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Fans of both the Wisconsin Badgers and the Green Bay Packers might have needed two television sets in their living rooms Sunday night. As the Packers were about to begin their beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys, ESPN was airing its weekly BCS Countdown show.
Anyone who has lived in this state longer than five minutes knows about the popularity of the Packers. When they play, much of our world stops. I'm just not sure how many fans figured that a show about the BCS rankings would be appointment viewing.
As the regular season heads into the stretch drive, the seventh-ranked Badgers remain the Big Ten's highest-rated team in the BCS standings, two notches ahead of Ohio State. In a potential three-team tie-breaker scenario, that is very significant.
Who knows how the final few weeks of the regular season will play out, but one possibility would be a dead heat featuring Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. In that specific case, the highest-ranked team would be the conference representative in the Rose Bowl.
That raises an interesting issue for head coach Bret Bielema.
UW basketball forward Mike Bruesewitz knows what you're thinking, and he's fine with it. Bruesewitz knows that you're thinking "What in the world was he thinking'' when he grew out his hair into a curly, red Afro that conjures up images of comedian Scott Thompson (aka Carrot Top).
"Every once in awhile you have to have a change of pace,'' Bruesewitz said.
At Saturday night's exhibition between the Badgers and UW-La Crosse, the "Bruesewitz Hair Cam'' made its debut on the scoreboard at the Kohl Center. Some unsuspecting fans were spotlighted on the giant screen and "fitted'' with a computer-generated facsimile of the Bruesewitz mop.
Bruesewitz was in a team huddle during the timeout and didn't see it. "But I found out a couple of days ago that they're selling wigs at Bucky's Locker Room,'' he said.
So, what in the world was he thinking?
Well, he was thinking he wanted to be like his big brother. And if you think the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Bruesewitz is big, you should see his big brother, Robert Bruesewitz, a 6-9, 265-pound giant who played offensive tackle for the Princeton University football team.
"I was in the eighth or ninth grade when he came home at Christmas during his sophomore year of college,'' Mike said." My mom usually cut his hair, but he was too cheap to get a haircut on the East Coast because they were expensive. So he had this big, bushy red Afro and I was really jealous.''
Following his freshman season with the Badgers - during which he appeared in 28 games as a backup and won over the fan base with his hustle and energy - Mike Bruesewitz decided to come back with a new look Afro for his sophomore year. What was the reaction of his UW teammates?
"Sometimes it's a topic of discussion, but they really don't remember what I looked like with the crew cut,'' said Bruesewitz, whose family moved from Litchfield, Minn. to St. Paul after his sophomore year of high school. His older brother Bob was on two state championship basketball teams at Litchfield.
Mike Bruesewitz twice led Henry Sibley High School to the state tournament, including the Class 4A title game when he was a junior. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Minnesota as a senior.
Bruesewitz anticipates that he will be the target of opposing Big Ten fans on the road.
Some things never change.
"Being a redheaded kid, you hear about your hair everywhere you go,'' he said. "I got it bad in high school and I got it bad last year. During warm-ups, a lot of times 'Ginger' would be thrown out. It comes with the territory of being redheaded, but it's all right. I expect to hear it, and I don't mind it.''
Bruesewitz is hoping that people will recognize that his game has a new look, too. He has spent the off-season working on his jump shot. His tutor has been UW assistant coach Gary Close.
"Coach Close is the shot doctor on the team and he has helped me a lot,'' Bruesewitz said. "We've made some minor tweaks here and there. Mechanically, it was nothing major. We've just tried to make it more compact and more consistent. Sometimes I'd shoot on my way and I'd be short.''
Although he received limited minutes as a freshman, he understood his role. "I tried to bring energy to the team,'' Bruesewitz said. "Whether it was getting rebounds, getting on the floor, scrapping in the post, or stuff like that, I tried to bring something to the team that needs to be done every game.
"Sometimes it would be getting an offensive rebound. Sometimes it would be sticking a guy on defense. Hopefully this season, I can help carry the load a little bit more offensively. My confidence is a little bit higher. This is my second year in the program, and I kind of know what's expected of me.''
So, what is expected of Mike Bruesewitz?
"Making better reads, making better decisions, especially when I have the ball,'' he said. "Defensively, making sure I'm better off the ball, and on the ball.''
Saturday night, Bruesewitz played 17 minutes and had eight points (4-of-5), four rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one Hair Cam moment (one more than anyone else in college basketball).
So what does a person who covers sports for a living do during a free weekend? He sits on the couch and watches sports, right?
With the Wisconsin football team idle last weekend, it was fun just to be a fan. From all the pomp and circumstance of the NBA's opening week, which included the home opener for the Miami Heat (and that guy named LeBron), to the World Series (see what happens when you get some pitching, Brewers fans?), to the latest in the Brett Favre Saga, this past weekend had plenty to offer.
Oh yeah, there was plenty of college football to take in as well. It was a good chance to take in some of the craziness that is making for a truly wild season. Who knew that Iowa would put that type of a beat down on Michigan State? How 'bout Oregon's seemingly unstoppable offense? Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's Heisman campaign continued as he passed for two touchdowns and caught one as well.
Nebraska did not look half bad, and it was not freshman sensation Taylor Martinez who stole the show, but rather running back Roy Helu, who rushed for 307 yards and three touchdowns as the Cornhuskers knocked off Missouri.
It seems just about every team in the top 10 has a fair amount of sizzle. From high-octane offenses featuring dazzling quarterbacks, to a coach nicknamed "Mad Hatter," and another coach who names plays after ESPN personalities. Yes, there seems to be lots of sizzle in college football's high-rent district.
Then you have the Badgers.
One of the most stunning comebacks in UW history took place on the PAT (Prescription Athletic Turf) of Ross-Ade Stadium during the 1982 season. Purdue coach Leon Burtnett was so shocked by the turn of events he said afterward, "This was the worst loss I've ever been associated with in coaching."
Remember, this was pre-Kyle Orton, pre-Scott Starks, pre-Joe Tiller.
This was Oct. 2, 1982. And many in the crowd (69,131) began heading for the exits after the Boilermakers grabbed a 31-23 lead with 2:24 remaining, even though it was still a one-possession game.
Taking the cue from today's high-octane Quack Attack (the Oregon offense), UW quarterback Randy Wright drove the Badgers 70 yards in 55 seconds for a touchdown that made it 31-29.
But the two-point conversion failed. And many more Purdue fans got up and left after the Boilermakers recovered the subsequent on-side kick at their own 47-yard line.
Defensively, the Badgers stiffened on first and second down, but they were now out of timeouts. On third down, Purdue quarterback Scott Campbell tried to execute a simple roll-out which was designed to eat up more precious seconds. He was supposed to fall down in-bounds.
But he kept rolling and rolling ...
Big Ten Basketball Media Day is well underway here at the Crowne Plaza in Rosemont, Ill. Men's head coach Bo Ryan is in the middle of cycling through interviews with Sirius/XM Satellite Radio and ESPN, while women's head coach Lisa Stone is awaiting the start of her press conference.
Here are few Tweets from @BadgerMBBall
at Media Day:
Bo Ryan: "Jared Berggren could be the sleeper sophomore that people don't know about, but will."
Ryan: "The best thing u can say about a PG is that Jordan Taylor raises
the level of his teammates. He'll be governor in 10 yrs."
Beilien to Ryan: "How's Krabbenhoft looking this year? He was around so
long I'm expecting to see him again this year when we play you."
Ryan to ESPN: "Keaton is delightful. He goes to his own drummer, but
he's got a strong beat going right now. This could be his year."
E'twaun Moore told Jordan he could avg 20 pts this year and Jordan said,
"Nah, I'll avg 3-4 pts. I'm just going to pass the ball to Leuer."
Taylor: "Being from MN, I hated the Badgers til I was about 15. Then I
got my first letter from them and I flipped sides. Then I loved em."
MSU's Draymond Green: "Working out in the off-season, I was thinking about getting quicker cuz of what Jon Leuer did vs. me."
Read what Bo Ryan had to say at this year's Big Ten media day press conference:
Tom Crean on Leuer: "I put him in a Kyle Singler class - and Jon might be bigger. He's going to have a long career after he's gone from UW."
Ann Arbor News did an unofficial poll of Big Ten media. Guess who has two of the most underrated players in the league? http://ow.ly/31uXg
Crossing paths Monday outside the Camp Randall Stadium media room, UW women's hockey coach Mark Johnson and men's coach Mike Eaves exchanged NHL flashbacks much to the amusement of Badger football offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Dave Doeren.
Eaves spoke of a collision with New York Rangers defenseman Barry "Bubba" Beck (6-3, 215) - the equivalent of a decleater - the impact of which lifted Eaves' skates off the ice. The result was a concussion during which for 90-minutes following the game Eaves was in another world.
Johnson, who carried less than 170 pounds on his 5-10 frame, recalled getting run over at the blue line by Boston Bruins behemoth Gord Kluzak, who dwarfed most players in the league back then.
"When I got back to the bench,'' Johnson recounted, "our trainer came over and asked, 'How much time is left in the period?' I looked up and said, 'On which clock. I see three of them.'"
Concussions, of course, are no laughing matter. Not then. Not now. No one is more painfully aware of that than Eaves, who had a string of concussions as a pro; and Johnson, whose son, Patrick, is just coming off a concussion. Patrick Johnson (5-9, 158) is a senior forward on Eaves' team.
"After Patrick went through the testing on Monday and Tuesday of last week, he started skating again Wednesday," Mark Johnson said. "He felt pretty good and he was fortunate enough to get back in the lineup this past weekend at Denver. We have a great medical staff and a protocol to follow.
"It's no different with our female players. The emphasis now is to make sure you follow the protocol and if the player is not ready to return - irrelevant of the importance of that player to your team - they're not going to let them play."
Both the men and women will be playing this weekend at the Kohl Center. Johnson and his No. 1 ranked team will take on Minnesota State at 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday afternoon. Eaves will see how his players respond in their first WCHA home series against Michigan Tech at 7 p.m. both nights.
If ever a team needed a bye week, it would be the Wisconsin Badgers. When we taped Bret Bielema's TV show late Saturday night, the Badgers' coach let out a huge sigh of relief. To say the least, it is a much-needed break for a banged-up football team.
No doubt it is an elated group, but it is one that needs some time to heal and get ready for the second half of the Big Ten season.
As special as the victory against Ohio State will always be, perhaps last week's effort at Iowa trumped it. It is the perfect example of what a coach means when you hear the words "find a way to win." In Iowa City, Scott Tolzien completed passes to 10 different players, and none of them is named Nick Toon, who had to miss the entire game with a leg injury.
As the game unfolded, key players such as Lance Kendricks, James White and Peter Konz joined Toon as spectators. On defense, Jordan Kohout had to sit out after being injured the previous week, and during the Iowa game, Beau Allen had to miss some time with a leg injury.
Mike Taylor, who also was hobbling in the days following the Ohio State game, shuttled in and out of the lineup last Saturday, playing a game of tag team with fellow linebacker Kevin Claxton. Still, tender knee and all, Taylor made the final tackle of Hawkeyes running back Adam Robinson, making sure he remained inbounds as the final seconds ran off the clock.
There were so many key moments and key players in this latest "Instant Classic." The work of Montee Ball. J.J. Watt blocking an extra point, tackling holder Ryan Donahue on an aborted field goal try, and of course, his final series sack of Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
Bill Nagy sliding into the center position after Konz had to give way because of an ankle injury. Ethan Hemer's effort at defensive tackle for the injured Kohout. The list goes on and on, but in what I guess is becoming a bit of a theme in these blogs, I look to another play that helped keep the Badgers alive in the fourth quarter.
In the stat book, it will go down as a 3-yard gain, but it was so much more than that.
After coming off the UW bench and averaging 13 minutes of playing time during his redshirt freshman season, Ryan Evans knew that he had to expand his game. Little did he know then that he would be expanding it overseas to Belgium and Germany.
But that was the case after Evans joined the Global Sports Academy Team for its five-game European Tour in August. Along with Evans, the Big Ten was represented by Purdue's D.J. Byrd and Illinois' Tyler Griffey and Brandon Paul. Illini assistant Jay Price was the head coach.
"As a player, it expanded my game,'' said Evans, who helped Global Sports to a 5-0 record by averaging nine points. "They kind of flood the lane over there, so you have to be able to shoot.
"In every aspect of the game, I think I've gotten better this off-season. I feel stronger. My feet are quicker. My ball-handling is better. My shot feels a lot better. I have more confidence,''
Evans led all scorers with 14 points in the Field House Madness scrimmage prior to the Oct. 16 Wisconsin-Ohio State football game. He also scored 12 in Sunday's Red-White Scrimmage at the Kohl Center.
Wquinton Smith can see the same thing as Josh Gasser. Even though they have much different sight lines on the UW basketball team, they both see available "minutes" in the backcourt.
Smith (5-10, 205) is a senior walk-on from Milwaukee Rufus King, who originally claimed a roster spot through an open tryout and has since shored up the scout team with his aggressive play.
Gasser (6-3, 185) is a scholarship freshman from Port Washington, who drew plenty of recruiting traffic after averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists during his senior year.
Along with freshman Ben Brust, both are eyeing some playing time behind starting point guard Jordan Taylor. And by the sounds of it Gasser has already made a favorable early impression on UW coach Bo Ryan.
"He can see the floor; he played in AAU for a young man (Tyler Selk) that I recruited and had at Platteville," Ryan said. "His knowledge of the game and his court sense is really good. So he's ahead of a lot of freshman. And he's tough physically. He already had a run-in with Jordan. Josh came in second."
Ryan explained that the two players collided while diving for a loose ball on the floor during a drill in practice. "They hit pretty hard," Ryan added. "He got banged up a little bit, so he's nursing that. But that's a good sign. I wouldn't want to run into Jordan or Q (Wquinton) as a guard."
UW freshman Manasseh Garner is enjoying his dual role as an apprentice wide receiver and an apprentice rush end. So what does he prefer? Offense? Or defense?
"It still doesn't matter," Garner said Tuesday. "I've been rotating both ways throughout practice. Basically, it's wherever the team needs me, that's where I jump in."
But does he feel more comfortable on one side of the ball over the other?
"No sir, actually, I feel very comfortable both ways," said Garner, a super polite product of Brashear High School in Pittsburgh, Pa. "I've always been an athlete throughout midget league and high school. It's a God-given thing, just natural. So when the coaches ask me to step in and play both sides, it was a natural thing for me to do. I'm a team player and I just want to help the team out."
Garner expanded his impact to special teams during Saturday night's victory over Ohio State -- so much so that he drew the attention of UW coach Bret Bielema, who noted during his Monday presser that Garner "was a terror on kickoff coverage. He kind of ignited the whole unit."
Bielema later expanded his thoughts on the 6-foot-2, 204-pound Garner. "He's very gifted, he's very fast," Bielema said. "He's got a little bit of an understanding of ball awareness, a football IQ. He's played a lot of football at different positions, so I think his general football awareness is really good."
With each sprint downfield, Garner seemed to gain in confidence, too. "Once he got excited, he got faster on the kickoff every play," Bielema said. "He's a guy that we'll probably get involved a little bit more on the defensive side of things (against Iowa). When we were running out of guys to rush Terrelle Pryor, I about subbed him in without even checking with our defensive coaches just because I knew he would be a guy that had a fresh set of legs that could go out there and run people down."
Garner was excited to be contributing on special teams, especially against the Buckeyes.
"My motivation was to help my team out, and do my job and beat the No. 1 team in the nation," Garner said matter of factly. "Pennsylvania and Ohio don't get along, period, so that was another motivation. We lost to Ohio in the Big 33 game that I played in, so I wanted revenge, I wanted payback."