Try It Again Thursday
Due to simply insane amounts of work today I won't be able to post anything indepth. So, for the first time, I give you a recycled, yet timely, Badger preview.
Please bear in mind this was done prior to the season, but after 3 mind numbing victories, it appears pretty on point.
It's Big Ten opener time. This year Michigan opens at home against Wisconsin.
An Error Prone & Excessively Verbose Overview of:
The University of Wisconsin Badgers
University of Michigan v. University of Wisconsin
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Date: September 23, 2006
Game Time: TBA
Game #: 4
TV: TBA (likely ESPN)
Radio: WOMC-FM and CKLW-AM
University: University of Wisconsin
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Team Name: Badgers
Facility: Camp Randal Stadium (Cap. 83,069)
Conference: Big Ten
Number of Conference Championships: 11 (1896, 1897, 1901, 1906, 1912, 1952, 1959, 1962, 1993, 1998, 1999)
Number of National Championships: 0
First Season of Football: 1889 (0-2-0)
Last Season: 2005 (10-3)
All Time Record: 575-451-53
Head Coach: Bret Bielema (1st year)
Versus Michigan All-Time: 11-47-1 (Michigan leads)
Last Meeting Versus Michigan: 2005 in Madison, Wisconsin lost 20-23.
A Brief History of The University of Wisconsin:
Seated in scenic Madison, Wisconsin, the state's charter University was founded in 1849. Unlike private universities, the University of Wisconsin was actually established by the state constitution. Though it started with only 17 students taking a single math class in 1849, today the University of Wisconsin has over 41,000 students. So despite what you might initially think, there are more than cows in Madison.
An elite public university, the University of Wisconsin is was added to the list of "public Ivies" in 2001 (along with the rest of the Big Ten apparently) by Greens Guides (2001). UW's law school, med school, and other graduate centers routinely rank in the top 25 in the country, and the undergraduate program is routinely in the top 50 of all universities. Oh. And they party. Good Lord do they party.
Athletically, the Badgers are to be feared. Last year Badger teams brought home 4 national championship throphies. FOUR. Men's and Women's hockey, men's cross-country, and women's lightweight crew. The Badger fans are to be feared too. But in a good way. Always informed and always friendly. But they're friggin' crazy. I have seen it. I have proof. Plus, once their fight song "On Wisconsin" gets in your head you're gonna need a drill, a hammer, and a shop vac to get it out.
They've been around a LONG time. However, 11 throphies in over 100 years of Big Ten competition doesn't speak to dominance. 5 of the Badger's 11 Big Ten titles came before WWI. They captured two in 1952 and 1959 respectively, and one in 1962.
However, during the 60's and 70's far more pressing matters were occurring on campus. Riots. Protests. Bombings. It wasn't untill Barry Alvarez showed up on Campus that Wisconsin became, well, Wisconsin at football. Arriving in 1990, Alvarez and the Badgers captured 3 Rose Bowl rings (Michigan is 1-2 in Rose Bowls during that time). Since 1994 Wisconsin has only missed the post season twice. Even so UW was 3-7 against Michigan under Alvarez. Today Barry is gone and new head coach Bret Bielema has stepped into his shoes.
Last Season: 2005 (10-3)
Wisconsin maintained what should have been a great year, and delivered. Despite the fact that their out of conference scrimages included Bowling Green, Temple (winless Temple), UNC, and Hawaii, the Badgers were on the brink of a top ten ranking before their 5-0 bubble burst against Northwestern. Dropping a game to NU is nothing to be ashamed of last year. Their pinball like offense gave plenty of good teams trouble. Proof of decent coaching is beating the teams you're supposed to. Wisconsin did that. The games they dropped after that were against a better PSU squad and to an Iowa team that decided to live up to its billing in their last game. Despite dropping their last two Big 11 Ten games, UW rolled Hawaii on their little atoll and thundered into the Citrus Bowl. Then the Badgers just sloberknocked Auburn, allowing just 99 yards rushing and just 137 in the air, posting a 24-10 victory.
What Went Right
1) They beat Michigan. Period. Full stop. With the possible exception of the Bowl win, that was the biggest win of the year. Usually, a loss to Michigan sends the Badgers into a tailspin that lands them in a half-ass bowl game. Big hopes. Big flop. Not this past year. 0-7 in their last seven games against Michigan, Wisconsin righted the ship. Stocco ran the ball in with :24 left on the clock, breaking my heart and the beer bottle I threw to the ground in disgust.
2) They missed Ohio State on the schedule. Self explanatory.
3) The Badgers pasted the Auburn Tigers in the Citrus Bowl. The outgained Auburn by over 300 yards and sent Barry Alvarez out a winner.
What Went Wrong
Sitting at 8-1 and ranked 14th in the country, Wisconsin dropped two straight to 10th ranked Penn State and unranked Iowa. The most demoralizing of the two games was the woodshed beating the Badgers offense took from the PSU defense. The Badger running attack was held to -11 yards. Against Iowa, even though Stocco had a decent day, the running game took a ferocious pounding for the second straight week. The Badgers only managed 19 yards on 31 carries! While the score separated the teams by ten points, it was Tate's screw-ups and John Stocco that kept the Badgers in the game. After the first quarter the game was all Iowa and the Badgers managed just 72 yards until the last drive of the game, with the outcome already decided.
Injuries played a big part too. The Badgers lost a host of players against Penn State on both sides of the ball. The offensive line gave up 15 sacks in the PSU and Iowa games combined.
Finally, the loss to Northwestern. The 'Cats were a good team last year, but not good enough to knock off a top 20 team. Even so the 'Cats punched in 4 rushing TD's and 3 TD in the air. This was supposed to be a good defensive team. That type of let down isn't good enough. Neither was their inability to score at will against NU's tissue like defense.
What To Look For in 2006
Uncertainty. The Badgers were hard hit by the NFL bug. Five Badgers went in the NFL draft. RB Brian Calhoun, WR Brandon Williams, TE Owen Daniels, TE Jason Pociask and WR Jonathan Orr were all taken. They'll also be bitten by the departure of long-time coach Barry Alvarez. Barry moved up from the sidelines into the AD's office following the Citrus Bowl.
Replacing him is an unknown in Bret Bielema. Also an unknown is the Badger Offense. Wisconsin returns only three starters from last year's squad: QB Stocco, LT Joe Thomas, and RG Kraig Urbik. That's it. Everyone else? Gone.
Better known is the defense. However, if you get past the defensive line, some question marks abound. The Schedule is light, and snacky. Well, that's not fair. Wisconsin's out of conference schedule is a f---ing joke. Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego State, and BUFFALO! For the second straight year Wisconsin misses Ohio State. BUT, they visit Michigan and Iowa.
Returning Starters on Offense: 3
Returning Starters on Defense: 8
Since 1990 Barry Alvarez has patroled the Badger sidelines. No more. Replacing him will Bret Bielema, Wisconsin's Defensive Coordinator for the past two years. His pedigree is respectable. Bielema has worked and coached with Bill Snyder (Kansas State), Hayden Fry (Iowa), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), and Barry Alvarez. Prior to coming to Wisconsin, Bielema was the defensive co-cordinator at KSU and worked for nine years at Iowa. Bielema's 2004 defense was one of the best in Wisconsin history, allowing only 15 points a game.
Defensively, he's got the chops. But he doesn't have to run the offense, that job has been handed to Paul Chryst. Chryst was the co-OC last year. To his credit Wisconsin averaged 34 points a game. This year he's going to have his hands full this year with three starters back and none of the same wideouts and running backs. So when things go wrong (you knew this was coming), yelling "Oh Chryst!" will be directly on point.
Who the Hell are these guys? Seriously? This guy here is dead!
Senior John Stocco is the returning starter. This will be Stocco's third year as a starter at Wisconsin. Behind the wheel of the Wisconsin offense he's guided the Badgers to a 19-6 record. He's got wheels. He's got a strong arm. He lead Wisconsin to a come from behind victory over Michigan last year. However, with the noteable exception of the Auburn bowl game, when Stocco was called on to throw the ball he was good for at least two picks.
Stocco was always at his best when there was a good running game. Anthony Davis and Calhoun racked up yards and were the focal points of the offense. This year, well, I'm not counting on that kind of support. A new line, a new running back, and new WR trying to block downfield? Not so much.
Stocco is a talented QB. He's quick on his feet. In the past he's been too quick to run at first opportunity. In 2005 he managed to reign himself in a honestly made some good decisions. A 21-9 TD/INT ratio doesn't quite emphasize that, however throwing for almost 3,000 yards does. The offense is his and his alone. He'll have to rack up the passing and rushing yards on his own for the offense to have a chance.
And he's gotta stay healthy. So far its be an epidemic of 1 starter or your dead teams. ND, UM, UW all fall into these catagories. If Stocco goes down, his backup Junior Tyler Donovan will take over. Donovan threw only 6 passes last year, completing half of them and throwing a TD. He's got 8 games under his belt, but has never started.
Hello. My name is _______.
UW's top returning rusher had 96 yards last year, as a Junior. Calhoun is gone. Booker Stanley was kicked off the team. What's left is anyone's guess. The top returner is Junior Jamil Walker. After him are two redshirt freshman PJ Hill and Dion Foster. Of the two Foster was the higher rated recruit, but Hill won the starting job in spring practice. Also joining the mix will be speed merchant freshman Lance Smith.
During spring practice Hill, a big dude at 235, won over the coaching staff by running where he was supposed to and running between the tackles. He should some quickness behind the line but isn't going to "wow" anyone with jukes or speed. No one at the top of the Badger pecking order has half the speed of Calhoun (Smith excepted). Injuries could play a role for Hill too as he's coming off a broken leg and took some bumps during spring practice as well. The biggest problem won't just be replacing Calhoun's 1,500+ yards, it'll be replacing his 50+ catches last year. You know, like the ones that burned Michigan late in the game. None of the RB's has shown great hands out of the backfield yet.
Oddly, the Fullback position looks to be a strength. Mike Alstot type strength. Junior Chris Pressley checks in a a whopping 268 and has shown the wheels (for a big dude) to eat up some yards after first contact. He won't run away from anyone, but undersized linebackers and biltzing safeties will feel his wrath all year. If no one steps up, he could conceivible be the feature back in this offense for a while.
With a relatively new line, no receivers, and a focus at the line of scrimage this group will be no where near as productive as last year. Expect big games against the snackycakes and really bad ones against the good defenses.
Hello. My name is ______. Part II.
All the starters are gone. All the depth is gone. Wisconsin lost its top SEVEN receivers at the end of last year. Granted two of those receivers were running backs, but the returning wideouts tonly caught 3 passes last year. Combined.
Still the pundits like this group to develop into a top tier receiving corps once they've got some experience under their belts. Part of the reason for that is their pure speed. Junior Paul Hubbard is 6'4" and was 2nd Team All Big Ten TRACK. One of UW's fastest players, he is also an outstanding high jumper. He scares the bejeezus out of me on paper. Still, he was a sophomore with this talent and only caught 1 ball last year. If he learns how to catch and run a route the Big Ten is in trouble because Stocco can and will get him the ball.
Opposite him will be Antwaan Randle El's little brother Marcus.
The Tight End position is a bit of a puzzle too. UW lost three TE's to graduation. Now, former QB 6'7" Sean Lewis will take the starting position at TE. Great hands, good wheels. No clue what he's doing. Can't block yet and needs to add more weight. Keep him on the right side boys or Stocco's going to end up in the hospital. But get him into the flats and he's dangerous. So is the trade off. He'll be backed up by former LB Andy Crooks.
It's a group long on potential and short on experience and performance. Again I'm pegging this group to come up well short of last year's squad.
The Tackles are strong. I'd say strong to quite strong. The line will be led by All-American candidate Senior Joe Thomas at Left Tackle. He's big, he's all-planet. He's also coming off an ACL tear. Even with one leg he's one of the best Tackles in College football. If he recovers Stocco's blind side will be safe as a T-Bone at a veegan convention. Opposite him is mosterous Sophmore Eric Vanden Heuvel. If that's not a Wisconsin name, I don't know what is. Vanden Heuvel is 6'7" 326 and still filling out. He backed up Joe Thomas last year but saw plenty of action. Vanden Heuvel is vulenerable. He's coming off a heel injury last year and as a youngster will make his share of mistakes. But he did beat out juniors Danny Kaye and Andre Weininger for the spot.
At Guard there is a lot of talent, but not a lot of experience. Two sophmores will start at interior line, Andy Kemp and Kraig Urbik. Urbik is seen as another destined for the pros prospect. He is the next link in Wisconsin's seemingly unending chain of gigantic sun blocking offensive linemen. Both top 320 and both saw action last year at both guard spots. Again, they are young and inexperiened. Between them will be junior Marcus Coleman who is transitioning to Center after playing everywhere the last two years. Spring ball was not kind to Coleman and he made his share of mistakes. Unfortunately there is no one after him. He'll either have to get it in gear during the fall or woe will befall the badger offense.
The new starting group is basically a majority of last year's backups. This year will be that weird transition year for the Badgers were there isn't a lot of depth (which is true) but next year and the year after the line will been sickeningly good. If the three sophmores on the line mature quickly this team will be successful. But injuries and mistakes could make this line a major sore spot for the season. Thomas and Urbik are very, very good. But they can't be everywhere.
Oh mama, that line looks good. Scary good. Quarterbacks should be very afraid. Linebackers are mostly new. Hmmm. Oh, the entire secondary returned. Is that good or bad?
Scaaaaaaaary. You can't talk about the Badger's Defense without talking about Junior DT Nick Hayden. Hayden is huge and fast. He routinely beat center guard combos and found his way into the backfield posting 9 tfl and 5.5 sacks. He's a great run stuffer at 31o lbs. Also at DT will be oft injured sophmore Jason Chapman. Chapman checks in at 280-290, but as a freshman posted 20+ tackles and 1.5 sacks. He's fast but undersized. If he hits the weights and the 'Bell he could turn into something special. Former all-world recruit Justin Ostrowski who has been injured even more than Chapman will be the primary backup. If healthy he could steal the starting job back. Undersized but rediculously quick Mike Newkirk will also see plenty of playing time. He racked up 3 sacks in limited playing time on quickness alone. This interior rotation will make running against this line nearly impossible up the middle. To top it off they'll be able to collapse the middle of the offensive line too. Be afraid. Very afraid.
Outside there is ability too. The penciled in starters are Senior Joe Monty and Sophmore Matthew Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy is the gem outside. 6'6" in the mid 200s. Wheels to burn, but is coming off a torn ACL. A bit undersized, but is growing into his frame. A pure pass rusher. Monty is another quick guy with a motor that never quits. Juniors Jamal Cooper and Kurt Ware are the main backups. Ware has see plenty of playing time and Cooper is fast but small at 200 lbs (torn ACL last year). Everyone listed has significant playing time from last year. An excellent pass rushing group, but won't be as strong against the run as their interior counterparts.
Inside, teams are in trouble. Outside, they've got a chance. But it's hard to run outside when you've gotta pull in four guys to block the DL's middle two.
Like Notre Dame, UW lost their top two linebackers last year, one of whom was UW's top tackler. But they still have all-name team MLB Mark Zalewski. While he bears no relation to the Auto Parts King who tried to shut down Callahan Automotive, he is a solid All-Big Ten candidate. Checks in at 235, posted 83 tackles last year, and hits like Ike Turner. Expect him to run wild with the DL in front of him. Joining him will be sophmores DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. Casillas is a converted saftey and Levy has had all kinds of injury issues including yanking his groin in spring practice. All three have speed, but again, depth is an issue.
Backing them up will be Senior Paul Joran and redshirt freshman Elijah Hodge. Joran is not bad, not great. Solid without being a standout. Hodge is a pure run stuffer. Loves to hit but needs to work on his coverage skills and not biting on the play fakes. They're competent backups, but you'd like to see more help at this position. At this point none is one the way. A quick look at UW's recruiting class for 2006 doesn't have a single LB commit.
Eventually, this should be a decent group. Not great. One star in the middle and a set of decent players. Inexperience and size will be a problem. Big TE's will love getting into the flats against this group. But, running against them will be a problem. Unless teams can exploit the pass coverage deficiencies, this will be a much more successful group than their paper stats would allow.
Phil Steele summed this group up the best. This is not a group with NFL level talent. Wisconsin's safeties are solid, but the Badger's young corners got torched from time to time last year. While they occasionally gave up the big one, they pulled in their fair share as well. Every one of the returning starters has at least two interceptions last year. Free Safety Roderick Rogers and CB Jack Ikegwuonu each had three. That ain't bad.
The heart and soul of the backfield is senior Joe Stellmacher. Stellmacher notched 90 tackles last year at SS. While not the fleetest of feet, he seems to always be in position. In addition he's 222 lbs and moves incredibly well for a guy his size. He's turning into a play maker and could see some pro time at LB. He is vulnerable over the top, due to his lack of top-end speed. At FS will be Roderick Rogers. Rogers spent the second half of the season turning heads by running all over the field tracking down poorly thrown balls and trying to stuff receivers' heads into the field turf. Fast and hits angry. Is however prone to being out of position, and while fast, didn't display that extra gear that could compensate for those errors. There is safety depth, Shane Carter and Johnny White will push for playing time and are solid fill ins if something goes down.
The corners are a cause for some consternation among the Badger faithful. The likely starters are a pair of sophomores Jack Ikegwuonu and Allen Langford. Langford is the known quality of the two. He's good/not great. At 5'11" he's not big enough to stack up with the giants or keep up with the freakishly fast. But he is good. You can put him on the No. 2 guy and expect a decent job. The player UW is crossing their fingers over is Ikegwuonu. 6'1", at nearly 200lbs. Though he isn't straight line fast, he does have that extra boost CB's need. Quick and physical. If he can jam WR's at the line, he'll own them. If not, speed can kill him. Both guys are young. Both guys have some skills. After them there is little to nothing. The main CB fill-in will be Senior Zach Hampton who didn't crack the starting line up last year. There is talent, but mistake prone talent. The size issue with Langford is also a concern.
However, with the DL these guys have you may see a more than respectable performance out of them. Pressure will help their cause. So will their performances in their last few games. This is a unit on the rise. However two questions remain, 1) how quickly will they realize their potential and 2) what happens if/when someone goes down. If either answer is unfavorable, the CB position could cost UW some games.
This will be a true strength this year. On returns, Randle El is extremely dangerous. Punter Ken DeBauche is one of, if not the best punter in the nation. PK and K Taylor Mehlhoff, had 35 TB's last year and went 14 of 20 for FGs. Mediocre until you consider 3 of his misses were from over 50 yards.
Field position is a big deal in football. The legs the Badgers' have on special teams are very very good and very very consistent. If games boil down to field position games, bet on the Badgers with this group.
Good defense. Bad Offense. All the points ride on Stocco's shoulders. He's going to have to do it with a young line and totally inexperienced skill positions. Wisconsin will nail the patsies like it should. But there isn't enough on the offensive side of the ball to challenge for the Big 11 Ten title. I'm thinking December bowl game.
Worst Case: 7-5
Like I said earlier, this schedule is example 1A of how not to schedule a season. Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego State, and Buffalo for your out of conference in inexcusable in the Big Ten. There isn't a single major conference team in there and that's reprehensible.
Now off my soapbox.
There's no way they don't win at least 7 games. The four above are guarantees. Then throw in Northwestern, Indiana and Illinois as victories. Minnesota and Purdue win close ones and Penn State, Iowa and Michigan throttle them. That's the worst case.
Best Case: 10-2
Everything clicks right, ten wins. Throw in victories over Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa. I don't think Wisconsin's got the horses to challenge PSU and UM this year. I'll just put that on the table. But, if the OL jells and a wideout steps up, they can win ten.
Most Likely: 9-3
The schedule's just too easy. I think the Badgers will beat Minnesota and sneak out a win versus Purdue or Iowa. With their schedule, I hope their not rewarded with a good bowl, but its possible. I'm thinking Alamo Bowl for the Badgers. Say "hi" to the Sun Belt for us.