December 2011 Archives

The Voice: Don't forget about the defense

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgFor years, many have said only half-jokingly that those who run the Tournament of Roses are far more interested in the Rose Parade than the game itself.

To be sure, through the years the hundreds of thousands of fans who have made the trip to Southern California have made every effort to take it all in. From Disneyland to Santa Monica Pier to Colorado Boulevard, it is all a part of the Rose Bowl experience. For the players, that includes the always popular Lawry's Beef Bowl, when we find out who can down the most red meat at one sitting.

That is all fine and dandy, but those who know their Rose Bowl history also are aware the game itself often produces high drama. I believe we may very well see more of the same next Monday.

Just take a look at Wisconsin's history in Pasadena. The victories have been one-score games. Last year, the Badgers were a deflected pass away from forcing overtime. Close games are not an annual occurrence, but they have happened enough to add to the magic of a game played in a stadium that has as beautiful a setting as any in college football, if not all of sports.

Outside of the BCS title game, you can state the case the Wisconsin-Oregon matchup is the most intriguing. Yes, the Fiesta Bowl with Stanford and Oklahoma State will be a fun watch, as well, but the Badgers and the Ducks are two teams that score a ton of points in different ways.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema likes to control the ball. His team led the Big Ten in time of possession and scored 44.6 points a game. Ducks boss Chip Kelly apparently could not care less about time of possession. In that statistic, his team was dead last in the FBS. It did OK anyway, averaging 46.2 points per game.

However, it would be a mistake to label this as an "Old School vs. New School" matchup. Without a doubt, Kelly thinks outside the box. The same can be said of Bielema. Kelly has a history of trick plays -- against Stanford, the Ducks ran a fake PAT, with the TIGHT END throwing for a two-point conversion.

Badgers running back Montee Ball is 2-for-2 as a passer, with one of those completions going for a touchdown.

Other than that, Bielema has kept the trickery to a minimum this year, but on his radio show last week, the coach reminded listeners that there is one more game to play. Hmmmm.

I would guess by now that players on both defenses are sick and tired of hearing about how the Rose Bowl scoreboard operator might be the hardest working person in the stadium.  I have to admit I am one of those who figures it will be a fairly high scoring tussle, but I have seen enough football to understand that a couple of defensive plays can make all the difference.

The 1999 Rose Bowl between Wisconsin and UCLA comes to mind. It was an offensive showcase.  Ron Dayne ran wild. The teams combined for 1,035 yards of offense. However, two plays that I always will remember are Jamar Fletcher's interception return for a touchdown and Wendell Bryant's sack that sealed the victory.

The 2012 Rose Bowl has two of the nation's top four offenses. It is fair to expect big plays from Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and company. The same goes for LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas, among others.  Do not forget the special teams. Thomas has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis has one punt return for a score.

But don't forget about the defenses. In what might be a shootout, the defense that can come up with just one more big play could determine who is holding up the trophy.

Wish Upon a Badger: A special day with one of UW's biggest fans



It's a very common sight at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison to see large men decked out in red roaming the halls and paying visits to children who are there seeking treatment for various conditions.

It may be the time of year for Santa Claus to visit the hospital, but the men in red I'm talking about spend most of their time visiting patients during the football season. Each week, a number of players from the Wisconsin football team choose to give some of their time to some of their smallest -- but most passionate -- fans.

However, when one of those fans can leave the hospital to pay the Badgers a visit, it's even more special. That was the case earlier this season with Nelson Happel, a 7-year-old from Madison whose appearance at Camp Randall Stadium was a great sign of success in his battle against Nueroblastoma, a cancer of the brain.

Sandwiched between what doctors believed to be a successful surgery and the last of many week-long stays at American Family Children's Hospital, Nelson paid a visit to a Badgers practice.

Photos: Wish Upon a Badger - Nelson Happel

Nelson was already familiar with a number of Badgers from encounters during their visits to the hospital, including his favorite player, sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.

After meeting head coach Bret Bielema and taking behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium and the team's facilities -- where he was reunited with another familiar Badger, senior punter Brad Nortman -- Nelson was introduced to the team and received a special gift from Abbrederis himself.

After getting to know the Badgers, Nelson and his father, Gary, had the opportunity to watch the team's win over South Dakota that Saturday from a suite at Camp Randall. Since then, things have continued to look up for the aspiring football player.

Just last week, Nelson's doctors declared him to be cancer free.

Now the young lefty can focus on working toward his dream of playing quarterback for the Badgers.

Speaking as someone who did his best wide receiver impression for Nelson that day at practice, If his arm strength at age 7 is any indication, I like his chances.

The Voice: Passion isn't always conveyed in public

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIt is the holiday season, and in college football, 'tis the season to hire head coaches. At last count, there are 25 Football Bowl Subdivision schools that have, or will have, new coaches going in 2012. Keep in mind there are 120 schools in the FBS.

Perhaps a job description could read as follows:

Wanted: Head Football Coach

Job Requirements: Win your opening press conference, win lots of games, keep the NCAA investigators away, beat our arch rival on a regular basis, recruit players who go to class and stay out of trouble, win conference championships, be a dynamic public speaker, and win bowl games.

Qualified applicants can expect an excellent income, but you might want to rent rather than buy a home. If it looks like you are struggling, we might have to let you go after two years.

Good luck.


Win the opening press conference? What does that mean?  

It seems many school presidents, athletics directors and hiring firms are really into people who immediately wow an audience, be it a group of media members or boosters. I keep hearing a coach who wins the press conference is a coach who shows passion.

I certainly understand that having a presence is important. Barry Alvarez has a presence. Bret Bielema has a presence. It helps.

They can coach, too, and is that not the idea here?

In the last few years, Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has been in the mix for a few head coaching jobs. On Thursday, after deciding he'd found the right fit, he accepted the top job at Pittsburgh. On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Chryst had interviewed the previous day.

Later in the story, the writer mentions that Chryst "is not considered a dynamic personality."

It is not the first time someone has described Paul Chryst in such a way. What is part laughable, yet insulting, is that there are those in school administrations who assume a more flat-line individual is someone who lacks passion.

Sometimes I think we overuse the word "passion." Being animated on the sideline or in a news conference could mean you have great passion. It also might mean you are an attention-starved blowhard.

To me, passion is defined in a very simple way -- what are you doing to make yourself and your team better when nobody is watching?  There are no TV cameras and the stands are empty. Preparation equals passion.

This is where folks like Paul Chryst shine. He loves football. He loves working with players and coaches. He enjoys preparing for a game, from the position group meetings, to video study, to the work on the practice field.

Is he the type who will wow the fans with his first news conference?   Maybe not, but is that really vital in determining whether someone can lead a football team?  

I should add that media members who cover UW football on a regular basis seem to like and respect Chryst. When you get to know him, you will find that he is pretty honest. At times he can be rather blunt, and he also can be pretty darn funny.

People seem to wonder whether Chryst can handle all the duties that go with being a head coach, from boosters and increased media obligations to dealing with issues that will be plopped on his desk.

I say the answer is yes.

To Panthers fans, I can offer you this -- if you are looking for someone who will parachute from a small plane, all in an effort to promote the spring game, someone such as Paul Chryst might not be your choice.   

But if you want someone who is a terrific coach, a terrific family man, and is as grounded as any football person I have ever known, you won't find much better than Paul Chryst.

And no, I am not his agent. I just happen to be a big fan.
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UW center Peter Konz was more "curious'' than "anxious'' about his scheduled doctor's appointment Thursday with a foot and ankle specialist in Charlotte, N.C.

Konz has missed three games since dislocating his ankle Nov. 12 at Minnesota. While he was able to take some "positive steps'' during Tuesday's practice, he wants to know the skinny on his injury.

That's why he's getting a second opinion from Dr. Robert Anderson, who has been a consultant to a number of professional baseball, basketball and football teams, including the Green Bay Packers.

Anderson attended the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee -- hence his Cheesehead connection -- and has served as an assistant team physician for the NFL's Carolina Panthers.

He's also a founding member of the Foot & Ankle Institute at OrthoCarolina.

Put it this way -- Konz's way -- his ankle will be in good hands.

"He's a specialist so he's going to be able to tell me things from his experiences,'' Konz said. "He's going to tell me whether I can strengthen my ankle or if I'll need surgery.

"He's going to tell me if it's good to be practicing on my ankle -- that type of thing -- and if I do have to have surgery maybe it doesn't have to happen until after the season, so I'll be good to go.''

Konz added, "He'll help me make a decision.''

He then stressed, "I want to make sure I'm not doing anything to worsen my condition.''

In his heart, does Konz believe that he will be playing in the Rose Bowl?

"In my heart, yes,'' he said. "But I definitely have to be as healthy as I can.''

That relates to his potential effectiveness against an opponent like Oregon.

"If I'm not healthy,'' he said, "I'm not going to do anything (to help the offense).''

Konz took part in Wednesday's practice at the McClain Center, though his work to this point has been limited to individual drills on a weighted sled and conditioning.

Before leaving for Carolina, he has a final exam in "Wildlife Diseases'' which is an elective. "And a much more interesting class than I thought it would be,'' he said. "We have a lot of guest lecturers.''

The topics range from avian botulism to rabies.

Konz loves thinking outside of the box (not just the tackle box, either).

"That's what I do,'' he said. "I want to take the unbeaten path because there are a lot of great classes here that I don't think a lot of people explore just because they don't know much about them.''

Konz can understand the reservations that some of his teammates may have.

"Especially during the football season because you don't want to go out on the limb,'' he said. "What if this class is really hard? What if the professor won't work with my schedule?''

That's critical in terms of balancing a commitment to academics and athletics.

Each semester, Konz will check out available electives -- "I want to make sure it fits with my electives and everything I need to graduate'' -- and he will opt for what sounds interesting.

"If I'm interested in something,'' he said, "then I'm likely to do better in it.''

A couple of years ago, Konz recalled, "I said to myself, 'I want to read some classics.' So I took a class on Dante's Devine Comedy.''

How many All-American offensive centers can quote from Dante Alighieri's epic poem?

This might even leave Mel Kiper Jr. speechless.

"This year,'' Konz went on, "I said to myself, 'I want to be a little more religious.' I wanted to explore that side of myself so I took a class on early Christian religion.''

Konz has also taken a course on "Japanese art'' because "I really enjoyed my Roman art class -- I just love Italian culture being an Italian myself.''

When asked if he minded being labeled "eclectic'' he responded, "I do like that word actually.''

When reminded that jocks tend to be stereotyped, he laughed.

"I agree. It's easy to fit into a stereotype,'' he said.

At that moment, the post-Tuesday practice interview session was interrupted when the UW drums corps -- which had taken over the McClain facility -- began playing.

If ever there was anyone who marches to a different ...

Konz laughed again.

Reflecting on 2011: 'Hello, Russell Wilson!'

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The hype started in earnest on June 27 when Russell Wilson announced that he was transferring from NC State to Wisconsin. A three-time All-ACC performer, Wilson was seen as the missing piece to the Badgers' championship puzzle.
 
It didn't take long for those who watched UW's practices in August to realize that Wilson was the real deal. However, doing it with a green non-contact jersey on in an empty stadium is a far cry from delivering in front of a sold-out crowd at Camp Randall Stadium.
 
And his debut wasn't just another game, it was a Thursday night, prime time affair to kick off the college football season on ESPN.

If he had any pre-game jitters, it certainly didn't seem that way as Wilson led the Badgers 65 yards in just over three minutes on their opening possession and capped it with 4-yard TD pass to Montee Ball. But it wasn't until late in the second quarter that Wilson truly put his stamp on Wisconsin.
 
UW got the ball on its own 44-yard line with 1:37 left in the half looking to add to a 27-3 lead. After a 10-yard pass and an incompletion set up second-and-10 at the UNLV 46, Wilson dropped back to pass but couldn't find anyone open.

He took off up the middle and cut to his right to avoid a defender at about the line of scrimmage. He got a great block from Nick Toon at about the 25-yard line, cut to the sideline and used his speed to burst towards the end zone. Jared Abbrederis was locked up with a UNLV defender at the goal line and Wilson tiptoed the sideline into the end zone.
 
As the "Voice of the Badgers" Matt Lepay said, "Hello, Russell Wilson!" It was a great introduction to a player who would go on to re-write the UW record book.

Game Recap: For starters: Badgers run off Rebels in rout, 51-17

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Lucas at Large: Back stateside, Leuer ready to realize NBA dream

MBB_110629_Leuer_Jon_NBA.jpgThere were some "anxious'' moments for Jon Leuer -- the 12th-leading scorer in school history -- while Wisconsin was holding off Milwaukee, 60-54, on Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Arena.

Seated behind the UW bench, Leuer was anxious to see his former team in action. "This is my first experience watching the Badgers live; I never saw them when I was in high school,'' Leuer said,

Recruited out of Orono, Minn., it was a long commute to the Kohl Center. But he never regretted his choice. "I learned a lot from coach (Bo) Ryan on how to be disciplined,'' he said.

It's a much shorter commute -- on N. 4th Street -- between The Cell and the Bradley Center. While enjoying the reunion with his old teammates, Leuer was anxious to join the Milwaukee Bucks.

"I'm just waiting for my contract in Germany to clear FIBA (the International Basketball Federation),'' said Leuer, a second-round selection (40th overall) of the Bucks in the June draft.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the NBA lockout, Leuer signed in early August with a German professional team -- Skyliners Frankfurt -- in the Basketball Bundesliga.

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, made sure that there was an opt-out clause in his contract so that Leuer could return to the states once the labor dispute was resolved and the lockout was ended.

"It was looking gloomy for awhile,'' Leuer admitted of the negotiations which threatened to cancel the entire season. "But my agent kept me informed of what was going on the whole time.''

On Nov. 26, the NBA and the NBA Players Association reached a tentative agreement.  On Dec. 8, the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified.  On Dec. 9, the NBA training camps opened.

On Dec. 15, Leuer signed a two-year deal with the Bucks and practiced for the first time.

"The first 10 minutes I think I was a little nervous -- just kind of the 'Wow' factor, your first NBA practice,'' Leuer said. "But after that it was just basketball. I settled in and I just played the game.''

Bucks coach Scott Skiles was impressed with what he saw out of Leuer. Speaking to the local media corps following the workout, he said, "He's a smart player; he's got good defensive instincts.''

Skiles didn't sound surprised, either.

"Obviously playing where he did in college (Wisconsin) he has been well-coached,'' he said. "Watching his team in Frankfurt, you can tell that they were well-prepared; the coach did a good job.

"Coupled with (the fact) he's a smart player anyway, you wouldn't have been able to watch practice today and pick him out as the guy who just showed up. He got involved with everything.''

After missing the team's first six practices, Leuer does not have any personal timetable. "Right now the only thing I'm focused on is working hard in practice and trying to earn minutes,'' he said.

Leuer does have a reference point for development. As a true freshman, he appeared in 32 games for the Badgers. He had an auspicious Big Ten debut with 25 points at Michigan.

For the most part, though, he was anchored to the bench and got limited playing time. Especially during the final two months of the conference season.

"I know it's tough for a rookie (in the NBA) but it was the same thing I faced as a freshman,'' he said. "Nothing is given to you -- you have to earn you minutes. That's the same mentality I have now.''

Leuer believes that his exposure to pro basketball in Germany will help his transition with the Bucks. "I definitely got better playing with a 24-second clock,'' Leuer said.

There was a "home away from home'' feel to Skyliners Frankfurt, too. One of his teammates was former Northwestern guard Michael (Juice) Thompson. "It was good to have a connection,'' Leuer said.

Leuer played in 10 games and averaged 15 points and eight rebounds in the German League. Justin Gray (Wake Forest) and Jermareo Davidson (Alabama) were also on the Frankfurt roster.

"It was definitely good competition,'' Leuer said. "I'm glad that I went over there because I got to play against other professionals.

"You're playing in a system against other teams that are trying to work their own systems and you're not going to get that in open gyms.

"It was not only a good experience from the basketball aspect, but I learned about being a professional athlete. It's like, 'This is your job and this is all you have to work on -- your game.'''

Besides growing out his hair, Leuer has added some weight to his 6-foot-10 frame. "I'm a few pounds heavier,'' he said. "It's something that I've wanted to improve on -- getting a little stronger.''

Although the Bucks signed free agent Mike Dunleavy Jr. -- the 31-year-old former Duke star -- Leuer wasn't sure how the 6-9 Dunleavy's presence would impact his status, if at all.

Dunleavy is expected to be utilized as a back-up shooting guard and small forward. Leuer recognizes that he can't worry about how the pieces are going to fit into the Bucks' puzzle.

All he can control is how he works and practices.

"I feel like I can come in and knock down some shots and space the floor out,'' Leuer said. "It's a good situation and I'm glad to stay in Wisconsin. The fans have been great to me.''

After his first practice, he admitted, "Ultimately, this is where I really wanted to be. It's been my dream ever since I was a little kid to play in the NBA, so I didn't want to let this opportunity slip away."

AP awards highlight Badgers' All-America additions

FB_111215_Ball_Montee.jpgWith awards season ongoing in college football, All-America teams continue to be released by media outlets and other groups. It's no surprise to see junior RB Montee Ball's name headlining several of those lists.

Ball added to his list of All-America awards with first-team nods from SI.com, Pro Football Weekly and Phil Steele. Carrying the most weight, however, was Ball's spot on the Associated Press All-America first team, an honor he shared with senior RG Kevin Zeitler.

Ball has been named a first-team All-American on nine major lists and was a second-team selection to the Walter Camp All-America Team, which includes just one running back each on its first and second teams.

Zeitler added a first-team selection by Pro Football Weekly this week, matching his selection by both the AP and the American Football Coaches Association. He also was named this week to Phil Steele's second team and was an honorable mention by SI.com.

Also earning first-team All-America nods was junior C Peter Konz, who was tabbed by both SI.com and Pro Football Weekly. He also was named to the AP second team and was a third-team pick by Phil Steele.

Senior QB Russell Wilson also earned a third-team nod from Phil Steele to go along with an honorable mention by SI.com.

The same went for sophomore LB Chris Borland and sophomore WR Jared Abbrederis -- who was recognized as a punt returner -- as both earned honorable mention from SI.com.

Wisconsin's 2011 All-Americans

Jared Abbrederis, So., WR/PR
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Montee Ball, Jr., RB
- First team, Associated Press
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, Football Writers Association of America
- First team, CBSSports.com
- First team, ESPN.com
- First team, SI.com
- First team, Yahoo! Sports
- First team, Pro Football Weekly
- First team, Phil Steele
- Second team, Walter Camp Foundation

Chris Borland, So., LB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Peter Konz, Jr., C
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, CBSSports.com
- First team, SI.com
- First team, Pro Football Weekly
- Second team, Associated Press
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports
- Third team, Phil Steele

Russell Wilson, Sr., QB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports
- Third team, Phil Steele
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Kevin Zeitler, Sr., RG
- First team, Associated Press
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, Pro Football Weekly
- Second team, Walter Camp Foundation
- Second team, CBSSports.com
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports
- Second team, Phil Steele
- Honorable mention, SI.com

The Voice: Here's to cheering for the common good

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The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgSome of the pundits have mentioned it already, and it is best to assume there is more on the way. They are saying that this is a very important bowl season for the Big Ten.

Two years ago, the conference performed well in the postseason. Wisconsin was among the winners with an impressive showing against Miami in Orlando, but in the months that followed, the big news was the announcement that Nebraska would join the Big Ten.

Even though the games were still a year away, the Huskers' story seemed to overshadow a good holiday season for the league.

Last season, the Big Ten went 3-5 in bowl games, with Jan. 1 being an especially tough day. The conference went 0-5, including the Badgers' 21-19 loss to TCU. While the result was disappointing, the game was highly competitive, unlike Michigan and Michigan State's performances in the Gator and Capital One bowls, respectively.

The marquee win came from Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but of course that became tainted with the Buckeyes' NCAA violations.

Fair or unfair -- and one can make an argument either way -- a conference's image is formed by postseason play. How the teams fare in September non-conference games can help too. While there were some exciting finishes, such as Michigan's rally to beat Notre Dame, and Illinois holding off what most thought at the time was a very good Arizona State team, the Big Ten was lacking in signature victories.

Which leads me to suggest something that might be difficult for Badgers fans to do, but I will give it a try. It is never a bad idea to root, root, root for the home team, which in this case means the Big Ten Conference.

What? Lepay is asking me to pull for Michigan State? Is he nuts? (in keeping with the holiday spirit, don't answer that). Why would I care whether Michigan or Ohio State wins?

I understand what you might be thinking. Sports, especially college football, are about cheering for your team and the heck with everyone else. That goes double for rivals.

But hear me out. If Michigan can beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, and if the Spartans can take care of Georgia in the Outback, it looks good for the Big Ten.

Nebraska draws South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. For one day, Wisconsin fans can root for the Big Red of Nebraska to defeat Steve Spurrier, aka the "Ball Coach."  

It sure would be a boost if Iowa can slow down the high-powered Oklahoma Sooners in the Insight Bowl.

The list goes on and on. The conference is sending a record 10 teams to bowl games this year, and while some are more under the radar than others, the more the Big Ten can win the better.

That certainly is true for the bigger stage games. Once again, the Badgers have the biggest stage by playing Oregon in the Rose Bowl. For the first time this season, it appears Wisconsin will be a decided underdog. I kind of like that. Think of what a Badgers victory would do not just for them, but for the league.

Understand, I grew up in Ohio, so rooting for Michigan is not exactly in my blood. But for now, I say "Go Blue!"

There is a genuine rivalry between the Badgers and Michigan State, but on Jan. 2, I say "Go Green! Go White!"

Is this crazy? Maybe, but the Big Ten is a proud conference that must be getting a little tired of being a punching bag to critics. I know fans in these parts are weary of the all the SEC love.

There is one way to change it. In the next few weeks, each of the ten Big Ten teams in bowl games will have a chance to do its part.

Then, on Sept. 29, 2012, when the Badgers open conference play at Nebraska, feel free to return to your regularly-scheduled dislike for everyone else in the league.

Ball headlines Badgers named to All-America squads

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Three more All-America teams were announced over the weekend and, not surprisingly, Badgers junior running back Montee Ball earned a place on all three.

Ball, who finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports.

The nation's leading rusher can add those distinctions to the recognition he had already earned on the American Football Coaches Association, CBSSports.com and Walter Camp All-America teams.

In addition to Ball's first-team nod, the Badgers' offensive line duo of guard Kevin Zeitler and center Peter Konz were named to Yahoo! Sports' All-America second team, while senior quarterback Russell Wilson and sophomore linebacker Chris Borland each picked up third-team honors.

Both Konz and Zeitler earned spots on the AFCA All-America squad last week, as well, while Zeitler has also been honored by both Walter Camp and CBSSports.com.

Ball not only was a Heisman Trophy finalist, but also a finalist for the Doak Walker Award presented to the nation's top running back. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, claimed the inaugural Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year award, was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten pick and earned the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the league's top player.

With 38 touchdowns on the season, Ball stands one TD shy of matching Barry Sanders' all-time FBS record of 39 and leads the nation in rushing with 1,759 yards.

At 191.6, Wilson ranks second nationally in pass efficiency behind Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III -- but well ahead of Colt Brennan's NCAA record of 186.0 -- and finished ninth himself in the Heisman voting.

He is just the fourth Big Ten quarterback to pass for 30 or more touchdowns in a season and was named the first-ever winner of the Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year Award, as well as the inaugural Grange-Griffin Championship Game MVP award for leading UW to a 42-39 win over Michigan State in the first Big Ten title game.

Borland ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten this season with 131 total tackles and averages 10.1 stops per game.

Konz started the first 10 games of the season for UW before suffering an ankle injury in UW's win over Minnesota on Nov. 12. Zeitler has started at right guard in all 13 games this season, blocking for an offense that has averaged 467 yards and ranks No. 4 nationally in scoring at 44.6 points per game.


Wisconsin's 2011 All-Americans

Montee Ball, Jr., RB
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, Football Writers Association of America
- First team, CBSSports.com
- First team, ESPN.com
- First team, Yahoo! Sports
- Second team, Walter Camp

Chris Borland, So., LB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports

Peter Konz, Jr., C
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, CBSSports.com
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports

Russell Wilson, Sr., QB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports

Kevin Zeitler, Sr., RG
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- Second team, Walter Camp
- Second team, CBSSports.com
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports

Lucas at Large: Senior class sets tone as Badgers hand out awards

UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock has been around Montee Ball every day since the start of practice in August.  But he had no idea that he was working with the "player to be named later.''

"I did not know that,'' Hammock said.

Neither did Ball's head coach, Bret Bielema, who has been around the Heisman Trophy finalist every day since Ball arrived on the Madison campus in 2009.

"I thought the two e's at the end of his first name were unique,'' he conceded. "But he never said one word to me about it. I've called him Mon-TAY once in awhile when I'm joking around.''

Ball has revealed his first name is pronounced Mon-TAY. But since elementary school, everyone has called him Mon-TEE, so he never bothered to correct them or add the accent over one of the e's.

"How about Mon-TAY,'' Bielema teased during Friday night's football awards dinner at Union South. "He gets invited to the Heisman, so he skips the banquet and he changes his name.''

Even though Ball was in New York City, he was with his teammates in spirit. Along with quarterback Russell Wilson, Ball shared the Most Valuable Player award on offense for the Badgers.

"It's unbelievable the ownership that he took of his situation,'' UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said of Ball, who didn't even play in the 2010 win over then No. 1-ranked Ohio State.

"He's unlike any other guy I've been around as far as self-assessing his situation and being pro-active in doing something about it. It's one of the neater stories that I've been around.''

Bielema, Hammock and former UW tailback Ron Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner, will fly to New York following Saturday's practice and attend the televised presentation in Manhattan.

"It's a tribute to Montee Ball and everything that he has put into it -- all of his hard work and dedication,'' Hammock said. "He has been a model and a leader for the younger running backs.

"Hard work pays off.''

Added Chryst, "It's something that our whole team can take pride in. It's as much of a team award as anything. But it's awesome for Montee. He deserves everything he's getting and more.''

Chryst also had some kind words for Wilson.

"The greatest compliment that you can give someone is that when you go to a place, you leave it in a better situation, you make it a better place,'' Chryst said.

"What a great statement. If you can do that by making the people around you better people, you are truly something special. We all knew how fortunate we were to have Russell join us.

"But it doesn't just happen if you don't have a tremendous group of guys that took him in. Everyone can take ownership and pride.

"You wrote a heckuva story, Russell.

"I appreciate being a part of it.''

Wilson was most gracious in accepting the co-offensive MVP award.

"I couldn't do it without the offensive line and the rest of the guys on the team who worked their butts off every single day to be great,'' Wilson said.

"When I first came here, my first meeting with the team, I told them that I wanted us to be special, and we have a chance to do that. We are special, but we have one more huge game to win.''

The co-MVPs on defense were linebacker Mike Taylor and cornerback Antonio Fenelus.

A number of players were honored, including Josh Oglesby, Kevin Claxton, Aaron Henry, Kevin Zeitler, Patrick Butrym, Nick Toon, Bradie Ewing, Andrew Lukasko, Jake Byrne, and Brad Nortman.

Although they didn't receive any awards, Bielema also singled out four seniors -- Adam Hampton, Louis Nzegwu, Kyle Wojta and Nate Tice -- for their contributions to the program.

Linebacker Derek Landsich was the Newcomer of the Year. Offensive lineman Tyler Marz and defensive end James Adeyanju were the Scout Team Players of the Year.

All are freshmen. Marz and Adeyanju are redshirting.

"I knew who were going to get the awards tonight,'' Bielema said. "And a certain freshman pops out to me because he doesn't have a tie on.

"We have 120 guys in the room and 119 have ties. One doesn't, and he's going to get an award.

"So I ask him, 'How far away do you live?'

"He says, 'Ogg Hall.'

"I said, 'Get running.'

"I guarantee you for those three or four blocks James Adeyanju wasn't saying pleasant things about his head coach.

"But in the end everything matters -- every detail, every day -- everything matters from the way you present yourself to the way you prepare yourself to the way you play on Saturday.

"It makes a difference. I think our senior class will attest to that.''

At the end of the program, Bielema challenged his players, "Let's finish it. Let's go out there with a task in mind and finish this thing (in the Rose Bowl) like we need to.''

2011 Wisconsin Football Awards Winners


Rookie of the Year
Derek Landisch

Scout Team Player of the Year
Tyler Marz (offense), James Adeyanju (defense)
Presented annually to the players who excelled on the scout team in preparing the Badgers for each week's game.

Ivan B. Williamson Scholastic Award

Brad Nortman
Presented annually to a player who has been exemplary in the area of scholarship and sportsmanship.  The award is given in memory of Williamson, a former Wisconsin football coach (1949-55) and athletics director (1955-69).

Badger Power Award
Jake Bryne and Andrew Lukasko
Presented annually to the player that consistently performs at a high level in all aspects of the Strength and Conditioning program, one that has a great work ethic coupled with a positive attitude that garners the respect of teammates, is dependable, buys into the program and shows constant improvement.

Wayne Souza Coaches' Appreciation Award (Offense)

Josh Oglesby and Nick Toon
Presented annually to the offensive football player who has contributed to the team's success to the best of his abilities.  It is based upon improvement, attitude and willingness to help the program in all areas.  The award is given in memory of Souza, a UW football letter winner (1977-78).

Jay Seiler Coaches' Appreciation Award (Defense)
Aaron Henry and Kevin Claxton
Presented annually to the defensive football player who has contributed to the team's success to the best of his abilities.  It is based upon improvement, attitude, and willingness to help the program in all areas.  The award is given in memory of Seiler, a former player.

Tom Wiesner Award
Kevin Zeitler and Patrick Butrym
Presented annually to a Wisconsin-born student-athlete whose loyalty, hard work, spirit and dedication are unselfishly directed to the success of the Badger football team.  The award is given in memory of Wiesner, a Wisconsin football letter winner (1958-60).

Special Teams Award
Bradie Ewing
Presented annually to the most valuable player on the special teams as selected by the coaching staff.

The Captains' Cup
Sharon Betlach
Presented annually to an individual, other than a player or coach, who has shown tremendous dedication and unselfish commitment toward the betterment of the football program.  The recipient is selected by the head coach and team captains.

Most Valuable Player
Montee Ball and Russell Wilson (offense), Antonio Fenelus and Mike Taylor (defense)
Presented annually to an offensive and defensive player who were most instrumental to the success of the football team.

What if the NHL Badgers all played on the same team?

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When Kyle Turris and Joe Piskula skated in their first NHL games of the season this past week, it brought the number of Badgers in the NHL to 20 for the 2011-12 campaign. Twenty happens to be the normal number of players dressed for an NHL game.

With that in mind, we put together a possible line chart for the Wisconsin Badgers in the NHL. It isn't perfect as the team would go with no back-up goaltender, one forward short and would have two extra defensemen, but as long as Brian Elliott stayed healthy, the team would be fine. Perhaps Curtis Joseph could come out of retirement as an insurance policy.


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Do you think the team would make the NHL playoffs? Quick calculations shows the team has 64 goals and with the number of games played by all the skaters, would be averaging about 3.26 goals-per-game, which would rank fourth in the NHL. However, the 64 goal-total would be better than three NHL teams and right in the mix of many more.

Couple that with Brian Elliott, who leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, and I think you'd have something there. What do you think?


The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgWho knew that one of the top passes in Wisconsin football history would be a non-scoring play? One of the top passing plays in history? Yeah, given the game's high stakes, I do not believe that is overstating the case.

Hail Wilson-to-Duckworth.

Officially, it was fourth-and-6 from the Michigan State 43-yard line. The Spartans led 39-34. It might not have been a "game on the line" play, but then again, maybe it was. Russell Wilson was flushed from the pocket and rolled to his left. For a moment, it looked as though he was going to take off, but the Michigan State defense was in hot pursuit.

Wilson then did what he does so well. I would think it is difficult to find many college quarterbacks who can roll to his off-hand and throw as well as Wilson.

He did it again at a rather critical moment. Wilson let it fly deep to the right side. Waiting for the ball was sophomore receiver Jeff Duckworth, and with two Spartans defenders near him, Duckworth pulled it down at the MSU 7-yard line. One play later, Montee Ball ripped through the line for what proved to be the game-winning, Big Ten title-clinching touchdown.

But back to the catch. The Badgers talk a lot about receivers attacking the ball. That is exactly what Duckworth was able to do. It was one three catches he had on Saturday night. Those numbers give him a grand total of 15 receptions this season, and 18 for his career. Duckworth also scored the game's first touchdown. It was his first TD this season. It was the first touchdown of his college career.

Michigan State has an outstanding defense. I doubt the Spartans expected Jeff Duckworth to be much of a factor in the passing game. That is the beauty of sports -- it is never a bad idea to expect the unexpected. 

As I wrote last week, the recent history of games between these two teams has given us plenty of such examples.

Now for True Confession Part I. At halftime, I thought the Badgers had little, if any, chance to win. I just did not like the matchup. After another hot start, the offense was struggling.  Wisconsin's defense could not get a stop. Kirk Cousins was in rhythm with his receivers, especially B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin.

Someone who must have been thinking the same thing asked me about spending late December in Tempe, Ariz., instead of Southern California.

Silly me. Silly us -- at least some of us.

In the second half, the defense hung in there, and allowed just 10 points against an offense that has been nearly as hot as Wisconsin's. It forced a three-and-out on the Spartans final possession.

Maybe just as important was the previous Michigan State series. Leading 38-36, the Spartans were on the move, and marched to the Wisconsin 8-yard line. The drive stalled, forcing a field goal to keep it a one-possession game.

Time for True Confession Part II. While I avoid publicly predicting games I am announcing (kind of my own Broadcasting 101 rule), I thought there was no way the second Badgers vs. Spartans game could approach the original for drama.

Silly me again.

This game had just about everything. A fake PAT in the second quarter. A receiver who ad libs a lateral near the boundary that results in a touchdown. A running back completing a pass to his quarterback (note: Montee Ball is now 2-for-2 as a passer this year). A quarterback with two receptions in the same game. A replay reversal that went in the Badgers' favor, and a special teams miscue that secured victory.

I don't know about you, but I was worn out just watching it. Try to imagine how the players and the coaches felt after such a game.

Even though I will admit to whiffing on my thoughts before and during Saturday's classic, please allow me to try one more time with this bit of "wisdom" -- if Badgers-Spartans II exhausted you, make sure you are well-rested before the Rose Bowl.

If ever a game had the potential to be even wilder, this might be it.

Three words for team culture

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about three words that represent the core principles of Wisconsin softball.

Our softball staff was in Las Vegas last week at the NFCA National Convention listening to the top speakers and presenters in our sport while working on legislation for softball. One of the best speakers was Eric Kapitulik. He is a U.S. Marine Corps officer with a great background in leadership. He shared a lot of insight in dealing with adversity in the team setting.

My favorite message from Eric was simple, can you, your staff and team all agree on the three core principles of what it means to be one of the women of Wisconsin softball? What three words would you use to describe what it means to be a Badger? What goals, values and standards do we live in our program? The three words that I would use are: tenacious, composed and family. The women of Wisconsin softball are tenacious, composed and family. Those three words are simple, yet powerful.

Obviously in a high level, Division 1 program, you've got to be competitive. But tenacity takes competitiveness to a whole different level. The single biggest attribute our staff looks for in young recruits is their temperament. We want kids that love softball, and love to compete.  Some people just naturally love the thrill of working hard, developing their game and winning. Yet even more powerful than just competiveness is tenacity. Those who refuse to be stifled by obstacles become champions. I've always been drawn to great underdog stories. Talent truly is overrated. Those athletes that I have been most proud of in my coaching and playing experience are the ones with the most fight. Those that continue to battle, scrap and win, even when they face setbacks, have tenacity. When you find someone who refuses to lose at all she does, she will over-achieve in all aspects of her life.

Composure is actually my favorite compliment to pay. It goes beyond being calm and poised in the face of adversity. Young women who are composed have this amazing aura of confidence. They have swagger. They trust and believe in their ability and preparation. Composure only comes to those who know they will achieve and overcome. They have experienced tribulations before, and found a way to pull themselves up and rise above the challenge. Composed people are usually selfless, more focused on solving problems than complaining about the situation. When you can find athletes with great composure, they are usually those who worked hardest and feel confident in how they prepared. They know that failure is only temporary and success is a process.

Finally, the women of Wisconsin softball are family. These words have never seemed more meaningful to me than now, as the mother of a three-year-old. Although the word family means different things to different people, we can all agree that family is forever. At its core, family is about selflessness.  Family members have your best interest in mind, sacrificing to make others' lives better than their own. Family is about unconditional love, about putting others' happiness before your own. Family is about having relationships that matter, being there for each other through the good and bad and truly connecting with someone.  We talk a lot about being a great teammate and a great person in the Wisconsin softball family. Our coaches are here because they are good people that care about the young women in our program and love to teach.

I am proud to work with the women of Wisconsin softball every day.

Ball and blockers Konz, Zeitler named All-Americans

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Record-setting running back Montee Ball and two of the Wisconsin teammates who have helped pave the way for his remarkable season, offensive linemen Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler, were each named to the 2011 AFCA Coaches' All-America Team released Monday by the American Football Coaches Association.

The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Ball has scored 38 total touchdowns this season to stand one score shy of Barry Sanders' single-season NCAA record of 39 TDs. He also ranks fourth nationally with 135.31 rushing yards per game and leads the nation with 32 rushing touchdowns.

His average of 6.4 yards per carry is second-best nationally among players with at least 200 carries on the season.

The Badgers' starting center, Konz also was named a finalist Monday for the Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the most outstanding center in the nation. Selection to the AFCA All-America squad should help Konz's chances, as it is one of four All-America squads the Rimington committee uses to select its winner.

Konz started the first 10 games of the season for UW before suffering an ankle injury in UW's win over Minnesota on Nov. 12.

Zeitler has started at right guard in all 13 games this season, blocking for an offense that has averaged 467 yards and ranks No. 4 nationally in scoring at 44.6 points per game.

The Badgers' three offensive selections are the most of any team. Alabama, Oklahoma State and Stanford each had two players selected to the All-America team's offensive unit.

Wisconsin had two All-Americans on the AFCA list last season, LT Gabe Carimi and TE Lance Kendricks. Both were selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Lucas at Large: Wilson hopes to help Badgers stand out from crowd

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Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson has some history with championship games. Indirectly, he also has some history with the infamous Sports Illustrated "Cover Jinx."

This is not to suggest that Wilson's appearance in Saturday night's inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game could lead to an SI cover for the UW senior or teammate Montee Ball -- jinx be damned.

This is merely revisiting another entry in Wilson's extensive resume, which may or may not serve to frame or foreshadow the rematch with Michigan State at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Consider: The Dec. 18, 2006 issue of Sports Illustrated featured Tennessee Titans rookie Vince Young on the cover. Young had just sparked the Titans to a four-game winning streak.

"I can do whatever it takes to win,'' Young crowed.

How did that turn out for Young, a Titans bust, who was last seen throwing four picks in Seattle and leading his self-anointed "Dream Team'' Philadelphia Eagles (4-8) into NFL purgatory?

Also consider: The Dec. 18, 2006 issue of Sports Illustrated featured the "Faces in the Crowd" department -- a weekly piece that shines the spotlight on young, up-and-coming athletes.

More to the point, it gives some national media exposure to individuals who are otherwise overshadowed by the higher profile jocks in professional sports.

Consider these "Faces:"

There was Krystina Orwat, a volleyball player, who led Kishwaukee College to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II championship in Scottsdale, Ariz.

There was Josh Rohatinsky, a cross country runner from Brigham Young who won the men's 10K race at the NCAA championship in Terre Haute, Ind.

There was Melissa Gonzalez, a high school field hockey player who led her school to the New York State Class A championship.

There was Jachelle Bigornia, a high school golfer in California who led her school to a perfect season and an eighth-straight conference title.

There was Kerri Hanks and Joseph Lapira, soccer players at Notre Dame who became the first athletes from the same school to be named the top women's and men's college players of the year.

And then there was "young'' Russell Wilson, a senior quarterback/defensive back at Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., who led the Cougars to a 38-16 win over Fork Union.

It was Collegiate's fourth-straight Virginia Independent Schools Football Association Division I title. Wilson passed for 291 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 223 yards and three scores.

That was his last appearance in a championship game.

"I remember the emotion part of it is a little bit heightened for a championship game,'' he said Monday. "I guess everybody is a little more aware for whatever reason.

"There's a natural awareness because you're playing for a lot. At the same time, you have to be cool, calm and collected.

"That's where I've really grown as a quarterback through my experiences -- being poised no matter what the situation, whether we're winning by 25 or 30 or we're down by 25 or 30.

"I've tried to be the same -- always attacking with the mindset, 'What can I do to excel?'''

That's how Wilson is approaching the Spartans.

"There's going to be a lot of emotion, a lot of fire,'' he said, "and I have to be the one to make sure everybody is on the same page and communicating well.

"Whether that's on the sideline or in the huddle, I have to make sure everybody understands what our goal is for that one particular play or that next series, whatever it is.''

During his Monday press conference, UW coach Bret Bielema mentioned that the presence of Wisconsin and Michigan State in the first Big Ten championship game was refreshing.

Bielema's perspective was related to the thought process behind divisional alignment.

 "I knew they wanted to separate those four big boys just because of tradition and history and national championships,'' he said of Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska.

Minutes later, Wilson was taking questions from the same assembled media contingent and Bielema's "big boys'' reference was brought up in a question that was posed to Wilson.

It was conveyed to Wilson that the league title game was an opportunity for Wisconsin to demonstrate that maybe it's the new face of the Big Ten.

With a smile on his face, Wilson prefaced his remarks by saying, "Well, I think that Wisconsin is a big boy.''

Saturday night will be most telling in that regard.

A viewer's guide to Big Ten Championship Game weekend

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The usual flood of college football games flowing through your TV will slow to a trickle as conference championship weekend gets underway this Friday and Saturday.

It's not necessarily a bad thing, with quality taking the place of quantity as leagues look to crown their champions and teams await their bowl-game fates.

In the middle of it all is the first-ever Big Ten Football Championship Game, meaning there will be no shortage of Badgers-related programming for you to consume leading up to kickoff Saturday. Not surprisingly, BTN will have blanket coverage from Indianapolis.

It begins Friday with live coverage of the coaches' press conferences for Bret Bielema and Mark Dantonio, live from Lucas Oil Stadium at 3 p.m. (CT). The pressers also will be streamed live on BTN.com.

You can also watch a replay of the Spartans' 37-31 win over the Badgers on Oct. 22 at 6 p.m., followed by a special edition of the Big Ten Football Report, live from Indy. The 60-minute preview show features Dave Revsine, Mike Hall, Howard Griffith, Gerry DiNardo and Glen Mason talking all things Badgers-Spartans.

The action gets going early Saturday, with ESPN College GameDay featuring record-setting Badgers RB Montee Ball as part of its broadcast that begins at 9 a.m.

A special edition of BTN Live is set for 10 a.m., live from the Big Ten Fan Fest in Indianapolis. Revsine, Griffith, DiNardo and Mason will take questions from Twitter and Facebook.

BTN is back to Indy at 5:30 p.m. with a one-hour pregame show, which leads directly into Fox's live pregame show that begins at 6:30 p.m. Kickoff from Lucas Oil Stadium is set for 7:17 p.m., live on Fox.

You can catch a replay of the championship game at 8 p.m. Sunday, immediately following BTN's one-hour Bowl Selection Special at 7 p.m.

If you can't be near your TV, be sure to watch a live simulcast of the BTN broadcasts on BTN2Go.com or grab the BTN2Go app for iPhone or iPad.

Big Ten Championship Game TV Schedule (All times Central)
Friday
3 p.m. BTN Coaches Press Conferences
6 p.m. BTN Replay: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (Oct. 22)
8 p.m. BTN Big Ten Football Report Special Edition
Saturday
8 a.m. ESPNU College GameDay
9 a.m. ESPN College GameDay
10 a.m. BTN BTN Live
5:30 p.m. BTN Big Ten Championship Pregame Show
6:30 p.m. FOX Pregame Show
7:17 p.m. FOX Big Ten Championship Game
Sunday
8 p.m. BTN Replay: Big Ten Championship Game
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