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.

Media picks Wolverines #1, Badgers #2

Reported by Jeff Potrykus.

Absolutely no surprise there. Ohio State is picked to finish third.

It looks as if Dave Heller will be updating live from Chicago all day, so it might be worth checking in a few times before you head home from work.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Big Ten Bloggers - an opening salvo

A consortium of bloggers -- Penn State's Black Shoe Diaries, Michigan's Maize-n-Brew, and THE Ohio State's Around the Oval decided that the Big Ten's finest bloggers (if "finest" is defined as "everyone who bothered to reply to a particular mass email") needed a group that was founded for the express purpose of promoting intraconference discourse and interblog flamethrowing. That is to say, this network of bloggers will make it far easier to show one another our Pokemans.

There's been some discussion of coming together on common topics in conjunction with the Big Ten football meetings to which, as far as I know, none of us have obtained access. In the spirit of outright audacity, I have picked myself(!) to lead open the discussion with this august group of blogmeisters, and with any luck people will find the questions I asked interesting enough to warrant a response. Look for a roundtable wrap-up post on this blog in the coming days!

On to the questions:

1a. The press and the coaches will be predicting the Big Ten champ at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago on Wednesday. That's fine, but overdone. In lieu of boilerplate predictions of who will come out on top, which Big Ten team will be the most surprising? Remember, surprises can be good or bad; the underdog who comes out of nowhere to share the title is just as surprising as the favorite who winds up with five losses and no bowl bid.

I'd look for Indiana to be your surprise team this year, although that's largely by the process of elimination. I would be genuinely shocked if the top four in the conference wasn't made up of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State. Out of the remaining teams, you have Minnesota and Michigan State in shambles and with first-year coaches. You've got the Zookster at Illinois with his stable of decent recruits and absolute vacuum of coaching prowess. Then there are Iowa and Purdue, sometimes-contenders whose gameplans have both been figured out by the rest of the conference. Iowa might make some noise if Drew Tate's replacement shines, but the general feeling appears to be that this is a "rebuilding year." As for Northwestern, they will certainly annoy one legitimate contender and remain irrelevant the rest of the way.

So I pick Indiana. Lewis and Hardy are a remarkable tandem, and if other threats emerge in the IU offense, they just might be able to mitigate the damage that opponents will wreak upon their awful defense. And of course the Hoosiers will have an emotional edge, having just lost Terry Hoeppner. I think IU has a chance to be the fifth-place team in the Big Ten this year -- that's the upper half, people.

1b. Imagine it's December, and the consensus in the media is that your team's season was "surprising." Is this a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? What would have to happen for you to consider your team's season surprising?

Almost definitely a bad thing, unless you're part of the fanbase that has persisted in whining about "no respect!" for the past decade. In a worst case scenario, both Tyler Donovan and Allan Evridge turn out to be interception machines and/or headcases, new left tackle Jake Bscherer allows rushing defenders to flatten the aforementioned QB, Jack Ikegwuonu is made to stay off the field for his XBox harvesting mission in DeKalb, and the team generally suffers a meltdown. Maybe Washington State upsets the Badgers and the road trips to State College and Columbus become nightmares. We wind up with 6 losses and are shamed in the Motor City Bowl by some MAC team. The surprising 2007 Wisconsin Badgers are bad Wisconsin Badgers indeed.

2. A preseason player of the year will also be dubbed in Chicago. For your team to succeed, which player or unit is going to have to put forth a "player of the year" performance? What's the one position that would take your team to the next level if it performs above expectations?

With nine returning starters on offense and seven returning starters on defense, the Badgers aren't in a bad position at all. And of course, fretting over the quarterback is a logical and all-too-simple thing to do. So I'm going to go with the second-most-obvious position to worry about: safety. Roderick Rogers and Joe Stellmacher were above average safeties, meriting a second team all-conference award and an honorable mention, respectively, and each played important roles in giving the Wisconsin defense teeth last year, notably Rogers with his interception to kill Penn State's momentum in the first half of last year's game. Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter have both shown promise but need to be lights out right from the get-go for the Badgers to have a shot at containing teams that like to throw the ball.

3. Which Big Ten team's out-of-conference schedule would you most want to have this year? Why? Do you think your team will have out-of-conference losses this year?

I want Iowa's OOC schedule. They've got a neutral-site game against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field, a game at Iowa State, and home dates against Western Michigan and Syracuse. Two MAC teams and two major conference basement-dwellers is a fine if unexciting OOC schedule.

Michigan State has scheduled well too, with home games against UAB, Bowling Green, and Pittsburgh preceding a road date with Notre Dame. Everyone else has been digging in the I-AA cookie jar, which is simply unappealing. I still can't believe I'm paying actual US currency to see the Citadel.

4. Here's a chance to look like a complete genius in a few months: pick the biggest in-conference upset that will happen this season. Justify your prediction!

I don't have the heart to pick Michigan State over Michigan even though it's a classic trap game (a road date for the Wolverines the week before @Wisconsin and then Ohio State.) So I'm going to pull one straight out of my be-hind and pick another matchup from that same date. A bruised but exuberant Penn State team is coming off a very hard-fought victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes and, with one last home game before visits to Temple and Michigan State, the Nittany Lions plan to coast to Big Ten glory. Pass-happy Purdue comes to Happy Valley and catches the Penn State secondary napping in the first quarter, and an Anthony Morelli interception and another quick strike puts the Boilermakers up 21-0. The Lions wake up and play three solid quarters after that, but they never make up the ground they gave away early on, and Joe Tiller's team wins by six or less.

5. Say something nice about the Big Ten school whose name precedes yours alphabetically. Say something mean about the one that comes after.

The Purdue Boilermakers run one heck of an engineering school. Their bell tower is cool looking. They were a real pleasure to watch during the Drew Brees era, and I like the World's Biggest Drum a lot. Also, their head coach looks like the kind of guy who can really appreciate a nice bukket.

As for Indiana, it is a loser school for losers. It employed Bob Knight, one of the most classless individuals to ever be hallowed by a collegiate basketball program. (And don't give me any of this "Oh, he graduated so many of his students!" I care a little, but that doesn't forgive the tantrums or the fact that ESPN wasted my time with "A Season on the Brink.") Also, Indiana broke everyone's heart when they beat the Badgers 63-32 in 2001. Screw you, Randle-El!

edit: D'oh!!!! How dumb am I? Dumber than a loser attending a loser school majoring in loserese. So intent was I on drubbing Randle-El that I failed to acknowledge the existence of Illinois. Augh!

Just for that, Illinois is, of course, the sworn enemy of Wisconsin. The states are enemies, anyway. Illinois is full of cheap bastards who charge you to drive on their roads, then bring their H2 Hummers up I-39 to go to "the lake" and generally be obnoxious. The schools are big-time rivals too, academically, being near equals in a lot of the same fields. Unfortunately, the state of Illinois has numbers on its side, and the UW campus is inundated with snooty kids from Naperville who got some sort of Mercedes-Benz product on their sixteenth birthday and had to trade it in for a newer model before they moved to Madison, where its primary purpose is to be parked illegally on Langdon Street. I imagine that these same kids are present in Champaign in even greater numbers.

As far as athletics are concerned, the Illini are straight-up funny. Year in and year out, they await the Second Coming of Kurt Kittner, and Ron Zook coaches their team. Their basketball team is a perennial bridesmaid, which I probably shouldn't mention given the Badgers' performance in the NCAA tournament this past year. Illinois, you have my disdain. It is no wonder I skipped over you and wanted to talk about Indiana instead.

6. USC: great football program, or greatest football program? Also, how about that SEC? Damn, those guys are fast!

USC is clearly the greatest team ever, until Notre Dame wins its next bowl game. Hollywood Pete sure can coach; I'm glad that Southern Cal not only gets the job done on the field, but also that they have such luminaries as Nick Lachey and Snoop Dogg orbiting their program. Every school should strive to achieve such levels of intellectual heft.

As for the SEC, there's no question that speed kills. The Auburn Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks sped their way to Citrus Bowl defeats at the hands of the Badgers, and Penn State's win over Tennessee really hammered home the concept that the plodding Big Ten simply can't compete with those Southern teams. Of course, Ohio State being blown out by Florida is the only thing people will remember about the SEC's postseason achievements, so come December we'll undoubtedly be subjected to the same old farce ... and the Big Ten will win half their games, once again.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thursday Badger Bullets

Four quick ones:

* I was contacted by the Big Ten Network to interview its president, Mark Silverman, but I declined. I honestly couldn't formulate any intelligent questions at all (I know what the programming's going to be, I'm very much in favor of being able to watch the station, and they don't have a deal with Charter yet, which pretty much makes up the entire spectrum of my concerns.) However, Brian of the oft-linked Mgoblog did, and flaunts his acumen here. Very much worth a read, including a list of stations that charge a whole lot more per subscriber than the Big Ten Network does (BTN is looking for $1.10 per customer, which was deemed ludicrous by some, including myself ... but then, I didn't know that Comcast Sports Chicago pulls an amazing $3.75 per!) And of course, your headquarters for this type of knowledge has always been the Hoosier Report, which, given the state of Indiana athletics, has managed to avoid the seemingly-inevitable hydrocodone addiction such fanship would bring by instead focusing on media matters.

* Bret Bielema does some good, promoting the Restoring Hope Transplant House in a new PSA. His personal experience with the importance of organ donation adds an incredible amount to this message. We're proud of you, Coach.

* Wisconsin has picked up a wide receiver transfer, but it's not something to get overly excited about yet: Chris Maragos is transferring from Western Michigan, where he walked on. He is leaving because he did not receive a scholarship from the Broncos. Who knows, maybe he'll be the next Jim Leonhard-esque story of triumph for the Badgers. Here's hoping.

* The predictions continue to pour in; this one, from the Prognostication Station, sees the Badgers finishing third in the Big Ten -- tied with Michigan. They believe Penn State and Ohio State will be co-champs, citing Michigan's weak run defense and an overwhelming road schedule for the Badgers. For what it's worth, they predict an undefeated home slate for UW, which means a win over the Wolverines, but I don't know how much weight I'd give a prediction that predicts a conference title for Penn State based on its favorable home schedule and one for Ohio State by virtue of the fact that "Tressel owns Carr."

Trev Alberts fails to impress me

I'll lead off today's post with a link to a Q&A with Trev Alberts (the real Trev, not the awesome one). He's asked whether it's Michigan vs. Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, and mirabile dictu, he doesn't think so:

I say it's Michigan with an outside shot of Ohio State winning ... I still think they're going to have a terrific defense. They'll be just as good of a team, and have a worse record, with Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State on the schedule.

The above is a reasonable prediction, but where that ellipsis appears Trev offers the tired boilerplate we've been hearing over and again since last December: they only beat Michigan, Stocco was a caretaker, Bielema had beginner's luck. But then he goes on -- and maybe I'm reading this incorrectly, I don't know -- to say that the Badgers are clearly the fourth-best team in the conference (emphasis mine):

The two other teams after Michigan are Ohio State and Penn State. The Nittany Lions could be a little more surprising than some people think with Anthony Morelli. I know the Buckeyes lost some guys, but they have a lot of talent. They seem to be able to find some players. Remember how last year we were talking about Ohio State losing nine starters on defense?

I do, in fact, remember that. But they still had Troy Smith. Remember, the guy who got that funny little statue in New York before the bowl games? I know, and everyone knows by now, that it's patently unintelligent to count out Michigan or Ohio State under any circumstances (cue the "rebuilding vs. reloading" guy), and being a fan of a program that has seen the likes of Brooks Bollinger and John Stocco not only suffice but excel, I guess the fact that Morelli hasn't impressed me yet doesn't mean he never will. So who knows.

The bottom line here? Predicting things is stupid. Also, finding this article allowed me to get inside the Brain of Trev, which helped confirm everything I'd intuited by watching him for way too many Saturdays ... remember the days before ESPN wised up and canned his smarmy ass?

I've read that the Cover 2 is the ideal defense to use against college quarterbacks. Do you agree with that and if not, what is the best defense to use in the college game? - Jaime Lears, California

I think I know what article you're referencing, but I would caution against placing too much credence on a writer rather than having a former coach or current coach write that article.

Full disclosure: I'm not a former or current coach. Sorry for wasting teh internets with my know-nothing drivel. But let's continue:

Let me tell you, as someone who's been out there, that Cover 2 is not always the best coverage, period. If that was the case, that's the only coverage you would ever see.

The fact is there's no one coverage that's going to be the end-all. Football is too sophisticated. Cover 2 is an important, but small part of coverage.

So much of what you do depends on your personnel.

If you don't have safeties who can show you range of motion or stand in the box when needed, you have no coverage. And if you have great lock-down corners, Cover 2 nullifies their talents. If you're going to play Cover 2 for four quarters, you're going to get beat in the college game.

I'll give the poor owl a rest here.

Cover 2 has weaknesses. That's why good defensive coordinators run a whole lot of different coverages.

It's a good thing Trev's been there and done that. I certainly couldn't have gone all that in-depth.

Honestly now ... this guy's just looking for a default defense when he's playing NCAA 2008. Do you think he hasn't noticed that there are several available schemes? He's just asking, "What's best?" Which is a better question on any day of the week than "Who's Now?"

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tuesday Badger Bullets

* Bret Bielema will be singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley next week. And after last night's Brewer meltdown (with the bases loaded in the 11th, Johnny Estrada grounded into a 3-2-3 double play; the Brew Crew lost in the 12th), can you blame him?

* Ron Dayne mentions that he'd like to be on the Badgers' coaching staff when he finishes his NFL career. How dumb would the Badgers have to be to deny him that chance?

* Ohio RB/LB Brandon Beachum praises Bret Bielema in this article, which states that he'll be announcing where he'll go to school on July 29. He also speaks highly of Bobby Bowden, and although he's been offered by Penn State and UW, when asked about academics he most approves of -- wait for it -- Nebraska.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Other people's previews, part 2

The Badgers find their way into the countdown: Rivals.com says Wisconsin is the #8 team in the nation, and while they very astutely single out the receiving corps for praise, declaring Paul Hubbard "underrated," they also take P. J. Hill down a peg, saying he's the most overrated player on the team. Maybe that's not a bad thing -- after all, someone has to be the "most overrated" -- but I think what gets me is that they knock him for being injured toward the end of last season. Is that really a basis for deciding a player is overrated? I'd probably have singled out Elijah Hodge for that dubious award myself -- seems to me he's riding the name recognition of his widely-praised brother a wee bit. One of the things I most appreciate about the Rivals preview is that they leave the door open for a Badger BCS berth without a conference title; most people give me the impression that they believe that UW will need the automatic berth to get invited to one of the big-money bowls, probably fueled by lingering memories of last year's "snub." Overall, this is an excellent preview.

Penn State blog There Is No Name On My Jersey, whose name celebrates the Nittany Lions' tradition of being either too lazy or too cheap to hire a seamstress, insists on making fatal mistakes of judgment and re-tasting the sour grapes of the season gone bye:
Bielema and Wisconsin are on my shitlist for the abuse of the clock in last years game. It was a close game and the wasting of the clock was not in the spirit of the game. Yes it was cheating. Yes, it still pisses me off.

Incorrect! It was not cheating, and it was just as much "in the spirit of the game" as taking a knee is. Perhaps there's a little bitterness because Wisconsin has a young coach who continues to innovate within the rules where PSU has a living legend who, despite his considerable accomplishments, should've been gently "retired" a decade ago? Possibly.

How do I know it's not cheating? Because the NCAA rulebook (PDF) includes this provision, in Rule 3, Section 4, under the heading "Unfair Clock Management:"
ARTICLE 3. The referee shall order the game clock started or stopped whenever either team conserves or consumes playing time by tactics obviously unfair. This includes starting the clock on the snap if the foul is by the team ahead in the score. The clock will start on the ready-for-play signal after an illegal forward or backward pass that conserves time for Team A.
The officiating crew had the power to stop this if they thought it was an illegal tactic. But they didn't. So it wasn't. And EDSBS thought it was a ballsy enough move to declare Bret Bielema Person of the Year, and you know how Orson and Stranko aren't generally prone to hyperbole. (Some have also claimed that Bielema's tactic may have hastened the death of the hated clock rules, giving us more football to watch. Penn State fans, you're welcome.)

That said, their Badger preview fails to find P. J. Hill overrated; indeed, he is compared to a grotesque, overly-muscular dog, which is something. Go and read.

The Diag has a preview of the quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Obviously, Chad Henne finds himself in the #1 spot (does anyone have a preview where Chad Henne isn't declared the best QB in the Big Ten? Because that preview is insane), and coming in second place is, of course, Kellen Lewis of the Indiana Hoosiers.

Now, I admit that I didn't watch enough Indiana or Illinois football last year, but I did watch the Badgers play both teams, and let me tell you: Juice Williams impresses me a whole hell of a lot more than Lewis. For one, Lewis-to-Hardy is something opposing defenses picked up on about 18 months ago, and it's unlikely that anyone is going to disregard it this year. Meanwhile, Zook has been picking up considerable talent, and the role players around Williams will likely make the Illini offense more formidable than their Hoosier counterparts. (Of course, Zook has never really been the type of guy who actually develops the talent he snares, so the whole point is likely moot, but you see what I'm saying here.)

The Wisconsin QBs check in at #5 on the list, just ahead of Juice and right behind turnover machine Curtis Painter of Purdue and the oft-contused Anthony Morelli of Penn State. I expect the UW quarterback to eventually find himself at #2 or #3 in the conference, just as long as we don't have to bust out the unfortunate nickname I just made up ("Allan Average") midway through the season. Whoever lines up under center for Wisconsin will have Hubbard and Swan as go-to guys and Travis Beckum as probably the best safety valve in the entire nation. With Hill keeping the pressure off, the guy who winds up chucking the ball has a good chance at success.

Finally, the mgoblog preview of Penn State is up, and toward the end this snippet of commentary is offered:
Even though I am deeply skeptical about Morelli and the Nit offensive line, the comparison that is foremost in my mind is Wisconsin. The teams were virtually identical in 2006, stiff defenses coupled with mediocre or worse offenses heavily reliant on running the ball.

The Badgers are a trendy pick for Big Ten champs based on their 12-1 2006, but replace Bowling Green with Notre Dame and rejigger the Big Ten schedule to include Ohio State and you're probably looking at 10-3 and more reasonable expectations for a team that didn't prove all that much last year. Unit by unit on offense:

* QB: PSU. Even if Morelli was meh, he has a year of experience over Donovan/Everidge.
* RB: Wisconsin, but they have similar depth issues and Scott has one-year wonder upside.
* WR/TE: Penn State. Beckum is all the Badgers have; Penn State has Quarless, two guys who would be fine #2/#3 players, and at least the hope Williams lives up to his potential, plus Bell.
* OL: Maybe a push based on the similarities -- uninspiring starters returning from last year's team; top ten LT off to NFL -- but Bob Palcic fought in 'Nam and Wisconsin doesn't have a failed LG playing LT this year.

I figure the defenses will be near mirror images. The secondaries are a wash if not a slight PSU advantage -- more faith in AJ Wallace than Allen Langford -- and the presumed Wisconsin advantage on the D-line is offset by what should be one of the nation's premier linebacking units. If you consider the skill positions even, you're picking between the Wisconsin OL's advantage over PSU's line and Morelli's advantage over whoever Wisconsin throws out there.

My point is this: if you're looking for a darkhorse challenger to consensus favorite Michigan in the Big Ten, this is probably your team. I kind of hate saying that what with JayPa and all, but there it is. The differences between UW and PSU last year laid mostly in the quality of their opponents. The defenses will both be stout, intimidating things; if you made me pick between the offenses I would wince and take the Nittany Lions.
That wincing would be justified; I agree for the most part with the above assessment but find Brian's lack of faith in the Wisconsin receiving corps disturbing. I don't blame him for underrating them, as UW and Michigan locked horns in the conference opener last year, and he probably didn't see much of the progress made by Hubbard and Swan as the season went forward. The fact that Hill and Beckum had more than half of the Badgers' receiving yardage in that game also makes the actual receivers seem all the more suspect. I realize that Brian is a lot more circumspect than this, but our perception of other teams' strengths and weaknesses are tinted by the games our own teams played against them.

Bottom line: I expect the Badger offense to be better than Penn State's, the defenses will be a wash, and a very strong coaching edge has to go to Bielema and his not-yet-past-the-expiration-date nepotism-free bevy of assistants. The Badgers will be the better team next year, have no doubt; it's the venue and the timing that frightens me about the Penn State game, and I think there's a better than 50% chance that the Badgers lose that game. However, I think the smart money is on Wisconsin if you're picking between them and the Lions for a Big Ten championship.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

OPP - Other People's Previews

Big news from MSNBC.com -- some guy from Tampa, who's listed in the page's title as "Expert," doesn't think the Badgers will be playing for the national title this year. You have to admire the guy's temerity -- it takes a true daredevil to pick against a team that hasn't played for a national title in nearly half a century -- but before we address the content of his preview, let's review the rubric for creating the vast majority of Big Ten previews out there:

1. Check out last year's record. Pretty self-evident. Wisconsin went 12-1 last year, beating an SEC team in a bowl game. Noting this, we move on ...
2. Look to see who's sticking around and who bolted. John Stocco's gone. Joe Thomas is gone. PJ Hill is still here. The defense is mainly intact, and it was really good. So ...
3. Assess the losses, and assume everyone who stayed will be improved. Quarterback is a big hole to fill, so fret about that a little bit, but qualify the fretting with the fact that there's a QB battle in Madison, and both candidates have won conference games as starters. Pay lip service to the loss of Joe Thomas, because a lot of people said he was really good and he was taken really early in the NFL draft, even though most of us don't appreciate what the offensive line does except push the defensive line.
4. Check out the schedule. The non-conference games are a non-issue. Penn State and Ohio State on the road could be perilous, but PSU wasn't all that great last year (see step #1 ... it's all you need!) and OSU is depleted (see step #2. Isn't this easy!?) Michigan's at home, and they're supposed to be pretty good (again, step #2). Everyone else is irrelevant.
5. Try not to pick Ohio State or Michigan. Let's face it, they're usually the champs. But nobody wants to say, "put it all on OSU and let it ride" ... that's not sexy! It's too easy to be right with Ohio State! So, ignore the gaping hole at QB and declare Wisconsin "as good as anyone else in the conference."

Step #5 is what Joey Joe Joe seems to dislike, so that leads to the next step in the rubric, the one that goes into effect after most people's previews are already out there:

6. Compile evidence that shows why everyone else shouldn't pick the sexy team. At this point, because of step #5, everybody's got his non-Buckeye, non-Wolverine pick out there. This makes your column really easy to write: just pick up on the evidence that the other writers had to willfully ignore in order to pick their second-tier Big Ten team to win the title.

And true to form, here's what we get. An immediate bet-hedge -- "Badgers not bad, but don't believe the preseason hype" -- and then all the usual warmed-over, lazy half-truths:

* The Badgers weren't THAT good last year. (What 12-win team was?) They lost to their only legitimate opponent, Michigan, and dodged Ohio State. (Extreme ultra bonus points for actually using "dodged," as though the Badgers had any say in who rotated off their conference schedule, and even if they did, they probably couldn't have guessed five years ago that OSU was going to play for the national title in 2006.)

* Michigan and Ohio State play in the Big Ten. OK, that's not a half-truth, but come on. We know. Those two teams win a LOT of titles. But this is what Step #6 requires: pick Michigan or Ohio State. Also, throw in the other dark horse team and give it superior status to the team you're addressing. This year, that's Penn State. In the recent past, we've seen the Badgers, Iowa, and Purdue play that role. Same old, same old.

* We don't know who the quarterback is! Well, we know it's going to be one of two guys, each of whom has won games in a starting role before. Presumably the schedule, which is front-loaded with cupcakes, will facilitate the development of either Donovan or Evridge -- or both.

Overall, this is a nice, simple column to write -- perfect for summer vacation.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lance Smith suspended

Story at UWBadgers.com confirms it.

If the suspension holds up, I'd expect it to be a one-game deal.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another Badger running back finds ignominy

I guess I'm going to have to create some original content so that we can be rid of all the doom and gloom around here. Evidently Lance Smith thought his girlfriend owed him $10 in cab fare; she thought she owed $5. So, he shoved her down, then told her to go into a convenience store and break the $20 bill she had. She went in, he followed her, and apparently pushed her down again. She dropped the money, and he allegedly picked it up.

Real nice. Great way to settle a dispute about five freakin' dollars. Lance Smith will evidently shove a woman for the low, low price of $2.50. As you can imagine, EDSBS is adding this to the Fulmer Cup standings.

Importantly, Coach Bielema is supposed to comment on the incident at some point today. With Clay (presumably) out, it'll be interesting to see whether any suspension Smith may face will stick. I bet you can't guess what I think will happen.

And just for good measure, Badger alum and Miami Dolphin Chris Chambers has been arrested for driving while impaired. U-rah-rah.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Reaction to John Clay

Ironclad College Football Rumor Rule #1: If there's a rumor floating about and the coach takes the time and effort to go out and publicly deny said rumor, it's absolutely guaranteed that the rumor is true. See you in 2008, John. Maybe.

The situation has not escaped Mike, the writer of Penn State blog and Badger Sports Fan favorite Black Shoe Diaries. Sez he:

Wisconsin freshman running back John Clay has been ruled acedemically ineligible. Brett Bielema says not so fast my friend. You know, I'm slowly losing respect for Brett Bielema. Players seem to keep avoiding suspensions. Guys who try to rip off opposing players legs and he does nothing. And we all know about his antics making a mockery of the rule books and good sportsmanship as he paces up and down the sideline with that smug grin on his face all proud of himself as if he just got away with stealing the teacher's apple right off her desk. You're on notice, Brett Bielema...not that I'm bitter or anything.

You know it's bad when a Penn State fan gets upset about the shabby treatment of a Michigan player. He then posts this, which makes me think he's actually referring to different guy named Bielema:

And speaking of Michigan, here's MGoBlog's one-sentence take on the situation:

anyone wondering why we didn't recruit this guy, here's your answer

Uhh ... OK. You don't think a star tailback like Clay is worth taking a chance on? You think he's too much of a project for your academic advisors? That's just like, your opinion, man.

The unfortunate thing is that John Clay is supposed to represent the Bielema difference: when there is a potential superstar playing football in the state of Wisconsin, don't bother recruiting him, because he's gonna be a Badger. Wisconsin fans aren't just excited about Clay because he could be a star tailback at a school that lives and dies by the run, but because he's symbolic of what a great football program should be doing -- that is, beating out Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Michigan for a talented in-state recruit.

To be fair, Michigan wasn't in the game late for Clay, but they showed interest early in the process. They may have been spooked by the academics, sure. But the fact of the matter is that UW beat out other extraordinary schools to get this guy on board (and Ohio State said they would offer him, making the situation even more significant).

Instead, what we may be looking at is the first in a string of great football players with shaky off-the-field situations that UW tries to bring in, only to have some embarrassing situation arise as a result. I hope that's not the case, but it's a possibility. (Also embarrassing: check out what John Clay might mean in Japanese. Ugh.)

So what's it going to be? I'm hoping for great things but bracing for ugly. Either way, I think you can bank on John Clay missing the 2007 season -- but only because Bret Bielema said he might not.

Monday, July 09, 2007

John Clay is academically ineligible

Jeff Potrykus -- as usual -- has the scoop:

John Clay, a former all-state tailback from Racine Park High School and a key member of the University of Wisconsin's 2007 freshman class, has failed to meet the NCAA's minimum academic eligibility standards and won't be allowed to play for UW this season.


Under NCAA rules, Clay will not be allowed to practice with the team in 2007-'08 or receive athletic aid and will lose a year of eligibility. He can regain that lost year of eligibility, however. To do that, he must complete 80% of his designated degree program by the beginning of his fifth academic year.

Without Clay, UW should have just three scholarship tailbacks on its roster when pre-season camp opens next month.

With any luck, Hill will bounce back from surgery and not miss a step (as he's expected to do), and Lance Smith and Zach Brown will turn out to be solid change-of-pace guys.

Study up, John!

A work of absolute genius

Go NOW and read T. Kyle King's The Sound and the Gameday, Part One. It's chock full of Faulknerian fancy. You will love it.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sunday Badger Bullets

A few thoughts over a Miller Chill (besides "Why did I spend $6.99 on this poison?"):

* If you haven't been reading Dave Heller's blog at the Journal-Sentinel, you ought to start. He's managed to pick up quite a few nice Badger-related tidbits recently. It's summertime, so the journalists are in full list-making mode, and in the college football world, Wisconsin is figuring nicely into a bunch of these lists. For example, UW is playing in what CFN considers to be two of the top 15 games for the 2007 season, and they even go so far as to predict the scores; Wisconsin loses the 14th-biggest game by two touchdowns to Ohio State and beats Michigan in the eighth-biggest -- all of which goes to show that the good people at CFN probably haven't seen many UW-OSU or UW-UM games over the past quarter century.

* In possibly more-shocking listmania (again, courtesy of Dave Heller), Tom Dienhart of the Sporting News names Jack Ikegwuonu the best player in the Big Ten. He doesn't give any reason for doing so beyond "he's impressed me," but it's worth noting that UW, Michigan, and Ohio State get just about equal time in the top 20 Big Ten players for the season. (Purdue, Indiana, and Illinois each have one player in the top 20, while UW, UM, OSU, and PSU get multiple picks). Another caveat: this is the work of Tom Dienhart.

* John Oates thinks it's high time that UW gets itself a football title. I don't disagree. I'd talk more about this, but his point is so obvious that it doesn't warrant much comment: large athletic department revenue ought to lead to national titles.

* Alando Tucker has signed with the Phoenix Suns. He can now officially expect his team to score 115 points every other night but still manage to melt down in the postseason.

And finally, as a reward for having read this far, here is a picture of legendary Brewers' radio announcer Bob Uecker with a furry (hat tip to the Brewers' TV announcing crew for this one).

Friday, July 06, 2007

Things to read on while you're waiting for the weekend

New Northwestern blog Lake the Posts is counting down the Top 24(?) games in Northwestern football history. Expect the Badgers to figure prominently in this series ... they're already in there twice at #21 (the 1992 game) and #20 (the horrendous 2005 game in which the #14 Badgers gave up 51 points).

Bucky's Faithful does something I planned to do ... he has a four-part series about the Badgers' representatives in the NFL. You can see parts one, two, and three here. Part four begins with a prefatory note about Kammron Taylor, who worked out with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has joined their summer league team, and I'm sure he's glad to have an opportunity to play with his hometown professional franchise.


Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated believes the Wisconsin-Michigan game is the fourth-biggest game of the year, UW Athletics produced the 7th highest revenue total of all athletic departments last year, and Trev Alberts has discovered Barenjager.