Coming off the heels of the monumental victory over top ranked Ohio State, optimism is high!
I would suspect that it will remain high after today’s loss. I have been convinced this team would lose this game all year, I remain so. I also remain convinced that UW will play extremely well today. The Iowa-Wisconsin matchup has become one of the better ones in this league, particularly with the demise of the Michigan-Ohio State matchup. The Battle for the Bull is tied at 41-41 all time, with Iowa having won the last two.
What will decide the battle for the heartland bull? Quite simply the gap between these two teams at this point is probably the health of Wisconsin and the strength of Iowa’s defense. UW may be without Nick Toon, they are without Jordan Kohout, not to mention the continued absence of Chris Borland. This will be classic football, power running, no nonsense, no spread, no trickery…line up and hit each other in the face.
Here’s how it will go: UW’s offensive line can push Iowa around. At the end of the day, who ever turns it over will lose. Both teams figure to move the ball, long, arduous, physical drives. Ricky Stanzi and Iowa have a fine passing game, and can run it. Tolzein and Wisconsin can throw it, and have a superb run game. UW figures to try and replicate the game plan from Saturday and keep Stanzi on the bench. They will probably succeed in some measure–but at the end of the day there will be a turnover that costs this game. Wisconsin is simply not as sound as Iowa is on defense. I like Wisconsin to battle and make this one of the better games, but the game is in Iowa City and the game will be tight until late. I like Iowa by a field goal. No letdown, I suspect Wisconsin will remove themselves from BCS contention but gain respect in the process.
Iowa 20 Wisconsin 17.
ESPN.com college football writer Pat Forde is on record in calling for a tight UW victory. I’m going to join him. Here’s why:
1. Night Football: As a former season ticket holder during the height of UW football greatness, I had several opportunities to see night games here. Scott Van Pelt once commented that Madison is the best college sports town in America…he hasn’t seen a UW night football game. They have been rare, but when they happen…look out. I remember the game in 1996, when tOSU blocked the field goal late, Lorenzo Styles had 21 tackles, Donny Brady was horrendous, the game was a loss, but the atmosphere was electric. I expect that to continue Saturday. Those types of atmospheres are rare and must be taken into account.
2. There is little reason to pick Wisconsin over Ohio State, which looks like the nation’s best team. One reason has to be the fact that the Wisconsin offense unlike any that tOSU has dismantled can actually run and throw. They are a run team first and foremost coming at #11 in the nation. They have fine running backs, a huge OL, and a crafty playcaller. But unlike the doormats that tOSU has pounded in conference, both Illinois and Indiana are awful and are either one dimensional as in the case of Indiana or none dimensional as in the case of Zook is to be fired in December Illinois. White and Clay are the types of backs that can beat an OSU, they have diversity on this side of the ball, great TE play, and solid QB play. The play of Nick Toon must improve, I will call him out right now. He’s been poor, to put it kindly.
3. Bret Bielema: what? Bret as a reason for victory? Yep, he’s had one victory in many chances against a top 25 opponent…it has to happen sooner or later. Saturday is later.
Not a real convincing case for victory, but consider that UW has traditionally defended tOSU well. They physically whupped the Buckeyes last year in Columbus only to fall short as a result of a pair of pick sixes by Tolzein. Those were devastating. That game should have been a Buckeye loss. This team offensively seems to be better suited to finish. Defensively, there are worries all over the field. Wisconsin on defense can be solid for 15-20 plays in a row and then lay an egg for an entire series, I hope they can be more consistent Saturday. UW’s run defense has been solid over the first 6 games, they need to be more consistent in coverage and generate some pressure versus Pryor in order to have success. It is this side of the ball I’m worried about. Not to mention that the UW special teams have been butt bad at times, horrendous in all non-kicking related areas. OSU traditionally is outstanding in this area, UW will need to match them in order to be successful.
Prediction: Clay and White both break the seal. OSU has gone 11 games without allowing a 100 yard rusher. Saturday they give up 2. Wisconsin can overpower the OSU DL and this will be the key factor in the game as UW keeps Pryor off the field with ball control. A Goose Island IPA would go great with this victory, that prediction is assured!
UW: 24 tOSU: 20
Yesterday I DVR’d the game and committed to watching it after the fact without knowing the results. I had a prior conflict, I was jacked, I thought it would be a great game! I wandered into a place in the waning stages of the game, and boom…learned of the outcome. I was initially pissed. I read and heard more about the game before I committed to watching it and then saw Gladiator on. I thought, you know…I’d rather watch something where someone is committed, hard working, and lives up to this ability. Piss on it. So I’m writing without having watched it. But despite that, I have seen parts of the game, read about, and heard about it. So here are some snap judgements.
1. If Bielema doesn’t hire a special teams coach, I’m done with this program. They are woeful. Their returns are pitiful, they have strong specialists, yet the units are outlandishly bad. They give up impactful returns week in and week out. I’ll hang up my badger football gear until he coaches his way out of town. If football has shown us anything in the past five years in this state it is that SPECIAL TEAMS IS IMPORTANT. This is killing this program.
2. Good news/bad news: John Clay will be back. Good news–John Clay will be back, hopefully in the form of last year. Bad news–the John Clay that we see walking through holes is so pedestrian that if the NFL draft were 112 rounds I wouldn’t pick him.
3. OL: I thought this group would just dominate…I wasn’t alone. Most had this group as the nation’s best. Gabe Carimi has been poor by his standards, Josh Oglesby, is injured, disinterested, and lazy. All John Moffitt seems to do is give quips and quotes to the media. I did like his “I’d break a sweat pealing an orange” comment, how about this one. Maintain a block.
4. Secondary: this needs to be a primary need. Year after year, this program recruits under recruited players from football hotbeds thinking they’ll find gold. Line up and land an elite recruit at this spot, our secondary is poor. I know, I know, Jamar Fletcher was off the recruiting radar…so were the rest of these guys. I see a pattern.
5. Defense: if I hear or read about Dave Doeren being a genius one more time. I’m fining the next person 450 yards, I mean dollars. This defense has been suspect all year. Now they’ve added a nice new wrinkle, never getting off the field on third downs. Yesterday is was 9 of 18, many qualifying as third and long. Nice.
So a season starts with high hopes for a BCS birth and then you limp through the non-conference, and you get pummeled at your own game in the big ten opener. Nice. One analyst this morning has them targeted for the Insight.com bowl. Seems a far cry from the Orange Bowl matchup some were touting. At least now we kinda know why.
On a side note, for anyone who watched Iowa pummel Penn State with execution and a defense that was just flat out unforgiving and ALWAYS IN THE RIGHT SPOT…remember this: several of you were laughing at me because of how I touted Norm Parker, and Kirk Ferentz as the Big Ten’s best. Keep in mind UW and Iowa are mirror images, they recruit against each other, they have similar academic requirements, similar athletes, and yet Iowa almost NEVER beats itself and can win big games. Now comparing someone to Bielema as a coaching yardstick is like grabbing Cher for a comparison about musical ability–but I will be accepting apologies for how those remarks were laughed at.
It was stated earlier this week in the Packer-Bills Preview…don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. With all due respect to the anemic Bills offense, that analogy is so far over the gap between the UW coverage teams and the ASU return teams it isn’t even funny. So we’ll just use a visual analogy. On the left is the UW coverage teams (not Clint Eastwood–great actor, great movie…) on the right is the lovely star of Modern Family, representing the ASU return units. This almost cost the game and potentially a BCS berth.
I also have a few questions I need answered in the coming weeks about this football team:
1. Why is it that UW is one of the rare teams in the big ten without a special teams coach?
2. Why is it that John Clay can play one play at a time before he needs a 20 minute break?
3. Where is the leadership along this OL?
4. Why does Kyle Jefferson get reps? I’m sorry but watching him short arm every pass across the middle is understandable after that near decaptitation 2 years ago, but he is no longer an option as a result.
5. Why does Isaac Anderson catch the ball and stop running so often?
6. How different will this defense look after losing Borland? How long will he be out?
7. How good is Lance Kendricks?
8. When will this team tackle like a big ten team?
9. Can Louis Nzegwu build off his fine performance?
10. Can I get tickets to tO$U game?
I think the big ten this year is really quite simple…
Ohio State has the leagues best defense and most exciting player. Yet they seem to be what they are year in and year out, and that is the favorite to win this league and the #2 ranked team in the country. They will likely win the league and go get pummelled by an SEC school. They are a team with few holes, but they won’t win the league. What!?! This has happened seven straight years! Yeah, and even worse, they may not go to a BCS game! Why? The Big Ten should be more predictable than ever this year. OSU has to travel to Wisconsin and Iowa. I don’t believe they will win either game. Should they split, we may have a serious logjam at the top. Normally, I’m not superstitious but they were on the cover of SI, so let the jinx begin.
Iowa: I have written in these pages before, this is the nations finest coaching staff. Norm Parker seems to always have an elite defense regardless of who is replaced. Kirk Ferentz is elite, their OL coach puts out elite units year in and year out, etc… They have a favorable schedule hosting the other “big two” and they are my pick to win the league.
Wisconsin: this offensive line is the leagues best, they will likely try to pound and pound and pound. They have a favorable schedule and should they beat OSU in Madison will likely finish at worst second. Their defense has questions, but what better way to deal with defensive questions than roll out an experienced talented OL with an average weight of 325 and a reigning big ten player of the year at RB who just happens to be 255 lbs himself…toss in an experienced senior QB and explosive wing players and you have an offense that will: a) eat clock b) score points. Inexperienced defense may not matter that much, except in Iowa City.
Penn State: traveling to both Iowa and Ohio State leaves the Nittany Lions in trouble right out of the gate. There are talented players on both sides of the ball and they figure to make it through the league with 2 losses.
Michigan State: talented players, a strong non conference tilt, and no OSU on the schedule make this team formidable. However, this coaching staff quite frankly is the opposite of Iowa’s, I have little confidence that they will get the job done.
PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Iowa (7-1) will likely falter at OSU, their away schedule is amazing…
2. Wisconsin (7-1) that early showdown with Wisconsin could decide the league. The other trap game is at MSU, where they have had mixed success.
3. OSU: (6-2) they will dominate all games but two. They were beat up in Columbus by Wisconsin but won on three big plays, they figure to get beat up in Madison and lose.
4. PSU: (6-2) favorable schedule helps JoePa in his 93rd season.
5. MSU: (5-3) a talented team, who is in charge over there?
6. Northwestern: (4-4) schedule is tough, solid returning players and a fine coaching staff.
7. Minnesota: (3-5) Brewster is on the hot seat and they have a lot of holes.
8. Michigan: (3-5) RichRod has been exposed as a poor coach in a conference of high quality coaches. He will be fired at years end. Here is one of the many fire RRod sites.
9. Purdue: (2-6) Program in decline, not a whole lot coming back, poor homefield…blah.
10. Illinois: (2-6) They’ll beat Purdue and Indiana at home. Ron Zook is a joke, fired at years end.
11. Indiana: (0-8) wow.
Coach of the year: Kirk Ferentz. Dear Kirk, do the Big Ten a favor and go to the NFL.
Offensive Player of the Year: John Clay/Terrelle Pryor again…
Defensive Player of the Year: Adrian Clayborn Iowa, a lot of people will argue Brian Rolle…nah, Clayborn is a man amongst boys on the leagues best team.
The Wisconsin badger offense is as close to a sure thing as we’ll see in college football. The defense…not so much. Wisconsin was predicted to finish third in the Big Ten in large part because of their defense. The UW finished #1 in the conference in scoring offense and will return nearly all of that production. The defense suprised many and finished #4 in the conference in scoring defense. They will return seven starters on defense, holes are present however. UW will have to replace both DT’s and playmaking safety Chris Maragos.
Upfront: O’Brien Schofield is irreplaceable for this team. Schofield was a force in all phases of the game. He was a strong candidate for conference defensive player of the year. He rushed the passer, he played the run, and set the tone with his energy. Schofield has taken his game to the NFL and will be replaced by Louis Nzegwu. Nzegwu brings tremendous athleticism to the field, he starred in high school as a tailback, but has grown into a 6-4 250 lb. DE. His athleticism cannot be questioned, his experience can. He showed flashes last year, but his uneven spring performance led some to wonder if he might be supplanted by playmaking sophomore David Gilbert. There are no such questions on the other side. J.J Watt burst onto the scene and has caught the attention of NFL scouts. He has long arms, a high motor, and a quick burst off the ball. He figures to be the leader of this defense. The tackle rotation is the defenses uncertainty. There are some impressive young players in this roation including Jordan Kohout and Patrick Butrym who figure to start in September. These players fit the traditional mold of UW DL, they are powerful run stoppers who play with a high motor. Their biggest challenge will be their experience. UW has brought in some very promising DT’s in recent recruiting classes including Beau Allen and Anthony Mains.
The Backers: No player captured more attention on the UW team last year than Chris Borland. I have to admit, he is rapidly becoming this writers favorite all time Badger. Quite simply all he does is make plays, and big ones! He started out in spot duty but was pressed into a larger role as a result of injuries. He didn’t disappoint. He proved assignment sound and impacted the game in all areas. His amazing instincts and motor would seem to have poised for stardom. Several publications have him pegged for first team all conference. He is unlikely to unseat defending defensive player of the year Greg Jones as the leagues top player, but it is likely that he will hold that title at some point. Culmer St. Jean has the confidence of the coaches and seems sure with his assignments. He seems limited athletically and doesn’t make a ton of plays. Mike Taylor returns with a clean bill of health and hopes to build on a strong season cut short by injury. Should he stay healthy, he has significant ability and can really help this group. Should he get hurt again, Blake Sorenson is the groups top backup. This is not a group blessed with great depth.
Secondary: This is an area with a lot of questions. Aaron Henry was a decorated HS player who held an offer from Fla. but has struggled with injury. He has shown flashes of being a very good player, but injuries have forced him to move to safety. Some have felt this is his best position, 2010 shall show us. Jay Valai is the groups most experienced player, he is a ferocious hitter, but he is limited in coverage. The corners surpassed expectations, but the group is hampered by a lack of depth by starters Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
Overall: Wisconsin figures to be very good against the run. 2009 saw UW finish atop the league in rushing defense. There is little to suggest that they won’t be very good against the run in 2010. Their pass defense is however an area of concern, 2009 saw UW finish 10th in the conference in this area. Concern looms as their is little to suggest that the UW has improved measurably in this area, particularly with the loss of Schofield. Wisconsin was 4th in the league in forcing turnovers and returns some players who have shown ability in turning the ball over. Replacing Chris Maragos will be a significant issue in this regard. Whether or not UW can stop the pass is likely going to be the key to their season.
As part of the ROTQ staff gathered to discuss the upcoming season. Many were shocked when I called for a nearly unblemished record for this football team. They have a favorable schedule, that includes a tough non-conference foe, Arizona State at home, along with the all important Ohio State game in October. The road schedule is fairly kind with tough tilts at Michigan State and Iowa.
A closer look
Offense: this team has the potential to be outstanding on offense. Some publications are calling this offensive line the best in the Big Ten and one of the elite units in the nation. The group has a little of everything, star power, talent, depth, and experience. Star Power: Gabe Carimi is in the eyes of many the best draft eligible left tackle prospect playing college football. Talent: we’ve been waiting, is this the year? Josh Oglesby came to Madison with the reputation as the nations top prep lineman, he has prototypical skills, but was called out by coaches this spring for an uneven performance. Depth: where to begin…there are 5 guys who started games last year inside. The coaches have noted they would be comfortable with nearly any combination of those five…this publication anticipates the recently healthy Peter Konz at center flanked by John Moffit and Travis Frederick. Experience: seniors and guys who have started a boatload of games. Lastly the groups size. It is a typical UW line, massive and powerful. I expect this group to wear down a lot of defenses this year…can they wear down OSU and Iowa’s formidable DL?
The offense is loaded with skill talent. Nick Toon and John Clay figure to land on everyones all Big Ten teams. Lance Kendricks superb performance in the Miami game has led many to believe that he’s the next great UW tight end. Since Paul Chryst has arrived UW has become TE-U sending Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, and Garrett Graham to the NFL. Is Kendricks next? The issue is who will run with him in the UW two TE set? There are intriguing candidates in Brian Wozniak and Josh Byrne, but the most intriguing might be true freshmen Sherad Codagan and Mannesah Garner. Both of these frosh are ultra athletic with the ability to stretch defenses, one or both could become a receiving threat in 2010. The key to the offense is undoubtedly Scott Tolzein. The team will run effectively, the quest for Tolzein–to play fewer games like the OSU game. When he is on, he is terrific, however he struggled several times last year and the offense stalled. He has a mastery of the offense and should be more comfortable in his role this year. I believe he is poised to be the leagues second best signal caller behind Terrelle Pryor.
Offensive players to watch: skipping the household names, here are three names who could make UW’s offense exceptional.
1. James White: Montee Ball figures to be John Clay’s backup, but James White is that type of back UW has been searching for since Brian Calhoun left; a burner. White played on one of the nations top prep teams sharing reps with a Clemson recruit, he has big time speed and some wiggle to boot.
2. Peter Konz: his play last year was a big reason for UW’s success. He is cerebral and made sure everyone was in the right spot. His stablizing influence was missed during his absence from blood clots. He is healthy and unrestricted in his activities. His return could be a big boost and could allow the powerful Travis Frederick to play guard.
3. David Gilreath: foot injuries robbed him of the better part of two years. He played but lacked the explosiveness we saw early. Paul Chryst is a master at getting players in space. Gilreath in space could be a big boost to this offense.
Overall: this group has everything you need. They have a great OL, terrific all conference skill players, a horse of a running back, and a senior to lead them at QB. UW’s offense figures to be the Big Ten’s best and one of the nations finest.
Yeah, one game…true. UW lost to Gonzaga on Tuesday in the semifinals of the Maui invitational. Relevance? Consider this, Gonzaga is a team that is similar to Wisconsin. A system team that has to out scout and depend on regional and international recruits. Both teams have magnificent coaches and are great programs. This game revealed that Gonzaga is better in 2009, so…?
So. Gonzaga has shown the ability to “reload” to find tremendous athletes in areas that are off the beaten path of major programs. What Wisconsin has found previously in Kirk Penney, Devin Harris, and Alando Tucker, Gonzaga has found in players such as Ronny Turiaf, Adam Morrison, Josh Heytvelt, and Dan Dickau. The difference lies in the past three-five recruiting cycles. Both programs have to recruit in areas that only have one primary in-state rival. Milwaukee has produced far less than Seattle given the incredible woes of the MPS system, so Milwaukee has really proven to be non-existent where as Gonzaga can count on Seattle and its suburbs producing rich talent year in and year out. UW should be a slam dunk in recruiting. Great university, tremendous campus, famous coach, and a great conference affiliation. What has happened?
Consider the recent past. Five years ago it was Wesley Matthews the Madison Memorial product turning his back on the Badgers. Jerry Smith turned to Louisville despite his desire to follow in the path of former Tosa East star Devin Harris. Then the Vander Blue saga. Vander commits to UW, blows up, gets advised by the Maymon family (teammate Jeronne headed to MU) on his decision, waffles on his commitment, decommits, then is chastised in the Madison media for his lax academics and goes to Marquette. Three elite guards, 0 for three. Consider the current situation. Wisconsin has three “true guards” on its roster. Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon, and Jordan Taylor. Two will graduate at years end. Leaving a backcourt for next year of Jordan Taylor and true Frosh Josh Gasser. In reserve they will have swing guards in Rob Wilson and Tim Jarmusz. UW has recruited some very promising front court players. Mike Brusewitz looks very impressive early.
Evan Anderson is a high ceiling player, everyone is a abuzz about the scoring potential of Duje Dukan. But where are the guards?
It must get better? Right…well. Diamond Taylor thrown out school. Potential UW recruit from Tosa East and star guard Larry Bradley is currently under investigation for armed robbery.
Current HS sophomore J.P. Tokoto is a potential McDonalds All American who currently holds offers from Duke, Wisconsin, and pretty much every school in the country.
Keeping him home will be a significant task. One that UW has proven it may not be up to. With the big ten’s smallest recruiting budget for the past 8 years, this staff seems a bit disinterested in playing the games that other schools do. One result has been an inability to keep the states best home. UW will always have a difficult time in mining Illinois. The landscape in Minnesota has changed. So it is imperative that UW keeps its best at home. There are good players here. Josh Gasser a great example he figures to be a terrific addition. A player who can do a great many things on the floor, but is he a difference maker? At this time that would appear doubtful. Landing Tokoto has become an absolute necessity.
Decline? UW had back to back thirty win seasons and that hasn’t proven dividends in recruiting. UW will remain a very good basketball team as long as Bo and his staff are there. But after Kirk, Devin, and Alando no star has emerged. The team has lacked the explosive athletes it needs to take their game to the next level. They will decline based only on the basis that they haven’t improved and the rest of the conference has. The Big Ten has some great coaches, programs on the rise and they are escalating their ability to bring in elite players. Where does this leave UW? Stagnant, they will be an NCAA team year in and year out. They will win some big games, have that great home court, but in the end they have not compiled the athletes to improve on their current situation. Thus they seem bound to simply be a very good team who will make the tournament, occasionally make a run to the sweet sixteen, maybe getting to the elite 8 if they get hot. This is fine, but it isn’t what we hope for. Not improving while those around you do…is a recipe for disaster. UW needs one of the underclassmen to explode to change that grim scenario.
UW can no longer afford to make recruiting blunders like JP Gavinski and Ian Markholf disrupting their chance to strengthen their roster and improve their athleticism. UW had a great relationship with the nations #1 recruit Harrison Barnes, yet they ran out schollies. One can only wonder what might have been had former UW lean Evan Turner had cast his lot with the first team offer him? I’ll leave that to you. You can’t win them all, but you do need to win some.