Ten reasons why it’s great to be a fan of Wisconsin Badger and Green Bay Packer football

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By Jake McCormick

It’s a good week to be a fan of Wisconsin professional and collegiate football.

After a year and a half of consistent scrutiny surrounding Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are headed back to the playoffs and are considered one of the hottest teams in the NFL in a wide open race to the Super Bowl. Throw in all the clichés you want here (A dangerous team no division winner wants to face, peaking at the right time, don’t sleep on the Packers, etc.).

Bret Bielema crushed any questions about his job security with a Monty Python-sized foot by thoroughly handling the supposedly faster and better Miami Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl. Now he heads into the offseason losing only one offensive playmaker and carrying higher expectations for a young but very talented and experienced roster.

In fact, there were so many good things that could be harbingers of future success in 2010 that they can only be recounted in a top 10 list of encouraging occurrences for the new year.

Green Bay Packers:

1. A-Rod makes history, with Donald Driver four yards from it
With 237 yards on Sunday, Rodgers became the first player in the history of the NFL to record 4,000 in his first two years as captain of the ship. Once Driver grabs a four yard (or more) receptions, the 2008 and 2009 Packer offense will be the first in the history of the NFL to get repeat 4,000 passing, 1,000 rushing, and two 1,000 receiving yard performances from the same four players. Rodgers was also chosen by The Sporting News as the NFL’s player of the next decade. Not bad for a young roster.

2. Mason Crosby
I was at the game in the opposite end zone of Crosby’s 53 yard kick, and a couple more beers would’ve gotten me to think that the ovation before the snap was precluding a game-winning attempt. All year Crosby has been the Brad Lidge of kickers; he’s got a wicked strong leg, but has failed to get it together consistently on any level. He has to be feeling more confident in his abilities, but it remains to be seen if he can do it in a necessary situation.

3. Packer running game
At the beginning of the year, I was hoping Brandon Jackson would be the Packers’ version of Chester Taylor; a consistent, all-around third down back. He had glimpses of it Sunday, scoring three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) and throwing a couple of good blocks. Ryan Grant broke another long run, and Ahman Green scored his first touchdown in green and gold since 2004. A balanced Packer offense will go a long way to fulfilling that “dangerous” prophecy in the postseason.

4. Turnovers
After Brandon Chillar betrayed Bush’s game winning interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the awful, awful defensive back got his first career pick against the Seahawks. Bigby grabbed two Hasselbeck throws, AJ Hawk caught a knuckleball, and Charles Woodson’s name was barely called. The Packers live and die by turnovers, as half of their interceptions were in the red zone, but three unlikely candidates received much needed confidence in their playmaking. However, I have to reiterate the words of so many liberal-minded folk: Bush still sucks.

5. Favre faltering
This is mostly because for every step back the Vikings and Favre takes as Rodgers and the Packers improve, it shuts the convert Favre fans up for one more week about how terrible Ted Thompson is. Just like with a president’s agenda and policy-making, the Favre/TT situation couldn’t possibly be judged correctly at the time of the decision. I think at this point, Thompson was dead on. Rodgers has had one of the most successful starts to a career as a quarterback in NFL history and the young team we’ve heard about for so long seems to be getting their crap together. Personally, I’m just a big fan of watching the Favre loyalists eat their own words about Thompson’s abilities as a GM. If he uses the team’s large surplus of funds to parlay another Charles Woodson signing when the league takes the cap off in 2010, they’ll have to sew their mouths shut.

Wisconsin Badgers:

1. The “underclass” of the Badger defense
The Wisconsin defense takes the biggest hit this offseason with the loss of seniors O’Brien Schofield, Chris Maragos and Jaevery McFadden. But a couple of current freshmen and sophomores should more than make up for the departed. Linebackers Mike Taylor (provided he’s healthy) and Chris Borland, who was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and defensive end JJ Watt have already started making names for themselves. Cornerback Devin Smith gave up a few big plays early in the year but showed promise as he gained experience. It’s been a long time since Wisconsin could boast of a young, talented, and experienced defense.

2. Lance Kendricks
With Garrett Graham playing his last game in a Badger uniform, Kendricks increased his season yardage by over 50% with seven receptions for 128 yards. He showed flashes of chemistry with Scott Tolzien early in the season, and should smoothly transition into Graham’s spot in the lineup. I’m not complaining, but I really want to know where Wisconsin gets these playmaking tight ends year after year.

3. John Clay in a big game situation
Against ranked opponents during the regular season, Clay rushed for an average of 67 yards per game. He nearly hit that total on one run against Miami and was a one-man wrecking crew on his way to 121 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He single-handedly allowed Wisconsin to play their style of Big Ten Boring Ball, and I’m damn happy to have him back next year with the promising Monte Ball giving support when needed. Clay’s going to be in the running for the Heisman next year too, and we all know how electric Madison is when that happens.

4. Scott Tolzien and game management
As John Clay goes, so do the Badgers. That means run, run, run, control the clock, and wear down the defense while asking the quarterback to make limited mistakes and come through when absolutely needed. Although Tolzien threw an interception, he did his job by standing tall in the pocket and making a play when the opportunity knocked. It’s going to be nice to have some consistency at the game’s most important position two years in a row, and it should only make backup underclassman Curt Phillips better.

5. No offseason distractions…knock on wood
By beating a supposedly rejuvenated, speed-based Miami team, Bielema will be rewarded with little to no media discussion over his job security. He beat another southern favorite (Auburn) in his first year as head coach and followed it up with successive declines in each season after. However, that win came with a Barry Alvarez-recruited roster and Bielema had never sat on a coaching hot seat. Now the team is made up of all-Bielema recruits, he looks like he started responding to needed pressure positively, and the roster’s younger players have been contributing all season. All in all, the Badgers look like their poised to remain a threat in the Big Ten in 2010 and beyond. They’ll probably start 2010 ranked in the top 20 or even 15, and I’m just hoping Bielema has finally found the Alvarez success formula.

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Comments

  1. Favre sure is faltering. 2-0 versus TT this year.

    A month ago everyone wanted McCarthy and Thompson fired. Weird how fast everything changes huh? The Vikings and Packers can both thank an easy schedule this year. Next year with the NFC east and AFC east it won’t be so nice.

    Thompson can continue to build a solid team through the draft but you have to be smart to use some of free agency too. Favre might have won more in Green Bay had they opened up the wallet a bit. Maybe actually traded for Moss too instead of having the mentality they did with that situation. They just lost to the Polamalu-less Steelers, a team that’s like 3-6 or 3-7 but beat a terrible Seahawks team… I wouldn’t be so sure things are “peaking”

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