Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections and predictions

Good 1st year for the blog. I have to say I am very satisfied and it has pretty much provided exactly what I was hoping for, a nice way to track all the things I am right about all the time. We'll just ignore that "O'Brien is better" post. Pretty sure someone hacked the blog and posted that for me.

On to my last Badger football predictions of the year. I started this exercise to track my gambling abilities and this is probably too small a sample size to make any grand generalizations. I am a woeful 1-3-1 on the over/under this year, but a much better 4-1 against the spread for an overall record of 5-4-1. Stanford is a 6 point favorite, and the o/u is 47.

2 teams that have had a lot of success recently as both have played in 3 consecutive BCS bowls. UW has struggled to score against good defenses, and I expect that to continue. The question is can UW stop Stanford's offense, and not give up any big plays on special teams. I hope they can, but I'm taking Stanford -6. At this point I should just stop picking the o/u and cut my losses, but I'll do one more just for the purpose of this exercise. Bowl games tend to give the offense the advantage as they have prep time to put together unscouted looks and trick plays so I'm taking the over.

If anyone knows of a good sports gambling website let me know (by good I mean that they don't charge a ton for the juice and that you can cash out easily).

Friday, December 21, 2012

History may not repeat, but it rhymes..

Weird fact. In 1997 the Badgers played Boise State, which had just jumped to Div. 1-A. The Badgers played them a week after getting destroyed by Donovan McNab and Syracuse. Despite that loss, the Badgers were five touchdown favorites, as Boise State was coming its own humiliating defeat—a 40 point loss to Div. 1-AA Cal-State Northridge. Boise State basically beat the Badgers, but the Badgers pulled it out on a late TD drive punctuated by two long Mike Samuel runs. I recall listening to the game on the radio in the old State Street apt.

Boise State was coached that year by Houston Nutt. After the season ended, he headed to Arkansas....

This year the Badgers played a similar game against Utah State. This time it was the Badgers' coach who headed to Arkansas, and it is the Badgers who are snapping up the upstart's coach.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My thoughts on Andersen

Like Chorlton, I'm optimistic. More and more, college football is a game of recruiting. Andersen's recruiting success at Utah State is pretty amazing. He took a moribund program that was way, way behind two established in-state programs (BYU and Utah) and started beating them out for recruits. That's kind of unbelievable. I have a hard time believing that any big time recruit is getting out of Wisconsin with Andersen on board.

Couple other nuggets on Andersen, courtesy of some Wikipedia research:

1) He is the first coach the Badgers have ever hired who has previously taken a team to a bowl game as a head coach. And he's been to two, and won one. (Of course, there are a lot more bowl games nowadays, but still.)

2) He is the first coach the Badgers have hired since 1932 (the great Clarence Spears!) who has won a conference title with a previous team. Spears led Minnesota to a first-place tie in the Big Ten in 1927.

(Slight caveat to nugget #2: Don Morton technically won the Missouri Valley Conference title with Tulsa in 1985. But he went just 3-0 in conference, as it was the last year of MVC football. He went 7-4 the next year with Tulsa playing as an independent, and then the Badgers hired him. Unbelievable.)

Some of the Badgers fans I enjoy following on twitter are quibbling about whether this was an A- or a B+ hire. I don't think we can grade with that level of detail. I prefer the famous Siskel & Ebert system—thumbs up or thumb down? My thumb is up. To look at it another way, I think it's pretty clear that by any objective standard this is the best hire in the history of the Badgers' football program—or at least since 1932.

And now to Andersen

I'll keep this one short since there's just not much to go on yet.

I'm optimistic. He has a good track record of success. He recruited his own state very well despite having 2 better schools to compete with.

I don't like that he has run systems different than what UW has had success with. He has run a spread offense, and a press man defense. I know Badger fans will probably love to see a change from the soft zone the Badgers have run for the last 20 years, but they have had a lot of success with that defense. Who knows what he will run once he's here. The proof will be in the pudding.

If he doesn't work out, Paul Chryst may be available in 3-4 years.

Why Arkansas?

Seeing Bret go was not nearly as shocking as where he went. A coach with as much success as he had was bound to get better opportunities. I guess when I imagined him leaving, it was for a better job than Arkansas. Perhaps that is why some fans felt so scorned. If your girlfriend leaves you for someone who is better looking, younger, and makes more money it hurts, but at least it makes sense. Had Bielema gone to a school like Florida I would have understood. Hurt, but not hurt and confused.

Arkansas is a good program and has several advantages over UW. They have more money being number one. Arkansas has an alumni donor base including the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that will throw money into the program. That means Bielema gets over a million more per year, and he can pay his assistants much more than UW would pay. That money also allows for top notch facilities that can be constantly updated due to the never ending flow of cash. UW is not a poor school when it comes to football. Bielema probably could have got a new contract from UW for more money after 3 Rose Bowls, and UW just finished a new locker room and upgrades to the facilities. Still, money is an advantage.

Recruiting may be easier there as well. Arkansas is not a state that produces tons of in-state talent. ESPN's recruiting site shows that both WI and AR have about the same number of recruits that get 2-4 stars, about 15 this year. The schools Arkansas will be competing against like Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia all have more than 15 players who are 4 and 5 star recruits in-state, and dozens more 2-3 star kids. Perhaps proximity is an advantage. Arkansas is closer to the hotbed of southern talent than WI, so they may be able to pull in some of that top tier talent from those states UW never had a chance at. Playing in the SEC, which will soon claim the conferences 7th straight national championship, can't hurt recruiting either.

When Bielema talked to his players about leaving, they said he was leaving because he wanted to win a national championship. This was taken as a slight against UW by some of his players and certainly by Alvarez who responded by saying that UW was arguably 2 hail mary plays from being in the national championship game last year. UW has also had 4 other seasons with only one regular season loss in 1993, 1998, 2006, and 2010. Now, a win in any of those seasons wouldn't necessarily have got UW into national championship consideration, but it shows UW wasn't that far either.

As an aside, I hear fans criticize UW sometimes about not going for a national championship. For example they criticize UW for not scheduling better non-conference opponents because UW will not have a good enough strength of schedule to make the BCS championship playing patsies. These people are idiots. UW is not Ohio State, Alabama, or USC. Just look at the stats about in-state recruits and you can see UW does not have the natural resources to compete for a championship year in and year out. Why schedule Alabama when you may be struggling to make 4-4 in the Big Ten. It's also impossible for UW to predict when they are going to have a chance to make a national championship run. Many of their great runs have come when they started the year unranked. It's not that UW won't ever win a National Championship, (the coming playoff system gives them a better chance) but they should not be judged by that level of success, nor should they base their program around that goal. I would argue that UW has had the level of success it has had because they have created a system for success within their limitations, and not shooting for the stars. More on this another time.

So why did he go? Money? Championship? Maybe some of both?

I think he'll find them, but not at Arkansas. I am predicting that Bielema will not finish his contract out at Arkansas, and this will be a stepping stone job until he can get a job at a big time program. He gets to take over a talented but underachieving 4-8 team at a school that has been pretty good over the last decade. He gets out from under the shadow of Barry Alvarez, and can prove he can win without him. If he has a couple 10 win seasons and pulls an upset or 2 against LSU or Alabama, he will be moving on to a Florida State type program and 5 million a year if the NFL doesn't lure him in.

Former Badgers in the News

Suzy Favor Hamilton. It's not what you'd expect.

UPDATE: Ms. Favor Hamilton has a twitter feed. It's worth reading.

Goodbye Bret

I have been one of the few Bielema defenders over the past several years, at least amongst my friends. Pretty much from the start fans just didn't like him. When he went 12-1 in his first season, finished ranked 5th and 7th in the polls (after being unranked until the 7th week of the season), and won the Capital One Bowl it was because he did it with Alvarez's players. When he followed that up with a 9 win season (5-3 in Conference) it was a disappointment because the team started the year ranked #7 after the 12-1 season. When he went 7-6 in year 3 and almost lost to Cal Poly, people wanted his head. A 10 win season capped with a bowl win didn't seem to buy him much good will in 2009.

After each of the last 3 seasons in which UW has gone to the Rose Bowl I have gloated endlessly over the Bielema haters asking them if UW should fire him now. To my laughter I continually heard them continue hating. He needs to win a Rose Bowl and not just get there they said after TCU. He can't win the big game they said after Oregon. UW can't win a close game and they don't deserve to to be there they said this year.

I honestly don't get it. The media reported about his prickly personality, and locals have told me the guy is an asshole. Who cares? None of the fans I know who called for his firing knew him personally, were upset by his media interviews, or even noticed when he ran up the score against coaches he didn't like. How many successful football coaches aren't assholes?

To the haters who are happy he is gone, I have just a few numbers.

UW has had 8 seasons of 10 or more wins in it's history. Bielema had 4, Alvarez had 4.

While he won't coach in this year's Rose Bowl, he joins only 2 other coaches in Big Ten History to lead their teams to 3 straight Rose Bowls, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler are the others.

That's pretty good company to be in with.

I will miss you Brett. I wish you the best at Arkansas, and thank you for the many joyful wins you helped create over the last 7 seasons. At least until UW gets matched up with Arkansas in a future bowl game. Then you can go fuck yourself.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Back by popular demand

I would like to thank the loyal readers of this blog (both of them) for needling me about the lack of blog posts recently. A combination of the bowl game break, finals/Christmas break for basketball, and a nasty cold have held me back, but I will be back in full force soon.

A blizzard is coming tomorrow and my work has already been canceled, so I will be posting my thoughts on our dear departed football coach, and his successor, in between shoveling.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

End of an Era

In my ongoing series of deceptive post titles I will not be addressing the UW coaching vacancy. I have a much more interesting topic from tonight's basketball game.

The Badgers won their 2nd consecutive blow out tonight after the Virginia debacle. In both those wins they have played much better defense, and pulled away easily in the first half after allowing only 24 to Cal and 13 to Nebraska-Omaha. I'm sure part of this is the ass kicking I'm sure they got in practice after the Virginia loss, and the caliber of their opponents. I would argue a bigger part is the end of the switching era.

As I discussed in my previous post, Bo changed to a defensive strategy of switching on ball screens a couple seasons ago. After the Virginia game switches have been minimal. Bigs are falling off the screens to give help if the dribbler goes to the rim and to guard against the screener rolling. The on ball defender is going over the screens and staying with the dribbler. This is leaving the screener wide open, but so far it has not done any damage. If the badgers play against a big that can shoot from outside then this may need adjustment. It will be interesting to see if Bo stays with this strategy, or if he changes to let his big men hedge on the screens which puts more pressure on the dribbler but can leave the screener open on the roll. In any case I think the end of the switching era is a good move. It fit for UWs past teams, but not this one.

I have always liked the idea of teams that can switch defenses, as a change of pace to throw off other teams. Bo does not believe in this and is strictly a man to man coach. Even more than that, Bo has had his guys play screens one way all the time too. Maybe he will change back and forth from switching to hedging depending on the matchup, but my guess is he will stick with a system that has worked for him for decades, and who can blame him.

It will be interesting to see if the defensive improvement is due to the inferior opponents, the fact teams were unprepared for the change in defense, or if this defense works for them the rest of the season.

Bye bye, Bret.

Bielema to Arkansas.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Worst Team Ever to Play in the Rose Bowl?

Noted idiot Craig James infamously labeled Wisconsin's 1998-99 squad "the worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl." The common charge was that the Badgers were actually the third-best team in the Big Ten—behind co-champs Ohio State and Michigan—and got to play in the Rose Bowl only because of an obscure, stupid tie-breaking rule. Wisconsin and OSU did not play that year, and Wisconsin was awarded the Rose Bowl because Michigan and OSU had been to the Rose Bowl more recently.

Wisconsin was a 10-point underdog against UCLA in that 1999 Rose Bowl Game (which Mr. Chorlton and I attended). UCLA had gone a perfect 8-0 in the Pac-10 and was headed to the BCS national championship game until a season-ending, non-conference 49-45 loss to a weak Miami team (which itself was coming off a 66-13 loss to a mediocre, Donovan McNab led Syracuse squad). UCLA was led at QB by future Chicago Bears failure Cade McNown, and it could score. But it could not defend. It was soft, like a marshmallow.

Enter Ron Dayne. He absolutely destroyed the UCLA defense, running for ridiculously easy touchdowns of 7, 10, 22, and 54 yards. Jamar Fletcher made the play of the game, picking off an awful McNown throw and returning it 46 yards for a touchdown.

Alluding to Craig James's comment, after the game Barry Alvarez quipped, "Well, I know we're at least the second worst" team ever to play in the Rose Bowl.

In hindsight, the hyperbole about the Badgers being a bad team that year looks silly. They had a number of great players, including notably Dayne and Fletcher. Other than a close win on the road against Indiana, the Badgers handily destroyed all the bad teams they played. They had two nice wins against Purdue (led by Drew Brees, who went 55 for 83—both NCAA records) and Penn State. Their only loss was on the road to Michigan, which went on to clobber Arkansas in the Citrus Bowl. Ohio State won the Sugar Bowl handily. The Big Ten was actually good that year. And the Badgers went back and won Rose Bowl again the next year, negating conclusively any notion that the 1998 team was a fluke.

The 1998 team is relevant because the Badgers are against going to the Rose Bowl under a cloud of controversy. They got to the Big Ten Championship game with four conference losses, on what might be reasonably considered a technicality. It appears that they got the best possible draw in Nebraska, which has a terrible run defense. A few weeks ago I said here, after the OT loss to Michigan State and the news of Stave's season-ending injury:
It's still likely that the Badgers will stumble their way to the Championship game. But their odds of winning it went way down. And, if they do, they may actually be the worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl this time.
By one objective measure, the Badgers clearly are the worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl: they have five losses, more than any other team ever to play in the game. I haven't researched it, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's never been a four-loss team in the Rose Bowl. [Update: three teams have played in the Rose Bowl with four losses: Washington (6-4) in 1964 (lost to Illinois); Washington (7-4) in 1978 (beat Michigan); and UCLA (6-4-1) in 1984 (beat Illinois). So the three worst teams to play in the Rose Bowl are actually 2-1 in the game.]

That said, a strong case can be made that this is the best five-loss team ever. Three of the five losses were in overtime, and the other two were by three points. Two of the overtime losses came in what were essentially exhibition games after Wisconsin had already clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship game. Wisconsin had nothing to play for in those games, particularly not in the final game when they could no longer claim the meaningless divisional "championship." In the brutal, physical game of football, the slightest lack of commitment is nearly impossible to overcome. So in my book those losses carry an asterisk.

We know now that the Badgers were keeping some tricks up their sleeves. They were clearly saving Melvin Gordon for when he was really needed. They were resting Chris Borland, who is probably the best player on the team. With something big to play for, against a quality opponent, with everything on the line, the Badgers brought the house and won by forty points. 40.

Early lines have the Badgers as 6.5 point underdogs against Stanford. Stanford is a very good team that plays Big Ten football. They have the best run defense in the nation, and they shut down the high-flying Oregon Ducks.

But Stanford's resume is not overwhelming. They have two losses, one of which was in overtime to No. 1 Notre Dame. But the other loss was to Washington which has lost, ahem, five times this year. And two of their wins were in overtime (against Oregon (impressive) and Arizona (not so much)). They also had their Northern Iowa moment in the season opener, when they beat San Jose State by just a field goal. (San Jose State is decent, it turns out, but they lost to Utah State by 22.)

All told, Stanford is an impressive team, and they will probably beat the Badgers. But I will be surprised if it's by more than six points. And I won't be at all surprised if the Badgers again prove themselves to be at least the second-worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Am I going Crazy

I have read several articles and blogs that have discussed UWs defense in the OSU game because it was both unconventional for UW, and because it was so successful against Braxton Miller. For whatever reason, they all keep referring to the defense as a 4-2-5 as if it is some sort of new innovation in defensive scheme. UW tends to leave 3 linebackers on the field even against spread teams to stop the run and take advantage of their talent in Borland, Taylor and Armstrong. Since Borland was out injured against OSU, UW made changes to cover his loss.

Again today on Tom Lea's blog on ESPNwisconsin I saw this defense referred to as a 4-2-5.

That's nickle defense. Why aren't they calling it nickle. There is nothing new or special about it other than UW doesn't use it as much as everyone else. Am I missing something here?


Those Vegas guys know their stuff. Last week was a push on the o/u as the game hit it on the nose at 45. That leaves me at 1-2-1 on o/u, and I took my first loss to fall to 3-1 against the spread. 4-3-1 overall.
This week Nebraska is a 3 point favorite, and the o/u is 49.
Badgers are a hard team to figure out this year. 5 losses, 4 of them by 3 points, and 3 in overtime. 4 blow out wins vs lesser Big Ten teams, but they needed end of game defensive stands to get wins at home vs Northern Iowa and Utah State (although Utah State turned out to be a pretty good team). 3 different starting quarterbacks, 2 different offensive line coaches, and several different offensive line combinations due to injuries. An offense that averaged in the 40s the last 2 years has scored over 38 just once all year.
I like the Badgers defense the last several weeks, and it looks as though Borland will be able to play. The D line is as healthy as it has been all year, and Shelton Johnson (who didn't play in the first game) and Southward have been good on the back end since Johnson returned.
My head is telling me that Nebraska is a better team and the best team usually wins, but the better team doesn't always win. Nebraska had some key injuries on both lines against Iowa, and I feel that those losses may be hard to fix in one week. The gut is telling me this game comes down to a field goal again, which given UW's special teams doesn't bode well for them.
I was hoping the spread would be higher and I was quite surprised to see UW as only a 3 point dog. If the spread was 2 1/2 I would take Nebraska, but the 3 point cushion gives me enough wiggle room to go with my gut, and take UW and the points. I have a strong feeling that this game will be a push. After all, those Vegas guys know what they are doing. I'll take the under again this week as I like Bucky to play good defense and try to hold the ball as much as possible.