Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blogpoll Ballot -- Week 5

Will be breaking the silence soon, as long as my presentation tomorrow goes well. To whet your appetite:

1 Southern Cal --
2 LSU --
3 Oklahoma 1
4 California 2
5 Ohio State 2
6 Oregon 2
7 Boston College 8
8 Rutgers 1
9 West Virginia 3
10 Texas 3
11 Kentucky 5
12 Clemson 14
13 Wisconsin 2
14 South Carolina 4
15 Miami (Florida) 11
16 South Florida 2
17 Penn State 12
18 Cincinnati 7
19 Alabama 5
20 Purdue 6
21 Arizona State 5
22 UCLA 4
23 Virginia Tech 3
24 Missouri 2
25 Hawaii 2

Dropped Out: Florida (#3), Arkansas (#17), Nebraska (#19), Louisville (#20), Georgia (#21), Texas A&M (#22), Georgia Tech (#24).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Terse answers to Big Ten Roundtable questions

Thanks to OMGTINNOMJLOL for hosting ...

1. Clearly, Week 1 was a huge week for upsets with Appalachian St. beating Michigan and Clemson beating FSU (though if that really shocked anyone I'd be surprised). What are your upset games for Week 2 and why?

Yeah, Michigan got pantsed. I mean, Appalachian State? I'm more upset than joyful at this loss; that's at least 24 months of "the Big Ten is weak!" fodder for the talking heads. Check that; they would've been saying all that anyway, but now they have an earth-shattering fiasco to point at and say, "that's proof, baby." Even Northwestern beat that I-AA opponent, Wolverines. Nice going.

A great thing to come from last week: now it's OK to pick Minnesota and Michigan to lose every week. Prove us wrong, ladies!

Upsets ... well, I'd pick Miami over the Gophers, but I'm not sure that counts as an upset per se. I really don't see any other Big Ten team losing, except probably Michigan because they have a legitimate opponent. (And, oh yeah, they lost to Appalachian State.)

Nationally, let's talk about South Carolina over Georgia. The Dawgs smothered what was supposed to be a reasonably decent Oklahoma State team and may be puffed up enough to believe they can pull a Michigan and go to sleep on unranked South Carolina. But you can't pull that against the Ol' Ball Coach! If Georgia wins, it's because they wake up in the second half and put some effort into beating the Gamecocks. (Sorry, no abbreviation there; I don't want to arouse people's prurient interests.)

I think South Florida is a program on the rise. At the very least they'll give Auburn a scare this weekend.

BYU over UCLA? If anyone can lose that game (besides Lloyd Carr, Joe Paterno, or Bobby Bowden) it's Karl Dorrell.

What an odd world we live in when Washington over Boise State is considered an upset. While the the Hoosier Report doesn't give Ty Willingham much credit, let's face it -- thus far, his career indicates he's more of a football genius than is Charlie Weis. I want to see Willingham succeed and the Irish regret their personnel moves. Call it wishful thinking, but I'm picking the Huskies.

2. What do you think about the BTN? How'd it look? How were the announcers? Did the first weekend change your opinion of the BTN?

I think it screwed me out of watching the biggest, most embarrassing upset in college football history live. I didn't see it, I won't see it, I don't like it.

3. Now that we're a game into the Season evaluate the Big Ten's strength.

Here's what we know:

A. Minnesota and Michigan will both have long seasons. Minnesota, duh. Michigan can still wake up and outscore their offense and maybe pull out nine wins. Their lack of defense will cost them dearly against Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State.
B. Wisconsin is better than you thought. 42 points? More than I thought I'd see.
C. We don't know anything about anyone else. They all took care of business, as they were supposed to. We know they're not chokers, but we don't know if they're any good. Michigan State looked serviceable on defense and impressive on offense. Illinois is bad, but not losing-to-the-MAC-or-IAA bad. Everyone else? Who knows?

Friday, August 31, 2007

GAMETIME: This week's musical feature

Anything goes when kickoff is less than 24 hours away. Because of that, you'll excuse the copious gaiety contained herein. Before you break out the PBR and the brats, it's time to eradicate the remaining traces of non-football in your body. So put on your favorite pair of K-Swiss and bounce along to Hall and Oates.

College football -- it's makin' my dreams come true!!

Cue Doba: A Washington State-Wisconsin preview

Sometimes you go slummin' and you schedule a team like UNLV or the Citadel. You know it's going to be ugly, the fans know it's going to be ugly, the players on both sides of the field know it's going to be ugly.

And other times you go slummin' and you schedule a team that performs like UNLV or the Citadel but plays in one of the six major conferences. Playing Washington State isn't exactly like that, but it's close. Most season previews for the Cougars tend to hedge their bets, stating that Wazzu might ride its offense to the postseason and anticipating utter embarrassment for the defense.

The series: Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 1-0. The Cougars visited Madison for a game in 1976 and left with a 35-26 loss to a Badger team that would eventually go 5-6. (Their only win against a team that finished with a record of better than .500? They beat the Gophers, of course!)

The school: As you can imagine, Washington State is another victim of the State Rule:

If two public schools exist in a given state, the one that uses the word "State" in its name is, in almost all ways, the inferior school.

Prestige aside, all one needs to do is look at a map and find Pullman, Washington to draw a few conclusions: it's up there with Muncie, Carbondale, Las Cruces, and Starkville on the list of depressingly isolated places in which to attend school. Seattle, at over 250 miles away, represents the nearest bit of civilization. Despite its all that, the Cougars have turned out several luminaries; they count Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson, newsman Edward R. Murrow, and -- most significantly -- complete frickin' legend and voice of college football Mr. Keith Jackson among their alumni.

The matchups: What Wazzu has going for it is that their strengths match up nicely with Wisconsin's question marks. The Cougars and quarterback Alex Brink like to play bombs-away football; he threw for 2899 yards and 23 touchdowns last year. If the two primary receivers, Michael Bumpus and Brandon Gibson, manage to get behind Ikegwuonu and Langford, they'll only have inexperienced safeties to beat. Their running game isn't winning any accolades, and the Wisconsin line should overwhelm anyone who stands in their way early. If Wazzu becomes one-dimensional and DC Mike Hankwitz can consistently drop linebackers into coverage, this game will be over early.

On the opposite side of the ball, Washington State doesn't appear to have anything remotely resembling a defense. This will undoubtedly reflect poorly on head coach Bill Doba, as he fired his offensive coordinator in order to take on that role himself. It appears that everyone who has experienced has suffered an injury, and among the new players the only ones who aren't freshman are JUCO transfers. As long as Donovan doesn't proffer too many wobbling ducks, the Badgers should be able to run and pass at will. My prediction: it'll be a clinic before the third quarter is out.

The prediction: Donovan starts out shaky but P.J. Hill doesn't miss a beat. The defense clamps down and forces a lot of three-and-outs, but gives up a couple big passing plays. The starters get to watch the fourth quarter from the sidelines. Badgers 31, Cougars 10

Random: Evidently the Cougars fancy themselves quite the cheesemakers. If that's the basis for any smack talk this weekend it's going to end poorly.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wisconsin Badgers 2007 Football Preview: the Defense and Special Teams

The season looms ... time runs short ... not much time for a preview. Sorry.

Your starting defensive tackles: Jason Chapman, Mike Newkirk, and Nick Hayden. On the depth chart, Chapman and Hayden are listed as the starters, but these three will rotate in throughout the course of the game. They will batter running backs who dare test them and will rush the passer with furious aplomb. A fearsome unit last year, the DTs will improve, hopefully when it comes to penetrating the opposing line. Backing up the starting rotation are two guys who've never seen the field as Badgers, redshirt freshman Brandon Hoey and redshirt sophomore Jeff Stehle. Hopefully Chapman, Newkirk, and Hayden stay healthy. (This will become a theme on defense, as you'll see.)

Your starting defensive ends: Kurt Ware and Matt Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy is a rising star, picking up second-team All Big Ten honors last season, his sophomore year. Shaughnessy started seven games as a freshman and has been impressing ever since. Ware, on the other hand, is a fifth-year senior whose story was supposed to be about overcoming injuries and valiantly winning his position in the face of adversity. Then Jamal Cooper got kicked off the team and the keys were simply handed over to Ware. The fact that he has recently recovered from knee surgery is disturbing. After the starters, the cupboard is pretty bare; note this article, which has Mike Newkirk stepping in as backup end. Ouch.

Your starting linebackers: Jonathan Casillas, Elijah Hodge, and DeAndre Levy. Another damn fine unit, these guys will be fun to watch this season. Casillas plays on the weakside and was an all-conference pick last year, making 83 tackles (12.5 for a loss) and being fast fast fast. Levy, a junior, led the team in sacks last season with six last season. Hodge is the spottiest of the starters but only because the position he takes over (middle linebacker) was capably filled by Mark Zalewski last season -- he wasn't plugged in with great frequency.

Again, the backup situation is not promising, with true freshman Blake Sorenson the primary backup on the strongside, unused Culmer St. Jean backing up Hodge, and unproven junior Jaevery McFadden filling in behind Casillas. Maybe one or more of these guys will prove themselves as the season goes along, but an early injury to one of the starters might prove disastrous.

Your starting cornerbacks: Allen Langford and Jack Ikegwuonu. Again, you know these guys. Ikegwuonu was All-Everything last year, exactly the sort of corner you don't want to go up against, and one of the primary reasons Wisconsin had the #1 defense against the pass in the nation (imagine Brandt from the "Big Lebowski" saying that last part). Allen Langford broke out last year after having been merely average, doing well enough to pick up honorable mention when the all-conference awards came out. Coverage is expected to be good this season. And, mirabile dictu, we have experienced backups at the position; fifth-year senior Ben Strickland and true sophomore Josh Nettles will spell Jack and Allen, and the depth chart actually lists true freshman Aaron Henry as Langford's primary backup, so he must be pretty solid.

Your starting safeties: Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant. And now we come to the sketchy part of the defense. Both of these guys were hurt last year and will be thrown into the fire early. This will be the first significant action Carter and Pleasant will have seen in their careers. Evidently they both outplayed the (slightly) more experienced Kim Royston, which might be an indication that the backups aren't quite ready for prime time either. I fear for this unit.

Your specialists: kicker Taylor Mehlhaff and punter Ken DeBauche. What can I say, both are great at what they do. Mehlhaff was 15-for-20 on field goal attempts and made all 47 PATs he tried. DeBauche averaged over 41 yards per punt. There is no need to worry about this unit. The return game is not yet set, but look for lots of contributions from the receiving corps -- Jefferson, Swan, Gilreath -- and look for them to improve upon last year's efforts.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wisconsin Badgers Football 2007 Preview: the Offense

Your starting quarterback: Tyler Donovan. A redshirt senior from Hartland, Donovan has one year to be the guy for the Badgers. A backup to John Stocco, Donovan was called into service at the end of the 2006 season, starting the Badgers' wins against Iowa and Buffalo. He performed admirably, finishing the season with a passer rating of 161.34 while completing 63% of his passes, but again: we're talking Iowa and Buffalo. He gives the Badgers decidedly more mobility than Stocco had but at the cost of arm strength. The real question is whether he's mentally prepared for a starting role.

Backing him up: Allan Evridge. Evridge was a nice surprise for the Badgers, transferring from Kansas State after the dismissal of Bill Snyder in 2005. After sitting out the 2006 season, Evridge was expected to compete for the starting role with Donovan, but Coach Bielema indicated very early on in fall camp that Donovan was destined to start. I speculated that Evridge might be a more attractive choice at starter due to his additional remaining year of eligibility, but Bret Bielema knows that the future doesn't matter if you're not winning today. It's Donovan's job to lose, but if he's shaky, Evridge might be able to seize the starting role with a strong performance if Donovan gets the hook. He did, after all, make numerous starts as a Kansas State Wildcat.

Backing up the backup: Redshirt junior Dustin Sherer is absolutely the third-string quarterback. Redshirt freshman Scott Tolzien was a Rivals two-star recruit and will almost definitely not play. Incoming freshmen Cody Rose and James Stallons will redshirt.

Your starting tailback: P. J. Hill. Hill, the Wisconsin Winnebago, led the Big Ten in rushing as a redshirt freshman last season. He averaged 5 yards per carry, pounded out 1569 yards, and plowed into the end zone 15 times. He also displayed competence as a receiver, catching 18 passes for 197 yards and a score. Bielema intends to make use of Hill's pass-catching ability this year (detailed in this article, once you get past the embarrassing parts about stripping naked and wearing plastic bags) and touts his breakaway speed. When Hill gets free, he's tough to stop; p=mv, y'all. His numbers last season can't be denied, even though at one point Coach Bielema requested that his star back pop a few "toughen-up pills" and he did end the season on a disturbing note, gaining just 36 yards on 19 carries in the Capital One Bowl against Arkansas.

Backing him up: Lance Smith, Zach Brown, and John Clay. Second-stringer Smith is back with the team after an incident that began with an argument over $10 and ended with a call to police and some shoe-stealing. He's got experience at the collegiate level, having seen action in twelve games last year, but he didn't do all that much; when Hill was injured against Illinois, Smith ran for 46 yards on (ugh) 21 carries. Through camp, Bielema made it known that Smith's shortcomings are with mentality and maturity; physically, he's doing fine.

Zach Brown is a freshman who established himself as the third-string back at camp. This may or may not have changed when star recruit John Clay became academically eligible. The word appears to be that Clay is still not in football shape (he did miss a lot of practice) so it appears the order will be Hill-Smith-Brown-Clay, but that is subject change. Regardless, expect a big year from the running backs again; with a new quarterback, the ground game is going to have to be top notch.

Your starting fullback: Chris Pressley. Pressley jumped over the very capable Bill Rentmeester in the depth chart this fall. He sat out last year with a leg injury, shed about twenty pounds, and is back to do to unto others as he does unto weights: he shall squat them, 770 pounds at a time. Pressley took a trip to China over the summer -- he's one of those bright kids who isn't just here to play football, wishing instead to embrace the academic experience as a whole. No word yet on whether he managed to hone his Shaolin shadowboxing whilst overseas.

Shaolin shadowboxing and the Wu-Tang sword style. If what you say is true, the Wu-Tang could be dangerous!

Backing him up: Bill Rentmeester. It was about 53 weeks ago to the day that Bill Rentmeester found out he would be taking over as the Badgers' starting fullback. A redshirt junior majoring in biology (what is it with our fullbacks being polymaths?), Rentmeester played in every game last year. Oddly, he was never asked to carry the ball, but he did become the first Badger fullback in six years to catch a touchdown pass (this against Bowling Green). It's tough to compete with a freak like Pressley, but Rentmeester is one of those guys that you can't help but like. He's likely to continue to contribute on special teams this season.

Your starting wide receivers: Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard. Both guys are fifth-year seniors who didn't see much action until last season, but they became game-tested in a real hurry. Their numbers are incredibly similar; Swan caught 35 balls for 595 yards and 5 scores, while Hubbard pulled in 38 for 627 and 5. Swan's got the hands, and Hubbard -- a champion long-jumper -- has the agility. These guys aren't virtuosos or anything, and they probably won't be able to clean up most of the mistakes that Donovan might make. But they're solid, experienced players, and they'll be consistent deep threats.

Backing them up: Xavier Harris and Kyle Jefferson. Harris, a sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, was a frequently-deployed third wideout who rarely saw a ball come his way. That figures to change this year. Jefferson appears to be the guy voted Most Likely To Possibly Approach Chambers/Evans; he's big and fast, and hopefully his mind and his hands will be ready for the college game. A stable of lesser receivers, including Lance Kendricks, David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson, and possibly Marcus Randle El, will back up the other four receivers. Daven Jones, who wasn't able to make it to campus last year, is now on the squad but has a lot of people to jump before he sees the field.

Your starting tight end: Travis Beckum. Volumes and volumes have already been written on Beckum. You don't need me to tell you very much about #9. Recruited as the #6 linebacker in the nation out of high school, Beckum spent his freshman year stagnating as a defensive backup. He was plugged in at TE right from the get-go in 2006 and finished the year as the Badgers' leading receiver. He's been named to several preseason first-team All-America lists and, if his run-blocking improves this season, could be making big money in the NFL at this time next year. He's going to be double-covered all year long.

Backing him up: Andy Crooks. Few teams have the luxury of having a second-string tight end who has played in 38 games and made 19 starts. The University of Wisconsin does. Crooks is a converted linebacker and, like Beckum, has lined up at fullback as well. Opponents will live in fear of the Badgers' jumbo package this year.

Your starting offensive line will feature four returnees: Eric VandenHeuvel at right tackle, Kraig Urbik at right guard, Marcus Coleman at center, and Andy Kemp at left guard. Of course, the missing guy is Joe Thomas, who is currently driving an all-gold Rolls Royce somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Erie. Redshirt freshman and local product Gabe Carimi (Monona Grove) steps in as the Last Best Hope on Donovan's blind side. (Side note: Allan Evridge is left-handed, so if Donovan gets bounced, he'll have a more experienced lineman protecting his blind side.) Mgoblog has pointed out a discrepancy between the line's ability to create holes for Hill (good) and the fact that John Stocco seemed to taste a lot of Fieldturf last year (bad). My prediction: experience will allow this line to gel quickly, and their increased capability combined with Donovan's non-statuesque style of quarterbackery will lead to sexy results.

All in all, the offense looks promising, but will ultimately come down to Donovan's readiness. Hill won't regress, but if Donovan can't keep defenses off-balance by moving the ball through the air, that won't matter in the least. Fortunately, an experienced receiving corps and an offensive line packed with upperclassmen are there to help the QB out when the punishing convoy of Hill and Pressley turn their CB radios off for a play.


And now, a word from our sponsor: That's all the information you need to make your football picks, and that concludes my college football preview for the Badger offense.

Big Ten Network is coming to UW-Madison

In the dorms, that is ...

Students in University of Wisconsin-Madison residence halls will be able to watch the Big Ten Network, under an agreement between the university and the network.

In addition, the Big Ten Network will be available at the Memorial Union and Union South, as well as the J.F. Friedrick Center, the Fluno Center and Lowell Hall.

The Big Ten Network will be offered on channel 116 of the university's ResNet cable system beginning on about Sept. 1.

Presumably, if the game is low-profile enough to merit airing on the BTN, you can watch on campus ... although in many cases I'd guess you could find a ticket on the street for $10 or less and just watch from the stands in Camp Randall Stadium. Still, those road games at Illinois and Minnesota? Might have to head to the Union to see them ...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday night linkfest

Badger forward Kevin Gullikson cited for underage drinking

Lest you think that the football players are the only ones having any fun ...

University of Wisconsin men's basketball player Kevin Gullikson received a citation early Saturday morning for underage drinking.

According to the UW Police Department, he was picked up at 1:25 a.m. and had an alcohol level of .209, more than twice the legal limit.

Now, since they were kind enough to post the actual BAC here, I decided to run a few numbers ... ya know, just for fun. Gullikson weighs 240 pounds, so a BAC of .209 could translate to:

  • 13 shots of Jack Daniel's over the course of 2 hours (BAC = 0.214%)

  • 11 Miller High Lifes in one hour (BAC = 0.212%)

  • 2 liters of MD 20/20 over the course of 3 hours (BAC = 0.209%)

  • Two and a half forties of Steel Reserve over the course of 3 hours (BAC = 0.208%)

Makes me sick just to look at it.

Prodigious! And with numbers like that, you have to expect the guy's no rookie; sure enough:
For the second offense, Gullikson faces up to $375 in fines and a suspension of his driving privileges for up to six months. According to the UW Police Department, he may also be required to attend an alcohol assessment program.

Underage drinking violations are not covered under the athletic department's Student-Athlete Discipline Policy.

Caught twice? Kevin Gullikson needs to drink smarter, not harder.

Preseason bong hits with Kirk Herbstreit

Lighter? Check. Peyote? Check. List-makin' pen? Double check! LET'S DO THIS!

Ol' Kirk is handing out the Herbies today; let's run down his list:

  • Travis Beckum is rated as the fourth-best tight end nationwide.

  • Jonathon Casillas finds his way to #5 on the outside linebackers list, subtitled "all over the field."

  • John Clay is on the Top True Freshmen list.

  • Bret Bielema is already rated the 7th-best game-day coach. (Read that, Nittany Lions? People LOVE that clock-killing maneuver. LOVE. IT.)

Not bad, eh? A little love for the Badgers.

Except ...

  • P.J. Hill doesn't crack the top twelve list for running backs. Don't worry Kirk, no need to put the Big Ten's leading rusher for 2006 on your list!

  • Anthony Morelli is projected to be the most improved QB in the game. By itself, not a bad thing to say, but ...

  • Pick to win the Big Ten: Penn State. Um, great. Sez Herb: "If Anthony Morelli plays the way he did in the Outback Bowl, the Lions are BCS bowl bound." Big "if" there, bucko.

  • Sleeper pick to with the Big Ten: Iowa. Ohhhhh...kayyy??? Here's the rationale: they don't play Michigan or Ohio State, and they're "flying under the radar." Why didn't I think of that!?

  • Wisconsin doesn't crack the top ten Game Day Locations. Herbstreit puts Ohio State at #1 (I wonder why?) and includes Iowa (!?) on the list. I've been to Iowa for game day, and let me tell you: it is no Madison, WI. Hell, it's not even Ann Arbor. Iowa City is definitely in the bottom half of football destinations in the Big Ten, and it's certainly not the #8 place in the nation.

Finally, Wisconsin doesn't crack the top five student sections, and although we're a loud and obnoxious bunch I agree in this case. See the rationale in the 2005 Herbies:
Wisconsin has always been one of my favorite places, but it lost serious points lately. Lighten up on the beer bongs. Have a little more respect for your opponents; and remember, there are kids around, too, so maybe yelling profanities in every other chant isn't such a good idea.

And that's not to mention the mild-mannered, generally non-controversial Chris Fowler's take (from 2004):

Writing to UW students, he said, “You guys are great. For energy, boisterousness, originality, you get A’s … But the constant, collective F-bombs are lame and tired … [and] it’s beneath you.”

Fowler also criticized compact discs thrown by some students during the game, as well as their tardiness to the game versus Penn State Saturday.

“The students got an “F” for punctuality. The [student] section was about 20 percent full at kickoff!” Fowler wrote, adding, although seats filled to capacity quickly, it was not good enough for the undefeated Badgers’ Big Ten opener on national television.

“Be there on time! The beer bong will still be sitting there when you get back after the game,” he continued.

It IS beneath us. Badgers are way smarter and way classier than constant F-bombs. This is simply embarrassing (obviously, don't click if you don't want to hear profanity):

I love a loud football crowd. I love taunting the opponents. I love well-channeled malice, used to create an intimidating atmosphere. But I don't love swearing just to swear, and I don't love the attitude that "We party so much that we CAN'T be on time for the game!!!" Screw that; wake up 15 minutes earlier and get yourself to your seat on time for kickoff.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blogpoll Preseason Poll Roundtable

A pretty simple one this week: according to the preseason poll, who is overrated and who is underrated?

First, a note about the Badgers: they're fine at #9. A little lower than I voted them (fifth; my ballot can be seen here), but just fine for the time being. They've definitely got top ten talent and top-notch coaching; the question is whether a first-year starter at quarterback is going to be a recipe for disaster. (Camp Lambeau thinks we're in for a year of underthrows, picks, and batted balls) ... I'm not as pessimistic but he's got some pretty solid arguments to back up his thoughts.)

Who's Overrated?

#3 Michigan. I voted them sixth and will be moving them down in this week's poll. Their white-hot offense will be a boon early on in games, but Lloyd Carr's deep-seated conservatism will shelve everything but running up the gut every time the Wolverines have a double-digit lead sometime late in the third quarter. Expect losses to Ohio State (for the fourth straight year) and in their bowl game (for the fifth), plus a loss at Camp Randall. Michigan finishes the season with three losses again. Mark it.

#10 Louisville. Yeah, they won their BCS Bowl last year. (They played Wake Forest, and someone had to win.) Brian Brohm and his offense is going to put up points, but every game will be a footrace as their defense is going to be atrocious. Look for these guys to drop a couple games, but those losses may not come until season's end -- their three November games are at West Virginia, at South Florida, and vs. Rutgers, and all three are potential losses.

#18 Florida State. Last I checked, these guys still had Drew Weatherford starting at quarterback, a guy whose resume conists of cringe-inducing losses. Maybe Bobby Bowden's new brain trust can get the house in order but until I have proof of that I'm not voting for the Seminoles.

Who's Underrated?

#16 UCLA. Their out-of-conference games (at Utah, BYU and Notre Dame at home) keep the Bruins relatively close to home all season long, and each will provide an above-average challenge, keeping them ready to play all season long. If UCLA can get past Cal, that season-ending date against USC might become the PAC-10 title game. I don't really have strong feelings about other teams; UCLA is the only one that stands out as egregiously underrated to me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jamal Cooper is gone

Suspended indefinitely. Sounds like he won't be back:

Cooper will have access to full academic support services, but will no longer be a part of the football program in any other way.

Ouch. And that's from the official release on the matter. No word on the matter yet but Cooper has had issues in the past.

Presumably senior Kurt Ware will move up the depth chart and assume the starting role.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Eight days to go ...

The anticipation is building! Just eight more days till kickoff.

It's tough to sit still long enough to write anything substantive. Jeff Potrykus has a better look at the depth chart than most and lays out the storylines at many positions particularly well. He also gives a prediction in the form of a bottom line:

UW can't match the offensive firepower of Michigan, the favorite to win the league title, mainly because the Badgers are breaking in a new full-time starter at quarterback.

However, the Badgers could have the best defense in the league and the special teams should be better than 2006.

Not matching Michigan's offense is OK. Having the best defense in the league is paramount. That's what gets a team a title. Thankfully there are only eight days to wait before we get to see whether these predictions -- and all of our college football predictions -- come true.

The CapTimes has a fluff article on Tyler Donovan, which doesn't reveal anything interesting or embarrassing. But it's about football, dammit! So read!

Finally, the first preseason Blogpoll is out. The bloggers of the nation appear to have less esteem for the Badgers than do the sportswriters and the coaches, ranking the Badgers #9. I wouldn't expect sixty-odd bloggers to do much to alter the college football spreads, but it's great that a group of people who put so much thought into analyzing the game gave the Badgers top-ten props.

We've also made a new friend -- the Enlightened Spartan gave the Badgers his #1 vote. I wish I had that kind of confidence!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Badgers release updated two-deep roster

Coach Bielema has made up his mind -- here is how the 9th-ranked Badgers will look going into the Washington State game:


12 Tyler Donovan, Sr., 6-1, 185
4 Allan Evridge, Jr., 6-2, 226

39 P.J. Hill, So., 5-11, 227
5 Lance Smith, So., 5-10, 203

44 Chris Pressley, Jr., 6-1, 259
34 Bill Rentmeester, Jr., 6-1, 246

9 Travis Beckum, Jr., 6-4, 224
89 Garrett Graham, So., 6-4, 227

43 Andy Crooks, Sr., 6-3, 269
36 Mickey Turner, So., 6-4, 237

1 Luke Swan, Sr., 6-1, 190
2 Xavier Harris, So., 5-11, 175

19 Paul Hubbard, Sr., 6-4, 213
14 Kyle Jefferson, Fr., 6-5, 195

68 Gabe Carimi, Fr., 6-8, 292
64 Danny Kaye, Sr., 6-8, 323

75 Andy Kemp, Jr., 6-6, 324
74 John Moffitt, Fr., 6-4, 307

65 Marcus Coleman, Sr., 6-6, 295
64 Danny Kaye, Sr., 6-8, 323 OR
58 Brad Thorson, Fr., 6-4, 287

63 Kraig Urbik, Jr., 6-6, 332
76 Bill Nagy, Fr., 6-4, 292

71 Eric Vanden Heuvel, Jr., 6-7, 325
78 Jake Bscherer, So., 6-7, 297


5 Jamal Cooper, Sr., 6-4, 214
34 Kurt Ware, Sr., 6-4, 268

91 Jason Chapman, Jr., 6-4, 285 OR
54 Mike Newkirk, Jr., 6-3, 268
79 Jeff Stehle, So., 6-6, 297

96 Nick Hayden, Sr., 6-5, 301 OR
54 Mike Newkirk, Jr., 6-3, 268
59 Brandon Hoey, Fr., 6-5, 292

92 Matt Shaughnessy, Jr., 6-6, 247
99 Kirk DeCremer, Fr., 6-5, 238

11 DeAndre Levy, Jr., 6-3, 230
27 Blake Sorensen, Fr., 6-1, 204

52 Elijah Hodge, So., 6-1, 235
15 Culmer St. Jean, Fr., 6-1, 226

2 Jonathan Casillas, Jr., 6-2, 220
47 Jaevery McFadden, So., 6-2, 225

17 Allen Langford, Jr., 5-11, 197
7 Aaron Henry, Fr., 6-0, 169 OR
28 Josh Nettles, So., 5-10, 179

8 Aubrey Pleasant, So., 6-1, 194
26 Jay Valai, Fr., 5-9, 191

25 Shane Carter, So., 6-2, 206
21 Kim Royston, So., 5-11, 185

6 Jack Ikegwuonu, Jr., 6-1, 193
3 Ben Strickland, Sr., 5-9, 172

Special Teams

94 Ken DeBauche, Sr., 6-2, 214
97 Paul Standring, Sr., 6-1, 212

10 Taylor Mehlhaff, Sr., 5-11, 184
96 Matt Fischer, So., 5-11, 181

1 Luke Swan, Sr., 6-1, 190
85 David Gilreath, Fr., 5-11, 160

28 Josh Nettles, So., 5-10, 179
85 David Gilreath, Fr., 5-11, 160

14 Kyle Jefferson, Fr., 6-5, 195
13 Marcus Randle El, Jr., 5-10, 193

First and foremost, we have Donovan over Evridge. Not much of a surprise. Congrats to Tyler, and best of luck.

The WSJ ran an article yesterday where they suggested that David Gilreath might be the primary returner in all situations, and from the article, it appears that sure-handedness was a trait to which Bielema was giving top priority:

"I think the guys that jumped out to me (as returners) are the new guys," UW coach Bret Bielema said after Tuesday's practice. "Marcus put a couple on the ground.

The article didn't mention Swan, who is listed as the top punt returner. Whatever happens, hopefully we won't have a repeat of last year's Adventures of Zach Hampton everytime the opposing punter jogs out.

Also of note is Chris Pressley leapfrogging Bill Rentmeester for the starting fullback position. One would have to think that this is due to Chris Pressley's ability to do this:

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Badger football starts the season at #7 in the AP poll

Just like in the Coaches Poll. It's exciting that expectations for this team are so high. After watching the Packers demolish the Seahawks 48-13, it's finally time to acknowledge that we need to fast-forward through the remainder of August and get football season going.

I do enjoy the AP's new policy of full transparency; you can see the ballots of each voter every week. (Quick request of the geeks out there: is there any way one of you could write a script that will take the data from each ballot and put it into a convenient, sortable, single-page format? Let me know.) It doesn't appear that everything is updated at the AP's site quite yet, but of the polls in which preseason rankings are visible, the Badgers are ranked as highly as fourth (by three voters) and fall outside of the top ten on four ballots. The cast of College Gameday doesn't appear to think the Badgers will live up to the hype, as both Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit place UW at #11. (Herbstreit's ballot is interesting, as he also ranks Michigan #10. His top Big Ten team? Penn State, at #7.) One voter ranked UW #14; let it be known that David Birkett of the Oakland Press is officially On Notice, especially considering that he's got the Wolverines at #2.

UPDATE 8/20/07: Ach! A 23rd place vote!! This dude's in South Bend; fortunately he didn't have the audacity to rank the Irish ...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Way, way too early BlogPoll ballot -- Preseason Week 1

This is my second year of participating in the weekly BlogPoll, a top 25 poll started by Brian of Mgoblog. We received an advisory from him stating that this year we will have two -- TWO! -- preseason rankings. This is so that we have ample opportunity to tell all the other participants how wrong they are (I'm looking at YOU, Falcon Nation, what with your #14 ranking for the Badgers and whatnot) and give them a chance to correct themselves before the season opener.

So here's my absolutely awful initial attempt. Explanatory notes are provided for each team's ranking. You MUST, MUST help me with this. Who'd I leave out? Who'd I overrate and underrate? I don't know! You might though! Leave your thoughts in the comments and help me get this thing right.

1 Southern Cal An absolute embarrassment of talent should keep the Trojans at or near the top of the heap all season long
2 Florida Urban Meyer's recruits will be the source of Florida's sustained success
3 LSU Sure, they'll miss JaMarcus Russell, but scoring isn't too important when your defense gives up 1.4 points per game (projected)
4 Texas It's a good year to be named "Colt"
5 Wisconsin Hello, and welcome to Wisconsin Badger Sports
6 Michigan Yes, I think we're better than Michigan. I think their offense will be the country's most feared but their defense will hemmorhage frequently
7 Oklahoma People seem high on them but I would really like to rank the Sooners lower than this. Probation doesn't help either
8 Penn State Everyone seems to be doubting this team. That seems to be when they excel
9 West Virginia I believe in the individual stars on this team but not in the team itself. Of course I said the same thing last year and they demolished Georgia in the Sugar Bowl
10 Ohio State Never, ever, ever count this team out, even when you really want to
11 UCLA Dorrell saved his job last year in beating USC. This year he proves his worth
12 Virginia Tech Could cause the ACC -- the mega-conference that everyone's been waiting to see -- to rise from the ashes
13 RutgersI believe in Schiano. Last year was no fluke
14Nebraska The transfer of Sam Keller intrigues me ...
15 California Jeff Tedford and his nerd herd just "feel right" here
16 Louisville Brian Brohm will help this team score a lot of points, but he should've just gone pro
17 Georgia Charles Rogers curses the Dawgs
18 Hawaii Could win their conference with Colt Brennan ...
19 Boise State ... unless these guys are in BCS-victory form right off the bat
20 Oregon An enigma ... help?
21 South Florida Up-and-comers who have even lower academic standards than Florida State and Da U means there's a lot of potential for victory
22 Tennessee [Filled this spot with an SEC team]
23 South Carolina [Um, this one too]
24 Indiana I really, really think they're going to win a bowl game this year. I really do
25 Washington State Look at that, the Badgers scheduled a ranked opponent out of conference after all!

BIG NEWS: John Clay eligible to play, practices with team

Depth at tailback is ours!

"I checked with the NCAA, the school, everybody gave me documented paperwork, which I wanted all along," Bielema said. "There weren't rumors or sources, pure information, (we) got our guy out there to play."


"Great effort," Bielema said. "I think the reason we recruited him, as well as everybody else in the country recruited him, (is) he's a good person. He's a good football player. He stands for what's right. He worked very hard to get to where he is right now.

"I think the biggest thing he's got to learn to take forward from here is, it didn't come about in a normal way, as clean as everybody else and he can definitely learn from that past experience."

I love -- just love -- this attitude from Bret Bielema. John Clay made the grade, but hopefully the extra work he had to do to get to campus is something he won't forget.

An injured walk-on, defensive back Tony Megna, vacated his roster spot, a necessary step before Clay could join the team.

And finally, there's this:

"In this situation, things were out there prematurely that didn't need to be out there," Bielema said. "I just hope the same amount of space given to him when the story broke that he wasn't going to be eligible, is given to him now that he is eligible."

Yep, there's egg on my face over this one ... even moreso here. Mea culpa, Coach, and sorry, John. I was 100%, completely wrong. And I'm so glad I was.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Badger links for moving day

It's moving day here in Madison, which means chaos in the streets. It's also pretty funny, since (a) it's raining and (b) I don't have to move, so ... HA HA!

Also, it looks like UW-Madison is going to get a little more annoying, as they're making the place more accessible to parents:

Amy Smith is anxious. She's known for years this time would come, but now the day when she and her husband, Stan, will deliver Alynna, their oldest child, to UW-Madison for the first time is almost upon them.

"We're sending our child into unknown territory," said Smith, of Darlington. "She's been under my wing. I know all of her friends, I know what she's doing during the day, I know what she's doing at night. We're very close."

Uncharted territory indeed -- except to the 356 THOUSAND LIVING ALUMNI OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN. Get a grip.

Anyway, onto the sports. That's why you're here, right?

* Tom Dienhart of the Sporting News can't wait to see Bret Bielema match coaching wits with Penn State's Joe Paterno. He doesn't specify whether the Joe Paterno he speaks of is the one who actually coached the team a decade and a half ago or the one who appears on the sidelines today.

* The WSJ reports that Allan Evridge still isn't fully comfortable with his role on the team yet. Evidently, though he was comfortable enough to smoke the defense in practice on Monday, turning the tables on that unit from this weekend's action.

* It's probably nothing, but Travis Beckum, Jack Ikegwuonu, and DeAndre Levy sat out of practice on Monday and Tuesday due to minor injuries.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Devastating defense ...

... or a devastated offense?

That's one of the great things about scrimmages: it's freakin' impossible to tell. We have this much to go on:

Reserve cornerback Ben Strickland intercepted one pass and broke up another.

Freshman linebacker Blake Sorensen showed effort and athletic ability to break up a pass near the goal line.

Cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu saved a touchdown with a break-up.

Even reserve defensive tackle Jeff Stehle got in on the action with an interception.

Those were most of the memorable plays from an extended red-zone session during the University of Wisconsin football team's fourth pre-season practice Thursday.

Lots of defense, which is excellent and to be expected, until you realize that:

The offense did not score a touchdown until its 14th play, on a 3-yard completion from Allan Evridge to Travis Beckum.

Tyler Donovan missed his first six passes and was sacked in the No. 1 offense's first seven plays. It included a drop by Hill in the end zone.

Fourteen tries? Holy cow. It's still early, thank goodness, but fourteen tries? Seriously.

Allan Evridge and Dustin Sherer enjoyed the most success of the quarterbacks.

Evridge had the first score, a 3-yard strike to tight end Travis Beckum. He fired arguably the best pass of the day, a 15-yard bullet to Xavier Harris for a touchdown.

Sherer fired a 12-yard touchdown strike to Beckum.

Tyler Donovan should have had a touchdown throw in the first segment, but tailback P.J. Hill was unable to hang on to the ball in the end zone.

P.J.'s hands were one of his assets last year. I'm sure he'll be back in rhythm in short order.

And finally ... well, let's just say that this would be fun as a change of pace:

Donovan and Evridge, both gifted runners, began running the option. "It's just playing to players' strengths," Bielema said, adding that UW's defense would face some option this season.

If they got good, I mean really good at this, wouldn't it be ridiculous to see them come out during a stalemate or even when the Badgers were behind and run the option? Get a big play out of that, move into a no-huddle, go for a quick strike, try a direct snap to Hill or a reverse to Hubbard or a flea flicker ... the mind boggles. Bielema's got a lot of potential to work with here; some creativity on offensive coordinator Paul Chryst's part, and the offense could be just as dangerous as the D.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A bit of Ikegwuonu clarification

Yesterday's post about Jack Ikegwuonu's non-statements to the media was pretty widely linked. Before I move on to addressing the fact that OMG OMG ONLY THREE WEEKS TILL FOOTBALL I feel like I ought to talk about a couple of things.

First and foremost, Andy Baggot had a good column in the Wisconsin State Journal about how the student-athlete discipline process appears to work:

A vital member of the UW football team is arrested. He is suspended by the school in accordance with its student-athlete discipline policy. He is reinstated just in time to suit up for the next big on-field assignment.

It's happened three times since last September, which makes you wonder: The powers-that-be at UW have to know how this looks, don't they?

It looks calculated and dubious. It looks like powerful people are playing the privacy angles, all in the name of making sure UW Athletics runs at optimal speed.

And importantly, we get commentary from Barry Alvarez on the issue:

UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said he isn't worried about how it looks to us.

"I know the facts," he said. "We're not making the decision (based) on timing or concerned about how it appears. We're doing what we think is right and what we think is fair for the kid."

Baggot goes on to list the details of the incidents involving Elijah Hodge, Jack Ikegwuonu, and Lance Smith. And here's "how it appears:" it appears that the police were involved every single time!

Now, Barry's been around the game a long time, and one thing he ought to know is that appearances matter. They matter a whole hell of a lot! College football is mostly about the results on the field, yes, but it's also in large part a fashion show. Remember back in 2004 when Auburn was left out of the title game? Why was that? In part, because their preseason ranking did not compare well to that of USC or Oklahoma ... it was all perception.

And what about the case of a recruit who's considering Wisconsin? Is the concerned parent of a star player going to want his or her son to attend UW if it looks like the players can get away with whatever they want? Or is the parent of a middling recruit going to hesitate when they see that the star players get off easy, but if their son makes a mistake that the coaching staff might just sell them out?

Anyway, the whole situation stinks. It reeks of "Just Win, Baby," and that's not what college football -- and in particular, Badger football -- ought to be about.

My other post received a couple comments earlier today; they make good points, so I'm going to address them:

Ummm.... no. Here's what I predict is going to happen. The charges against Ikegwuonu are going to be dropped after he wins a suppression hearing. He and his brother are good students. I'm almost positive this was some big misunderstanding.

Lance will enter some first offender program, complete a bunch of counseling and community service, and his charges will also be dropped.

Compare this to Florida's offseason. I think they've had three or four people arrested for things like DUIs and bar fights.

Jack and his brother Bill (also arrested on the criminal trespass charges) might well be good students and are probably very good people. I have only minimal doubts about this. Good people do stupid things. Some very good people are capable of doing very stupid things. If this was just a matter of Ikegwuonu being in someone's apartment, I can see it just being a "big misunderstanding." But the dude had an Xbox in his hands. That looks like attempted theft, and that's not good. Additionally, if this had been a "big misunderstanding," I severely doubt that it would still be a legal matter. Finally, there is no joy in winning a suppression hearing. Woohoo, he was sprung on a technicality! Validation at last!

And of course, it is unwise to to talk to the press about active legal proceedings. But there's a right way and a wrong way to address the situation. The wrong way is what Bielema did: to be antagonistic and standoffish to the press, lecturing them about what they can and cannot ask, acting like there is something to hide. What Bielema did goes way beyond the laudable goal of protecting a player. The right way is to prep Ikegwuonu before his media time, telling him, "You know the off-the-field stuff is going to come up. Tell them it's an unfortunate situation, it's not going to affect your preparation for the season, and you can't comment because the legal proceedings are ongoing."

As for Smith, it's clear he did what he did. Nobody was seriously hurt, and in the end, what's the worst that happens? The girlfriend breaks up with him? He'll do community service, he'll undergo counseling, he's issued a public apology and seems sincerely sorry. That's all very good. So sit the guy for a while. Get by without him against Washington State, at least for the first half. Give the appearance of propriety if you're not committed to propriety itself.

Then there's this comment:

Didn't Coach Bielema kick Booker Stanley off the team as one of his first orders of business when he became HC? That's a hell of a lot more than five downs.

Let me be clear about something: Bielema's booting of Stanley seemed staged at the time and it looks even more so now. What I mean is that this was such an obvious move that Coach deserves almost no credit for doing it. Call me a cynic, but it almost looks like Alvarez kept Stanley on the team just so Bielema could kick him off. Kind of a "you can't fire me, I quit!" scenario in reverse. Of course I don't know whether that's the truth or not. But based on the type of disciplinarian Bielema has appeared to be since then, is it that much of a stretch?

Bielema is a very smart, savvy man. He showed this with the offsides kickoffs against Penn State; he was going to take advantage of a stupid rule and win based on that. He knows the number in W column is what most fans are going to remember long after the season is done. What he's expecting fans to forget is that his backup RB hit his girlfriend. And most of them will. Hell, most of the people in Camp Randall on game day will never even know that happened. They won't remember the final score of the game. But they will remember that the game was a Badger victory ... and that Bret Bielema was choreographing said victory on the sidelines.

Finally, this action has caused a Michigan fan to call Bielema unlikeable and a Penn State fan to declare him a disgrace. Remember, these are teams who have bigger fish to fry, usually, than Wisconsin. They don't care about Wisconsin football. They're not supposed to care about Wisconsin football. And if they do think about Wisconsin football, generally it's with a certain admiration; after all Barry Alvarez built this program from the ground up, did it with class and deference, and won three Rose Bowls. People love that! Bielema doesn't have the luxury of becoming a "builder." He must be a "sustainer." And thus far, he's getting the victories -- he's sustaining the program's success. But the image is starting to fade, at least among fans who once saw Badger football in a positive light. Hopefully that stops.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hope for the Big Ten Network in Wisconsin?

Mgoblog (which provides about half the information for my blog, it seems) links to a very helpful article in the University of Michigan's student newspaper, which gives the impression that many Wisconsin residents will be able to see the Big Ten Network without switching services:

In the next few weeks, Silverman thinks the network will sign with several cable and satellite distributors - Time Warner, Dish Network and Charter - but he won't count on Comcast.

"I need to consider Comcast as hoping, not expecting," Silverman said. "I will know more in the next couple of weeks about Comcast. That will be one that will go very close to the launching."

Since Milwaukee is home to many Time-Warner subscribers, and my very own Madison apartment is hooked up with Charter, I consider this extremely good news. That we're getting closer to a deal is remarkable. With any luck it'll be in place by the first of September. My fingers are crossed.

LOCK IT: Wisconsin to beat Michigan

So says Colin Cowherd (link via Mgoblog). As The Diag puts it:

Wisconsin over Michigan. Wow, thanks for going out on a limb there Colin. The #7 team in the country over the #5 team in the country, at home, at night, in November? How could anyone ever predict an upset of such Biblical proportions?

Indeed. The funny thing is that both teams have major stumbling blocks on their schedules prior to this date; UW visits OSU and Penn State, and Michigan hosts Oregon and Notre Dame. Should the Badgers clear their hurdles and the Wolverines pick up a couple losses, it will be amusing to watch as #3 Wisconsin upsets #20 Michigan.

Ikegwuonu meets the press

... and I have to say, it's monumentally frustrating. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

Reporters were warned by Bielema not to ask questions about Ikegwuonu's off-field problems. He has a hearing set for Aug. 24 in Sycamore, Ill., to deal with a motion filed by his attorney to suppress statements made by Ikegwuonu to police, on the grounds he was not read his Miranda rights.

Bielema told Ikegwuonu to answer "no comment," to a first question about his case, then walk away if there was a second question.

From the Journal-Sentinel:

Before Ikegwuonu was made available to reporters Wednesday, Bielema made it clear neither the players nor coaches would answer questions about the case.

Hey Coach, the case is something we want to know about. We want to make sure that our team and our school's reputation aren't being sold out because a kid is both a criminal and a shutdown corner. We want to be reassured that the ability to run down Darren McFadden from behind doesn't become a Get Out of Jail Free card.

And secrecy isn't helping that.

The five major disciplinary problems that have arisen in the Bielema era have combined for a combined loss of five downs of football for those involved. All those missed downs came against Bowling Green. Are we truly becoming, as my brother-in-law put it, Miami North?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Daven Jones in, John Clay still out

Daven Jones, who had a bit of trouble qualifying academically last year, has apparently sorted out his issues in the classroom and practiced with the team yesterday. (Also, memo to the July 2006 version of Badger Tracker: Swan and Hubbard turned out to be fairly decent receivers, and that PJ Hill guy did OK too.) There's no such thing as too much depth, and if Jones still possesses the attributes that roused the interest of several D-IA programs a couple falls ago, he'll be an exciting addition to a group that already boasts a track star. Tip of the cap to Mr. Jones for climbing that mountain.

John Clay, though, is another story. He's waiting for summer school grades to come in, and even if those the news is good he may have to sit out the first game; NCAA rules forbid him from joining the team till the first day of classes, September 4, unless a player on the Badgers' 105-man roster voluntarily abdicates his spot or gets injured. We'll see about John.

Also of note, we have a tweak of the depth chart: Jamal Cooper is taking over at right tackle for Kurt Ware as the latter recovers from knee surgery. Also, Shane Carter looked sharp according to both the Journal-Sentinel and the State Journal, so that's a big positive

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lance Smith reinstated

It would be fair to say I'm not surprised. As you may remember, Smith pushed his girlfriend down and took $20 and her shoes after a dispute about cab fare. Maybe the powers that be were pleased that the courts only saw fit to charge Smith with misdemeanor battery.

Hopefully this will be reflected in the newest Fulmer Cup standings.

A college football moment of zen

This is why college football is the greatest sport. To all of our Buckeye friends, we salute you.

Friday, August 03, 2007

USA Today Preseason Poll: Badgers are #7

The entire poll is here. This marks the second-highest preseason ranking in the Coaches' Poll for UW, according to UWBadgers.com. Here is the list of the Badgers' preseason rankings by the coaches:


That's the sixth preseason Top 20 appearance for Wisconsin. This seems to be an all-or-nothing proposition for the Badgers; #11 in 1994 gave us a 7-4-1 season with a win over Duke in the Hall of Fame Bowl, #20 in 1998 was the 11-1 season that led to a Rose Bowl victory over UCLA, #10 in 1999 was of course the 10-2 season with the win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl, #5 in 2000 was another four-loss season capped by a one-point victory over UCLA in the Sun Bowl, and 2003 was a 7-6 fiasco with a two-score loss to Auburn in the Music City Bowl. So, when we're picked in the Top 20, we always go to a bowl game. Forty percent of the time, the season ends with 10+ wins and a Rose Bowl victory; the other 60% of the time we endure a campaign with four or more losses. I'll take those odds.

The Top 10 looks like this:

6West Virginia--1205
9Virginia Tech--1005
10Ohio State--919

Three Big Ten teams in the Top Ten, and Penn State checking in at #18, means that there's plenty of opportunity for our beloved conference to be declared "overrated." My first impression is that a lot of people had a tough time filling out their ballots, and that Oklahoma and Virginia Tech don't seem like Top Ten teams to me, but there do, after all, have to be ten teams in a top ten, so who else are you going to pick? Hard to say.

Obviously, the choruses of "Wisconsin might be overrated" has already begun, which is predictable and, 60% of the time, not unwarranted.

Picking against the top-twenty preseason Badgers: 60% of the time, it works every time.

Big Ten Bloggers Roundtable I - Wrapup

On Monday, I came up with a few questions for our cadre of Big Ten bloggers to answer, timing them in conjunction with the Big Ten media days. If you read these guys frequently, you know by now that they didn't disappoint.

Pick your surprise team for the Big Ten this year. If your team's year is "surprising," is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Answers were all over the board, with bloggers pegging Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and even Minnesota(!) for better-than-expected seasons. Those who chose to focus on teams that would finish in disappointing fashion seemed to go with Ohio State. Additionally, with bloggers representing Northwestern, Indiana, and the Minnesota Gophers, it should not be a big shock that most fans thought that a "surprising" season for their team meant a very good season indeed. Even the Penn State fans thought that "surprising" meant good. Leave it to the guys from Happy Valley to be dissatisfied with the media dubbing their team a consensus top-four pick in the conference.

Which player/unit on your team needs to put forth a "player of the year" effort for your team to contend for a title?

Lots of quarterbacks on the list, obviously, but also a few actual interesting answers. According to Hawkeye State:

The defensive line will make or break Iowa in 2007. Norm Parker's one-play playbook is predicated on the pass rush, especially with a thoroughly mediocre secondary. When we have it (Matt Roth, Aaron Kampman, etc.), we win. When we don't, we lose. It's been that simple for 7 years. With Mattison and Iwebema on the ends, and the enigmatic Mitch King in the middle, they certainly have the capability of doing just that.

Representing Michigan, Maize n Brew also focuses on defense:

Safety Jamar Adams. Adams was burnt crispy by both Ohio State and USC. Bad angles. Bad reads. He and Willis Barringer looked horrible at the end of last year. Safety is as important a position on defense as you can get. A screwup on zone coverage and all of a sudden your corner gets posterized. As a result, Hall and Trent looked pretty bad at times when the fault was not their own.

If Michigan is a serious national title contender Adams will have to be Michigan’s rock in the defensive backfield. He'll have to improve is reading of the field and balls in the air. He's definitely got the talent. He just needs to harness it. Look for Stevie Brown to make an impact as Safety soon as well.

Lots of focus on the running back as well. Buckeyes in particular are singling out their RB as the guy who must step up. As Eleven Warriors explains, "A lot of talk is around the quarterback position, but this coach won a national championship with Craig-Freakin-Krenzel." Point taken. (My opinion? OSU will be fine. "Beanie Wells" is one of those names that, just by its very sound, seems destined to go down in Big Ten history. You don't come this far with the name "Beanie" to be forgotten.)

Whose out-of-conference schedule appeals to you?

Hoosiers and Illini have all the bomb frostings

Responses came in two varieties: the "give me 4-0 guaranteed" crew cited Illinois and Indiana for cupcakishness in the first degree, whereas the "give me some football I actually want to watch" contingent generally grumbled about scheduling and then picked Michigan. Gopher Nation joined me in lauding Michigan State's schedule, and a couple Ohio State bloggers singled out Wisconsin, noting that while a road game against UNLV may not make for compelling football, at least it's a hell of a destination.

Pick the Big Ten's biggest upset!
Looks like a lot of people went with the tried and true formula:
  1. See who everyone's picking as the weakest of the "strong teams"
  2. Check out that team's schedule
  3. Pick one of the "pretty bad" teams to beat that team
  4. Justify with a cliche like "momentum" or "trap"
Penn State, you are officially on notice! So are the Badgers. Our respondents see Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue as potentially upsetting the Nittany Lions. That would be one hell of an ugly season. Three people said Indiana over PSU, making that the most popular pick ... tied with Minnesota over Wisconsin. Citing the big Michigan game the week before and a date at the Metrodome, people see a stumble for the Badgers. Fine with me; we don't mind heading to the Twin Cities, because things like this happen there:

Other upsets: Gophers beat Wolverines (in Ann Arbor!); four picks from Run Up the Score include Indiana over Iowa, Northwestern over Michigan, and Michigan State over Ohio State; Minnesota over Ohio State; Penn State over Michigan; Michigan State over Michigan; and Illinois over the Badgers.

Now it's time to hand out some awards. The last two questions were basically throwaways, with bloggers being required to say nice things about certain conference foes and mean things about others.

The Damning with Faint Praise Award goes to Hawkeye State, whose assignment was to say something nice about Indiana. Quoth the Hawkeye:

Indiana gave us Myles Brand, who is known far and wide as a scholar and a gentleman. His visionary leadership gave us the NCAA you know today.

Note to Hoosiers: ouch.

The Acknowledgment of a Cold, Brutal Reality Award is handed to Around the Oval, who recognizes the following about the rest of us as compared to Northwestern alumni:

It's all right, it's okay, we'll all be pumping their gas someday.

The I Haven't Been Paying Attention Since 2001 Award recipient is Lake the Posts. After a long tirade about classless, academically-deficient Ohio State fans, we get this:

Have fun complaining this year with your 50+ days off - you'll have plenty of time to gripe about how you got jobbed by the refs after getting smoked by Michigan.

Note to LtP: John Cooper is essentially a grease stain on the driveway of Ohio State and has been for better than half a decade.

The Man Award is destined, clearly, for the Hoosier Report, who questions Iowa's technique:

There's something profoundly insecure about a program that has to paint the visiting locker room pink.

And now on to the most important awards a blogger can receive. The Crown Their Asses award goes to Maize n Brew for their recognition of the USC Trojans as, in the words of Michigan's favorite alumnus Jim Harbaugh, "the greatest team in the history of college football."

After an exceedingly humbling throttling at the hands of USC, as a Michigan fan I must say greatest football team in the history of the multi-verse. When Pete Carroll is done saving starving orphans in China he dabbles in time travel and dimension swapping in an attempt to bring the finest humanitarian talent to Southern California.

Please note that for the purposes of the Trojans, college football started in 2001.

And finally the SOUTHERN SPEED Award goes to Around the Oval, whose profound statements help you think the Proper Thoughts about the SEC:

As for SEC speed, I understand that SEC players are so fast that when they get out of bed to shut off the light, they get to the switch only to discover they'd already beaten themselves to it. Then they are so fast that they can get back in bed before their past selves can even turn off the lights. The space-time continuum means nothing when southern speed is involved.

His thoughts on USC also make me want to subscribe to his newsletter; after awarding Southern Cal the national title at the beginning of the season, "we could just spend Saturdays watching Shelley Smith report on Pete Carroll and the Trojans having fun and being awesome."

Thanks to everyone who participated, great answers!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Big Ten Expansion, Part One: Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Part one of a three-part series. Parts two and three will be linked here once I, you know, write them.

During the long, long offseason from college football, fans on message boards around the world occasionally fend off boredom by contemplating the very nature of their conference. For Big Ten fans, this means addressing the number eleven.

Eleven means that expanding the conference slate from eight to nine games is impossible. 11 participants times 9 games equals 99 slots to be filled, which means someone gets a bye -- and that team will be making ten other teams mighty unhappy, even if it's Minnesota, which isn't going to compete for the conference title even with a free win. So unless the conference members agree to a true round robin and decide to eat up 10 games of an 11- or 12-game schedule with the same familiar foes year after year, the Big Ten will always contend with the ugly eight-game schedule, which ensures that every team will not play two conference teams in a given year.

Some people talk about contraction. Some people are fools. On the surface, booting a team from the conference makes sense; after all, this is the Big Ten, and eleven minus one is ... heyyy! But who would go? If the current marketplace still wishes to offer the illusion of tradition, the charter members of the conference -- Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin -- would retain their seats. Iowa and Indiana have been members for over a century, and in five short years Ohio State will reach that same milestone. Michigan State joined the conference in 1950; with nearly six decades of membership, as well as multiple titles in football and basketball, the Spartans have certainly earned their place. And Penn State? Are you crazy? Penn State has the kind of tradition and prowess that moves a conference as stalwart as the Big Ten to consider such radical things as expansion. It's clear, then, that forced contraction is nonsense. If the makeup of the conference needs to change, it must be by the voluntary withdrawal of one or more schools -- not likely -- or by expansion.

Why is expansion in the news? Because of this:

The creation of the Big Ten Network means conference officials likely will discuss expansion again, commissioner Jim Delany said Wednesday.

"I think we need to look at it in the next year," he said during a wide-ranging interview with Des Moines Register reporters.

Adding a 12th team likely will be revisited because of the network, which is scheduled to launch Aug. 30, Delany said. An additional big-name university in a large television market means more exposure for the network and its sponsors.

That says it all. We're thinking expansion for financial reasons. We have a TV network now so that we can make more money. The network has sponsors who want to make more money. A twelfth school could be added to increase the market for our TV station and line the pockets of our sponsors who, incidentally, would give more money to a twelve-team conference than to an eleven-team conference. And round and round we go.

Why are we thinking about expansion? Is it because the conference faces a problem with eleven teams that would evaporate with twelve? No. Filthy lucre is the one and only reason. A twelfth team gets you the boon of a conference championship game. The Big XII has one -- Dr. Pepper pays good money to attach its (his?) name to that game. Plus it's another night to cash in with the network and the other advertisers. You get to pick a site (and sporting arenas and chambers of commerce would be willing to grease the wheels a bit to get your conference title game to their city, wouldn't they?). You get to sell tickets! You get to dub a Clear Victor! And you don't even have to try -- people will tune in! Fans will attend! Sponsors will cut checks! It's the same as it ever was -- and MORE!

The Big Ten has managed, one way or another, to tolerate co-champions when it needs to. There's a certain amount of grousing when people examine the conference schedules and see that, somehow, Purdue has managed to miss Michigan and Ohio State for the sixth year in a row. But then the season starts and the games begin and at the end of the year, one team's 8-0, or two teams are 7-1, or it's 1990 and four teams wind up at 6-2. And there are always the shoulda-woulda moments ("We shoulda played Ohio State last year, we woulda beat 'em and gone to the BCS where we belonged!") but nobody gets too worked up about them.

If a pressing need exists, or a worthy candidate expresses interest in joining, expanding the Big Ten is a fine idea. But when the motivation for seeking out a twelfth team is less about strengthening our academic and athletic relationships and more like selecting the most lucrative location for a new Starbucks or Walgreen's, it becomes a very unwholesome proposition indeed.