Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Big Ten Bloggers: Football Prognostication

Hats off to Lake the Posts once again. This week: a potpourri of predictions. Regard:

Coach of the Year: In an utterly uncompetitive conference, Jim Tressel emerges as the only choice to pick up this award.

Most Likely To Strike Heisman Pose: the Heisman is a popularity contest based on media love, and the man who's been the recipient of a disproportionate amount of hype is James Laurinaitis of Ohio State. The Heisman people don't like to get away from quarterbacks and running backs, but this guy could break into the group of finalists with a flashy performance against USC and continued success throughout the season.

Last Year's Illini Will Be This Year's ???? (most improved): I really don't see one. Maybe Michigan State with a couple of breaks. Maybe Purdue if Curtis Painter grows a brain. But I see Ohio State, big gap, Wisconsin/Penn State, big gap, lots of other teams, big gap, Minnesota/Northwestern.

Upset game of the year (include non-conference): Probably not an upset right off the bat considering all the kinks that will need to be worked out but I could certainly see Utah over Michigan.

Name You'll Know In December That No One Knows In June: I have to stay within my own team for this one. It'll be presumptive Badger starting quarterback Allan Evridge. With competent receivers, a huge target in Travis Beckum, a stable of running backs to keep the heat off of him, and the weakest crop of Big Ten quarterbacks in memory, Evridge has a shot to make an impression right away. While he appears to be another in the unbroken line of caretaker quarterbacks in Madison, this guy is game tested -- he was the starter at Kansas State a few years back, and he competed for the starting job last year right up till the very end (though Tyler Donovan wound up winning out.)

Most Likely To John McLaren (aka lose it in postgame rant): If Rich Rodriguez beats him with all the wrong personnel, look for Mark Dantonio of Michigan State to melt down after the game. Yes, it seemed like the Spartans hired him solely as a contrast to the wackiness of John L. Smith, but listen to his comments here and tell me there's not a whole volcano of crazy bubbling up under the surface:

Highest NFL Draft Pick in 2009: Travis Beckum. This question came pre-filled in with Chris Wells (thanks for the help LTP!) and I can't disagree that he -- along with like ten other Buckeyes -- would be a great pickup, but let's face it: great tight ends are tough to find, and Beckum could be one for the ages. He runs, he catches, he blocks, and most of all he does this:

The Must See Game of the Year that is not Ohio State - Michigan: Woe be unto he who thinks that UM/OSU is a must-see this year; Tressel is going to welcome Rich Rodriguez to the Big Ten with an unprecedented pummeling. If Tressel didn't have more class in his fingernail than Woody Hayes had in his whole body, this would 1968 all over again. The talent gap isn't huge but the change in philosophy in Ann Arbor is. Beating the Buckeyes without a quarterback? I don't think so.

Anyway, the answer to that question is certainly Ohio State-USC, a game that will take place in California on Saturday, September 13. Hats off to both teams for saying "to hell with it, let's end someone's season in week three" and scheduling this amazing out of conference matchup. Ohio State has done a remarkable job of scheduling these marquee games over the past few seasons and is to be held in high esteem for doing so. USC and OSU will do battle on the field, but the real competition will happen in the clubs after the game when they use booster money to out-"make it rain" one another. (Prediction: Carroll wins!)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hello Manitowoc! Comcast and Big Ten Network reach accord

Big Ten fans in a couple small pockets of Wisconsin can crack a Schlitz: they'll be getting the Big Ten Network on cable TV in 2008. From what I can tell, that means that customers in Manitowoc and in the Twin Cities market in western Wisconsin will receive the Big Ten Network on expanded basic cable starting on August 15, with the option to move the station to the digital tier in Spring 2009. (Viewers outside of the Big Ten states might have to buy a sports tier at that point to continue to get BTN.)

The good news is that this is the first breakthrough between BTN and a major cable provider in Big Ten country, meaning further deals may be possible. The bad news is that in much of Wisconisn, the local cable monopoly is Charter, and Milwaukee is served by Time-Warner -- neither of which appears to be enthusiastic about picking up BTN, even at a compromised price.

Still, there's hope that Comcast was the first in a series of dominoes to topple and that cable subscribers in America's Dairyland may soon be able to see their Badgers without switching providers.

Big Ten Bloggers All-Conference Team: Very Disappointing

Here's your Big Ten Bloggers Preseason All-Conference Team:

1st Team All Big Ten Offense
QB - Curtis Painter, Purdue
RB - Beanie Wells, Ohio State
RB - Javon Ringer, Michigan State
WR - Brian Robiskie, Ohio State
WR - Arrelious Benn, Illinois
WR - Greg Orton, Purdue
TE/SB - Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
OT - Alex Boone, Ohio State
OG - Steve Rehring, Michigan
C - AQ Shipley, Penn State
OG - Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin
OT - Eric Vanden Heuvel, Wisconsin

1st Team All-Big Ten Defense
DE- Greg Middleton, Indiana
DE - Maurice Evans, Penn State
DT - Terrance Taylor, Michigan
DT - Mitch King, Iowa
LB - James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
LB - Marcus Freeman, Ohio State
LB - Anthony Heygood, Purdue
S - Anthony Scirrotto, Penn State
S - Anderson Russell, Ohio State
CB - Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
CB - Vontae Davis, Illinois

K - Austin Starr, Indiana
PR - Marcus Thigpen, Indiana
P - Jeremy Boone, Penn State

Look familiar? It should, if you've read Phil Steele. Here are the positions at which the Big Ten Bloggers differ from Mr. Steele: one of two offensive tackles and punt returner. We really blazed a courageous new trail there, didn't we? Differing on two positions that are tough to gauge with an expert eye let alone as the amateurs we are points to one of two things: (a) we're really damn uncreative or (b) this is going to be one predictable, boring year for the Big Ten.

I know I haven't posted for some time, and I know that a good number of my picks coincide with Phil's as well. I'm not singling anybody out here, I'm criticizing the group as a whole: when the inevitable bloggers-versus-MSM thing arises, it's stuff like this that gets pointed out -- that the bloggers are recyclers, rehashers ... even plagiarists. We need to offer something new.

And it's entirely possible that we have. Maybe, like the BlogPoll, the sum total of these picks winds up looking like the same thing the MSM churns out, but it arises from a wonderful array of differences in opinion. Not many invididual ballots have been posted yet, so it's impossible to say at the moment. But do keep in mind, bloggers, that our niche is the original, the minute. We sate the cravings of those who want to know more. More than USA Today, more than your local sports section, sometimes even more than your own athletic department is giving away. Giving away what Steele gave away weeks ago won't cut it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

2008 Big Ten Football Preseason All-Conference Team

It's a Northwestern football fan's favorite time of year -- the preseason, when they haven't yet been torched by Duke and spirits aren't quite at Carrie Nation-era lows in Evanston (har!) As such, Lake the Posts is going full throttle and has tasked the Big Ten Bloggers to come up with their picks for preseason all-conference teams. Here are mine (I didn't pick special teams because that's really out of my realm):

2008 Big Ten College Football Preseason All-Conference Selections


Quarterback: Todd Boeckman, Ohio State
Running back: Beanie Wells, Ohio State
Running back: PJ Hill, Wisconsin
Receiver: Brian Hartline, Ohio State
Receiver: Greg Mathews, Michigan
Receiver: Arrelious Benn, Illinois
Tight End: Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
Center: AQ Shipley, Penn State
Guard: Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin
Guard: Steve Rehring, Ohio State
Tackle: Alex Boone, Ohio State
Tackle: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

Easiest picks: The easiest pick here was Beckum. It's still a mystery to me why he's back in Madison this year; did the draft analysts really believe he would fall past the first round? Maybe if Beckum builds up sufficient hype he could be a top-five kind of guy this year. Beyond that, Wells was a no-brainer and Shipley, Urbik, and Boone are coming off of all-conference seasons.

Toughest picks: I didn't have solid answers for the receiving corps. Arrelious Benn was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last year despite having Juice Williams throwing to him and playing on a team that had Rashard Mendenhall eating up touches. He could absolutely blow up this year. Greg Mathews looks ready to continue the unbroken line of astounding Michigan receivers (how far back can YOU go? Manningham, Avant, Edwards, Walker, Terrell ...), leaving room for only one pick between Ohio State's duo of Robiskie and Hartline. Also, this appears to be very much a down year at the quarterback position the Big Ten. A lot of people are probably going to wind up picking Curtis Painter as their first-teamer, but I just can't put my faith in a guy who routinely leads his team to late-season meltdowns. Since the other names up for consideration are Juice Williams, Kellen Lewis, and CJ Bacher, I went with Boeckman, a man whose job won't even be secure if Terrelle Pryor lives up to the hype immediately. People might also take issue with PJ Hill, especially since UW has four proven running backs returning this year, but the (presumably) popular pick of Javon Ringer smells distinctly of tokenism to me.


End: Maurice Evans, Penn State
End: Greg Middleton, Indiana
Tackle: Terrence Taylor, Michigan
Tackle: Mitch King, Iowa
Linebacker: Jonathon Casillas, Wisconsin
Linebacker: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
Linebacker: Marcus Freeman, Ohio State
Linebacker: Martez Wilson, Illinois
Cornerback: Malcom Jenkins, Ohio State
Cornerback: Donovan Warren, Michigan
Safety: Anthony Scirrotto, Penn State
Safety: Stevie Brown, Michigan

Easiest picks: Laurinaitis, of course. And the entire defensive line: three first-team all-conference picks return, and the guy who wasn't first team, Taylor, was a second-teamer. Those are big dudes who want to devour you.

Toughest picks: I engaged in a little homerism putting the mildly-inconsistent-but-improving Casillas on my list. I'm not sure there's a consensus #2 cornerback in the conference so I think I'm sticking my neck out a little bit by tapping Donovan Warren. Indeed, it seems like almost all of the talent among the deep men has departed the Big Ten, as I was positively scrambling to choose safeties. Could be a big year for airing the ball out in the Big Ten with inexperienced secondaries appearing to be the rule.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

2008 Badger Football -- a very early look at the offense

The preseason college rags are hitting the shelves at the local stores, and with the Stanley Cup Finals over, another middling effort by the Brewers, and the unwatchable NBA doing what it does worst, a guy's mind focuses solely college football season, due to start less than three months from now.

If you thought last year was a big question mark for the Badgers, (1) you were right and (2) hold on to your hats this year. Much like last season, the Badgers are going to rely on an unproven senior at quarterback with Allan Evridge becoming the starter. Thus far, some have deigned to term him "horrific" based on his completion percentage over twelve tries -- that's what the best analysts do, right?

But more likely, the former Kansas State starter will be the latest in a line of Badger quarterbacks that competently hand off to PJ Hill and make the safe throw to Travis Beckum while occasionally lobbing a bomb (and even more occasionally completing said bombs). I don't expect Evridge to cost the Badgers any games but I don't expect him to steal any extra victories either.

So it goes with this program until we get back to having multi-year starters. Caretakers at QB is the story of the recent very-good-but-not-great Badgers. Maybe this Jon Budmayr kid is the answer to that problem.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Former Badgers Chelios and Rafalski win the Stanley Cup

On Wednesday, two former Badgers were part of the latest class to be immortalized by having their names engraved on (frankly) the coolest trophy in all of sports: the Stanley Cup. With the Detroit Red Wings' thrilling Game 6 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios both became three-time Stanley Cup Champions.
Rafalski had a stellar postseason, putting up 14 points, which included two huge goals in the Stanley Cup Finals: the first was the would-be game (and series!) winner in Game 5. Rafalski put it in with 10:37 to go in the game, but as the Detroit fans readied themselves for a celebration, Chris Osgood allowed Maxime Talbot to sneak one by him with just 35 seconds to go in regulation. Pittsburgh wound up winning the game hours later in the third overtime, forcing Game 6. Rafalski opened the scoring in Game 6 with a power play goal just five minutes after the game began, and a couple hours later the Wings hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup for the eleventh time in franchise history.

Chelios played the best hockey of any 46-year-old in the playoffs, but ultimately coach Mike Babcock elected to bench him as a healthy scratch starting with the last game of the Western Conference Finals. Nonetheless, Chelios's contributions in the postseason did not go unnoticed, and his name will be engraved again on the Cup. He also made another contribution to the Cup when it suffered a minor dent at his restaurant. Apparently that's been repaired and does not require the healing expertise of Dr. Cox.

Congrats to these two Badgers on leading their team to the promised land.