Wisconsin 48, Nebraska 17: Best in the Midwest Rapid Reaction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The atmosphere at Camp Randall was electric as 81,384 fans watched the #7 Wisconsin Badgers (5-0) spoil the #8 Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-1) first-ever Big Ten game by beating them fairly handily, 48-17.

With the win on national TV for everyone to see, the Badgers will be catapulted in to National Championship talk. After the game, Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema stated “I hope the blackshirts enjoyed their trip to Madison.”

[Read more…]

Northwestern vs. Wisconsin: Battle for Better Bowl Placement

Michigan Wisconsin Football

By Paul M. Banks and Jake McCormick

(PMB) #16 Wisconsin has had themselves a quietly, make that very quietly, productive season. 9-2, 5-2 and neither of their losses were very bad losses. Yet no one is singing their praises, what’s up with that? We know all about Scott Tolzien, John Clay and that Big Ten leading rushing attack, who/what else do we need to know about?

(JM) I was just paging through the new Sports Illustrated college basketball preview issue, and they ranked 65 teams with no mention of Bo Ryan’s Badgers, despite the fact that they always make it into the NCAA tournament and always overachieve. My point is that Wisconsin fans are used to getting completely shafted despite any typical/surprise successes. Part of that comes from having an extremely boring style of offense in nearly all sports, but if it gets the job done that’s good enough right?

And if my memory serves me correctly, Jim Tressel isn’t exactly lighting up scoreboards with his playcalling, yet Terrelle Pryor’s overratedness is covered more than any Badger underratedness. The only other thing you’d need to know about Wisconsin is that Bret Bielema should be Big Ten Coach of the Year because of his recruiting abilities; not his coaching, which is still very much a question mark in big games.

(PMB) Any special NFL level talent on Wisconsin other than Garrett Graham, the most boring and lifeless interview subject in the history of Big Ten football, and O’Brien Schofield. What about Nick Toon? Or are we talking about him just because his Dad is Al Toon, and his name is reminiscent of Nicktoons on Nickelodeon.

For NU, you might see Corey Wootton and Sherrick McMannis, maybe Adam Hahn playing on Sundays next fall. Their main attraction on the college level though is the Mike Kafka to Zeke Markshausen connection, which sounds a lot like a NFL Europe pitch and catch combo. And of course, many references here are truly….Kafakesque.

Northwestern Illinois Football(JM) Kafka is a pretty decent writer too; I remember reading and enjoying metamorphosis in my AP English class senior year in high school. Did I just make a classical literature reference? Graham is the only senior position player on the offensive side of the ball, but he won’t be missed nearly as much next year with the recent emergence of Lance Kendricks.

The Badgers have quietly become a consistent producer of good all-around tight ends, and Kendricks’ chemistry with Tolzien grows with each game. Toon is a legit, 6’4” receiver (and only a sophomore!) and will undoubtedly follow in the footsteps of Lee Evans, Chris Chambers, and his father on Sundays. The Badger offensive line always sends at least two guys to the NFL, and my top candidates are juniors John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi. Defensively, Jaevery McFadden will make it on a roster somewhere as a special teams player. Thankfully, most of the team is underclassmen, so there is some time before I have to worry about filling big shoes.

(PMB) This is the 93rd meeting between Wisconsin and Northwestern, and the first since ’06. The rivalry with Wisconsin is Northwestern’s oldest among Big Ten teams (dating to 1890). Only NU and Illinois have played more games (103) than NU and Wisconsin (92). And with David Kay in attendance this time, it’s an even bigger rivalry for The Sports Bank, as both TSB’s President and V.P. will be there. In the two teams last meeting at Ryan Field (2005), the Wildcats exploded for a school-record 674 yards of offense as they won a thrilling shootout, 51-48. Brett Basanez threw for 361 yards and Tyrell Sutton ran for 244. Expecting a barn-burner?

Michigan Wisconsin Football

(JM) I liked the way Pat Fitzgerald rallied his team together to beat Iowa two weeks ago, because the Hawkeyes have been squeaking by too many games and definitely deserved a loss at the hands of a non-elite Big Ten team. And to quote Boars and Bernstein, he definitely looks like a guy that goes to bed in full Wildcat pajamas. With that said, all of Northwestern’s Big Ten wins have been by seven points or less and their closest loss was by 10 points. I would expect the Wildcats to score anywhere between 17 and 24 points, but the Badgers have put up 30 or more in three straight games. I think the game will play out much like the Michigan game last week, where Northwestern stays in it for a couple quarters but Wisconsin pulls away early in the second half.

I don’t think Bielema will let this team coast through the end of the season, especially when they’re one win away from 10 on the year.

(PMB) Yes, Fitzgerald certainly is Coachy McCoachington when it comes to his general intensity. Currently the Champs Sports, Alamo and Insight bowls are the leading candidates for the Wildcats’ holiday destination. I’d prefer the Champs Sports Bowl because

a.) it used to be called the Continental Tires Bowl, and this new name is just such an upgrade, I guess.

b.) they did the Alamo Bowl last year and that didn’t work out too well.

c.) they haven’t won a bowl since 1949 (and in this city this is only a modest drought, as big long sports dry spells are to Chicago what clips of people getting physically damaged are to Comedy Central’s Tosh.O) and I just see the match-up in Orlando being magical.

Because it’s where Disney is based, and when you wish upon a star, you finally might win a bowl game.

So where will Wisconsin go bowling? You guys seem to get a New Year’s Day bowl in Florida every year, so much so that they don’t even sell the Bowl packages anymore. It’s all old hat to the fanbase. Like Amy Winehouse and crack, heroin, and cocaine, it’s all routine now. Would even be excited about playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers home? What are some other options?

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(JM) Florida LOVES Wisconsin bowl appearances because we travel really well and literally empty the kegs at local bars. These are stories I hear from family members that have made trips down for Sunshine State bowls. I wouldn’t have been happy with anything other than a January bowl this year, because I consider Wisconsin one of the top programs in the Big Ten and hate settling for a dot com, before Christmas bowl. It’s also good for recruiting. By the default of having the four ranked Big Ten teams at 10, 13, 14, and 16, Wisconsin seems destined for the bloomin’ onion bowl, aka the Outback Bowl. Unless Penn State or Iowa lose this weekend to the clearly inferior Michigan State or Minnesota, respectively, that is the only New Year’s Day bowl left for Wisconsin. They will be in the Capital One bowl if the Nittany Lions or Hawkeyes lose, but I wouldn’t bet on it against two extremely underachieving teams. Mediocrity and inconsistency is the name of the Big Ten game, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I get a Christmas present early.

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(PMB) Predictions and final thoughts?? I’m going to say Wisconsin 37-24, and I have a feeling around mid 3rd the Sconnies will put this one away. Fitz’s teams are just plain better on the road. Mostly because many sections of Ryan Field are emptier than Sarah Palin’s head on most Saturdays, so there’s not really much of a home-field advantage going on. And I expect Saturday’s crowd to have more red than a Che Guevara pep rally.

(JM) Haha…honestly, I wrote the game turnout response a couple paragraphs above, so it looks like we’re in the same boat here. It’ll be close enough early to trigger flashbacks of unexpected losses to Northwestern, but at the end of the day I think Wisconsin will pull away with a final score around what you predicted. It’ll be interesting to see where the Wildcats are in a few years, because they seem to be improving each year as a program. I would have no problem with the return of the Darnell Autry teams of yesteryear.

(PMB) I second that. Good luck, and may the best team win Saturday.

Young starters have shown Badger coach Bret Bielema can recruit

Purdue Wisconsin Football

By Jake McCormick

There was a Family Guy episode where Peter, Quagmire, Joe, and Cleveland bring business into their favorite bar, the Drunken Clam, by belting out everyone’s favorite karaoke song, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. I’ll admit that it would be tempting to leave a funeral procession to hear amateurs sing that song, but I’ll also admit that I love baseball cards. Sorry Adam West.

Anyways, after a reception only rivaled by the video crowds on Guitar Hero, the guys decide to start a band and get ready to play a gig at a prison. They have the costumes, instruments, attitudes, and a positive review carved into Tony’s ass, but just as they’re about to go on they realize they don’t know any songs. This scenario reminds me of Wisconsin Badger coach Bret Bielema.

Purdue Wisconsin FootballHe started out his career at Wisconsin with an 11-1 regular season record; a feat his predecessor, Barry Alvarez, never accomplished in his impressive tenure. Yet it is easy to see that Bielema’s initial success was amplified by the previous coach’s recruits. Then the next two years saw a dip to nine then seven wins, leaving many Badger fans to wonder if Bielema was all that and a bag of delicious Five Guys fries. The current season has been deemed by some to be his most important as the Badger head coach, and no doubt we are getting a clearer picture of whether Bielema can execute the song and dance of running a good college program.

At 6-2, Wisconsin is ranked at 21st in the nation, and is continuing to find their identity with a Bielema recruit-only roster. It typically takes the average head coach five years to fully implement his scheme, get his recruiting spider-web strung throughout the country, and integrate his desired type of players. The results from a recruiting angle have been nothing but positive this year, and Wisconsin looks to be in a position to remain highly competitive for many years if this consistency keeps up. The onus, if course, is on Bielema’s ability to coach in big games, but that’s a different story for a different day.

Wisconsin only starts six seniors, all of which have played a significant role in the Badgers’ success. Most notably, O’Brien Schofield is making a run for Big Ten defensive player of the year and Garrett Graham is undoubtedly going to follow in the footsteps of Owen Daniels as a solid all-around NFL tight end. In contrast, the Badgers boast eight starters and 17 backups that are sophomores or freshmen, and that doesn’t include the team’s leading tackler, Mike Taylor, who is done for the season.

Purdue Wisconsin FootballBielema’s recruiting has only gotten better with each passing year based off the fact that seniors are not the only playmakers on the field. Guys like JJ Watt, Chris Borland, Devin Smith, Nick Toon, and (obviously) John Clay have all become recognizable names to even the average Badger fan, and none are above a sophomore standing. Nearly half of the reserve underclassmen have seen significant playing time this year too, including OL Travis Frederick, WR Kraig Appleton, CB Antonio Fenelus, and DE David Gilbert, who eats blocked punts for breakfast.

With four games remaining, Wisconsin has a good chance of finishing the season 10-2 and returning to a New Year’s Day bowl game. The team looked nothing short of dominant against a supposedly hot Purdue team last week, and will face a streaky Indiana team Saturday. Whether the Badgers win out or not, it’s clear that Bielema has set a standard of expectations for a bright future. If they can sustain that, the Alvarez era of success may not be a distant memory after all.

Big Ten Football Power Rankings

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By Paul M. Banks

1. Iowa (6-0, 2-0)

Now won 10 consecutive. The Hawkeyes’ 10-game winning streak is the second-longest active streak among all Football Bowl Subdivision schools behind Tim Tebow’s army of Christian Crusaders. The last time Iowa had a streak like this was when the program won 20 in a row 1920-1923.

2. Ohio State (5-1, 2-1)

I hate their fans as much as I hate the fact that Jim Tressel gets all the credit (and way too much credit) for all that they do. Spike.com aptly summarized why their fans are so annoying:

This is a team whose main cheer consists of spelling their state in repetitive succession. OH-IO…OH-IO… We get it! You passed remedial English and are really excited to show off your basic grasp of the language to the three attractive girls from Ann Arbor who actually visited the Columbus campus over the weekend. Yes, it’s adorable that every one of your alumni is playing a 52-year-long game of “I bet I can annoy everyone I meet today,” but maybe it’s time to get a life and stop idolizing some geek in a sweater vest who just crossed out “get horribly outcoached in two straight BCS Championship games” off his bucket list.

3. Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1)beilema

The Bielema Bowl awaits! as Coach takes on his alma mater, Iowa Saturday. Wisconsin has won at least five of its first six games for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, including a 5-1 start in 2007 and a final mark of 12-1 in 2006, Bret Bielema’s first year as head coach of the Badgers.

4. Penn State (5-1, 1-1)

Did you see the redneck reporter take JoePa to task on his ultra-soft scheduling? We know why their schedule contains more cupcakes than an obese 6 year old’s birthday party. Paterno is trying to further cement his legacy by being the first and only to reach 400 wins, and make certain he finishes ahead of Bobby Bowden, which looks like a done deal given the discontent afoot in Tallahassee.

5. Minnesota (4-2, 2-1)
How do you get out-gained by 120 yards and still win by 15? Because you have a very less than awe-inspiring 7-5 team in the making here, perhaps even less exciting than last year’s 7-5 team that got rolled in their bowl game.

6. Michigan (4-2, 1-2)

Why did Rich Rod sound like a major douche in his postgame press conference? Why was Denard Robinson in there instead of Tate Forcier when the game was on the line? Maybe Rodriguez realized he made a mistake? Or maybe there’s an injury we don’t know about?

7A. Northwestern (4-2, 1-1)
So far QB Mike Kafka pretty much is the entire offense, as the O Line still has not shown up and done anything productive this season. When they couldn’t open up running lanes against Miami of Ohio, one of the worst teams in all of FBS, you could understand why Fitz was so upset. Yet as horrendous as their wins have been this season, the schedule still shapes up to be 7-5 or 6-6. The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is calling!

7B Michigan State (2-3, 1-1)

Beating Illinois proves nothing. I guess the superior of the 7th place logjam will establish themselves Satruday. Behind quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, MSU ranks first among Big Ten teams in passing offense (280.3 ypg) and passing efficiency (143.37 rating). The Spartans also rank first among league teams in sacks allowed, giving up just one sack per contest

For these schools….basketball practice begins this week!

Of course, the Hoosiers are going to be awful at that sport this year as well.

9. Purdue (1-5, 0-2)

I’m tired of people saying “they’re so much better than their record.” No, you are your record. Period. If they were any good, they would learn not to throw and fumble the ball away. The Boilers are to committing turnovers what Caucasian women aged 18-35 are to watching “Grey’s Anatomy.”

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10. Indiana (3-3, 0-2)

They were absolutely destroyed by Virginia, a team so fierce that they lost to an FCS team, William & Mary in the season opener. In other words, everything I said about how much Indiana actually sucked back when they were 3-0, was proven ultimately right.

11. Illinois (1-4, 0-3)

As an alumnus, I must refrain from commenting on this phantasmagoric train wreck. Well I guess I just did. But in the future I need to stay objective as a journalist.

Big Ten Power Rankings: less BS than the BCS

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By Paul M. Banks

1. Iowa (5-0, 1-0)
The first BCS rankings of the season will debut in 12 days, and with that in mind, I’d like to do my part to help keep the Buckeyes from making another National title game where they could embarrass the conference and bore America by getting destroyed by an SEC team again. For that reason, I voted them #2 in this week’s poll.

2. Ohio State (4-1, 2-0)
Do the TSB Big Ten power rankings have anything to do with the BCS computer rankings? Probably not, and it will likely have no influence whatsoever. But then again, the flight pattern of a drunk, retarded housefly has more cohesion, logic and order than the BCS standings, so I think every vote of any sort- and I am in the Football Writers Association of America, if that helps- against Ohio State helps

3. Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0)

Just One Win from Bowl Eligibility, and it’s not even Homecoming yet. Of course, one needs to remember how badly they collapsed in the 2nd half of last year. If they upset in Columbus this week, their HC game against Iowa the following Saturday could be epic. I really should have not been such a Scott Tolzien heretic at the beginning of the year, as he’s leading the conference in passing efficiency.

4. Penn State (4-1, 1-1)
They’re not that good, but then again they’re also not that healthy. What could they be when everyone’s back and clicking on all cylinders? “A scary team,” tailback Stephfon Green told me last Saturday. He combines with Evan Royster, to give them arguably the league’s best tailback tandem.

5. Michigan (4-1, 1-1)
So who’s the “little brother” now? Not Michigan State who held the Wolverines to just 28 rushing yards. To verify what a truly emotional game football can sometimes be, think about MSU Defensive End Trevor Anderson’s comments before the big rivalry game. “It’s sickening, their total lack of respect for our school period,” and on Saturday their uppance came

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6A. Minnesota (3-2, 1-1)
These two schools have played each other so ridiculously close the last 3 years, it’s fitting they’re tied here. When you look at what Eric Decker has done in every game this season, you can honestly say NU “limited” him to 8 catches, 84 yards and 2 TDs. In August, everyone thought the conference pitch-and-catch combination would be Juice Williams to Arrelious Benn, but it’s really Adam Weber to Decker, who just became the school’s career leader with 3,000 receiving yards after hauling in eight passes for 140 yards versus Wisconsin.

6B. Northwestern (3-2, 1-1)
Easy to identify who the team MVP is- QB Mike Kafka, who’s 3rd in the nation in completion percentage, and second in conference in both passing yards and total offense. Those numbers rank in the top 25 nationally. Fitz was right, he’s a much better passer than anyone gives him credit for.

For these schools….basketball midnight madness is just a week or so away

8. Michigan State (1-3, 0-1)
Like our Wolverines correspondent HJB said: “what we didn’t know is that the linebackers would also epically fail. Allowing Kirk Cousins to have 10 ypc is pretty pathetic. It got to the point where my dad and I could call when Cousins would be able to step up and then scamper for some yardage.”

9. Indiana (3-2, 0-2)
They’ve been absolutely destroyed in their last two games, both against top 25 teams. So “they are WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE,” not what their earlier record indicated. Of course, they do have a great pair of athletes and skill guys at the DE and RB positions, so it’s nice they have that going for them. They also have a brand new renovated Memorial Stadium, and that will be a huge boost to the program. Look what it did for Illin…oh, wait never mind.

10. Purdue (1-4, 0-1)
You can’t beat anyone when you turn the ball over 6 times, but QB Joey Elliot is coming into his own. Of course, it’s easy to put up big passing yardage numbers when you’re always trailing, and often facing a garbage time- prevent defense. I’d almost rather comment on the women’s volleyball team here instead of the football team.

Illini b-ball media day is next tue...in case you've given up on football season already

Illini b-ball media day is next tue...in case you've given up on football season already

11. Illinois (1-3, 0-2)
As an alumnus, this situation reminds me of Cub fan friends I have. Years of following a team that loses badly what seems like ¾ of the time, but also has some recent successes; only to get your hopes way up high before then crushing your soul with another disappointment and defeat. Many Cubs fans I know have just checked out, gave up due to the mental anguish being a supporter of the program brings. I wonder how much longer they can sell out games? How many more great recruits can Ron Zook bring in, yet still end up doing absolutely nothing with? Is Eddie McGee for Juice Williams going to be enough to avoid going 2-10? This feels like my freshman-through-junior years at the school, when the Illini went 5-28.

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Badgers impressive in Big Ten opener, now to focus on keeping Paul Bunyan’s Axe

Michigan St  Wisconsin Football

By Jake McCormick

I’ve seen so many horror/thriller movies that I’ve gotten into a mindset where the main character could be sitting in a living room writing a thesis paper on the Chi Square and I would fully expect a 2×4 to come flying through the window and make acquaintance with said character’s temple. Hell, I had that feeling the other night watching Milk for the first time. That’s how bad it’s gotten.

But we’ve all had a few moments where no matter what good you see, you are automatically assuming it is a mirage or outlier. If you’re a Wisconsin Badger fan, this is about as common as TNT playing a Tom Selleck movie or TBS running a 48-hour Tyler Perry marathon. But after a dominant win against Michigan State, where Scott Tolzien’s performance netted him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors and the defense held the normally high-powered Spartan offense to 17 points over 55 minutes, the Badgers look as ready as ever for the Big Ten season.

In the second quarter against Wofford, the Badgers scored 28 points, and committed zero penalties. Can the team find a way to harness that dominance over more than a quarter of play?

The Badgers scored in every quarter, ended each half with 14 points, and only committed one penalty for five yards each quarter. Statistically, the Badgers look like the most consistent offensive team in the Big Ten, ranking second in points, total yards, yards per game, rushing yards per game, and third down conversions. Minnesota’s defense has a fairly strong pass rush, but is in the middle of the pack in overall ability. The battle up front will be key to a Badger victory.

Michigan St  Wisconsin FootballCoach Bielema laughed a little about students yelling “Tolzien for Heisman” heading down the locker room tunnel. Obviously that slogan is pretty farfetched, but what can Tolzien do in a high pressure game against a tough opponent?

Does Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week answer that question? Tolzien continues to improve each week and spread the wealth in a way that would make FOX News pundits foam at the mouth. He is arguably the best quarterback in the Big Ten right now, leading the league in QB rating (161.7) and yards per attempt (8.8), and is second in completion percentage (66.7). Let’s also give the offensive line some credit, as they have given up a league leading two sacks for -13 yards. Tolzien will face his first road test against Minnesota, who have only recorded two interceptions on the year and sit right in the middle of the Big Ten against the pass statistically.

Can the Badger running backs protect the ball and prevent turnovers?

John Clay has taken a first step into a larger world. He registered his first 30 carry game of his career, protected the ball all game, and pounded out 143 yards against a fairly good run defense. Greg Jones was barely a factor, and the Badger rushing attack will again face a good group of linebackers in Minnesota, all three of which rank in the top six for tackles in the conference.

Michigan St Wisconsin FootballI’ve altered the last question to focus on the defensive side of the ball: The defense leads the Big Ten in turnover margin and has at least three in each game this year. Is playmaking able to make up for giving up yardage?

Wisconsin’s defense is seventh in points against (23.8) and is similarly ranked in yards given up. But they are second in interceptions and tied for first in fumbles. Likewise, the Badgers are ranked third in tackles for loss and fifth in sacks. Michigan State tallied over 400 yards of offense, but yards don’t win games; points do.

Questions for this week’s matchup with another buck-toothed rodent:

How will the Badgers respond to their first big ten road game, especially in a new stadium that adds more hype to an already strong rivalry?

The Badgers held star Spartan receiver Blair White to one catch for nine yards. How will they deal with Minnesota stud Eric Decker, who is the focal point of the gopher offense?

Wisconsin has multiple weapons in its passing offense, and it seems like a different player leads the team in receiving each week. Can the Badgers utilize their offensive diversity to neutralize a good Gopher linebacking corps?

Was the 30 carries, 143 yards against the Spartans a breakout or fluke for John Clay? Can he continue that in a rivalry road game?

Big Ten Power Rankings Start of Conf Play

erinandrewszookshard1

By Paul M. Banks

This will be the  final week that I can feature only one set of records beside each name. It’s the start of conference play! Meaning I’ll soon be including Big Ten records. Through three weeks of play, the Big Ten is the only Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conference to feature five 3-0 teams. Four of the Big Ten’s undefeated teams will square off on the opening Saturday, including Indiana playing at Michigan and Iowa facing a primeti me game on the road at Penn State. A re-match from one of last year’s most noteworthy and exciting intraconference tussles.

1. Penn State (3-0) We still can’t say for sure if they’re for real given how their schedule has been about as challenging as the puzzles on a Denny’s kids menu. But their defense has been much more impressive than even Nittany Lion optimists would have predicted. Not many would have prognosticated they would hold each of their first three opponents to less than a touchdown. JoePa said it best at Big Ten Media Day, when asked if he was worried about this team, “when that phone rings on Sunday, I shake!”

2. Ohio State (2-1) Saturday has all the makings of a “trap game.” In years the Illini are mediocre or better, Illinois has owned them at the Horsehoe. Remember ’07 when Illinois beat a #1 squad for the first time in a half-century? In seasons that OSU has had a major talent advantage over Illinois, it’s what you expect: Ohio State 77, Illinois 0. Or something like that. But this year, expect a tight game. Buckeyes need to make a statement if they want to get their 5th straight conference title.

3. Michigan (3-0) Last week everyone learned the name Tate Forcier. This week it’s Carlos Brown becoming a household name for college football geeks. I guess no one’s talking about illegal practice sessions anymore? They could soon start discussing New Year’s Day bowl games soon instead.

4. Iowa (3-0) You know all about the OL and defensive stalwarts. The next name you should become familiar with is the man filling Jewel Hampton’s shoes (who was supposed to fill Shonn Greene’s shoes). RB Adam Robinson who posted his first career 100-yard effort with 101 yards on 18 carries (5.6 avg.) 2 TDs against Arizona.

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5. Wisconsin (3-0) In the words of TSB Badger correspondent Jake McCormick, “Scott Tolzien continues to grow into the starting quarterback position by completing 15-of-20 passes for 159 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. The running backs were another story, but I’ll get to that later.”

6. Minnesota (2-1) For a half or three quarters, you could say they hung with one of the best teams in the country. And did you see that TD reception of Eric Decker’s? How he hung on to it after that bone-crushing hit. If he choose to pursue MLB instead of the NFL after graduation,  I would be scared for outfield walls everywhere.

7. Northwestern (2-1) Is Syracuse trying to join the Big Ten? Their schedule says yes. If so, congratulate the Orange, and ESPN’s new favorite player Greg Paulus, on their first in-conference win. The good news for Northwestern- they’ve found a couple receivers, and their QB Mike Kafka is indeed a dual threat. The bad news, their defensive line and secondary have no depth, and is currently riddled by injuries. By the way, coming to Evanston this week is the best WR in the Big Ten, Eric Decker. How’s that going to work? Perhaps similar to when the two teams met in ’07, 49-48 OT.

This is the “When does Basketball season start section?” These traditional basketball powers look very shaky so far.

8. Illinois (1-1) If we don’t learn what they’re about this week in Columbus, we’ll surely learn the following week when they host Penn State. With 61 rushing yards against Illinois State, senior running back Daniel Dufrene went over 1,000 yards for his career. He is the 35th player in Illinois history to reach the 1,000-yard milestone, and the Zooker should have made him the unquestioned starter since the day Rashard Mendenhall left. If they keep giving more carries to Jason Ford and Troy Pollard instead of Dufrene…hey, is that infamous domain name fireronzook.com available again?

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9. Indiana (3-0) Can I register this domain name: indianafootballisnowherenearasgoodastheirrecord.com? If it’s taken, let’s try hoosierswillfinishlastinthebigtendespitetheirgoodnon-conferencestart.com

10. Michigan State (1-2) Perhaps they’ve found their answer at QB in Kirk Cousins. He put up some big numbers, but made some crucial mistakes. MSU made a nice rebound from a disastrous start at ND. But ultimately, they accomplished little more than help Jimmy Clausen’s NFL Draft stock.

11. Purdue (1-2) Is Notre Dame trying to join the Big Ten? Their schedule seems to say so. I think the bowl bid train has left the station already. But you can believe in (Danny) Hope, right? After all, that’s the message marketed in the Presidential Election last fall. The Era of Hope will bring wins, just not now.

Badgers handle Wofford, take training wheels off for MSU

Wofford Wisconsin Football

By Jake McCormick

And now it begins. After three non-conference home games that ended in expected fashion, the Wisconsin Badgers are poised to take on Michigan State in their fourth straight home game at Camp Randall. By the end of the Badgers’ 44-14 victory over Wofford (located in South Carolina by the way), the team was still struggling to find an identity. There were no shortages of playmakers on either side of the ball, however.

Tight end Lance Kendricks emerged as a threat in the passing game by leading the team in receptions (six) and yards (70), and added a touchdown. Receiver Nick Toon continued to impress with big catches downfield, and Scott Tolzien continues to grow into the starting quarterback position by completing 15-of-20 passes for 159 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. The running backs were another story, but I’ll get to that later.

Wofford Wisconsin FootballDefensive end O’Brien Schofield tallied another sack, middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean led the team in tackles with 15, and freshman Mike Taylor continued to improve as an outside linebacker by racking up nine tackles, a sack, and two tackles for loss. Even the special teams came through big, with true freshmen Chris Borland blocking a punt and David Gilbert recovering it for a big second quarter touchdown. However, the team is not playing perfect football through four quarters and will need to improve before facing a desperate team in Michigan State.

“We seemed sluggish from the beginning, but not from defensive point of view,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “Our objective is work together. We need 11 guys on the field focused on what they need to do on every snap.”

Saturday marks the start of the Big Ten season and Wisconsin will need to prove they can run the ball without fear of putting it on the ground. That was the first issue Bielema addressed in his post-game press conference.

“I know there’s an issue, we fumbled the ball, we cannot have that happen,” he said. “As head coach, I will take responsibility, will get that corrected and will move forward.
“There were a lot of positives, but some positives have to come through negative actions.”

With that, I’m going to utilize as many interviews as I can from after Saturday’s game and let the players and coach answer my weekly questions.

Can Wisconsin stop Wofford’s triple option, which is very similar to the offense run by Cal Poly in the 2008 season finale?

The defense’s response to the third different style of offense they’ve seen in three weeks was praised early on after the game by coach Bret Bielema. It was the third straight game where the defense had three or more takeaways.

“I liked how our defense came ready to play and knew what we needed to do to get a win,” Bielema said.

Later, Bielema expanded on his satisfaction, saying the defense is expected to compete against a different style of offense every week in Big Ten play.

It was a totally different offensive structure than they had played, but they zoned in on it,” he said. “In the Big Ten, you have to focus in on the style of play of your opponent every week.”

St. Jean said the team had Cal Poly dreamin’ in their minds when preparing for Wofford. He added that as strange as it sounded, the game was circled on the team’s calendar as a burden of proof.

“We took the Cal Poly game very personal,” St. Jean said. “We just (had) to make a statement and we needed to find ourselves as a defense.”

Wofford Wisconsin Football“Anytime you play an offense like that you need to be assignment sound, read keys, and make sure guys are in the right spots making plays,” safety Chris Maragos said. “We did that today and that’s why we had success.”

Which defensive line pass rush will we see: the one that pressured NIU all day or the cupcake baking they did against Fresno?

Wofford only attempted seven passes, including one interception, but the defense managed to record two sacks and six tackles for loss. The defensive line played well, but it was ultimately the linebackers that provided the highlights with a sack, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Freshman Mike Taylor is feeling more confident in what he’s doing.

“I think every week I’m getting a little better,” Taylor said. “We had two defensive penalties all game. That takes a lot of pressure off your shoulders.”

How will John Clay perform in his first career start?

Twelve carries for 70 yards isn’t bad. Three fumbles in 12 carries is. This is the biggest problem the Badgers faced all game, and is apparent that Clay and Zack Brown will be taking quite a few gut shots this week with their combined five fumbles on the game.

“In regards to way we played today, it wasn’t where we needed to be,” Bielema said. “Sometimes the best amount of pressure can come from their teammates.”

Tolzien said the team will definitely be emphasizing ball security leading up to the Michigan State game. He added that practice is essential to correcting the problem.

“Just practicing better, that’s where you make money during the week on the practice field,” he said. “In games, it’s going to come, we just have to keep at it.”

Wofford Wisconsin Football

This Badger team proved it could handle unusual circumstances off the field, but will there be a hangover effect against a lesser opponent?


Apparently not, and different weapons were showcased again this week, such as Kendricks, who has been waiting for a chance to do more than block.

“It was tough with the fumbles after working downfield,” Kendricks said. “I just snapped into it, my confidence grew. It felt good going out and catching balls like that.”

Kendricks was also quick to credit Tolzien for his ball placement.

“He has a lot of poise, does a great job delivering ball to everybody,” he said. (About his touchdown pass) “I tried to get open a bit, he threw it high where it should be and I was able to get it.”

Overall, Tolzien said he is ready for his first Big Ten start and feels the team is in a good position heading into this weekend.

“I feel pretty good, coach Chryst has us all prepared from top to bottom,” he said. “Then again, all the experience you get in games is valuable too, so three games has helped.”

In the second quarter, the Badgers scored 28 points, and committed zero penalties. Can the team find a way to harness that dominance over more than a quarter of play?

Or what are the chances of the exact opposite, where the defense implodes and gives up 28 points? Is that worse than the way they lost to State last year?

Coach Bielema laughed a little about students yelling “Tolzien for Heisman” heading down the locker room tunnel. Obviously that slogan is pretty farfetched, but what can Tolzien do in a high pressure game against a tough opponent?

Will I have Allan Evridge or John Stocco flashbacks? Are either of those good to have?

Can the Badgers protect the ball?

I really don’t need any further explanation. You all know how frustrating fumbles are.

During his post-game conference, Bielema remarked about the depth at the offensive line because of nicked up starters. Can he find a way to balance their playing time while keeping the line at full strength?

Either way, can the line fuse together to help the running game come together?

Badgers nearly throw up game in honor of team-wide swine flu outbreak

Philip Welch

By Jake McCormick

During my college graduation commencement in May, the UW-Eau Claire chancellor reminded the soon-to-be-unemployed with stars in their eyes that in light of the swine flu epidemic, a bottle of hand sanitizer and paper towels would be available before doing the Walk. Of the 4,000 or so students, only three took this glorious opportunity. I, on the other hand, figured that if I was going to get germ-free goop on my hands, I might as well coat them like a kid getting Slimed on Nickelodeon in the 90s and vicariously share some with the chancellor during our handshake.

I ultimately decided against this last hurrah of college, reasoning that it wouldn’t be worth the potential backlash to cover the chancellor’s hand in sticky, translucent goo. Plus I had already had a sexual innuendo moment with the guy during the ribbon cutting ceremony at our campus newspaper’s new office. As we stood with scissors in hand, he asked which part of the ribbon I wanted to cut, to which I responded, “You go on top.” I thought it was a nice way to go out.

Chris MaragosI’m sure you’re asking what this has to do with the Wisconsin Badgers’ 34-31 double-overtime victory over Fresno State last Saturday. Well, unlike my situation, the hand sanitizer played a part in saving the game for the Badgers, as did copious amounts of bile and daily vomiting. Roughly 40 players, including starting quarterback Scott Tolzien and starting cornerback Aaron Henry, experienced swine flu-like symptoms throughout the week leading up to the game. Senior safety Chris Maragos, who again played the hero with an interception in the end zone during Fresno State’s second overtime possession, said he basically holstered hand sanitizer anytime he touched a doorknob. Other players said the collective sickness was a bonding experience, and given the way the team rallied late against a fast Bulldog team, they came out of the epidemic stronger and more confident. I’ll probably be the only one to say this, ever, but thank god for swine flu.

The fact that a team such as Wisconsin, who is still trying to figure out how good they really are, can come out of a team-wide bout of a national influenza epidemic and survive their biggest test in double-overtime before the Big Ten season begins has to mean something good. But then again, this is Wisconsin we’re talking about, so we’ll just have to wait and see if the Badgers go Donnie Darko on their season.

Last week’s questions:

David GilreathHow long will Bielema try the Curt Phillips Experience?
Apparently not when games are close, as Phillips didn’t even smell the Camp Randall turf on Saturday. But Tolzien turned in another solid performance by going 17-28 for 225 yards and a touchdown. I think Bielema realizes that stability at that position will be a big factor throughout the Big Ten season, and as long as Tolzien is playing at a consistent level and still runs ice through his veins, the offense will continue to put points on the board.

How will the offense perform under Tolzien against a much faster and more experienced defense?
The Badger offense had no turnovers and racked up 413 yards in a much more balanced fashion than against Northern Illinois. Passing yards accounted for most of that number (225 to 188), but that will happen when a defense can’t stop anybody until the fourth quarter. They were a lot more even-handed against the Bulldogs, and limiting mistakes will always put your team in a position to win. However, going 5-13 on third down isn’t the best way to help a Badger defense that still had to rely on big plays to bail them out of long drives.

With an offensive line that averages 6’6” 324 lbs going against a defensive line that averages 6’3” 265 lbs, can Wisconsin finally ride the Boring Ball wagon to victory on the backs of Brown and/or Clay?
I wouldn’t say “Brown Clay” carried the team or the line dominated by any means, but Clay’s 72 yard run in the fourth quarter with 5:45 left was the play of the game until the Maragos interception. The overall running game needs to get better overall, and a lot of that starts with the return of junior center John Moffitt, who has been sidelined with a pectoral muscle injury. Two freshmen, Travis Frederick and Peter Konz, played well in his place, but Moffitt is clearly the best option at center. They need the line at full strength as soon as possible.

Can the special teams rebound, especially Lou Groza finalist Philip Welch?
The only Wisconsin highlights of the first half centered around special teams. Wide receiver David Gilreath pulled off kick returns of 35 and 38 yards, and Welch smoked a 57-yard field goal to end the half. That kick, as well as the game-winner in overtime, should be enough to help him regain some confidence and give Bielema a rare opportunity to score points regularly outside of the 30-yard line. Overall, it was a much needed improvement as a whole unit.

Given the Badgers inconsistencies and previous failures against option offenses, Wofford isn’t likely to lay down and take a beating. I really don’t know what to expect from them other than the triple option I run in NCAA Football 2010, so let’s hope they don’t need a Cal Poly-like blunder for a win.

Can Wisconsin stop Wofford’s triple option, which is very similar to the offense run by Cal Poly in the 2008 season finale?
If not, will I be able to consume enough alcohol to fathom a defeat at the hands of an FCS opponent the game before the Big Ten season starts?

Which defensive line pass rush will we see: the one that pressured NIU all day or the cupcake baking they did against Fresno?
Senior O’Brien Schofield had a career game against the Bulldogs, but he can’t be asked to do everything. Their success depends on sophomore JJ Watt’s recovery from the flu.

John ClayHow will John Clay perform in his first career start?
Will he pull a Nelson from The Simpsons and try to knock over every player on his way to the goal line by holding one of his teammates as a shield?

This Badger team proved it could handle unusual circumstances off the field, but will there be a hangover effect against a lesser opponent?
If there is, can they call the Minnesota Vikings and get whatever they put in Adrian Peterson’s IV drip?

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