other team, special teams breakdown ... thank goodness for another nice Schofield play and Chris Maragos closing things out.

Northern's OK, but I'm guessing they're not as good as they were last year when they almost beat Minnesota and Tennessee. Hopefully they'll get to a bowl and make our win look better.

-We dominated the game for three quarters. The third quarter was just about perfect. Then we didn't finish. It might get overlooked, but here's a cause for concern: Philip Welch missed both his field goal attempts. The first one was rather long, but the second was one he should make. He makes that second on and it's not so tense at the end.

-Tolzien will get the headlines, but for my money Schofield was the player of the game for us. He was always around the ball, in Northern's backfield, in coverage. The final defensive stats will be kind to him. Great start for a captain.

-Tolzien showed the starting job should be his. His first pick wasn't really his fault, although the second one was. Otherwise I thought he played really well, much better than I'd expected. Liked how he stood in against blitzes. Showed decisiveness that was missing from our QBs last year.

The nice thing is, Phillips showed he deserves playing time, too, and it wasn't because Tolzien was struggling. Phillips showed what we thought he'd show, nice mobility. The threat of him running several possessions out of the Spread every game is great because it forces our opponents to spend time preparing for it. If they don't, Curt can break some big gains.

-Thought the running game was pretty blah. Maybe Northern will prove to have a really good run defense. Maybe we were missing Moffitt and Nagy. Brown looked sharp early but couldn't sustain it. Clay looked sluggish early but showed a nice nose for the end zone. Neither one got to 50 yards or 4 yards per carry, a concern.

-Nice game by Garrett Graham, as expected. No passes thrown to Lance Kendricks, unexpected.

-We hit hard tonight, lot of times when our kids blew up a Northern player, sometimes knocking off their helmets. Devin Smith had a nice one on a kickoff return.

-Chris Martin of the Big Ten Network is still trying too hard. He made some UPS-related Brown quip after NIU's running back had a nice run, and tried to tie in Zach Brown, and it made little sense. You could tell he'd been working on it for about a month, and it was lame. Still talking about "linear" receivers.

-Did you notice the new uniform wrinkle, the little Motion W on the back above the name? It's not awful, but I'd rather it not be there, it's not necessary.

-What in the world was Ron Dayne wearing during his interview with Charissa Thompson? One really bad leisure athletic jacket, one that my mom hopefully won't get me for Christmas.

-A key to us building that lead was the defense's ability to get off the field on third down. The inability to do so at the end is what let Northern back in. Obvious, I know, but doing a better job closing the deal is a must, whether it's a whole game or a single drive.

-Saw Mike Taylor back in the game, that was good. Chris Borland played a lot and was definitely a factor, awesome for a true freshman to step up like that.

-Our kids really did a poor job on the onside kick. Northern's kicker hit it perfectly, but it seemed like we only had one guy step forward to try to grab it, while Northern had three or four right there. Add that to the two missed field goals and another game of mostly lackluster returns, and the special teams remain anything but.

After the third quarter, I was really hoping for a 35-6 final score, or something like that, to show that we're a team capable of tossing around a bowl team (even if it's from the MAC). The final score is not a perfect reflection of how this game went, but hey, a win's a win. There are things to work on, but there are a lot of things to like. I'll sleep easy tonight.

Wisconsin-Northern Illinois halftime thoughts

By my reckoning, the Badgers should be up 21-3 right now, not 14-6. As much as I've been pleased with the play in general, the same sloppiness that killed us last year crept into our first half play.

-Jae McFadden's stupid, stupid facemask gives Northern three points.

-Travis Frederick's hold on a nice Zach Brown run kills a drive that seemed headed for the end zone.

Mistakes happen, but we don't have the overwhelming talent or veteran savvy that allows us to shrug it off easily.

Other thoughts:

-Rascal Flatts for the Big Ten Network's theme song? Check the demographics, BTN, not a good call.

-No windbreaker for Bielema? Did he ditch thtat last year?

-Needless to say, nice way for Scott Tolzien to begin his first game as a starter. It helped that Isaac Anderson was so wide open Allan Evridge could have hit him. Tolzien has played pretty well so far. Anderson and Garrett Graham getting so open helps.

-On Anderson's reverse touchdown, Gabe Carimi got out on the perimeter and created enough interference to let Ike find the end zone. Shades of Joe Thomas.

-Like the depth on Philip Welch's kickoffs thus far, reaching the end zone consistently.

-On defense, J.J. Watt and O'Brien Schofield are playing very well. Watt is Matt Shaughnessy's height, but with more bulk and seemingly more quickness. He's behind the line of scrimmage a lot. Schofield, too, and he's lining up without a hand on the ground. Also seen him dropping back into coverage on what appear to be zone blitzes.

-Seems like we're blitzing a lot, which I like. Our defense is probably going to give up some big plays this year -- why not blitz and try to increase the odds of us turning big plays? Blake Sorensen has made more plays in the first half than he has in his career thus far, it seems he may have found a role as a blitzer.

-Mike Taylor is living up to the hype earlier. Tackle for loss, and the strip/fumble recovery was beautiful. As the announcers pointed out, it came after he made a sound tackle. Hope the injury he suffered isn't serious.

-Couple rough patches for Aaron Henry. He really blew a tackle on Northern's one big play of the half, and his interference penalty was blatant. Hope it doesn't mess with him mentally.

-Always love to see the new kids out there. Chris Borland has been in a lot, as have Antonio fenelus and Anthony Mains.

-See that block Nick Toon threw on that Northern defender? He blew him up! Love it when our receivers contribute as blockers.

We should be in fine shape here, but we also should have stepped on their throats by now.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Regarding Twitter and the games ...

Is it worthwhile for me to post updates to Twitter during Badger games?

My thought is no, no one's going to read my Tweets while there's a game going on. But I don't know, maybe if I'm really mad or excited and other people are feeling the same way it would be cathartic, like you're yelling at the TV along with me.

Whatever, you can follow me at

How excited are you?

For the past couple weeks lots of people have asked me how I'm feeling about the upcoming season. On an excitement scale of 1 to 10, I'm about a 6.

On the one hand, I think our offense will be fun to watch, and there's a lot of upside to the young guys we have playing there. Clay and Brown at running back. Toon and the gang at wideout. The line. Let's see how good Tolzien is. Can Phillips work his way into more snaps?

On the other hand, as much as I'm looking forward to seeing the new guys on defense, last year's defense was underwhelming, and a lot of those guys were experienced, talented, multi-year starters. Can we really expect to improve, or at least maintain?

On the one hand, when my expectations for a season are muted, we've had a history of responding with very pleasant efforts. 2005 comes to mind.

On the other hand, we could very well lose to Northern Illinois tomorrow night. Wofford? Hell, Cal Poly almost beat us last year, and The Citadel hung 31 on us at Camp Randall two years ago. And I'm going into the season counting on losing to Minnesota, which obviously isn't good.

So the college football bug hasn't bitten me as hard this year as in most years, but I tell you what: I was in the bathroom the other night and heard an ad on TV for tomorrow's Virginia Tech-Alabama game and got excited. I stayed up late (for me anyway) to watch Boise State and Oregon play last night in the battle of terrible home field vs. terrible uniforms. At about 10 a.m. tomorrow I'll be wishing I was in Madison.

6? Make it a 7.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Game by game

At first blush, this year's schedule seems like a favorable one for the Badgers. Mixed emotions on that. On one hand, they appear to be down this year, and an easier schedule will soften the blow. On the other hand -- wouldn't it be nice if this was a great Badger team that was able to ride a soft schedule to a BCS bowl? Ain't gonna happen.

Here's my take on the game-by-game progression of this season, without trying to fit any preconceived overall finishing record.

Northern Illinois, win. NIU's not terrible, but if we can't pull this one out, you probably won't be reading much new on this blog from day to day.

Fresno State, win. Should be a good test, but one we should pass. Fair or not, we handled them at their place last year in The Biggest Game In Fresno State History, and they lost some key guys from that team.

Wofford, win. Pretty good team, hopefully not as good as Cal Poly. Did I just write that? Sheesh.

Michigan State, win. Sparty isn't beating itself any more -- we played that role to a T in Lansing last year -- but although they're the logical choice to finish third in the Big Ten this year, they don't seem like world beaters to me.

at Minnesota, loss. We seem to be just about equal this year, and home field will tip this one in Goldy's favor. Trust me, I will not be watching Brew run across the field to grab the Axe.

at Ohio State, loss. They're just too good. Would like to see some guys make some plays and gain some confidence in this one, even in a loss.

Iowa, loss. They're just better than us this year, even though I don't think they're a BCS-caliber team.

Purdue, win. These guys are terrible, too bad what Joe Tiller built fell apart. Good opponent to face after three straight losses.

at Indiana, win. Could there be a less exciting place to play football in Division 1?

Michigan, win. They'll be a little bit better this year, but not much. Unless they keep practicing 40 hours a week, we should take this one.

at Northwestern, loss. As much as I have disliked this team over the past decade-plus, I have great admiration for Pat Fitzgerald and the job he is doing there. As far as young head coaches go, he is without peer.

at Hawaii, win. God, I hope a bowl berth isn't riding on this one.

The wins I'm least sure of are Michigan State and Michigan, we could easily drop either of those. If this team is better than expected, Minnesota, Iowa, and Northwestern could be wins. If this team is worse than expected, and happens to drop a non-conference game, even Purdue and Indiana look dicey.

So that's 8-4. Let's say that lands us in the Alamo Bowl, against Kansas. They beat us and we finish 8-5.

Would you be happy with that?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Travis Frederick

Last fall when Big Foot played Wautoma for the Division 4 championship, I zeroed in on Travis Frederick. He looked enormous, which wasn't really a surprise, and fairly mobile, but it was still hard to get a read on how his size and skills would translate to Division 1 college ball.

Pretty well, it seems. Now Frederick is being mentiond in the same breath as Cory Raymer, Bob Winckler, and Dennis Lick. Not bad company.

With John Moffitt still laid up we'll get a chance to see how good this kid is right away. I expect he'll struggle at times, but how often is that painfully obvious with a center? Unless Northern Illinois has the MAC version of Albert Haynesworth, I bet he holds his own.

With Moffitt, Bill Nagy, and Gabe Carimi all missing time this camp because of injuries, guys like Frederick and Kevin Zeitler are getting a lot of reps. That can only help the O-Line's depth, and here's the best thing: all 10 guys on the two-deep return next year. If things go right we could be looking at one of those really, really good Badger lines.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Guys I'm excited about seeing

Every year there are a handful of guys we're especially excited about seeing. Not returning stars, mind you -- we know what they can do. But guys who haven't played much before, but are in position to make a big impact. It's one of the beautiful things about college spots.

Here are the guys I'm especially excited to watch this season.

Aaron Henry. Mainly because there have been north of 1 million kind words written about this kid since he blew out his knee a couple years ago. I'm not expecting him to be Jamar Fletcher or Jack Ikegwuonu. I am expecting him to be a cross between Allen Langford and Donnel Thompson. Which is exactly what this defense needs.
Louis Nzegwu. Something about his frame, background as a running back, and the lack of playmakers on the defensive line suggest that he will get a chance to make plays this year.
Lance Kendricks. Thought he'd break out more next year, but he got hurt (his collapse coming out of the huddle against Michigan State was downright bizarre). He can be to Garrett Graham what Graham was to Travis Beckum.
Josh Oglesby. I'm excited abou JO because people, including me, have been so tepid on him since he struggled at times in his starts last year. I have expect him to come out and be dominant at times.
Montee Ball. As a good friend of mine has observed, he looks great in a hot tub. Here's guessing he gets some time at the end of lopsided games and impresses in limited carries.
Curt Phillips. Not alone in this, hoping he can cut down on the mistakes and seize the quarterback job for four years.