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Wisconsin softball coach Yvette Healy can measure how far
her program has grown by merely taking an inventory on the number of players
the Badgers have put on All-Big Ten teams.
In 2010, her first season, Healy had three on the third team:
Letty Olivarez, Jennifer Krueger and Shannel Blackshear. It was the most since
the UW had four players on the third team in 2005.
In 2011, Karla Powell became only the third player in school
history - the first since 2002 - to be named first-team All-Big Ten. Mary
Massei was on the second team and Krueger the third team.
This season, the
Badgers had three players recognized on the first team: Massei, Cassandra
Darrah and Whitney Massey. Kendall Grimm and Meghan McIntosh were honored on
the second team.
"It's huge," Healy said of the progress that has been made
in this area. "You want, of course, to get national attention and have
All-Americans in the program. But this is the stepping stone.
"You've got to be able to do it within the conference first.
When we took over a few years ago, we talked about how many first-team
all-conference players there were in the history of the program.
"They had two."
The next step is the most challenging - garnering
"What you do down the stretch will have a lot to do with
it," said Healy, a two-time All-American at DePaul during her playing days. "I
think we have players who will at least get a look.
"When you get to this win-or-go-home postseason-type of
play, you have to be able to perform against the best teams when it counts the
most. The most important games are the games to come."
The best marketing tool is performance, especially on the
bigger stages, like this weekend's Big Ten tournament in Lincoln, Neb. The
Badgers earned a first-round bye and open play on Friday.
If nothing else, they won't need a GPS to find Bowlin
Wisconsin has played three games there in each of the last
In 2012, the Badgers upset Nebraska, 3-1, in the series
opener; snapping a 16-game home winning streak for the Huskers. Darrah allowed
just six hits.
In mid-April, Darrah again limited Nebraska to six hits and
only two runs and received even more offensive support from her teammates. The
Badgers won 5-2 on the strength of a four-run sixth inning.
The fact that Wisconsin has won at least one game on each of
its last two trips to Lincoln is something that Healy is hoping to build on and
it starts with the pitching, Darrah and McIntosh.
"We're thrilled Cassandra got first-team all-conference,'
Healy said. "But she still has a long ways to go to become the player that she
has the ability to be.
"To have nine wins in the conference is a big deal and to
win at Nebraska last year and this year just shows that she's had some really
clutch Big Ten wins for us."
Can there be any application of muscle memory for Darrah?
"We hope," Healy said. "There are not many pitchers who can say they know what
it's like to win at Nebraska."
McIntosh struggled against Michigan State but Healy is counting
on her resiliency.
"We do expect her to bounce back," she said. "She's got a
bunch of big wins, especially in conference. To throw a no-hitter against
Minnesota at their place shows what kind of pitcher she is."
Having thrown a no-hitter earlier in the season, McIntosh
joined Andrea Kirchberg as the only pitchers in program history with two
no-hitters to their credit. Darrah also had a no-hitter this spring.
Healy believes Massey, a converted infielder-outfielder,
deserves some of the credit not only for making a seamless transition this
season to catcher, but in managing the pitchers.
"When you catch three no-hitters in one season, you're doing
something right behind the plate," Healy said. "She gets a lot of calls for the
pitchers by doing a great job of framing (pitches).
"She also brings a real calming nature to the pitchers. She
kind of sets the tempo and keeps them under control and that has given them
more confidence in throwing to her."
The lack of postseason experience is obviously a concern for
Healy. "A lot of the Big Ten teams have players who have played in the NCAA
tournament and won," she said.
That the Badgers drew a record crowd (2,007) to Goodman
Diamond for last Sunday's doubleheader split against Michigan State was a
"great warm-up" for the Big Ten tournament, she said.
"We didn't play as well as we would have liked, we didn't
deliver," Healy admitted. "But at least we got experience playing in that
atmosphere under our belt and we're hoping to improve on it."
Healy isn't sure what it will take to make the NCAA
tournament. "We've done everything we can to put ourselves in a great
position," she said. "The last RPI came out and we were still 26.
"I like where we're at."
Especially since Lincoln has become such a home away from
Pat Harder would have been 91 on Monday.
As a Badger, he was 34 -- No. 34 -- an All-American fullback on the legendary 1942 team.
Harder, a Milwaukee native, was a fan favorite at Camp Randall Stadium.
"Hit'em again, Harder, Harder.''
Who knew such a simple cheer would have so much staying power?
In the 1944 National Football League draft, the Boston Yanks -- consider what an oxymoron that combination is today -- selected Notre Dame quarterback Angelo Bertelli with the No. 1 pick overall.
The 5-foot-11, 203-pound Harder -- who answered to the nickname "The Mule'' -- was taken second by the Chicago Cardinals. No UW player has ever been drafted higher.
After World War II, Harder played eight seasons with the Cardinals and Detroit Lions. Upon his retirement as a player, Harder went on to officiate 17 seasons in the NFL.
Less than a year after his death in 1992, Harder was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Alan Ameche is the only other UW running back to be so honored by the HOF.
On Tuesday, the National Football Foundation will announce its 2013 College Football Hall of Fame class, which will consist of 12 players and two coaches.
Wisconsin tailback Ron Dayne is on the ballot for the first time and it would be surprising -- maybe even shocking -- if Dayne, the NCAA's all-time leading rusher, is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Dayne is not the only HOF candidate who falls into this year's "no-brainer'' category.
Any short list should include Nebraska's Tommie Frazier, TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson, Oklahoma's Brian Bosworth, Notre Dame's Rocket Ismail, Ohio State's Orlando Pace, Indiana's Antwaan Randle El, Alabama's Derrick Thomas, Miami's Vinny Testaverde and Iowa's Andre Tippett.
By the way, Bernie Wyatt, a former Hayden Fry assistant, was not only instrumental in recruiting Tippett to Iowa, but also Dayne to Wisconsin when he was on Barry Alvarez's coaching staff.
On his 1995 campus visit, Dayne saw the Badgers attempt 51 passes and only 20 runs in a 33-20 loss to the Hawkeyes at Camp Randall. They were outrushed by 312 yards.
Sedrick Shaw led Iowa with 41 carries and 214 yards. Aaron Stecker led Wisconsin with 13 carries and 25 yards. After the game, UW assistant Brian White threw his arm around Dayne.
"See why we need you?'' White said with a sigh.
Dayne nodded and replied softly, "Yeah, I do.''
Seven thousand and one hundred and twenty-five rushing yards later ...
Dayne left Wisconsin with the 1999 Heisman Trophy.
In 2011, he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.
When he got the news, Dayne responded, "Are you serious? Aren't I too young to be going into a Hall of Fame?'' He was then 33. Later, he admitted, "I was surprised. I really didn't believe it.''
Dayne was a two-time Rose Bowl MVP, one of only four in history joining Texas' Vince Young, USC's Charles White and Washington's Bob Schloredt.
Alvarez, UW's director of athletics, was Dayne's presenter at the Rose Bowl induction ceremony. To say the least, he knows his way around such HOF functions as a previous inductee.
"You liked your odds,'' Alvarez has always said, "going into any game with Ron Dayne.''
You also have to like the odds of Dayne going into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
You didn't have to be drinking Kool-Aid from the Little Brown Jug to realize that geographical realignment was a most reasonable option for the Big Ten. And this was not about passing the Illibuck on competitive balance, even if a couple of trophy games will be taking a hit.
Competitive balance can be so fleeting.
Five short years ago, Michigan's storied football program was cycling south of the southern-most campus in the conference -- making for no stranger bedfellows than the Wolverines and Indiana Hoosiers -- while Iowa was cycling in the opposite direction.
| New Big Ten Divisional Alignment
In 2008, Michigan finished with a 3-9 overall record, matching Indiana at the bottom of the Big Ten. At 2-6, the Wolverines were one game better than the Hoosiers in league games. In 2009, they both won just once in the conference with Michigan going 5-7 in all games. Indiana was 4-8.
Contrast and compare ...
In 2008, Iowa was one of three schools that won nine of 13 games, joining Michigan State and Northwestern. The Hawkeyes were 5-3 in the Big Ten; a springboard for 2009 when the Hawks ended up with 11 wins (as many overall as both Ohio State and Penn State) and played in the Orange Bowl.
Iowa was the seventh-best team in college football.
Michigan was the 10th-best team in the Big Ten.
That was four short years ago.
Granted, there has been a noteworthy reawakening in Ann Arbor under Ohio-bred (Dayton) head coach Brady Hoke, who has erased the taste of Rich Rodriguez's tenure and made the Wolverines dangerous again with back-to-back records of 11-2 and 8-5 (6-2 each year in the Big Ten).
By contrast, the Hawkeyes have been in need of realignment -- front wheel -- after running over potholes the last three seasons (19-19 overall). In 2012, Iowa may have bottomed out at 4-8 and 2-6 in the Big Ten; at least a beleaguered Kirk Ferentz is hoping that he has seen the worst.
Based on his track record, there's every reason to believe that Ferentz will get the Hawks back on track sooner than later -- assuming, of course, that the can keep a few running backs healthy during the grind of a long Big Ten season, which will get longer in 2016 with nine league games.
Over the last five seasons, Iowa is 39-25 (21-19) and Michigan is 34-29 (18-22).
During that same span, Northwestern is 40-25 (21-19) and Michigan State is 44-22 (27-13).
In Jim Delany's New World Order, the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats are in the Big Ten West and the Wolverines and the Spartans are in the Big Ten East. So maybe Iowa doesn't look like Michigan right now anymore than Northwestern looks like Michigan State, right? It's not as one-sided as you think.
The 'Cats are coming off a 10-3 season (and returning most of their best players) whereas Sparty is trying to bounce back from a 7-6 season (after winning 32 games over the previous three years). At the moment, there is not a significant competitive gap between these two programs.
Now consider the sum of the moving parts: Why can't the "Big 4'' in the West (Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa) compete against the "Big 4'' in the East (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State), particularly with the uncertainty of the Nittany Lions' scholarship reductions?
Obviously, it's not a wash today unless you're talking about the current wild cards in the West (Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois) versus those in the East (Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers). Still, everything is subject to change on a year-to-year basis, including competitive balance in 2014.
So with the exception of a couple of trophy games that will no longer be staged annually -- the Little Brown Jug between Michigan and Minnesota and the Illibuck rivalry between Illinois and Ohio State (Rivalry? Who knew?) -- the Big Ten's geographical realignment can stand on its own merit.
Wisconsin's first-year defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, wasn't kidding when he described redshirt freshman Vince Biegel as a "hungry young player.''
After a recent practice at Camp Randall Stadium, Biegel threw down a peanut butter-berry mix protein drink; a concoction, he explained, that was for "guys who are trying to gain weight.''
When the 6-foot-3 Biegel reported to training camp last season, he weighed around 217 pounds. "Right now, I'm 235,'' he said, "and my goal is to be around 245 for the season.''
Biegel already looks like he was sent over from central casting to play outside linebacker in Aranda's 3-4 defense, a noteworthy departure from the previous 4-3 scheme that was in place here.
"His spot is kind of a glorified defense end,'' Aranda said. "He'll be doing some things on the line of scrimmage. But, then, he'll also be doing some things off the ball.
"He can rush the passer, he can drop in coverage, and he can set the sideline in terms of forcing the ball back inside to all of his help. He's suited to do all of those things.
"Plus,'' said Aranda, grinning, "he has a mentality for defense, which I love.''
It comes naturally. Biegel's grandfather, Ken, was a successful high school coach in Wisconsin; his dad, Rocky, was a starting linebacker at BYU; and his uncle, T.D., also played for the Cougars.
"They were always there for me,'' Vince Biegel said. "I've got a few numbers I can call.''
Cognizant of that pedigree, Aranda once again brought up Biegel's "hunger for football,'' which does not necessarily set him apart. "As a team,'' Aranda has discovered, "we have it in spades.''
But in the short time that he has been around Biegel -- the Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school senior in Wisconsin Rapids -- Aranda has seen Biegel in the film room more than anybody.
"He's real eager,'' Aranda said. "There are times when you're that young and new to everything you learn by doing, whether it's the right thing or wrong thing. That has been a little bit of his path.''
Midway through spring practice, Aranda still sees Biegel heading in the right direction. "It's just a matter of time,'' he said, "before he crosses that line to be a full-fledged guy in our rotation.''
David Gilbert, Brendan Kelly and Tyler Dippel were projected for outside linebacker, but Gilbert recently left the program because of a reoccurring foot issue and Kelly and Dippel have been injured this spring.
That has thrown open the position to a number of unproven, young players, including Biegel, Jesse Hayes (who was sidelined with an injury last fall) and Joe Schobert (a converted safety).
Nick Hill, a fifth-year senior from Milwaukee, has been getting most of the snaps on the No. 1 defense at field 'backer opposite Biegel. Hill has made an impression despite his inexperience.
"He has all the athleticism in the world and he's talented in rushing the passer,'' Aranda said. "Right now, he's learning how to be consistent in executing whatever defense is called.
"But he has a ton of talent. We just have to get him more consistent. He's a prototypical guy for us at outside linebacker. He just has to mature into what we're asking him to do.''
Biegel went through some growing pains last season. After breaking his foot during training camp, he tried to come back and play but re-aggravated the injury and wound up redshirting.
"Obviously, it was a disappointment for me because I wanted to come here and help the team out any way I could,'' Biegel reflected. "But I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.''
Even though he was relegated to the sideline, Biegel tried to put his time to good use by absorbing everything that he could from the college football environment and older teammates.
"I don't think high school players realize how much of a mental game it is,'' Biegel said. "You're learning a full playbook and you're balancing school and football and your social life.
"You have to bring it all together on your own, as well. That's the one thing I learned while looking up to guys like Mike Taylor and Chris Borland.'' It has whetted his appetite for more.
This edition of Mike Lucas' "Lucas at Large" was featured in Varsity, the official digital magazine of Wisconsin Athletics. Subscribe to get Varsity delivered to your inbox each Thursday, download the official apps for iPhone and iPad or Android, and check out the complete Varsity archive on UWBadgers.com.
Photo: Kansas City StarKANSAS CITY
-- Seated at courtside, Marv Albert and Steve Kerr greeted Bo Ryan near the end of Wisconsin's practice here Thursday at the Sprint Center. Upon shaking Albert's hand, Ryan cracked, "I've got a son who does you better than you.''
Matt Ryan has been known to impersonate the voices of Albert and Bill Walton, among other sports celebrities. The younger Ryan, who once worked on his dad's staff in Madison, is now living in California and giving private basketball lessons to youngsters.
Albert and Kerr will be on the call of Wisconsin's opening game in the NCAA tournament Friday against Ole Miss for truTV. To this end, Kerr already has a book on the Badgers from having watched them last weekend against Indiana and Ohio State in Chicago while broadcasting for CBS.
"They're just unflappable,'' said Kerr, 47, the owner of five NBA championships, three with the Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. "They're not always going to make shots but they're going to take care of the ball and they're going to run their stuff.''
Kerr has an appreciation for good defense because he was so good on offense; he's the NBA's all-time percentage leader (.454) in 3-point shooting. At that, opponents are shooting just 29 percent from beyond the 3-point arc against the Badgers, a school record.
That figure was even lower in the Big Ten tournament, where Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State converted on only 9-of-46 attempts (19.6). Wisconsin is giving up 3.9 triples per game, the fewest among all BCS conference teams and the sixth-fewest overall in Division I.
"They're going to fight you on every possession,'' Kerr said. "They're a nightmare to play against because they don't give you anything easy. You have to earn every basket.''
Jared Berggren, the Big Ten leader in blocks per game (2.1) and UW's career leader (141), has played his way onto Kerr's radar. "I'm so impressed with what they do on defense particularly on the interior,'' he said. "Berggren is an amazing defender.''
Kern has a pretty discerning eye, too, considering he's the former general manager of the Phoenix Suns. "You don't really see it until you watch him closely,'' he said. "He's obviously a good shot blocker, but I'm talking about his positioning defensively.''
On ball swings, Kerr pointed to Berggren's ability to "find a way to get around his man and beat him to the spot'' along with "cutting off driving angles for guards.'' How is Berggren viewed by NBA scouts? Does he have a future at the next level?
"People love his defense,'' Kerr said. "But the key is that he would have to be a floor-spacing, 3-point shooter, which he has shown he can be. But he has been very inconsistent.''
As a junior, Berggren shot 37 percent from 3-point distance. But his numbers have dropped off dramatically this season to 26 percent. In the Big Ten, he was 8-of-48 (.167).
"You always have to find a place offensively on the floor in the NBA otherwise it becomes a four-on-five game,'' Kerr reasoned. "But he's big, he's a smart player. He can do some things. But if he could perfect that outside shot it changes everything.''
Bo knows defense, Kerr knows guards. That's why he had nothing but praise for the transition that Traevon Jackson has made to point guard, especially in Ryan's system.
Beyond the loss of Joss Gasser, he said, "What a tough role to fill Jordan Taylor's shoes.''
On top of that, Kerr noted that Jackson had to learn how to play the point "for a demanding coach who demands ball security.'' Based on his Chicago effort, he added, "I thought his play last weekend was one of the reasons why they had such a good run.''
When quizzed on the steady growth of UW freshman Sam Dekker, there was a twinkle in Kerr's eyes when he said, "He's got a little Doug McDermott to his game.''
McDermott, a 6-foot-7 junior wing, is the All-American for Creighton.
"He (Dekker) has that kind of potential, size, shooting touch and toughness,'' said Kerr. "I think he has just scratched the surface. He's going to be a big-time player.''
Dekker has been explosive in the open floor when the situation has presented itself. "If there's an opening,'' said Kerr, "they will run down and shoot a 3.''
But where the Badgers can frustrate an opponent is in the half-court. "No matter how hard you guard,'' Kerr said, "they're going to work even harder to get a good shot.''
How will Friday's game here unfold? "Even though they're playing well,'' he said of the Rebels, "I like the matchup for Wisconsin because I think they can control the pace and tempo and frustrate Ole Miss by making them guard for the whole clock.''
Still, he cautioned, "In the end, you have to make shots -- all the usual things.''
This has been an unusual season in college basketball because of parity, which led Kerr to conclude, "I think Wisconsin could make the Final Four." (He paused.) "I think they could also lose in their first game. You could say a lot of teams are in that situation.''
-- Neither Zak Showalter nor Jordan Smith had ever been "pulled'' before for not "pulling it,'' or shooting it enough, on Wisconsin's scout team.
But that was the consequence for making the extra pass or taking a higher quality shot while simulating Mississippi's top gun Marshall Henderson here Wednesday.
Showalter and Smith took turns as Henderson.
"I think they're both a little gun-shy,'' observed UW associate head coach Greg Gard, who's in charge of the scouting report on Ole Miss. "But they just have to let it fly.''
Throughout the practice in the Rockhurst University gym, Gard exhorted Showalter and Smith to "move, move, move'' and to "take it'' to "pull it'' from all angles and depth.
"I've never played like that before,'' said Showalter, a freshman from Germantown, Wis. "I got pulled out for passing it even though we scored. That's something different.''
In using screens and freeing himself up for shot opportunities, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Henderson has shown a non-stop motor -- making him difficult to defend or copy.
"I've just been running everywhere,'' Showalter said. "It's been fun, but it's been just chaotic basically. He runs in millions of circles all game so that's what I've been trying to do."
Gard rotated Showalter and Smith in the Henderson role "so they can stay fresh and get a little more speed off their cuts'' because Ole Miss is always looking to get him open.
"I love shooting, everybody loves shooting, it's a dream job for a scout guy,'' said Smith, a sophomore from Orono, Minn. "But you have to run off a lot of screens.''
You also need a special mindset. "He (Henderson) thinks he can make everything he shoots,'' Smith added. "That's how you have to play if you're going to be him.''
In 34 games, Henderson has taken 507 shots. Or 139 more than anybody else on his team. Or 150 more than Ryan Evans, who leads Wisconsin in field goal attempts.
"I took 25 shots once in a game,'' Smith said. "But I think that's about what he (Henderson) takes on average. That's crazy. But it's fun to emulate him.''
Actually, he's averaging about 15 per game with a high of 23. It just seems like he's taking every shot that goes up for Ole Miss because he's such a focal point of the offense.
Here's more perspective: Henderson has taken 367 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. Or 273 more than any of his teammates. Or 173 more than Wisconsin's Ben Brust.
Henderson has made 131 triples. Brust and Sam Dekker have combined for 125.
"I like his confidence in his game,'' Showalter said of Henderson. "He can miss six shots in a row and he'll just keep shooting it. He shoots to get hot and shoots to stay hot.
"He's going to get his shots up no matter what. There's nothing that's going to keep him from doing that. So I've been trying to do that all week in practice.''
Henderson is more than just a shooter; there's much more to his success.
"The biggest thing is how hard he plays,'' Gard said. "I know a lot has been made of his theatrics but he understands how to play and he makes so many plays for his team.
"He'll come off a screen and draw help and have guys running at him and he'll be finding the open guy. His court awareness is really good, and you don't want to foul him.''
Henderson is an 88-percent shooter from the foul line. He has attempted 183 free throws. Or 38 more than Evans, who has gotten to the stripe the most for the Badgers.
"He (Henderson) really sets guys up and baits people into fouling him,'' Gard said. "He'll get a defender out of position and if you rise out of your stance, he'll dribble into you.
"He's good at acting, too. He'll fall down and kick his foot out -- things that we've seen other guys do. You just try to warn your defenders that you can't get too close.''
But you still have to close out on the shooter, Henderson. The Badgers will use a rotation of defenders, ranging from Brust to Mike Bruesewitz to Evans.
"That's what we've done with good shooters all year,'' said Gard.
Bruesewitz, in particular, has usually drawn the assignment of guarding the opposing team's No. 1 threat, whether it has been Illinois' Brandon Paul or Indiana's Victor Oladipo.
At 6-6, 223-pounds, Bruesewitz brings more size to close-outs than perhaps Henderson is accustomed to seeing. But Bruesewitz is not as quick as Brust; not even close.
Henderson has drawn comparisons to former Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel.
"Only he's a little faster than Neitzel,'' Gard said. "They spread the floor for him and he changes directions on screens so well. He's flying off things.
"And he can make a lot of things happen beyond just shooting the ball. If you make one little mistake now it opens up an alley for him to attack (the rim) too.''
Henderson has come under attack for his showboating and flamboyance. He angered Florida fans with a "Gator Chomp'' and he has a "Land Shark'' hand wiggle after making 3s.
"It looks like he's having fun,'' said Gard, who then cut to the chase. "He's a very good player. He plays hard and he makes a lot of shots.''
Because of his volume of shots, Gard didn't have any trouble recruiting volunteers to simulate Henderson on the scout team, either. "Everybody wants to be him,'' he said.
As the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, the backup to the backup, Scott Tolzien didn't take any snaps for the San Francisco 49ers. But he still feels good about his ongoing pro football education.
"For starters, I get to go against the No. 1 defense in the NFL week-in and week-out,'' said Tolzien, the former Wisconsin quarterback, who runs the 49ers' scout team in practice.
"I remember when I first got here, I thought, 'Am I the worst football player around? Or, what's the deal?' It didn't take long to figure out that our defense is extremely good.''
It's one of the reasons why the 49ers are playing in Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens. Another reason has been the dramatic emergence of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Tolzien started the season as the backup to Kaepernick, who was the backup to Alex Smith. But after Smith suffered a concussion, Kaepernick took over as the starter and Smith is now the top reserve.
"I've learned a lot from just being the third guy,'' Tolzien admitted. "What I thought was really cool was that none of this quote-unquote controversy changed the dynamic in our quarterback room.
"It was still business as usual. Both guys, especially Alex, were so professional about it. I know it didn't change the way Alex prepared on a week-to-week basis. That included helping me and Colin.''
Regarding Kaepernick's rapid development, Tolzien said, "We all knew he had the physical tools. You saw that in practice. But the way he's done it on game days is extremely impressive.
"He's still a young quarterback yet he doesn't make the young guy mistakes. Even more than that, he's not just managing the game, he's making plays.''
Tolzien felt all along that Kaepernick "went into this thing extremely confident and once he was able to put a few games together, he can outwardly express that and take command of the huddle.''
Along with Washington's Robert Griffin III and Seattle's Russell Wilson, the dynamic Kaepernick has been at the forefront of introducing an innovative way to attack NFL defenses with the zone read.
"They took the league by storm this year,'' Tolzien opined. "In my mind, one of the top storylines has been what this offensive scheme has done to the league and how it has transformed it.''
But does it have staying power? Or is it a trend? Tolzien wasn't sure.
"I'm curious as anyone else,'' he said. "Right now, nobody has an answer. It creates a lot of one-on-one situations. All it takes is for one guy to be off on his gap responsibilities, and it's a house call.''
There has been no denying the impact of the dual-threat quarterback, for now, at least. But what about the new wave at the position? That includes RG3, Wilson and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck.
"I still don't think people understand how ridiculous that is to step into NFL huddle at that age and take over like they have,'' Tolzien said. "That's so uncommon. Yet they've made it look so easy.''
Tolzien, who led the Badgers to the 2010 Big Ten title, can derive satisfaction not only from the overall team results but in how the defense reacts to each individual opponent from week to week.
Leading up to the Super Bowl, he has simulated the tendencies of Baltimore's Joe Flacco and provided a picture of the Ravens offensively and "concepts that they're running'' with Flacco.
"Over the course of the season,'' Tolzien said, "if you take one piece from each guy (opposing QB), you can have a few more things in your own arsenal to draw from at the end of the season.
"I basically try to treat Wednesday and Thursdays as my game days. What it all boils down to is that you're preparing each week as the starter, whether you're third string or first string.
"You'd be cheating yourself -- you'd be cheating your team -- if you weren't doing that. A majority of my focus is on our own scheme. That's one of the fun parts of the gig.''
On Super Bowl Sunday, he will be "trying to live or play vicariously through the starter and provide an extra set of eyes for adjustments that can be made during timeouts and between series.''
The mere fact that he's on the roster of Super Bowl team has been pretty overwhelming.
"This last week has been crazy, but it also has been awesome,'' Tolzien said. "It's kind of like the same feeling when you win the Big Ten and you find out that you're going to the Rose Bowl.
"Now to actually have those two things happen, it's surreal. I'm so fortunate, and so thankful, and I want to make sure I don't ever take any of this for granted.''
Although he has been inactive more than he has been active, dressing for just three games during the regular season, Tolzien has treated his apprenticeship with urgency.
"You realize at this level that a lot of it is on you,'' Tolzien said. "If you're not good enough, they're going to find the next guy. That's pretty powerful right there.
"You'd better find a way to get better each week otherwise you're not going to last. There's another crop of guys coming into this league after the draft and they're looking to take your job.
"It will be like that every year until I establish myself in this league -- until I get playing time and prove that I can do it. I'm fine with that. Bottom line: you have to be hungry to get better.''
By all accounts, Tolzien is famished. "It's pretty simple, I want to be a starter (in the NFL),'' he said. "That hasn't changed since when I picked up a football when I was 10 years old.''
To this end, he has been taking advantage of his teachers: Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh, a former NFL signalcaller, and San Francisco quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, the brother of Pitt coach Paul Chryst.
"(Harbaugh) played over a decade in the league,'' Tolzien said, "so there's merit in the things that he points out to you, whether it's a defensive scheme or a fundamental of the position.
"It's not just coachspeak. He sees the game through our lens and that has been extremely helpful. I'm just so happy to work with both guys. They're first-class individuals and awesome coaches.
"Geep is the more talkative version of Paul (who was Tolzien's offensive coordinator at Wisconsin). They have the same humor and personality. You're just going to hear more out of Geep.''
As it was, Tolzien heard from Smith after the Badgers hired Gary Andersen as their new head coach in December.
Smith and Andersen were at Utah at the same time.
"Right away, he goes, 'That's an awesome hire,''' Tolzien said. "He told me he's just one of the most genuine people that you'll ever come across, just a normal guy.''
Not unlike Tolzien.
At Monday's news conference, Ryan Little was more than happy to model his Wisconsin hockey sweater; bearing No. 20 on the back, the 50th anniversary logo on the shoulder and an "A'' on the front.
Like all of his teammates, Little would like to "accessorize'' the season with an NCAA tournament appearance; a missing thread since losing to Boston College in the 2010 Frozen Four finals.
"The past two years we haven't made the tournament and it's a tough way to end your year,'' said Little, a senior from Fond du Lac and an assistant captain (hence the "A'').
"You think about that for the rest of the school year and all summer and that kind of eats away at you. So if that's not enough motivation for you then you're not in the right sport.''
The Badgers have returned to the ice in preparation for what many believe can be a fruitful season based on the experience level of the roster.
"People are giving us a little more credit this year, they are expecting big things out of us,'' Little acknowledged. "But we don't want that to go to the guy's heads too early and get too confident.
"We've got a lot to prove still.
"That's the main message we're trying to get across.''
The Badgers got on a late roll last season, but it was truly too little, too late.
"We had a lot of close one and two-goal losses and then we finally started to figure it out towards the end of the year and we were playing pretty well in the playoffs,'' Little said.
"We didn't' get the result we wanted.
"But if we can pick up where we left off, we can use some of those tough losses for some motivation; just that experience of knowing what we need to do win those close games.''
This will be an historic season; not only are the Badgers celebrating their proud hockey tradition, but they are writing their final chapter as a member of the WCHA before moving into a Big Ten league.
Little is well aware of the history surrounding the program.
"Anyone who plays hockey is somewhat aware of it,'' he said, adding that it really sinks in "once you get here and see the stuff on the walls and hear coach (Mike) Eaves telling stories about it."
As a fifth-year senior, he's well-versed on the tradition. "I've heard quite a bit and seen quite a bit about it,'' he said. "There's really nothing like it - it's a pretty special place for hockey.''
That, understandably, has become a part of the recruiting pitch.
"There's no question,'' Eaves said. "When you walk into the lobby of our office and you see the history timeline, first of all, and then you see the trophy case. That kind of speaks for itself.''
The Badgers have won six national championships.
"Once a young prospect sees our fans,'' Eaves said, "and the kind of energy that they bring to a game here they think it's a little different than other sports in that it creates its own unique culture.''
What has Eaves seen thus far from his players during their limited practices?
"I think they're excited and that's to be predicted,'' he said, "after we had the type of year that we had last year where we saw great growth but we were left on the outside (of the NCAAs).
"Everybody is anxious to get back on the inside. The one nice thing about this year is that we will start further down the alphabet than we did last year (because of the youth and inexperience).
"We ended up starting at a or b. This year we may be starting at h or i ... and moving forward from there. That will help us get off to a good start.''
The key ingredient in the recipe for a successful hockey season is no secret.
"We've got to find a way to win those close games,'' Eaves said. "We were on the bottom end of too many one-goal games. Part of the secret, quite frankly, is experience.
"You had 20 freshman and sophomores last year that were trying to figure it out and put in situations that they probably weren't ready to handle, but we had no choice.
"We've got that under our belt now, and we can move forward.''
In honoring the legacy through the 50th celebration of past championship teams and players, Little said, "You want to look back 20 years from now and have guys doing the same thing for you.''
Celebrating success never gets old.
Wisconsin volleyball coach Pete Waite was asked if had a "wild card'' up his sleeve. That could be one player who has the potential to impact the mix, if she hasn't already, and make everyone better. That could be one player who is just beginning to understand how good she can be.
"Crystal Graff is starting to break out coming off an injury,'' Waite said of his sophomore outside hitter from Madison La Follette High School. "We didn't expect her to be on top of her game right away. But each week she's looking better and better.''
Waite knows what Graff can do when healthy. As a freshman, she started 19 of 20 matches before a leg injury sidelined her for the second half of the season and the spring. On Aug. 31, she had 13 kills against Cal State Northridge, just two shy of her career high of 15 set at NC State last year.
Waite had another "wild card'' candidate.
"The other one is on our right side and she's from Norway,'' Waite said of Julie Mikaelsen, a junior from Askim, Norway. "She's so much better than she was a year ago and I think she's going to be a big factor for us. She's one of our offensive leaders right now.''
Mikaelsen ranks fourth on the team in kills (2.57 per set) which may not seem like much until you revisit her narrative and consider how far she has literally come as a player, on and off the floor. Prior to this season, she had appeared in 50 matches, including 25 starts as a freshman.
"Her English has improved dramatically,'' Waite said. "If you were to speak to her, you would never know that she's Norwegian other than when she's talking about her homeland.''
One of Mikaelsen's coaches in Norway had previously coached professionally in the United States. One of his contacts had Wisconsin ties, which led to Waite recruiting Mikaelsen. "I went to watch her practice and play and I really liked her,'' Waite said.
Mikaelsen was originally a part of Wisconsin's 2009 recruiting class. But there were some questions about her NCAA eligibility. "She was here two days before our preseason camp, and we had to send her back for a year,'' Waite said. "I went and watched her again and she was more mature.''
During the 2009-10 season, Mikaelsen played for the University of Stavanger club team. Her international resume is fairly extensive through her participation with the Norwegian Junior National Team (2006-2010) and a summer stint with the Norwegian Senior National Team in 2011.
On top of all of that, she has been a good fit.
"She's a great teammate,'' Waite said.
That would seem to fall in line with the type of personality the Badgers have been cultivating.
"They're a pretty resilient group,'' Waite said. "We're pretty thin in the middle right now, so we just have Alexis Mitchell and Mary Ording. And they're just troopers; they're getting all the reps in practice. Mary is getting up to speed because it's not a position that she played much in the past.''
Mitchell , meanwhile, is a senior and proven Big Ten competitor.
"She isn't a big surprise, but she keeps getting better,'' Waite said. Who are the surprises then? "Deme Morales is in the back row and she's a phenomenal athlete with a great jump top-spin serve. Her ball control has come around a lot, and Annemarie Hickey continues to improve as a defensive player.''
The Badgers have won five of their first six matches; the only loss coming to Creighton. "We're pretty much where I thought we would be,'' Waite said. "You'd prefer to be undefeated. You never want to lose. But at times you have to be pushed by the best. They have to show you your weaknesses.''
Besides the resiliency that Waite has seen in some areas, he has also seen his players "getting tighter as a unit.'' That bodes well for the future and Waite's objective to get everyone to "believe that they can be one of the best teams in the conference.''
That takes time and patience.
"But when they do that -- believe -- they play at a very high level,'' he said, "and that's exciting to see. It's starting to form, but it's not quite there yet ... non-conference play is huge for us. We've talked to the team about that. They're working as hard as they can to get up to speed as fast as they can.
"We're seeing some good things, and I like that.''
Three years ago, the Wisconsin women's soccer team learned an invaluable lesson at the expense of getting humbled in a 6-0 loss to No. 3 ranked Stanford.
The overmatched Badgers were outshot, 30-4.
But they could take some solace in knowing that Stanford would go on to win 25 straight before finally losing to North Carolina, 1-0, in the NCAA championship game.
The Badgers could also take pride in knowing that they turned around their season after that loss and made it all the way to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament before falling to Boston College.
Not only did it mark Wisconsin's best finish in the NCAAs since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 2001, it was the program's first Sweet 16 appearance in 16 years.
UW coach Paula Wilkins was reminded of that 2009 loss at Stanford the other day while discussing the positives that came out of 2-0 loss to top-ranked UCLA in Los Angeles last Friday night.
This was a far more competitive matchup; it was night and day, really.
Fact is, the Bruins didn't take the lead until the 78th minute and the Badgers were still on the attack in the final seconds after pulling goalkeeper Lauren Gunderson and using her in the box.
Wisconsin got one last shot at tying the game, but it was blocked and the deflection set up an uncontested breakaway by UCLA's Zakiya Bywaters, who sealed the victory with an empty-net goal.
Wilkins liked the way her players responded to the challenge; she liked the effort even more after learning from Monica Lam-Feist what had been said in a postgame huddle on the field.
If the Badgers were going to lose -- to paraphrase Lam-Feist -- they would go down fighting or by "throwing it all out there'' like they had against the Bruins. That was music to Wilkins' ears.
"This team is different than any team I've had in the past years,'' Wilkins said.
That was evident in the UW's season opener, a 1-0 victory over Notre Dame, the 2010 NCAA champions. Lam-Feist's goal gave the Badgers only their second win over the Irish in series history.
The only other victory came in 1989.
"Anytime you get a result against a team that has won national championships and is a perennial top-10 team in the national scene, it's important,'' said Wilkins, who won her first opener in five years. "It gives your team some confidence and makes them believe in what they can do.''
Wilkins emphasized afterward the need "to show people that it wasn't a fluke.''
She made that same point to her players prior to facing Loyola Marymount last Sunday.
"I told them after the Friday game I thought a lot of them had come to California just to play UCLA,'' she said, "and we can't lose sight of being consistent and committed to details in the next game. By getting four goals against Loyola it showed people that we weren't just a one-trick pony.''
The Badgers won 4-2 over Loyola Marymount and improved their record to 4-1.
"The biggest thing I'm happy about is that the players are committed to each other,'' Wilkins said. "I'm really excited about the dynamic they've created -- they really have a strong commitment to defending and attacking together and that mentality is carrying through a lot of games.''
The offense has been pretty noteworthy, too.
Wisconsin has scored 16 goals through five games.
The Badgers had 27 goals in 20 games last season.
"As a coach, you sleep a little better,'' Wilkins acknowledged.
The brunt of the offense has been generated among five players: Lam-Feist (3 goals, 15 shots), Paige Adams (3 goals, 10 shots), Kinley McNicoll, Kodee Williams and McKenna Meuer (2 goals each).
"Any given day,'' Wilkins said, "one of these kids is really good.''
Have there been one or two players that the others have rallied around?
"The upperclassmen are rallying around the freshmen,'' she said, "and the freshmen are rallying around the upperclassmen. It's a mutual respect for each other. Their work rate and energy is exciting.''
That's what she hasn't seen around here in a long time, she confessed.
After falling short of the NCAA tournament last season, Wilkins pointed out, "A lot of the juniors came in and said, 'We want to make a difference' and they really put the work in to build a relationship with the younger players and you can kind of see how they all believe in each other.''
That resolve was strengthened by how the Badgers played against UCLA. "I learned we're not as far off as we think we are, in terms of being competitive with the good teams,'' Wilkins said. "UCLA gave us the standard where we need to be and it's going to help us in training.''
To this end, the next two opponents -- Illinois State and Milwaukee -- will help the Badgers fine-tune their game and raise their level of play in preparation of a rugged Big Ten schedule, beginning with the conference opener Sept. 16 at Penn State.
While the offense has been a pleasant and welcome development, take it from Wilkins that her player's commitment to "defending has really made them a dangerous team'' -- one that may be capable of playing with anybody on any given day.