Category: Badgers

Empty Seat Day at Camp Randall

M.D. Kittle:

There’s nothing quite like a Badgers home football game at Camp Randall Stadium in the crisp fall air.  

But Dane County’s stringent, slow, phased-in reopening plan doesn’t allow for the kinds of mass gatherings that University of Wisconsin-Madison home games attract. It could cancel the iconic events —  or at least drastically cramp the Camp’s style. 

The so-called Forward Dane  plan, really more of an order, laid out by Public Health Madison & Dane County, includes strict metrics for businesses to reopen and for Madison life to return to anything approaching normal. Even if the the COVID-19 reduction goals are met, the plan limits outdoor mass gatherings to 250 people maximum, not including employees, until a vaccine is found for the virus. 

That’s 250 people in a stadium that seats more than 80,000 rollicking fans. Closing Camp Randall would punch a huge hole through a significant source of revenue for the University of Wisconsin and its expensive athletic department. And it would sock it to hospitality businesses in downtown Madison and beyond, businesses that have already been hit hard by the Evers administration’s two-month lockdown of the state. 

“So many businesses in the Madison area — restaurants, bars, hotels, Uber drivers, you name it — rely on these Badger home games as a piece of their revenues,” said Scott Manley, executive vice president of Government Relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. “There’s a cottage industry built around entertaining people for Badger home games. If the UW isn’t allowed to have Badger home games, those businesses are just going to be destroyed.”

UW spokesman John Lucas in an email told Empower Wisconsin that the local order “does not apply directly to units of a state agency,” but the university will “continue to consult closely with the city and county as conference and university reopening plans continue to develop.”

Responding to a follow-up email asking whether that means the university will hold home football games this fall at Camp Randall, Lucas would not definitively say. 

“We’re continuing to work closely with PHMDC and will consult with them as more information becomes available about the shape of a football season,” he said. 

In the previous email, Lucas said UW Athletics is aware of the planning phases incorporated into the Forward Dane plan from Public Health Madison & Dane County as it relates to gatherings. He said UW-Madison participates in an ongoing partnership with local and state health authorities.

He said the Big Ten Conference is evaluating plans for a return to competition, “with the health and safety of student athletes and spectators as its most important consideration.”

There’s much at stake.

The UW-Madison athletics department generates a $610 million annual statewide economic impact, according to a study by Econsult Solutions Inc., a Philadelphia-based consulting firm. Badgers sports attract about 1.8 million out-of-state visitors to Wisconsin every year, the report, released last year, found. In Madison alone Badgers sports has an annual economic impact of nearly $400 million. 

“Obviously being as close as we are to Camp Randall, that has a huge affect on our fall business,” said Trevor Wilkinson, kitchen manager for Jordan’s Big 10 Pub, at 1330 Regent St., blocks away from the stadium. “We have high hopes that there will be football, but that is as out of our hands as can be at this point.” 

Mangers of downtown bars and restaurants who spoke to Empower Wisconsin Wednesday said they’re trying to keep up with local health information that is daily changing. Jordan’s Big 10 Pub, like others, is restricted to curbside service, for now, under the local health orders. Wilkinson said owners hope to bring back some dine-in service, with social-distancing limitations, next Tuesday. The loosening of the restrictions, of course, is subject to change.

The phased-in Forward Dane plan also could stifle Badgers basketball and hockey games. It limits indoor mass gatherings to 100 people maximum, not including employees — again, until there is a vaccine. Again, that could be a matter for UW and local government officials to iron out. 

Even in the best-case scenario,  pre-vaccine, restaurants, retailers and other Dane County businesses, will only be able to operate at 75 percent capacity. The plan asserts that, in the absence of a vaccine or treatment, “isolation, quarantine and, most notably, strict social or physical distancing such as public health orders like (Gov. Tony Evers’) Safer at Home” are the preferred method of containing COVID-19. While the creators of the plan acknowledge “the strictest of these prevention strategies” come at a “significant cost” to the economy and community, they are more than willing to turn the screw on an extended shutdown if COVID-19 numbers rise. 

“(W)e must not reopen too quickly or without the tools in place to minimize the speed of the virus. Doing so could threaten the progress we’ve made and have more significant health and economic consequences,” the public health policy states. 

A Dane County spokeswoman said she was seeking clarification from experts and would be in touch. She had not followed up as of publication. 

Manley said Dane County’s slow reopening plan puts businesses in peril of shutting down permanently. He said it underscores why it’s economically harmful to have local governments like Dane County create islands of anti-business public health orders.

“Businesses have to stay at 75 (percent capacity) until we have a vaccine, and we don’t know if we will have a vaccine,” the WMC official said. “For those types of businesses, particularly retailers, it’s going to be very, very difficult to remain in business.”

The Badger quarterbacks, such as they have been

The Wisconsin football team is known for its running backs and offensive linemen.
The Badgers are not known for their quarterbacks, perhaps because of what they are known for instead. (Nor are they known for their wide receivers, even though their pass-catchers include such NFL players as Al Toon, Nick Toon, Tony Simmons, Lee Evans, Chris Chambers and Brandon Williams, plus tight end Owen Daniels.)

The other thing the Badgers are known for is players that come out of nowhere to become star players, such as walk-on J.J. Watt. In fact, the Badgers have produced far more players on Watt’s level than they have succeeded with recruits highly rated by self-proclaimed recruiting experts.

24/7 Sports decided to spend time …

Looking back at how the top 10 highest-rated quarterbacks in program history fared during their careers at the University of Wisconsin.

Going over the list, there were three big outliers among the group. John Stocco (2002), Scott Tolzien (2006), and Alex Hornibrook (2015) were definite misses by recruiting industry standards.

Stocco checked in as the 22nd highest-rated quarterback in UW history. A low three-star prospect, Stocco was the No. 26 ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2002, per the 247sports composite. Stocco was a three-year starter for the Badgers and went 29-7 during his career, which saw him throw for 7,227 yards and 44 touchdowns.

Tolzien spent seven seasons in the NFL. A two-year starter, Tolzien went 21-5 and led Wisconsin to a Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl berth in 2010. That year, Tolzien had the most efficient season in school history, completing 72.9 percent of his passes for 2,459 yards and 16 touchdowns to just six interceptions.

Tolzien barely made the cut as a three-star prospect and was the No. 49 ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2006 class.

Hornibrook was a mid-three-star prospect and the No. 34 ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2015 class. His career didn’t finish at the way it started, but he could have been rated higher.

As a redshirt freshman, Hornibrook won the starting job by the start of Big Ten play in 2016. During his three seasons as a starter for the Badgers, Hornibrook went 26-6, including a 2-0 mark in bowl games, which includes the Orange Bowl win over Miami (FL). He threw for 5,438 yards and 47 touchdowns, but did have 33 interceptions.

Here’s how the top 10 quarterback recruits for Wisconsin in the 247sports composite era performed during their careers…

10. TYLER DONOVAN

Tyler Donovan is the only Wisconsin native to land a full scholarship from the Badgers as a quarterback in 247sports composite history.

The Arrowhead grad earned the starting job in 2007 and threw for 2,607 yards and 17 touchdowns. A dual-threat, Donovan also ran for 277 yards and five scores on the ground. That season, Donovan led UW to a 9-4 record and a berth in the Outback Bowl.

Donovan was the ninth-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2003.

9. DEACON HILL

Deacon Hill won’t arrive at Wisconsin until 2021. The Badgers got a very early commitment from the three-star quarterback last June. Hill had offers from Kansas State and Nevada before giving his pledge to Paul Chryst.

Like Graham Mertz before him, UW offered Hill before he was ever a full-time starter at the varsity level. Hill got the nod at Santa Barbara High School in 2019 and all he did was throw for 3,102 yards and 33 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

8. JACK COAN

The story is still being written on Jack Coan, but his first season as a full-time starter was a successful one.

Coan completed 69.6 percent of his passes as a junior for 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Statistically, you could argue Coan had the third-best season in school history behind Russell Wilson in 2011 and Scott Tolzien in 2010. Coan led the Badgers to a 10-4 record, a Big Ten West title, and a Rose Bowl berth.

Coming out of Sayville High School in New York, Coan was the nation’s No. 16 ranked pro-style quarterback per 247sports. He had other offers from Michigan, Miami (FL), Nebraska, and West Virginia among others.

Not on this list are two transfers — Russell Wilson, the best UW quarterback based on his single season after transferring from North Carolina State (his UW quarterback rating: 191.8), and Randy Wright, whose transfer from Notre Dame prompted coach Dave McClain to change his offense from the option to a pro-style offense. The result in Wright’s case was four winning seasons (which had never before happened in Badger history), three bowl games and the program’s first bowl win. The Badgers spent the next decade trying to replace Wright. Also not on this list is Darrell Bevell, who transferred from Northern Arizona to UW, quarterbacking the Badgers to their first Rose Bowl win and their third bowl win in team history.

What is interesting is that three quarterbacks on this list will be on this team by the 2021 season. (Which might be “next season’ depending on what further havoc the coronavirus does to this country.) The Badgers usually (including most of the quarterbacks on this list) have had what is derisively called a “game manager” on this list — someone told to hand off the ball without fumbling and complete safe, short passes.

Matt Zemek of USA Today thinks the Badgers should modify their approach:

If you have followed the past few months of Badgers Wire analysis of Wisconsin football, you know that Super Bowl LIV conveyed a very important message to Paul Chryst and the program at large.

We have discussed all the merits of UW football — the consistency, the dependability, the steadiness, the toughness, the time-tested approach cultivated and sustained by Barry Alvarez for decades. The coaches change, but Wisconsin keeps winning. The Badgers continue to be the best of the Big Ten West. They continue to play in important January bowl games. The program is in a good place. It has remained in a good place for quite some time. The program is doing well.

Yet, if Wisconsin ever does want to make the jump from very good to great — from the upper reaches of college football’s second tier to the very top tier in the sport — we know what has to happen: The Badgers have to be able to throw, and hit, the deep ball with regularity. It is the one true gap (or absence, or deficiency, whichever word you prefer) in the larger identity and profile of Wisconsin football in this golden era for the program, which is now almost 30 years old, dating back to the 1994 Rose Bowl win over UCLA, which got the party started.

This is why the use of Jack Coan and Graham Mertz in 2020 is such an interesting and important point of focus. We wrote about this point when explaining how Steve Spurrier used to juggle quarterbacks at Florida. We also wrote on a broader level about Wisconsin needing to have a Plan B when Plan A wasn’t entirely sufficient, chiefly against opponents such as Ohio State. Wisconsin could not hit the deep ball in second halves against the Buckeyes. The UW offense bogged down and wasn’t able to rescue itself with quick strikes against Ohio State.

How fitting it was, then, that in Super Bowl LIV, the Kansas City Chiefs — stymied by Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and the rest of the San Francisco 49ers — broke free from Bosa’s physical prowess by hitting the long pass. The Chiefs’ ability to finally hit deep balls ignited their fourth-quarter surge and led them to victory.

The 49ers had the most physically imposing team in the NFL this season. Green Bay Packer fans don’t need an explanation of that point. Much like the Nick Saban Alabama teams of the early 2010s, the 49ers were the team opponents simply couldn’t beat with smashmouth ball. The 49ers were the best embodiment of it, so opponents would not win by playing the same style. This is why Gus Malzahn of Auburn has had so much success against Saban: He hasn’t tried to beat Saban at his own game. One could say the same for Hugh Freeze when he coached at Ole Miss and beat Saban multiple times. They didn’t try to beat an opponent at that opponent’s foremost point of strength. They knew they had to use speed to counter Alabama’s brute strength. They knew they had to throw downfield to change the equation.

Yes, the Badgers do not have a Patrick Mahomes on their team. They once had Russell Wilson, but Russell Wilsons don’t grow on trees. To be sure, UW doesn’t have the superstar QB who makes it a lot easier to throw down the field. Nevertheless, against Nick Bosa of Ohio State and the rest of a fire-breathing defense, the Kansas City Chiefs changed the equation by hitting long passes.

Super Bowl LIV reminded Paul Chryst that if he really wants to beat Ohio State and take the next step as a program, completing deep passes has to be part of the picture.

The Badgers need to dig the long ball.

One wonders if, contrary to his claim, Zemek has ever watched UW football. At what point have the Badgers ever been a throwing team, let alone a team that dials long distance on a regular basis?

Why? Because the current approach has worked for sustained success. Since the 1993 season, the Badgers have had two losing seasons. The last time UW didn’t play in a bowl game was the 2001 season. They also have played in more Big Ten championship games than any other team, including even Ohio State. (UW’s six championship games are six more than Michigan, which must be making Bo Schembechler roll over in his grave.)

Being able to run the ball keeps the ball away from the other team’s offense. This more often than not works unless you’re facing a team that can score from anywhere (say, Ohio State), or stops the Badgers from running as they want (i.e. the four Big Ten championship losses), or if UW puts the ball on the ground or in the wrong hands too often (which is a formula for nearly team to lose).

Until the Badgers get a head coach from outside the current program, they will be a run-first and run-second program.

 

Someone call Matt Lepay and get him to announce this

Today was supposed to be the start (not counting the First Four games earlier this week) the NCAA men’s Division I basketball tournament.

ESPN’s Erin Barney and Seth Walder write about the March Madness that could have happened:

Oh, what could have been.

When the NCAA Tournament was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi released his final seeding and first-round matchups for the tournament anyway, and Badger fans got the bittersweet news that Wisconsin, according to Lunardi, would have been a No. 4 seed–the highest No. 4 seed, in fact.


ESPN has now taken things a step further and used its Basketball Power Index (BPI) to predict the outcome of each game all the way through to the championship round.
Their simulation, which considers “the relative strength of the two teams and the location of the game” for every single game in the bracket predicted that…Badger fans, brace yourselves … WISCONSIN could have been crowned NCAA champions, beating out No. 6 BYU for the rights to hang a banner in the Kohl Center.

ESPN’s Seth Walder, who put this exercise together, explained in his article that normally, BPI is used to provide probabilities of multiple scenarios.

“But here’s the thing,” Walder wrote. “Life is a single sim. The 2020 tournament was only going to be played once. And so that’s what this article is actually dedicated to: a solitary simulation of this year’s tournament. One-and-done, just like March Madness.”

The simulations resulted from a BPI run also don’t provide context, details, for how the wins or losses might have gone down, so in his article, Walder took some creative liberties.

The Badgers’ path to the trophy game, per this BPI simulation, involved crossovers with Marquette, Duke, Maryland, and more. Here’s a look at what could have been, according to Walder:

MIDWEST REGION ROUND ONE

No. 6 Iowa over No. 11 East Tennessee State

Just in terms of regular ol’ net efficiency, Iowa had the 24th-best offense in the country. But once we adjust for opponent and account for the tough Big Ten in which the Hawkeyes had to battle, it was the fifth-most efficient offense. And that’s what leads them to a blowout win in the first round of the tournament.

No. 3 Duke over No. 14 Belmont

As you can see from the championship projections, BPI was awfully high on Duke this season relative to general perception. Will that result in a championship in Sim No. 2020? It remains to be seen, but it did carry the Blue Devils to a first-round victory.

No. 7 Providence over No. 10 Arizona State

In a back-and-forth affair, Nate Watson‘s dominance inside against Providence’s Pac-12 opponent leads the Friars to a victory.

No. 2 Kentucky over No. 15 North Dakota State

Kentucky was maybe slightly overseeded as a No. 2 seed from a résumé standpoint — strength of record would have put the Wildcats at a No. 3 seed — but vastly overseeded from an ability standpoint as the 24th-best team in the country, per BPI. It’s irrelevant now — they beat North Dakota State just fine — but will it matter down the line?

No. 12 Liberty over No. 5 Auburn

Our first upset! Had Selection Sunday actually happened, I would have spent this entire week yelling from the rooftops that Liberty was an excellent underdog to pick. I promise, I would have! After all, we identified the Flames as the second-best 11-plus seed in terms of first-round upset potential a week ago, shortly before the actual tournament was canceled.

No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 13 North Texas

Both of these teams are among the 16-slowest pace squads in the country, but Wisconsin’s decent offense is a mismatch against a weak North Texas offense. The Badgers gradually extend their lead over the course of the game, which is never really in doubt.

No. 9 Marquette over No. 8 Houston

Marquette finished the season ice cold, with six losses in its final seven contests. But the Golden Eagles can take solace in the fact that BPI does not overreact to recency in college basketball. And they also have this going for them: Markus Howard. And on this day against Houston, Howard finally gets his first NCAA tournament win. Will there be more?

No. 1 Kansas over No. 16 Siena

A sloppy first half from Kansas draws some early concern, but the Jayhawks recover and pull away for the expected win.

ROUND TWO

No. 3 Duke over No. 6 Iowa

Vernon Carey Jr., the most productive player in college basketball this season on a per minute basis according to our win shares metric, leads the Blue Devils into the Sweet 16. And Duke is now a clear favorite to come out of the region because …

No. 7 Providence over No. 2 Kentucky

Another blue blood down in this pretty brutal Midwest region. Even though we think Kentucky is overseeded, the Wildcats are still almost three points per game better than Providence. That’s on average. Not today. Today, the Friars are moving on.

No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 12 Liberty

The Flames had their moment, but they won’t reach the second weekend. They hung tough with the Badgers and kept the scoring margin within single digits, but Greg Gard’s defense helped keep Liberty from ever making a late charge.

No. 9 Marquette over No. 1 Kansas

And Kansas falls! Markus Howard is flying now and he and Marquette are having the tournament that Golden Eagles fans hoped for a year ago. And just like that: Udoka AzubuikeDevon Dotson and the rest of the Jayhawks are done.

SWEET 16

No. 3 Duke over No. 7 Providence

Duke is coming into its own this tournament, and playing much closer to what a typical Blue Devils team looks like than the one that played this regular season. They look like one of the best teams in the tournament and making the committee feel foolish for slapping a No. 3 seed on them. Providence is a casualty as a result.

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.

No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 9 Marquette

“Wouldn’t this be something: an all-Wisconsin showdown in the Sweet 16,” Walder wrote of this happenstance.

He added some thoughts on what the win might have looked like for the Badgers: “Wisconsin is favored and … just like that, Markus Howard and Marquette’s Cinderella run comes to a screeching halt. Nate Reuvers records a couple of key blocks down the stretch as Wisconsin’s defense comes through again.”

ELITE 8

MIDWEST: No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 3 Duke

It’s not the National Championship game, and it’s only a simulation, but still–sweet, sweet revenge.

Walder’s guess was that it would have been a gripping game, too: “D’Mitrik Trice knocks down a 3 at the horn to put the Badgers over the top and win by one … they’re going to the Final Four!”

EAST: No. 4 Maryland over No. 7 West Virginia

The mighty Big Ten is now 2-2 in the Elite 8, and is guaranteed a rep in the national championship game. [Anthony] Cowan and [Jalen] Smith lead the way again, and West Virginia just can’t keep up with the Maryland offense. The Terps win by 10 and cut down the nets.

WEST: No. 6 BYU over No. 12 Yale

And the Bulldogs’ run is finally over. They took down some goliaths but ultimately it was an underrated No. 6 seed that got the best of them. Childs got the better of Atkinson at both ends of the floor and, as a result, the Cougars are moving on to Atlanta.

SOUTH: No. 6 Virginia over No. 5 Ohio State

The title defense is very much on. Two years ago, the Cavaliers were knocked out as a No. 1 seed in the first round. Now they have a national championship under their belt, and back-to-back Final Fours … at least. It’s an incredible accomplishment for a team that has, in BPI’s estimation, the 220th-best offense in the country. Tony Bennett’s stock is flying higher than ever. UVA completes a bizarre looking and utterly shocking Final Four made up of two No. 4 seeds and two No. 6s. But in a strange season for college basketball, maybe this is what we should have expected.

Mercedes–Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

FINAL FOUR

No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 4 Maryland

The Badgers and the Terps met just once during the regular season, and it ended in spectacular, game-winning-3 fashion. Wisconsin and Maryland have also only met once before in the NCAA Tournament (in 2002) and it ended in a resounding 30-point win for the Terps.

Walder saw this one going more like that first scenario–pretty much exactly like that first scenario.

“Maryland falls behind early but makes a late run and pulls ahead in the final minute. But in the final seconds, history repeats itself: Brad Davison knocks down a 3 to put the Badgers up at the very end, just as he did when these two schools played in January.”

No. 6 BYU over No. 6 Virginia

The UVa offense finally held back the Cavaliers. Hot starts by [Yoeli] Childs and Jake Toolson put the Cougars ahead by double digits at the half, and Virginia struggles to fight its way back into it. While BYU’s run to the finals was also incredibly unlikely, it was actually slightly more likely than Wisconsin’s, though both were just over 2%. Now, the Cougars are very slight favorites to win the national championship.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 6 BYU

Walder noted that despite the Badgers’ chance at winning the championship sitting below 1 percent heading into the tournament, they came out with the greater win probability in each individual matchup and indeed, won the dang thing.

“It’s a team effort, but Nate Reuvers leads Wisconsin with 16 points,” Walder guessed. “Gard is lauded for getting his group to play their best when it mattered the most. This is a team that did not begin the season in the AP’s Top 25 and only barely cracked it in the last set of rankings. Not that any of that matters, because the Badgers are now (simulated) champions!”

So someone had to create this:

Imagine the celebration …

… at the UW Varsity Band Concerts …

… which also aren’t taking place this year.

 

Who’s in first?

As predicted Wisconsin men’s basketball season fell apart after the departure of guard Kobe King.

To quote from the 1980s: Not (Or “Psych!”) other than the “as predicted” part.

To the contrary, as Jake Kocorowski reports:

The Wisconsin Badgers can accomplish something special on Saturday.

With a win against Indiana, UW (20-10 overall, 13-6 Big Ten) can clinch at least a share of the regular season conference crown. It already has locked down a double-bye in the upcoming Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis next week, but the Badgers’ 63-48 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday has given the program a chance to finish atop the league’s standings.

After all this team has gone through in the last year, to be within a game of earning the Big Ten regular season title, what does it mean to junior Brad Davison?

“Aww man, it’s a blessing for so many reasons,” Davison said after the win against Northwestern. “Going back to the summer, going through the season, just how our team stuck together and (has) really come together and now we have an opportunity to play for the Big Ten regular season title. That’s why you come to school at Wisconsin. That’s why we all wanted to put the W on our chest, to have these sort of opportunities.

“With what we’ve been through, just makes you appreciate the moment and appreciate the opportunity, appreciate the relationships with your teammates and your coaching staff. And man, it’s something that we’re really looking forward to and something we don’t take for granted. I think that’s kind of the biggest thing that we’ve learned over this year — don’t take anything for granted, especially a moment, and an opportunity like this. Because like I said, this is why you come to Wisconsin — to compete for championships in the Big Ten and in the national tournament. We put ourselves in a position to do that, and now we just go out there and take it.”

As of Thursday morning, Wisconsin, No. 16 Michigan State and No. 9 Maryland hold a three-way tie for first place. …

The Badgers will have their hands full [Saturday] with a Hoosiers squad trying to secure an NCAA Tournament berth. Indiana (19-11, 9-10) and its fans will likely have Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall rocking this weekend.

Just to be in position for a share of the title is a huge accomplishment given where the Badgers’ season appeared to be headed after King’s departure and Davison’s one-game suspension before a huge home game against Michigan State.

MSU coach Tom Izzo was critical of his own team after the Badgers’ 64–63 win, but said, “As disappointed as I am with our performance and a little embarrassed. I am happy for (Greg) Gard. I am a coach’s coach. We got our a– kicked by a team playing for their coach.”

Ryan on Bobby

One of the great early-generation players in UW hockey history was Bobby Suter, a small yet fierce defenseman who played on the Badgers’ 1977 national championship team and the 1978 Frozen Four team.

That’s how Badger fans know Suter, the second most penalized player in UW history, and the most penalized defenseman in UW history. (He also set a record by getting five points in a period in one game.)

Everyone else in the hockey world knows Suter as a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice.

Ryan Suter (who is second place in UW freshman-season penalties) knew Bobby Suter as Dad:

Red, gold and green

This is not an attack of ’80s music nostalgia.

This is about Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl trip for New Year’s Day — the 10th in UW’s history, but the seventh since Barry Alvarez arrived on campus — and the Packers’ upcoming playoffs.

Each seems to not entirely impress people. The Badgers lost twice to Ohio State (whereas everyone else the Buckeyes played until Clemson lost just once) and had a bad loss to Illinois. No other UW Rose Bowl team had a bad loss on their schedule, except the 1994 (Minnesota), 1999 (Cincinnati), 2010 (Michigan State), 2011 (ditto) and 2012 (five of them) teams. The list does not include the 1998 Badgers, who nonetheless were so unimpressive to ESPN’s Craig James that he called them the worst team to ever get to the Rose Bowl … which then made them the worst team to ever win a Rose Bowl, I guess.

UW in fact never seems to impress anyone because of its traditional plodding style, except perhaps for the Russell Wilson season. When Paul Chryst was UW’s offensive coordinator, the Badgers ran the same plays, but they were much better disguised. They appear to have gone backwards with Chryst as the coach for some reason. Jack Coan hopefully won’t be the quarterback next season (once Graham Mertz is off his redshirt), but there really is no game-breaking receiver on the roster, including Quintez Cephus. On the other hand, Chryst is so far undefeated in bowl games, so whether fans like the style or not, the substance is a lot of wins. (Remember, no one complains about boring winning offenses.)

The thing about the Rose Bowl is that it’s not just about football. The UW Marching Band is in Pasadena for the first time with new director Corey Pompey.

Pompey appears to have made improvements without getting rid of the important things.

The second Bucky vs. Ducky Rose Bowl matchup features the Big Ten’s second best team (which is playing longer than its champion is) against a team that surprised most football observers by upsetting Utah, a team thought to be in contention for the College Football Playoff, in the Pac 12 championship game. The Ducks are 15th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring offense, while Wisconsin is 10th in scoring defense. Wisconsin is 22nd in the FBS in scoring offense, while Oregon is eighth in scoring defense. However, most observers seem to believe the Big T1e4n is a better conference than the Pac 12, which struggles to have a CFP-worthy team and in fact hasn’t had one the past couple of seasons.

This will probably be the key: UW is 14th in rushing offense, while Oregon is 10th in rushing defense. Oregon is 43rd in rushing offense, while UW is eighth in rushing defense. That favors Wisconsin, unless the Badgers put the ball on the ground.

Speaking of unimpressive yet successful, there are the Packers, which had to overcome a 17–3 halftime deficit to beat the Lions on (once again) a game-winning field goal Sunday. That makes the Packers the number two seed for the upcoming NFC playoffs, giving the Packers a week off and a second-round home game against Philadelphia (which beat the Packers on a tipped interception), Seattle or San Francisco (which hammered the Packers in Santa Clara) in round two Jan. 12.

At the risk of grandiose predictions, this team sort of reminds me of the 2010 Packers, which needed to win their final two games of the regular season to get into the playoffs, and then had to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl. Teams with struggling offenses and relatively stout defenses (though there was much complaining about this year’s defense for the number of points they gave up in wins) tend to win games like Sunday’s.

The converse is the 2011 Packers, which were an offensive machine on the way to a 15–1 regular-season record, only to lose at home in their first playoff game. You’ve heard the phrase offense wins games; defense wins championships. (A more amusing take comes from former Vikings coach Bud Grant, who observed, “Defense wins games; offense sells tickets.”)

The NFC frankly is not that good this season, which makes one think any of the six playoff teams could get to the Super Bowl. Yes, that includes Green Bay. The Packers also could lose their first playoff game.

 

Postgame schadenfreude, Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts edition

Minnesota kind of ruined Wisconsin’s football season and the final home game of UW Marching Band director Mike Leckrone by beating the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium one year ago.

Well, you know what payback is.
We begin with Megan Ryan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Rashod Bateman’s eyes shimmered. Tanner Morgan’s voice hitched.

But Winston DeLattiboudere looked like he always does: upbeat.

The Gophers had just left the TCF Bank Stadium field Saturday drenched with sweat and melted snow, disheartened from a 38-17 defeat to border rival Wisconsin. This loss didn’t just lose them Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the bragging rights that go with it. It lost the Gophers a chance at their first Big Ten Championship Game and likely their first Rose Bowl since 1962.

Bateman and Morgan, as sophomores, have two more opportunities to reach that goal and more. DeLattiboudere is done, just a bowl game left a long month from now before the final grain of sand in the timer of his college career falls.

Yet the underclassmen were visibly dejected, guilt heavy on their shoulders. They felt personally responsible for letting a close game — they trailed by three points at halftime — escalate into a blowout loss.

“My job was to go out there and play every snap as hard as I can for them because I just wanted to see them go out with a bang,” Bateman said of the seniors. “But we failed at that.”

DeLattiboudere, though, was doing exactly what players in this senior class have done their entire careers and especially this extraordinary season: leading.

“I’m overcome with emotion,” DeLattiboudere admitted, saying seeing his mom about to cry after the game nearly got to him. “But I feel like the young guys — everybody else in this senior class knows just as well as I know — that they look to us, that they’re going to mimic our behavior, our actions. And right now, it’s OK to be upset. We’re human beings. But we’ve got to keep our head held high because we’ve got one more game to play.”

They could have had at least two. All the No. 8 Gophers (10-2) had to do was beat No. 12 Wisconsin in front of a sold-out home crowd of 53,756 to keep their goals of a conference title, Rose Bowl or even College Football Playoff appearance still intact.

For about three minutes, the Gophers held those in their grasp. The defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense scored a 51-yard touchdown pass from Morgan to Bateman on the second play to take the early lead.

But that was the last time the Gophers commanded the game. Even when DeLattiboudere forced a fumble that Carter Coughlin recovered, Morgan threw an interception into double coverage on the resulting possession. Wisconsin used that takeback to score its first points, a 26-yard field goal.

From there, it was pretty much an onslaught. While the Gophers statistically achieved their goal of limiting Wisconsin’s potent rush and Heisman Trophy running back Jonathan Taylor, it wasn’t enough. The Badgers spread their 173 rushing yards between players, and Taylor still scored twice. Quarterback Jack Coan also exceeded expectations, completing 15 of 22 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns while producing several explosive plays, including his longest 70-yard pass.

The Gophers, meanwhile, couldn’t find their balance. They allowed a big kickoff return to the 39-yard line that set up a score that put the Badgers up two touchdowns in the third quarter. The Gophers then trekked through an arduous drive, only to turn the ball over on downs just outside the end zone. Wisconsin turned that into a touchdown, too.

Morgan endured five sacks, one where he coughed up the ball at the 18, gifting the Badgers another fourth-quarter score. A third-quarter field goal and consolation 12-yard touchdown catch late in the game were the only other Gophers points.

Morgan finished 20-for-37 for 296 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He set the record for single-season passing yards at 2,975, Bateman took the single-season receiving yards record at 1,170, and Tyler Johnson tied the Gophers’ record with 31 receiving touchdowns.

But those records didn’t make Wisconsin chopping down the goalposts any easier to witness. Nor did it soothe the ache of disappointment at not playing in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title next weekend.

That was the game story. The dump-on-them-while-you’re-down comes from sports columnists — for instance, the Strib’s Chip Scoggins:

They were two steps behind in the biggest game of their lives. In physical talent and in coaching decisions. That’s how it felt watching the Gophers slosh through a moment rich in hope.

They looked skittish on the big stage. Overmatched. Every move and matchup countered by a checkmate.

This was a loud thud, considering the stakes. A chance to win the Big Ten West and turn remaining skeptics into believers. A sure ticket to the Rose Bowl, at a minimum. Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Poof. Gone. In the worst possible way.

The Wisconsin Badgers left no doubt which side boasts the superior team in the 129th meeting of border rivals, putting a 38-17 thrashing on the Gophers in a snow globe at TCF Bank Stadium.

“We did not play well enough to win the Big Ten West today,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not a good enough team to win the Big Ten West this year. We weren’t good enough to win the Big Ten West today.”

Problem is, football isn’t a best-of-five series. There aren’t do-overs in a one-game judgment. The team that plays the best gets the trophy and reward.

The Badgers claimed the West title and will play Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis next Saturday. The Gophers must wait to learn their bowl destination, knowing they had history at their fingertips and failed to grab it.

It’s wrong to call any 10-2 season a failure, especially at Minnesota, which is new to this neighborhood of relevance. The Gophers will still play in a desirable bowl game in a warm-weather locale. In time, people will reflect on this season with positive memories and potentially as a turning point for the program.

But this is about today, the present. Their season had a chance to be special, which is why this clunker should bring supreme disappointment.

The Gophers held a two-game lead in the division with three games remaining and failed to close the deal. They were sloppy in a loss at Iowa. And they were smashed by the Badgers. Two quality opponents, two poor performances.

One win would have guaranteed their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1962. The buzz locally reflected that hope. More people invested emotionally in the program. This is a kick to their shins, though Fleck tried hard to soften the blow.

“Let’s not start thinking, ‘Well, that’s typical [Gophers],’” he said. “That has to be out of our system. There are going to cynics, there’s going to be doubters and critics. But the true fans, what we want them to do is get that completely out of their mind because we are not going back to that.”

Big picture, sure, the program is on the right path. The season established different historical achievements. But that doesn’t mean people can’t or shouldn’t feel frustrated, or question why they performed so poorly with everything at stake, or fume over coaching decisions.

Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, the Gophers had a chance to make a statement, but Fleck went ultra-conservative. On third-and-2 from the Badgers’ 35, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca called a Wildcat run for Seth Green, who was stuffed for no gain.

On fourth down, Fleck opted to punt. From the 35. With two of the best receivers in college football and an accurate quarterback on his side.

Fleck defended his decision, saying he wanted to manage field position and believed two yards was too risky. His lack of aggressiveness felt deflating.

The Badgers, meanwhile, went for it. They played with their foot on the gas the entire game. They exploited matchups and mistakes and dominated both lines of scrimmage.

The Badgers dug into their bag of tricks and repeatedly pulled out gold. Trickery on a kickoff return netted 56 yards. They scored a touchdown on an end-around. A screen pass on third-and-long went for 70 yards.

– after a timeout, no less — and settled for a field goal.

It was a baffling performance in many regards, but the overarching difference was unmistakable: The Badgers were physically better, and they were ready for the moment. They deserved the mad dash to reclaim the Axe.

The Gophers left the field quietly, the scene and mood in stark contrast to the raucous celebration after their upset of Penn State three weeks ago. Anything felt possible that day. A division title. A trip to Pasadena. Heck, maybe even a spot in the College Football Playoff.

What a buzzkill.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Bob Sansevere adds to the buzzkill:

The Gophers finished the regular season with a 10-2 record. It’s not as impressive as it looks.

Just one of their 10 wins had you go, “Wow!” The victory over Penn State, and that’s it.

The Gophers lost to Iowa a couple of weeks back and were routed 38-17 Saturday by Wisconsin, crushing dreams, hopes, aspirations, etc., of this being a spectacular season.

“It comes down to making plays, and we just didn’t make them,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.

On a day when there was sleet and snow and a flurry of big plays by Wisconsin, the Gophers lost because the Badgers were better and because they still haven’t figured out how to handle success.

Handling success is a huge step in the maturation of a team. The Gophers experienced success in beating then-No. 4 Penn State on Nov. 9. That win wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t program-altering, either. After a 9-0 start — where they stood after Penn State — the Gophers lost two of their last three games.

Over their dozen games, the Gophers roused a fan base and injected excitement into a program that has been mostly average for the past half-century. Fleck and his players deserve a hearty clap on the back for that, but, really, what did they do on the field that was extraordinary?

There were fun wins and memorable performances from the likes of Tanner Morgan, Rodney Smith, Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman, Antoine Winfield Jr. and others. There were some stirring moments Saturday, too — such as a 51-yard touchdown pass from Morgan to Bateman on the U’s second play from scrimmage.

After that, they were outscored 38-10. Even as the score became more lopsided, they didn’t fold like a cheap bingo chair. They kept trying, kept battling. What they didn’t do was rally.

The Gophers were good this season, just not good enough. They offered snapshots of what could be throughout the season, lifting their profile by spending the past several weeks nationally ranked.

It’s nice, being ranked among the best teams in the country, but if the Gophers are measured the way established, successful programs are measured, they fall short.

There will be no trip to Indianapolis to play Ohio State for the Big Ten Conference championship, no Rose Bowl as a consolation, no more talk of possible greatness.

The Gophers beat nine of the teams they should have beaten and added a signature win against Penn State. Then lost to their two biggest rivals.

You can bet many Gopher fans will applaud the season, but that’s more because of how rare such seasons have been. If you’re under the age of 60, the Gophers have reeked for most of your lifetime. They haven’t played in the Rose Bowl since 1962.

This was the year to do it, to accomplish more than a 10-win season. There was no Ohio State, no Michigan on the schedule. Next season, Michigan and Michigan State will be there, along with Iowa and Wisconsin.

“We have the capability to be whatever we want to be,” Fleck said. “We just accomplished nevers, firsts, restorations. We have older (fans) thinking we can go back to the Rose Bowl. We’ve restored belief in what we can be and what we will be.”

He mentioned several times the Gophers were co-champions with Wisconsin in the Big Ten’s West Division because they have the same record, but that’s not quite the case. He also talked up the 10-win season and every other positive he could muster. It was Fleck being Fleck.

“This is not just the end-all, be-all (game),” he said.

Fleck is a good coach, there’s no denying that. While he and his staff failed to make the right decisions and adjustments in the losses to Iowa and Wisconsin, he will recruit better players than the Gophers have had in years, continue to spout his “row the boat” mantra and likely keep the Gophers above .500 throughout his tenure.

He might even get them to a Big Ten championship game someday. It’s just too bad it wasn’t this year — The Year That Could Have Been.

The Associated Press looks at the revenge theme:

When Minnesota beat Wisconsin last year to stop a 14-game losing streak in the series, the Gophers had much to celebrate.

The Badgers, as it turned out, didn’t appreciate the lengths of the revelry that took place across the border over the past year.

After Wisconsin took back Paul Bunyan’s Axe on Saturday with a victory as decisive as Minnesota’s was last season, the Badgers didn’t hold back in expressing their disdain for the way the 71-year-old traveling trophy was handled by their oldest rival.

”We just felt like they disrespected the axe by renting it out to people,” linebacker Chris Orr said, lamenting the ”everybody can touch it” opportunities that Minnesota staged over the last year at various venues, from the stadium to the state fair. ”It means more than that. People played this game for a very long time. It means more than that. It’s not a commodity or something that you can just rent out for money or whatever the case is, trying to make profit off it. I feel like that was disrespectful. They didn’t honor the players that came before.”

The Badgers avenged their 37-15 loss at home in 2018 with a 38-17 victory, overwhelming the Gophers in the second half with a fierce pass rush and strong pass coverage on defense and sharp play-calling and back-breaking long gains on offense.

When the game went final, a swarm of white-uniformed Badgers converged on the west goal post to perform the ceremonial chopping. With 22 wins in the last 25 years of the most-played series in major college football history, the Badgers have a 61-60-8 edge on the Gophers. Paul Bunyan’s Axe didn’t enter the picture until 1948.

”The worst feeling in the world was losing on our own field and having them take it,” Orr said. ”The best feeling in the world is beating them on their home field on senior day and taking it from them.”

The Gophers not only ended the long losing streak last year, but they became bowl eligible on the final try to end coach P.J. Fleck’s second season with a flourish, beating the Badgers at their own game with a powerful performance on both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage. With a team that hasn’t finished in first place in the Big Ten since 1967, in front of lagging attendance, the university naturally seized the opportunity to renew some statewide pride in the program.

Fleck was asked earlier this week about complaints by the Badgers about the offseason Axe tour.

”That wasn’t a rub in anybody’s face,” Fleck said. ”There’s people who are very emotional when they had it. We had people rent it out all over. It was at weddings, anniversaries, parties. This year it’s Minnesota’s. That’s what rivalry trophies are. That’s why they’re so passionate. If Wisconsin wins it, they get to share it with whoever they want to share it with. It’s Wisconsin’s. When Minnesota wins it, they get to share it with whoever they want to share it with. It’s Minnesota’s that year. It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t just our players’. It was the state of Minnesota’s. For me, I wanted people to be a part of our football program, to invest more in our football program, see we can do things. It wasn’t like we were holding it out the window driving through the entire state of Wisconsin. That would be showing up. But sharing with our in-state alums, donors, boosters, supporters, I think that’s culture, tradition. I think that’s what the point was.”

Either way, the Badgers have it now.

”It’s going to sting for a little while,” Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan said. ”That’s football. You’ve got your highs and you’ve got your lows. This is obviously a low for us, but our team will respond. I can guarantee you that.”

I agree with The Cap Times!

The former editor of the newspaper formerly known as The Capital Times, Dave Zweifel:

The much-maligned sculpture dubbed “Nails’ Tales” has disappeared from its spot at the corner of Regent Street and Breese Terrace, one of the gateways to Camp Randall and the old Field House.
While some praised it as a piece of art that did what art should do — draw attention and provoke comments and discussion — most amateur art critics couldn’t have been happier when it was removed. They considered the $200,000 sculpture an eyesore that, instead of depicting the strength and virility of Badger football, looked more like a cob of corn or a phallic symbol.

It has been replaced, although across the street on city property, with a 10-foot-long sculpture of Bucky Badger created by the late Harry Whitehorse, the acclaimed Ho-Chunk sculptor and painter from Monona. He created the life-like Badger so it could be touched and sat on by people who came to see it.
We were talking about that at a luncheon the other day, when Joe Hart, who spent much of his newspaper career on our sports staff, including as sports editor, piped up.

Wouldn’t it be fitting, he said, if the UW would commission and install a statue of one of the football program’s greatest heroes who, unfortunately, seems to be largely forgotten? A kid from Lancaster, Wisconsin — Dave Schreiner.

He indeed was a hero, not only on the Badger football field, but in World War II, where he gave his life in the battle of Okinawa, only a few weeks before the Japanese surrender.

After graduating from Lancaster, Schreiner became one of Badgers football’s most revered players. He was a two-time All-American at end (he played both offense and defense), and was named the 1942 Big Ten Most Valuable Player. As a co-captain of that team, he led the Badgers to an 8-1-1 record. The loss was to Iowa, 6-0, and the tie was with Notre Dame, 7-7, while the big win was over number-one ranked Ohio State.

Following the ’42 season, he joined the Marines and two years later found himself in the Pacific Theater as a lieutenant and company commander in the Marine regiment that was fighting to clear the island of Okinawa of the Japanese.

After he had left to join the military, he was picked as a second round 1943 draft choice by the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately, at age 24, he was shot by a sniper after his unit had been part of the victorious last battle on Okinawa.

Schreiner’s career with the Badgers and the following horrors on the front lines during World War II are detailed in the outstanding book, Third Down and a War to Go, written by Terry Frei — the son of Jerry Frei, one of Schreiner’s teammates on that storied ’42 team.

“In that era you had to be multi-faceted and he was tough and clever,” the author noted. “Most important of all he was a leader by example. Others tended to follow in his wake.”

Camp Randall, of course, was the training center where young Wisconsin men were stationed before being sent to the front lines to fight to preserve the Union during the Civil War.

What an appropriate place to permanently remember a young man who represented everything that is best about Wisconsin football.

Zweifel, a retired Army National Guard colonel, is absolutely correct. It is unlikely to happen, of course, in this era in which, depending on which college student you ask, this country is either no different from any other country or the focus of all evil in the world, any reference to the military glorifies war, and students cannot possibly fathom the idea of sacrificing their own lives toward something more important than they are.