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Big Ten Crystal Ball

I think the big ten this year is really quite simple…

THE CONTENDERS

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.

Norm Parker...genius.

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.

ROTQ is a big fan of Chris Borland

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.

Fire RRod actually has merchandise!

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.

Is Ron Zook the countries worst coach?

11.  Indiana: (0-8) wow.

LEAGUE AWARDS

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…

Terrelle Pryor, matchup nightmare

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.

Adrian Clayborn will be the first Big Ten player drafted and is the leagues best defender.

August 12, 2010 Posted by | Badgers | , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Football Season Preview: Offense

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?

Gabe Carimi anchors a stout UW line in 2010

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.

Can Clay repeat as the Big Ten's offensive player of the year?

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.

Can James White be Terrell Fletcher in 2010?

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.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | Badgers | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wisconsin v. Indiana Preview

How much should we read into the fact that Indiana was the latest victim of the Iowa magic act?  Very little.  Losing to Iowa in the fourth quarter has just become so common place it really doesn’t impact people anymore.  It isn’t like all the sudden being the first team to lose a big game to Notre Dame–that just doesn’t happen so it would shock people.  This is part of Iowa’s routine, fall behind…lose.

ncf_g_fisher_400

Indiana's offense out for this game with injury, Ray Fisher returner extraordinaire to miss UW-IU tilt

What is big is Indiana losing their field position and primary weapon, Ray Fisher.  Fisher has been IU’s best player this year impacting the game from his corner spot and providing electrifying returns for scores and field position.  IU has been prolific through the air, yet is averaging barely 100 yards per game on the ground, including a mere 65 games from its leading rusher, Frosh Darius Willis.  Quarterback Ben Chappell has been excellent and has weapons to get the ball to.

sm_chappell1026+Z

Ben Chappell is a prolific passer, yet his mobility issues figure to loom large in Bloomington.

When Wisconsin has the ball they figure to dish out a heavy dose of John Clay.  IU has struggled against both run and pass but can generate turnovers.  Clay the big ten’s leading rusher figures to have another big day.  Clay who started the year sluggishly has emerged as the clear leader for all big ten honors at tailback and is poised for a 1000 yard season.  Scott Tolzein continues to make big throws when needed and has been a steady influence for most of the season.  IU can expect a heavy dose of the TE’s that UW favors and may need to account for a new weapon…the TE reverse with Lance Kendricks.

johnclay

John Clay leads the Big Ten in rushing at nearly 120 yards per contest.

Wisconsin is peaking defensively having posted several strong efforts in recent weeks.  They are led by Bednarik award semifinalist O’Brien Schofield and the emerging playmaking of ROTQ favorite Chris Borland.  The newly mustached Borland has epitomized this UW defense.  He is unheralded, athletic, and makes plays.  This badger defense may lack name recognition, but they are making plays.

l4025684

All Chris Borland does it make plays. 2 fumbles forced and recovered versus Purdue...and now a mustache that his head coach can make fun of.

I see IU putting up little resistance.  Wisconsin is better in all aspects outside of kick returns.  UW wins this game handly 44-13.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Badgers | , , | Leave a comment

UW-Iowa…random thoughts.

Here are some things you may have thought about or noticed from Saturday’s game:

  • On Scott Tolzein: “I take it all on myself,” Tolzien said. “Protection was good. Just bonehead decisions.”  Here is a quandary.  We’ve all been fascinated by this story–cool kid (check out story about his relationship with an Appleton Youth in the JSOnline).  However, he beat out Curt Phillips who is obviously more gifted physically because of his cerebral decision making.  Count me as one person amongst many who now believe that Phillips should be given a chance to start.  Ala Bollinger relieving Scott Kavanagh in 2001 against Michigan.  It is time.

    Like Curt Phillips, Brooks Bollinger was known primarily as a running QB early in his career.

    Like Curt Phillips, Brooks Bollinger was known primarily as a running QB early in his career.

  • On Bret Bielema: the decision to assert Phillips in the midst of momentum–boneheaded.  His assertion that it was planned?  Great call.  So if you are planning not to meet a beautiful women and lo and behold the opportunity presents itself…do you turn your back on said women because it wasn’t part of the plan?  No.
  • On Bielema: he has now been running UW’s special teams for about a year.  His performance in that regard has been putrid.  UW’s kick return unit is the worst specialist unit in the conference.  Their motto?  “Thank god for our kick coverage unit”.  Not sure if you noticed how many core players are on that kick coverage unit…try O’Brien Schofield, Chris Borland, Chris Maragos, Jay Valai, and Antonio Fenelus.  This isn’t a unit consisting of reserves, these are defensive regulars, and the result: hideous.  Considering his poor run as a recruiter, I am of the opinion that after 2009 it is time to move on.  I also had a dream that Alvarez pulled the plug and stepped in…that was a good dream.

 

Bret Bielema's latest special teams initiative.

Bret Bielema's latest special teams initiative.

  • On Schofield: wow.  That’s about all I can say.  I forgot about Tom Burke in praising him the other day.  Next time I’m in Poplar, I’ll drop in to apologize for that omission.  Schofield is putting himself in position to play on Sundays.
  • On Chris Borland and assignments: Borland is in, doing what he does…which is make plays.  He is removed in favor of the more assignment sure Blake Sorenson–next play Sorenson vacates his gap Adam Robinson scores the key touchdown.  Sometimes you ignore your instincts and follow realism.  The kid just makes plays, case closed.  It may not make any sense to see him doing it given his height and age, but he does…so go with it.  He may have to kick, as we’ve read he was quite the jack of all trades.  Since Phillip Welch’s struggles, he may have to give it a go.
Given Phillip Welch's recent struggle Bret Bielema may end up doing some of the teams shorter field goals.  Given his special teams prowess...what might we expect?

Given Phillip Welch's recent struggle Bret Bielema may end up doing some of the teams shorter field goals. Given his special teams prowess...what might we expect?

  • On UW receivers: time to look at frosh Kraig Appleton.  Maurice Moore proved that he can do a great David Gilreath impression–be a non factor and drop passes.  Let’s go with the young kid see what he can do.  Big, fast, and highly touted…better than small, slow, and drops.
  • John Clay: was he walking to holes in the second half?
  • Antonio Feneuls: the ball is that oblong shaped object with the half stripes on it…look for it.
  • My thoughts on Kirk Ferentz and Norm Parker…right on.
  • Remember UW football when they would pound you physically with Wisconsin kids in the trenches, beat you with superb special teams, and refuse to yield defensively?  Now our special teams are the worst in the conference, they affect the outcome adversely each week, and we can’t get off the field on third downs.  Pretty easy to see why we fail in games against superior opposition.
  • On Wisconsin.

October 19, 2009 Posted by | Badgers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Badgers practice, first shot 41 minutes in

In honor of the 1941 Badger National Champions, Bo Ryan announced that he was turning to them for inspiration.  He was not going to allow a shot for the first 41 minutes of his practice today.  The team passed and closed out per this report on UWBadgers.com.

Bo Ryan inspired by the 1941 NCAA tournament victory, turned back the clock at today's practice.  Here's footage from the workout.

Bo Ryan inspired by the 1941 NCAA tournament championship, turned back the clock at today's practice. Here's footage from the workout.

Kidding aside, the team looks poised for a strong year.  The team has the veteran leadership, size, experience, and skill to be dangerous in the Big Ten.

“Take care of the ball and it will take care of you”.  Bo Ryan

October 19, 2009 Posted by | Badgers | , | Leave a comment

Blue saga leaves many seeing red

Vander follows in the footsteps of Wes Matthews and becomes the latest Madison Memorial star to head downstate.

Vander follows in the footsteps of Wes Matthews and becomes the latest Madison Memorial star to head downstate.

Vander Blue has committed to play basketball at Marquette.  For many UW enthusiasts, this is similar to Brett Favre playing for the Vikings.  A decision that makes sense but one you still can’t stand.  Blue, initially committed to the Badgers after his sophomore year at Madison Memorial.  A local kid with a great rapport with the UW coaches, his recruitment looked like that of Michael Flowers.  One difference, Vander “Blue” up…sorry, he exploded onto the national scene after a historic state tournament run in which he looked like an NBA talent.  He opened up his recruitment and saw the Madison papers print a vicious review of his academic standing, clearly leaked by the UW staff.  Despite that article it was widely believed that Vander was headed back to Madison, where he and his mother developed a very strong relationship with asst. coach Howard Moore.  Even as he heads to Milwaukee, he still talks about his rapport with the “duck”, but he talks more about his rapport with MU’s head coach–Buzz Williams.  Vander also cited the Big East, style of play,his relationship with Buzz Williams and MU players (Jeronne Maymon) as key reasons for his exodus.

This commitment raises a few key questions about UW’s direction.

  • Blue clearly was wooed over by Marquette…with a budget ranking dead last in the big ten for recruiting, why do the Badgers continuously get out recruited and lose out on players?  They have relaxed in their recruiting and seem to fall back on kids who just want to be here…which can be a good strategy.  But kids who live 1/2 mile from your court and are top 20 talents, need to be there.  This is on Bo Ryan.
  • With Cam Wright committing to Pitt, UW is now short one guard.  After this year they will have some significant guard issues.  They will likely look to go the JUCO route and find a “stop-gap” to balance their classes.
  • UW has not had a “star” in several years, Vander would have been their next “go to” player.
  • The real issue could be with incoming HS Sophomore JP Tokoto.  A player so gifted he is potentially the top player in the country.  He holds offers from Duke and North Carolina, in addition to the regioinal schools you’d expect.  Vander would be forgotten if Tokoto is landed as he is a better talent.  But if he is not, expect the same backlash against UW’s recruiting style.  My bet is that Tokoto who also has a good relationship with UW, will be the subject of UW’s renewed recruiting strategy.  I’d venture a guess that Ryan will now get more involved and that we’ll see a full court focus on JP.  If not, UW’s program is in deep trouble.
  • One side note: reading this article on the first day of UW’s practice, it is clear that not everyone can be Badgers under Bo Ryan.  Not saying that Vander couldn’t, wish like heck he was…but rather he chose to go to a program where the coach “started crying and screaming” when told of his commitment.  Pretty sure Bo Ryan wouldn’t cry and scream.
Buzz yelling, not crying...

Buzz yelling, not crying...

Now to conclude…I’m not one to wish anyone ill will.  I hope Vander finds what he’s looking for.  It is time to move on from this and focus on badger basketball.  I wonder what Vander will think when Marquette polishes off their Big East season in winless fashion–which looks entirely likely.  Remember when Bo won the Big Ten with Charlie Wills and Travon Davis?  What does Buzz Williams do with that team and Bo Ryan with his?  We’ll never know.

October 19, 2009 Posted by | Badgers | , | 1 Comment

Wisconsin v. Iowa

The Heartland Trophy

The Heartland Trophy

Wisconsin has a very friendly November schedule.  The key to their season is this Saturday is a tough test v. Iowa.  Wisconsin closes with the bottom of the Big Ten and doesn’t have to face Penn State who has woodsheded them their last 3 meetings.

What to look for this Saturday.  Unfortunately the game is at 11:00 which means the students won’t be there until 12:15.  I find this an embarrassing tradition.  Everyone from Bielema to Ryan to Barry Alvarez has addressed this issue, it needs to change.  I recall a story about this blog’s editor playing a round of golf at 6:00 am after 15 drinks.  He shot a 79.  UW’s students need to shoot a 76 and get their by 10:30.  Make this a a game resembling the old days, when yours truly had season tickets and the games were madness.  Yeah we get that the students drink too much, but suck it up and get out of bed.

It's called a hangover.  Toughed up!

It's called a hangover. Toughen up!

On Iowa.  I am of the belief that Iowa has the Big Ten’s finest two coaches.  Norm Parker runs a defense that is never out of place.  They have significantly less ability on the field than OSU but it is reasonable to say their defense is better.  They are not as fast, they are just smarter.  Norm Parker is the reason.  He is a sensational Defensive Coordinator.  Iowa’s strength is their front seven, if you watched the PSU game, you saw Iowa pummel the Nittany Lion offensive line.  This front seven is the equal of OSU.  Hopefully playing at home will solve some of UW’s woes.  If Josh Ogelsby does another turn-style impression UW will have no chance and Scott Tolzein will watching from the hospital on Regent St.  As good as the Iowa defense is…they had a streak end Saturday in which they hadn’t allowed a rushing TD in 33 quarters.  Yeah, that’s good. 

Norm Parker, a greying Newman.  NEWMAN!

Norm Parker, a greying Newman. NEWMAN!

They can be thrown on as their secondary is not the equal of their front seven.  Tolzein, Toon, and Graham can have some success if they are given a chance.  Kirk Ferentz the other half of this equation.  I have admired him from afar and have felt that since Barry Alvarez left he has had a firm grip on the Big Ten’s best coach.  He doesn’t have 1/2 the personnel and recruiting advantages that sweater vest has and is right there in results.  I’m surprised the NFL hasn’t wised up on him yet.  Iowa never beats themselves, they have spectacular special teams, and they play great defense.  Sounds like a familiar equation for us Badgers.

How I see it?  I see UW having difficulty moving the ball.  I see UW’s defense which has really emerged in 09′ causing troubles for Iowa.  In the end I think the game is decided by three simple factors as the matchups are really pushes across the board.

1.  UW coverage units v. Iowa return units.  Iowa’s returner has been lost to an ACL injury, so they’ll be breaking in a new man.  Wisconsin’s coverage units have been abysmal.  (that may be a compliment).  If UW can dictate some field position and Nortmann has a solid day, they are in good shape.  I wouldn’t expect UW’s special teams to do anything.  Not sure if you noticed but it has been announced that David Gilreath will lose reps to little known Maurice Moore on returns.   We just went from bad to worse in the return game.  Can our man Chris Borland return kicks!

That's more like it!

That's more like it!

2.  Crowd: can they get there by lunchtime?  Doubt it.  Iowa will probably get 4 possessions facing a 1/2 empty student section.  Big difference.  Shame on the no-shows.  Send your tickets to ROTQ, we’ll see they end up in the hands of someone who gets there on time.

3.  UW’s OL.  John Moffitt and Josh Ogelsby have been atrocious.  If they play like they did last week Wisconsin will lose this game by 3 touchdowns.  If they play as they can, UW will hang in there and provided they win the turnover battle they’ll win the game.

Other thoughts:

1.  Will Montee Ball start now that Fumble Brown has a concussion?  Will UW go empty on the first play just to tell John Clay he isn’t starting.  Ball looks like he has a shot to be a player.

2.  Garrett Graham.  Big bounce back week.  I expect him to play very well.

3. Borland.  First week he didn’t make a huge play.  Anyone betting against him starting a new streak?

4.  Isaac Anderson…I dropped my thought, I can’t remember what I was typing.

5.  O’Brien Schofield is quietly putting together an All-American season.  He has been UW’s best defensive end such Tarek Saleh.  Saleh was more consistent than Jonathon Welsh and Erasmus James.

Prediction: last week I predicted in this space that UW would lose.  I am going to reverse field.  UW beats an Iowa team that is frankly better than OSU.  UW won’t turn it over, Iowa will and in-spite of the lame student section, UW wins 20-17.

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Badgers | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wisconsin v. OSU revisited

MJS uwgrid11 2ofx wood uwgrid11What can be said?  Take away 4 plays and maybe 25 seconds and Wisconsin beat OSU.  Unfortunately they play full games and you can’t take away 25 seconds.

Good:

1. UW’s defense was physical and assignment sure.  They turned the Buckeye’s over and deserved a better fate.  You won’t bottle Pryor up for an entire game, he hurt them at inopportune times.

2. John Clay.  Numbers weren’t there.  He was a load and made something out of very little on nearly every carry.

Bad:

  1. Isaac Anderson.  I’m Bret Bielema, Anderson is now my 6th receiver.  Two monumental drops.
  2. Josh Ogelsby.  Only a die-hard fan will remember that when he committed, he promised a national championship.  Proves yet again that recruiting is a complete crap shoot.  #1 tackle in America and is on the verge of losing his position to a lightly recruited walk-on.
  3. Is Bret Bielema the worst special teams coach currently working at any NCAA school?  The only thing they can do with regularity is get a snap back to the punter.  Kicks are an adventure, kick coverage is poor all the time, worst return game in Big Ten.
  4. Scott Tolzein trying to throw under duress.  Not pretty.  Not sure it mattered if it was Tim Tebow or Scott Tolzein, the line was humiliated.

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Badgers | , , , , , | 2 Comments