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Break behind them, Badgers back to business


After an 11-day hiatus for spring break, it was back to practice for the Wisconsin football team Tuesday. UW's fifth session of spring practice had the Badgers back in full pads, through a cold snap forced practice into the McClain Center.

The Badgers drilled for 26 periods, with a number of younger players -- including RB Melvin Gordon and WR Chase Hammond -- standing out.

What drew the most attention, however, was the Badgers' use of a two-tailback setup, with senior Montee Ball and junior James White lining up in the backfield at the same time.

"We're going to get our best players on the field," first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. "We've got guys who can catch it, who can run it. And again, let's try to maximize our best."

It's no wonder the UW coaching staff wants to maximize each player's impact. In the past two seasons, Ball and White have combined for 4,684 rushing yards and 6,000 all-purpose yards.

Following practice, head coach Bret Bielema met with the media. His full remarks can be found below:

Badgers climb to top of Great Lakes Region rankings

A week's work out west was enough to boost the Badgers in the Great Lakes.

After a number of athletes turned in personal-best performances at the Stanford Invitational over the weekend, the Wisconsin men's track and field team has ascended to the No. 1 spot in the Great Lakes Region, according to the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's Regional Index.

In addition to holding down their spot atop the region, the Badgers held steady at No. 24 in the USTFCCCA national rankings.

Wisconsin is one of four Big Ten teams in the current Top 25, trailing No. 9 Indiana, No. 15 Nebraska and No. 17 Iowa.

After earning a No. 17 preseason ranking, the Badgers opened the season at No. 24 last week. UW's performance in its second competition of the outdoor season was enough to hold down the spot for a second-consecutive week.

The Badgers are back in action this week, making their second trip to the state of Mississippi in four weeks. UW competes in the Mississippi Open -- hosted by No. 12 Ole Miss in Oxford -- Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.

USTFCCCA Men's National Rankings - Week 2
Team Score  Last Week
1. Florida 268.56 1
2. Florida State 246.64 3
3. LSU 230.58 2
4. Texas A&M 223.97 6
5. Arkansas 216.70 4
6. Texas 216.56 5
7. Arizona State 186.60 10
8. Texas Tech 185.98 7
9. Indiana 181.96 11
10. Mississippi State 180.55 9
11. USC 178.02 8
12. Mississippi 153.70 14
13. Oregon 148.11 16
14. Arizona 146.26 12
15. Nebraska 143.75 15
16. Stanford 135.52 19
17. Iowa 132.58 20
18. Georgia 127.79 18
19. Baylor 125.41 13
20. Virginia Tech 120.16 17
21. Oklahoma 113.92 23
22. Auburn 99.56 21
23. Princeton 87.20 22
24. Wisconsin 83.68 24
25. Kansas 83.37 25

Break time for Badgers


With four practices down and 10 to go before the Wisconsin Football Spring Game on April 28, the Badgers broke camp Thursday for spring break.

A 24-period practice -- the team's first of the spring in full pads -- served as a send-off for the players, who will take advantage of a week off as part of UW's spring break before returning to the field on April 10.

Photo Gallery: Practice No. 4

Today's links
* ESPN.com: Big Ten's top game
* SportingNews.com: Counting down best NCAA football/basketball schools
* Madison.com: Bielema not worried about O'Brien's transition to team
* JSOnline.com: Bielema thinks QB moves don't hurt UW's image
* FoxSportsWisconsin.com: Bielem gives Badgers a large spring break
* ESPNWisconsin.com: Been there, done that

Bielema talks spring practice, addition of Danny O'Brien

Head coach Bret Bielema met with members of the media Thursday, prior to the Badgers' final practice session before spring break.

Bielema discussed his impressions from the first week of spring practice, as well as the addition of Maryland transfer QB Danny O'Brien.

The Badgers practice in full pads for the first time this spring on Thursday before breaking camp for spring break. They return to the field April 10, with an additional 10 practices leading into the Wisconsin Football Spring Game on April 28.

***Buy tickets to the Wisconsin Football Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***

The All-Bielema Team revealed

Thumbnail image for Bielema_Bret_IND_2011.jpg

If you could build a team using the players that have suited up for the Badgers during Bret Bielema's six years at the helm of the Wisconsin program, who would you choose?

That was the question we posed during three weeks of voting by fans on the official Wisconsin Football Facebook page. The result is a list of the best to line up at each position during the Bielema era, as chosen by the fans -- the All-Bielema Team.

In the last five NFL drafts, a total of 16 UW players have been selected. That number will grow in a big way this year, with a school-record eight players invited to the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine -- the second most of any school in the nation.

Over the past six seasons, the Badgers have had finalists for the Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker Award, John Mackey Award, Rimington Trophy, Ted Hendricks Award, Manning Award and Lou Groza Award. In addition, Scott Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, J.J. Watt won the Lott IMPACT trophy, and Gabe Carimi and Joe Thomas both won the Outland Trophy.

Leads to some tough choices, huh?

Tough enough, in fact, that a number of players who have gone on to play in the NFL didn't even sniff inclusion on the All-Bielema Team.

Garrett Graham was a distant third in the voting at tight end, while other pros -- like FB Chris Pressley, LT Carimi, RG Kraig Urbik and QB Scott Tolzien -- didn't make the cut, either.

With that in mind, here's the All-Bielema Team, which was originally released in the March 15 issue of Varsity magazine:


* Russell Wilson (2011)

Running Back
* Montee Ball (2009-11)

* Bradie Ewing (2008-11)

Tight End
* Travis Beckum (2006-08)

Wide Reciever
* Nick Toon (2008-11)
* Jared Abbrederis (2010-11)

Left Tackle
* Joe Thomas (2006)

Left Guard
* John Moffitt (2007-10)

* Peter Konz (2009-11)

Right Guard

* Kevin Zeitler (2009-11)

Right Tackle
* Josh Oglesby (2008-11)


FB_120329_Watt_JJ.jpgDefensive End
* J.J. Watt (2009-10)

Defensive Tackle
* Nick Hayden (2006-07)

Defensive Tackle
* Patrick Butrym (2008-11)

Defensive End
* O'Brien Schofield (2007-09)

Outside Linebacker
* Mike Taylor (2009-11)

Middle Linebacker
* Chris Borland (2009, 2011)

Outside Linebacker
* Jonathan Casillas (2006-08)

Corner Back
* Jack Ikegwuonu (2006-07)
* Antonio Fenelus (2008-11)

Strong Safety
* Jay Valai (2007-10)

Free Safety
* Aaron Henry (2007, 2009-11)


* Taylor Mehlhaff (2006-07)

* Brad Nortman (2008-11)

* David Gilreath (2007-10)

Women's track vaults into national rankings


A big weekend for the Wisconsin women's track and field team has translated into a big jump in the rankings.

The Badgers moved all the way to No. 16 in this week's edition of the national rankings compiled by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, which were released Tuesday.

UW leapt 13 spots from its No. 29 ranking last week largely on the strength of junior Taylor Smith's school-record effort in the weight throw. Smith, named Big Ten co-Field Athlete of the Week on Monday, launched a throw of 69 feet, 10 3/4 inches to win the event at Saturday's UW-Platteville Invitational.

The mark vaulted Smith to No. 5 nationally in the event and automatically secured her a spot in next month's NCAA indoor championships.

Because the USTFCCCA's rankings are based solely on athletes' national rankings, Smith's toss buoyed the Badgers.

Also supporting Wisconsin's rank is senior Monika Jakutyte, who ranks in a tie for fourth place nationally in the high jump with the clearance of 6 feet she recorded on Feb. 3.

In addition, senior and three-time All-American Dorcas Akinniyi is currently ranked No. 8 in the pentathlon after scoring 3,991 points on Feb. 3.

The Badgers' other top-25 ranked athletes include the trio of Smith (18th, 53-7 3/4), freshman Kelsey Card (17th, 53-6 1/2) and sophomore Jasmine Boyer (T-26th, 52-2 3/4) in the shot put.

Additionally, senior Caitlin Comfort is ranked 18th in the 5000 meters (16:07.90), while junior Jessica Flax stacks up No. 25 in the pentathlon (3,789 points).

Men slip out of rankings
On the men's side, the Badgers slipped out of the rankings after moving up to No. 17 last week. That's despite the effort of sophomore Dan Block, who threw 61-7 1/2 in the shot put to move up to the No. 10 spot nationally over the weekend.

Sophomore Japheth Cato, who is No. 3 in the heptathlon with his Big Ten-record total of 5,939 points, is UW's other top-10 ranked athlete.

The Badgers also picked up top-25 performances from sophomore Alex Hatz in the mile (13th, 3:58.68) and junior Maverick Darling in the 3000 meters (22nd, 7:54.70) over the weekend.

Canada, Azzanni meet the press in Madison

For the first time since their hires were announced this week, new Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni met with members of the local media on Wednesday.

Video of each coach's media session, including comments from head coach Bret Bielema, can be found below. Also, be sure to check out profiles on both Canada and Azzanni in the this week's issue of Varsity Magazine.

Head coach Bret Bielema:

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada:

Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni:

The Voice: Don't start looking for the lifeboats just yet

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The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgBack in October, I wrote about what a great time it was to be a sports fan in Wisconsin. The Brewers were rolling into the playoffs. After pounding Nebraska in the much-anticipated Big Ten opener, the unbeaten Badger football team was enjoying a bye week. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers and company, were putting on a show each week.

Hopefully, that show in Green Bay will continue for a few more weeks.

However, given the fragile nature of sports, we witnessed the Brewers' season end to rival and eventual World Series champion St. Louis. Later, we learned that Ryan Braun might be in line for a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test. Brewers fans nervously await the final word from MLB officials.

As for the Badger football team, a thrilling victory in the first-ever conference title game was followed by a heart-breaking Rose Bowl loss to Oregon.

To be sure, there is no shame in losing to the Ducks. It was a wildly entertaining game featuring two prolific offenses, but Wisconsin fell just short.

In the days following the Rose Bowl, Bret Bielema finds himself needing to replace five assistants. Paul Chryst, Bob Bostad, Dave Huxtable and Joe Rudolph are moving to Pittsburgh, while DelVaughn Alexander will join the Arizona State staff.

While assistants will move on, this is an unusually large hit. In some corners of Badger Nation, there exists a state of panic. Badgers fans nervously await word from Bielema regarding the new hires.

At the risk of sounding like the uptight guy in the movie "Animal House" who, during the parade scene, desperately shrieks "All is well. All is well!" let me suggest that it is too early to press the panic button. Perhaps it makes sense to sit back and allow Bielema the chance to reassemble his staff. In six years as the head coach, he has demonstrated the ability to follow a living legend, and his program has bounced back quite well after the 7-6 season of 2008.  

Just consider it another example of the head coach's favorite saying, "It's not what happens, it is how you respond."

We move onto basketball, where Bo Ryan's team is going through an awful shooting slump that has resulted in three straight losses, two coming on the home court. This is the same Badger squad that thumped 12th-ranked UNLV, a team that has not lost since. It also is the same Badger group that took North Carolina to the final minute.

It is fair to be concerned, but I would think it is a bit early to jump off the ship.

On Thursday night, the Badgers have another tough road test at Purdue, followed by a home game with Nebraska on Sunday afternoon.

Yes, Sunday afternoon, while the Packers are playing the New York Giants. Tough timing for a Wisconsin basketball game, but the NFL has other scheduling matters to worry about.  

It makes me wonder what kind of atmosphere there will be at the Kohl Center. It is no secret that the reputation is slipping.

When it comes to noise level, a writer from Las Vegas compared it to a library.

Look, I have little if any right to tell folks who pay very good money to support the Badgers to get off their butts and cheer louder. So please allow me to suggest that the team might need a little more help these days.  

If nothing else, the past week-and-a-half should remind everyone that winning is not a given.  

Yes, the Badgers can do their part to create more excitement, specifically by making more shots.

But let's be real -- it is easy to get behind a team when it is smooth sailing. Now that the waters are a tad choppy, it will be interesting to see how everyone responds, players and fans alike.

'Great Times' for the Badger Band and Badger fans in L.A.

It took nearly a year (and a second-consecutive Rose Bowl appearance for the Wisconsin football team) but the wait was certainly worth it for the UW Marching Band -- and the fans that crowded the street outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 1.

Michael Jurkovac, a UW alumnus who is the founder and CEO of New York-based production company cYclops, originally reached out to the Badger Band and spirit squad over a year ago, when the Badgers were poised to make the first of back-to-back trips to Pasadena.

His connections resulted in a New Year's Eve show for the band and spirit squad at L.A. Live, the multi-billion dollar entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles.

This time around, Jurkovac collaborated with spirit squad director Josette Scheer and assistant band director Dr. Justin Stolarik to pull off something even bigger.

Jurkovac developed a soft spot for the UW Marching Band when taking a class by Dr. Michael Leckrone during his time in Madison and again reached out to the group when the Badgers won the Big Ten championship game to secure a second-straight appearance in the Rose Bowl.

Among Jurkovac's clients is will.i.am, one of the voices of the Grammy award-winning group The Black Eyed Peas, who happened to be interested in having the UW band perform a version of his yet-to-be-released single "Great Times."

With the artist's blessing, Leckrone got to work on a special arrangement of the track, which the band spent nearly three weeks practicing before arriving in L.A.

That's when the surprise came. 

As the band went through a final rehearsal for its latest L.A. Live performance, will.i.am dropped in to pay an unexpected visit to the parking lot adjacent to the J.W. Marriott hotel.

The even bigger surprise came when he took the stage just outside the Staples Center to provide matching vocals to the band's performance of "Great Times" -- something he had not planned to do originally.

It doesn't stop there for the band, however, as will.i.am plans to make use of a recording of the band's take on "Great Times" when the single is released in the coming months.

If one surprise wasn't enough, Jurkovac also helped line up another star for the Badgers' show at L.A. Live. He enlisted Everlast, who fronted House of Pain when the group recorded "Jump Around" in 1992, to perform his signature hit -- and a Camp Randall favorite -- with the band.

Check out video of the L.A. Live performance (above), as well as will.i.am's visit to the band's rehersal (below).

Badgers finish 10th in AP, 11th in coaches poll

The Wisconsin football team finished the season ranked No. 10 in final edition of the Associated Press Top 25 released Tuesday, giving the Badgers a top-10 finish for the second-consecutive season.

UW also earned a No. 11 ranking in the final USA Today Coaches Poll.

Alabama finished the season No. 1 in both the media and coaches' polls after defeating LSU in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Monday.

The Big Ten champion, Wisconsin (11-3 overall) finished as the highest-ranked team from the conference in the final AP poll, just ahead of No. 11 Michigan State (11-3) and No. 12 Michigan (11-2).

In the coaches' poll, the Badgers trailed the No. 9-ranked Wolverines and the No. 10 Spartans.

Nebraska, ranked 24th in both polls, was the remaining Big Ten team to find a place in the final rankings.

After scoring a 45-38 win over the Badgers in the Rose Bowl last week, Oregon finished the season ranked No. 4 in both polls.

The Badgers have finished the year ranked in the final AP poll in seven of the last eight seasons, including three top-10 finishes under sixth-year head coach Bret Bielema.

Wisconsin was seventh in the final AP poll of 2010 following a loss to No. 2 TCU in the Rose Bowl and finished 16th in 2009 after a win over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl.

The Badgers were eighth in the final USA Today Coaches Poll of 2010 and ranked No. 16 in the finals coaches' rankings in 2009.

Wisconsin in the final
Associated Press Top 25
2011: 10th
2010: 7th
2009: 16th
2008: NR
2007: 24th
2006: 7th
2005: 15th
2004: 17th