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UW men's cross country coach Mick Byrne was paying Ryan Collins a compliment when he put the Virginia transfer in context with one of his former distance runners, Landon Peacock.
A year ago, Peacock won his first individual Big Ten championship while sparking the Badgers to their 12th-consecutive league crown -- which they will be defending Sunday at the University of Illinois Arboretum in Champaign.
"He's not an artist like Landon,'' Byrne said of Collins. "He's not as far out there as Landon was.''
Byrne later clarified his use of the word "artist.''
"I wasn't referring to him being an artist in the sport,'' he said, "as much as I was referring to him in general terms. Landon was a little eccentric. He was a dreamer. He'd get into his own little world.
"He wouldn't mean to. He was trying to focus on the race and he'd be off drawing some landscape in his mind. Maybe that's why he was such a good athlete. It didn't faze him.''
Meanwhile, Byrne said Collins brings a "certain amount of calmness to the team'' in addition to bringing "this amazing passion for what he does'' which has led to a seamless transition as a teammate.
"Ryan is very much in tune with what's going on,'' Byrne said, "and in a very positive way he also has a great perspective on what we do. He kind of has that sense about him.
"Like, 'This is cross country, this is what we do' but we're playing a football game Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, and what they're doing is a huge deal.
"So let's go watch the game and let's not talk about cross country.''
Byrne endorses that attitude in his athletes.
"From a coach's perspective, they have a great team and school spirit,'' he said. "They're not going to spend Saturday night in a hotel room worrying about what they have to do on Sunday.
"They know what they have to do. They know what Indiana is going to throw at them. They're excited about it. At the same time, for two or three hours Saturday night they're going to be Badgers.''
So they'll be watching Wisconsin-Ohio State from their team hotel, he said.
You can tell Bryne likes this team a lot -- his No. 2-ranked cross country team. Mostly, he likes how his runners compete and take care of their business and "get after it'' every day.
"They do the work, and they're real serious about it,'' he said. "They're real motivated, real determined and real focused on not just this Sunday but what's coming down the pipeline.''
That would be the NCAA championship on Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind. Byrne said Collins has "kind of meshed'' with that vision and his new teammates and "they're all on the same page.''
The Badgers are returning four scorers from last season's Big Ten meet: Mohammed Ahmed (fourth), Elliot Krause (fifth), Maverick Darling (sixth) and Reed Connor (12th). Collins replaces Peacock.
"I believe we've got five guys who have a really good shot at winning the individual title,'' Byrne said. "They're all leaders. Every one of those guys knows what's at stake here and down the road.
"Over the last two meets the most important thing was that we came out of them not banged up. We came out of these meets able to continue with our training plan.
"It's a process as you head from that early part of the season into the championship part.''
Wisconsin has won each of its last three meetings: the Orange and Blue Preview (Champaign, Ill.), the Bill Dellinger Invitational (Springfield, Ore.) and its own Wisconsin adidas Invitational (Zimmer Championship Course).
While the Badgers were competing in Oregon on Oct. 1, there was mini-reunion with a handful of former UW distance greats like Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp, Simon Bairu and Evan Jager, who joined Byrne's current athletes to take in the football Badgers' win over Nebraska.
"They came down from Portland where they're training,'' Byrne said. "And it's always a positive when our young guys get to see those guys and be around them.''
Success, after all, breeds success.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema will likely be listening to Kid Rock when the Badgers arrive at Ohio Stadium early Saturday afternoon for their walk-through. That's a game day staple.
Less than three hours before kickoff when the chartered buses depart from the team hotel and return to the 102,000-seat Horseshoe, he will be tuned into U2. That's also part of his routine.
Neither Bob Ritchie, nor Bono will show up on Derek Landisch's play list. The UW freshman linebacker favors Five Finger Death Punch and Disturbed, a couple of heavy metal bands.
That's how he gets charged up for a game.
"It's the same stuff that I've been listening to since my junior and senior year of high school,'' said Landisch, a four-time letter winner at Hartland Arrowhead.
"You find a song that you like and it gets you going -- it gets the heart racing and the blood pressure boiling. It gets me in an angry mood.''
The conflict is that the soft-spoken, polite Landisch could be mistaken for an Eagle Scout.
"He's got a little Eddie Haskell in him,'' Bielema kiddingly suggested.
The reference was to the TV character in the old "Leave it to Beaver'' series.
Landisch does seem to play with a little bit of an edge. During a recent practice, he tackled a scout team tailback and flung him to the turf so hard that the runner threw the football at him.
Landisch ran back to his position and got ready for the next snap. "He does remind me a little bit of Chris Borland,'' Bielema said. "He's not as big as Chris but he's real slippery and real feisty.''
As a prep, Landisch wore No. 44, which is Borland's number with the Badgers.
"I get that question a lot,'' Landisch said about being compared to Borland. "Chris has proven himself on the college level. That's something I haven't done yet.''
Borland, a third-year sophomore, and Landisch room together on the road. They'll have plenty to talk about Friday night since Borland is an Ohioan; a native of Kettering, 80 miles from Columbus.
"We talk about everything, life and football -- he's a good role model,'' Landisch said. "If I can, I pick his brain a little bit. He's a great guy to look up to and he has definitely helped me out a lot.''
Whereas Borland has bulked up to 245 pounds, Landisch has dropped down to 220 from the grind of his first season in college football. But it's fair to say that he has been playing "bigger.''
Bielema had so much confidence in Landisch that he put him on the field in the Big Ten opener against Nebraska in passing situations to help contain quarterbacks Taylor Martinez, a sprinter.
Borland rushed off one edge, and Landisch off the other.
Despite giving up anywhere from 80 to 100-plus pounds to offensive tackles, Landisch is starting to understand and learn the nuances of being an undersized pass rusher.
When he got his first look at the UW offensive line in training camp, Landisch admitted, "They were the biggest people that I've ever seen in my life. But I'm used to it now, I'm used to the size.''
A number of his teammates, including Borland and senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym, have passed along some pointers. "That really means a lot to me,'' Landisch said.
What he has going for him is what Borland has going for him: leverage. "You have to play with your hands and stay low,'' he said. "I try using my height and lower center of gravity to my advantage.''
Landisch has been particularly grateful for Borland's input.
"If I get blocked on a play, Chris will tell come up to me and tell me what I did wrong,'' he said. "Or if I do well, he will tell me what I did right, so he has definitely helped me.''
Last Saturday, Landisch had a chance to make a play on special teams when he came close to blocking a punt off the foot of Michigan State's Mike Sadler. But he failed to execute his technique.
"It's kind of disappointing because it was a fundamental error,'' Landisch said. "I had my hands too high. Coach Bielema is always talking about shooting our hands out, instead of up.
"I thought I had it blocked. That's what coach always talks about, 'Expect to come free.' I will live and learn from and it will make me stronger.''
It has been well documented on how quarterback Russell Wilson is a strong proponent of visualization. That also holds true for Landisch.
"I'll visualize the stadium and what it's going to be like,'' he said, "even though I have no idea since I've never played in Ohio Stadium. But it's something I picture and think about a lot.
"We expect to do well. But we talk about going into games expecting adversity and overcoming adversity, so it's definitely important to visualize, 'If this happens, I'm going to do this.'''
That's another characteristic that has endeared Landisch to Bielema. "He's very very smart,'' Bielema said, "He knows what he's going to do out there, and he has a great memory.''
Not so much this week; not after the heartbreaking loss at Michigan State.
"Coach B talks about moving on,'' Landisch said. "That game can either make you stronger or weaker. If you learn from it, you can be a stronger and a better football player.''
"Believe'' is not only the second studio album for Disturbed, but it might be the word of the week for the Badgers. Believe in yourself. Believe in your teammates. Believe in the plan.
Wednesday was a great day for hockey. It was also a great day to recognize former Wisconsin men's coach Jeff Sauer and current UW women's coach Mark Johnson for their impact on the sport.
Sauer and Johnson were among four recipients of the 2011 Lester Patrick Award that honors special individuals for their contributions to hockey in the United States.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was on hand for the event at the River Centre in St. Paul, Minn., where Bob Pulford and Tony Rossi joined Sauer and Johnson as Patrick Award honorees.
Johnson said that after he received a phone call from Bettman notifying him that he was a winner, "You step back and say, 'Wow!' It puts a smile on your face.''
Sauer got the same phone call and said, "I looked at my phone and saw it was a call from Gary Bettman and I thought it was someone playing a trick on me.''
It was no joke. Sauer and Johnson were most deserving. Plus, it was most timely that they were honored in the same class given that their history together dates back to when Jeff babysat for Mark.
Badger Bob Johnson -- Mark's dad -- was a common denominator. Keeping it all in the family, Jeff Sauer was a former Bob Johnson assistant and Mark Johnson was a former Jeff Sauer assistant.
There have been numerous intersections on their career timelines.
* * *
Before the UW Athletic Board could get around to confirming his appointment as the new hockey coach, it had to clean its desk of some old business and tend to other bureaucratic matters.
Colorado College's 39-year-old coach, Jeff Sauer, was told to take a seat and wait.
Not a problem. The job was his. And since the former Badger assistant had waited a long time for this day -- July 8, 1982 -- he was prepared to wait a little longer, however long it would take.
It took nearly two hours.
Sauer wound up in the UW basketball office, where he visited with an assistant coach who was helping hold the program together in the midst of a transition from Bill Cofield to Steve Yoder.
Neither Sauer nor Bo Ryan had any inkling what the future would hold for their respective careers. (Or that their paths would cross again in 2001 when Ryan moved from Platteville to Madtown.)
Shortly after the athletic board gave its official blessing to Sauer, a press conference was held at Camp Randall Stadium to formally introduce Bob Johnson's successor to the Madison media.
Sauer not only skated for Johnson at Colorado College, but he was a volunteer assistant under Johnson while completing his degree. Later, he was Johnson's first full-time assistant at Wisconsin.
He and his wife Jamie even babysat for the Johnson boys, Peter and Mark.
But he wanted to make it perfectly clear, "I'm not Bob Johnson, I'm Jeff Sauer. And I hope everyone realizes that we're going to do some things a little bit differently.
"Once you get to know me, I think you'll get to find that emotionally -- as far as wins and losses -- I try not to peak and valley. You have to keep your sanity somehow in this game.''
Sauer managed to do so longer than anyone -- for 31 years as a head coach in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association; 11 at Colorado College and 20 at Wisconsin.
Sauer won 655 games overall, including two national championships with the Badgers.
That Sauer was able to escape the long shadow of Bob Johnson and establish his own identity, separate from that of his lionized predecessor, speaks volumes for his system and perseverance.
"When I was a young coach in the league, I'd sit in those meetings and listen to everything the older coaches had to say,'' Sauer said after his 556th win moved him past the legendary John MacInnes.
"I don't know if I ever talked to any of them about coaching. You just didn't discuss those things back then. It's not like calling Sertie (Mike Sertich) on a Monday morning and talking about the series.''
Sertich was the longtime coach at Minnesota-Duluth and one of Sauer's closest friends.
"You just didn't do that back then,'' Sauer went on. "Everyone was so much more guarded. But you could still learn something from all of them.
"Denver's Murray Armstrong was businesslike in the way he approached the game. Michigan State's Amo Bessone was a true coach. Minnesota's John Mariucci was a good old guy.
"I'd have to say Bob Johnson did have the biggest influence on me,'' Sauer said. "I played for him, I coached with him and I coached against him. I went through a lot of things with Bob.''
Bob Johnson received the Lester Patrick Award in 1988.
Mark Johnson recalled, "When my dad received the recognition for what he did -- whether it was at Wisconsin, USA Hockey, Calgary or Pittsburgh -- it was a special evening for him and our family.''
To also receive the Patrick Award now makes it even more special.
Mark Johnson, the celebrated 1980 Olympian, cut his teeth as a head coach at Verona High School and with the minor league Madison Monsters before joining Sauer's staff at Wisconsin.
More recently, he has been collecting rings; NCAA championship rings. Johnson has guided the UW women to four national titles in the last six years.
The most recent of which was last season when Wisconsin defeated Boston University, 4-1, in the finals. Fittingly, the Badgers will face the BU Terriers on Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center.
Faceoff both days will take place at 2 p.m.
"Having defeated them last year in Erie (Pa.) you know they're going to be excited to play us again,'' Johnson said. "They're going to be coming into the building looking for revenge.''
Over the last six games, the Badgers have tested themselves against North Dakota, Minnesota and Duluth. "It's been three weekends of playoff hockey,'' said Johnson. "And it elevates your play.''
Wisconsin has gone 5-1 over this challenging stretch.
"It's only October,'' he said, "but we've become better as a team playing each opponent.''
Not only were the Badgers able to walk out of Duluth with a sweep, but Johnson saw something that he had never seen before in all of his years in hockey as a player or a coach.
On a delayed penalty, the Bulldogs pulled their goaltender for a sixth attacker. But, in attempting to set up a teammate, a Duluth player inadvertently shot the puck into her own empty net.
The goal was credited to Wisconsin's Saige Pacholok, who took the initial penalty.
"The fans that were at the game,'' Johnson said, "and certainly the referees and both coaching staffs were a little stunned at what happened.
"Saige went into the penalty box and they announced her penalty first and then they announced her goal in the next sentence. I haven't seen that before going back to my playing days.
"But again, we found a way to win.''
Another common denominator between Johnson and Sauer, the Patrick Award winners.
Bo Ryan is not prone to hyperbole when discussing freshmen. So his words tend to carry more weight when the UW basketball coach does single out a first-year player as a potential contributor.
That was the case during last season's media day when Ryan volunteered a thumbnail sketch on the strengths of guard Josh Gasser, which clearly indicated that he had a chance to play right away.
"His knowledge of the game and court sense are really good; he's ahead of a lot of freshmen," he said at the time. "Josh can play. Josh is smart. Nothing seems to rattle him. That's what I like about him."
As it turned out, there was plenty to like about Gasser who scored 21 points in the season opener, started 30 of 34 games and produced the first triple-double in school history.
During Monday's media day, Ryan was asked about freshman Jarrod Uthoff, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward from Cedar Rapids, who was named Mr. Basketball in the state of Iowa.
"He'll play at the University of Wisconsin and he'll play early," Ryan said. "He's a player; better than expected. But don't tell him I said that. I think the other guys (freshmen) have a chance to play.
"I'm just saying that he's right now, kind of picking up things like Josh (Gasser) did last year. Coaches like good listeners and fast learners and I've never seen a more conscientious guy."
Earlier in the press conference, Ryan fielded a question on his expectations for UW's freshman class - Uthoff, George Marshall, Traevon Jackson, Frank Kaminsky and Jordan Smith - based on what he had seen already.
"Well, if you asked me last Tuesday, I could have given you an answer," Ryan said. "If you asked me yesterday, I could have given you an answer.
"You know what? After eight practices I could have given you eight different answers which is not unusual. But here's what I do like.
"They don't like to lose in the drills. If you come in second, you come in last. There are three teams of four or five guys and you go against each other; red, white and black jerseys.
"There are two teams that have to run, because only one team wins. It's pretty competitive. That's a good sign. If we don't have guys who are competing we're not going to get better."
The faces may change from class to class; the message never does to his freshmen.
"For the 40th time, since this is my 40th year of coaching," Ryan said. "You tell them on the first day that if you don't go hard against me, you are disrespectful to me.
"If I don't go hard at you every possession then I'm being disrespectful of you. We just tell guys, 'If you really want to accomplish something each and every day, try to beat the guy across you.
"Try to make sure you're making him work as hard as he can to get to the rim and to get a good shot and make him move his feet to stop you when you're on offense.'
"If you have those kinds of (competitive) drills, guys will develop."
The mere mention of player development struck a chord with Ryan, who was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame last weekend along with former Princeton coach Pete Carrill.
"I got goose bumps when Petey told me Saturday night that he doesn't watch a lot of teams on television but he watches us play," related Ryan.
"I said, 'Why, because we're slow?' He goes, 'No, because you move the ball and you play the way the game is supposed to be played.'
"I thought that was pretty nice. Here's a guy who's 81 years old and still working in the NBA and he actually had something nice say about our guys."
Ryan has always had the utmost respect for Carrill because "he was such a good teacher getting guys to understand their roles and how to play off each other."
Who does that sound like? Exactly.
After that brief detour, Ryan got back on point and concluded, "If these freshmen are competing, we have a chance to get better."
Curt Phillips was patient with the questioner who had lost track of the count.
Phillips was OK with that memory lapse. Just don't count him out. Not yet.
"Three surgeries,'' said Phillips, the 21-year-old UW quarterback. "I've had three ACLs.''
All three anterior cruciate ligament procedures have been performed on his right knee.
"After the third one,'' said Phillips, a senior from Kingsport, Tenn., "they don't think that having additional surgeries compounds it or makes it any worse.
"I honestly think having the experience of having done it twice is going to help me. I'll be able to push it. While I say that, I want to be safe. I know what I can do to progress it.
"I don't really have a timetable,'' added Phillips, who's working on his second major.
"I want to make sure I do everything right and heal up this time, however much time it takes. Obviously, I'd like to get as much spring ball as I can but ultimately I need to be ready to go next fall.''
Phillips was speaking after Tuesday's practice, during which he spent most of his time standing next to Nate Tice, one of the backup quarterbacks who signals plays on to the field during game days.
Phillips is planning on standing next to Tice on Saturday, too, when the Badgers play Homecoming host to the Indiana Hoosiers at Camp Randall Stadium.
"I'm excited to get back on the sidelines even though I'm not playing,'' said Phillips, who will not be in uniform. "I've been watching the games from the press box.
"Just having the headset back on and communicating (with the other quarterbacks and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst) is definitely a step in the right direction and I'm excited for it.''
Phillips has not played in a game since the 2009 season. He first tore his ACL during a spring scrimmage in March of 2010 and then tore it again during practice in early November of the same year.
Last spring, Phillips took some reps in seven-on-seven, non-contact passing drills, which prompted UW coach Bret Bielema to say afterward, "He's kind of a genetic freak.''
Subsequently, though, a knee infection necessitated a third surgery.
"Honestly, the second time it happened might have been even more frustrating than the third time,'' he said, "just because I knew that there wasn't anything I could have done about the last one.
"It wasn't like I made a move too quickly on the field. It was an infection and I couldn't control it. The only thing I can control now is the effort that I'm putting into it (the rehab) to come back.''
The school will have to petition the NCAA in order to get Phillips another year of eligibility. "I haven't played in two seasons,'' he said pleading his case. "That's kind of what the rule is for.''
That begs the question, why? Why does he still want to play football?
"When something is taken away from you that you love it shows you how much you do love it,'' Phillips said. "It shows you how you take certain things for granted. Now you're even more hungry.''
Throughout the multiple surgeries and rehabs, Phillips has been grateful for many things in his life, not the least of which has been the support of his parents, Jim and Drenda.
"Obviously, they're looking out for my health in the long run,'' he said, "but they never wanted to tell me what to do. They leave the decisions up to me.''
It doesn't hurt that Phillips' dad is a radiologist.
"Being a physician, he knows what's going on,'' he said. "While he's not an orthopedic surgeon, he can communicate with the physicians here. He always makes sure I'm informed.
"My mom is just hoping for no more surgeries. She doesn't necessarily want me to give it up. They've both been very supportive and encouraging through the whole thing.''
If his knee heals, what kind of quarterback can Curt Phillips still be?
"I honestly I think I will be a more complete quarterback,'' he said, adding that he has picked up things from watching Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson. "I've been able to learn from both guys.''
This fall, Phillips has also shared some of his frustrations with quarterback Jon Budmayr, who has been sidelined indefinitely with an elbow injury that has resulted in some nerve damage to his arm.
"Jon is a good friend,'' Phillips said, "and we've talked about things. He's kind of in the same boat. But he's extremely self-motivated and I have no doubt he will be ready to go, too.''
The operative word would be "too.''
Phillips is counting on being ready -- too.
"Initially when I was on crutches, I wasn't really around that much,'' he said of practice. "But the past two weeks, I've been around the team more and it has been kind of a pick-me-up.''
His dad has shared a Neil Young line with him: Better to burn out than to rust out, or fade away.
"I think that applies,'' Curt Phillips said.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema generally likes to stand directly behind the linebackers when the scout team defense is matched against the No. 1 offense during an inside drill.
From his vantage point, Bielema exhorts the linebackers to "Fill hard!'' or "Play with your hands!'' Usually those linebackers are Jake Keefer from Woodville and Derek Watt from Pewaukee.
Both are true freshmen who are being redshirted this season.
"He'll watch every single play, and he definitely hones in on the scout defense,'' Watt said of Bielema. "It's good to know that's he's watching and evaluating and we're not off on our own.
"It would be no different if he wasn't watching; we'd still play the same way. But it's comforting to know that he's taking the time and paying attention to what we're doing.''
Not much gets past Bielema, who's constantly encouraging and pushing his younger players to get better. That's especially true during the developmental practices each Sunday.
These sessions are designed for anybody on the depth chart who didn't play the day before -- and some who did play but got limited work. Starters are excluded.
Bielema likes to use the examples of tight end Jacob Pedersen and offensive lineman Ryan Groy as players who have developed the fastest and made the greatest strides during these practices.
"We may not be preparing you this week to win a game next week,'' Bielema will tell the players. "But we may be preparing you to win the third game next year.
"I want them to think that way.''
Bielema has already formulated some positive thoughts on Keefer and Watt.
"Anything you throw at him,'' he said of Keefer, "he goes a million miles an hour. Out there the other day, he was screaming and yelling because he wanted to get more reps."
"Derek Watt is going to be OK," Bielema added. "If he doesn't stay at linebacker, he might grow into big brother's (spot). He's got those size 14 canoes and he's a really, really hard worker just like J.J. Watt was.''
Former Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, a first-round NFL draft choice of the Houston Texans, stands 6-6 and weighs 292. His younger brother, Derek, is 6-2, 215.
Derek Watt has already had a growth spurt from the comprehension standpoint.
"When you come here, you get so much better the first few days,'' he said of the August training camp. "It's the things that you learn and the guys that you're going against that makes you better.
"Every day in practice I've been going up against the top offensive line in the country -- at least in our eyes -- and I've gotten better in my techniques, playing with my hands and getting off cut blocks.''
Besides playing linebacker, Watt rushed for 2,685 yards and 44 touchdowns as a prep tailback.
"Playing both ways in high school, you know what they (running backs) are thinking and you can kind of anticipate things,'' he said. "You can see what they're seeing when the hole opens up.''
Derek Watt communicates once a week with his older brother.
"J.J. knows what it's like being on the scout team and he just reminds me to stay motivated and keep working hard,'' Derek said.
"He tells me, 'Let your work do the talking. There are eyes on you at all times; cameras at all angles during practice, so you can't take any plays off. Do what you can do to help the team out.'''
He appreciates the advice because it hits so close to home. "I'm not getting on the field anytime this year,'' he said, "so I'm just trying to help the guys who are and hopefully get my time next year.''
Watt and Keefer are going through similar transitions as redshirts to college football.
"We spent so much time together all summer,'' Watt said, "and now that Derek is over in the two deep and actually getting playing time, it's just me and Jake working together on scout team.''
Derek is Derek Landisch, a true freshman linebacker from Hartland-Arrowhead High School. In addition to contributing on special teams, he has been getting more and more snaps on defense.
"He's not No. 44 (Chris Borland),'' Bielema said of Landisch. "But he's not far away.''
Bielema suggested moving Landisch to Mike linebacker. At the moment, he sees Jake Keefer in the middle, too, with Derek Watt on the outside. "It's just a good group,'' Bielema emphasized.
Bound only to get better while developing at their own pace.
If nothing else, they each know that Bielema will be watching.
A year ago, Bill Butters wasn't quite sure what he was getting himself into.
"Being an ex-Minnesota player and an ex-Gophers coach,'' said Butters (right), "there was a little friction and I felt a little stress.''
A year ago, Gary Shuchuk wasn't quite sure what he was getting himself into, either.
"I never thought I'd be friends with a Gopher,'' kidded Shuchuk, the ex-Badger. "But we're good friends. I don't look at Bill as a colleague or a coach. I look at him as a close friend that I can talk to.''
A year ago, UW men's hockey Mike Eaves hired Butters and Shuchuk as assistant coaches.
That necessitated some adjustments for everyone throughout the transition period.
"Not knowing how Mike coaches,'' Butters said, "it was all new.''
"Last year,'' Shuchuk said, "there was a learning curve for me coaching at this level.''
A year later, Eaves feels much more comfortable with Butters and Shuchuk. And vice versa.
"They know our systems,'' said Eaves, adding that he has been "able to delegate more comfortably'' with Butters and Shuchuk and knowing that "takes a load off my mind.''
As a result, Eaves said, "I can be detailed about other things in terms of individual stuff with players, so we're definitely well ahead of the curve.''
As a player, Butters skated for Glen Sonmor and Herb Brooks at Minnesota. He was a no-nonsense defenseman. As a coach, Butters was an assistant with the Gophers for 10 seasons.
Hence, he went through an understandable orientation to Badger hockey.
What's the biggest difference from last season to this season?
"I'm a little bit more relaxed,'' Butters said. "I think I know a little more, I'm a little wiser and I'm a little bit more comfortable. I also have a few players that I actually recruited (on the roster).''
That would be Patrick Daly, a defenseman from Victoria, Minn.; Joseph LaBate, a freshman forward from Eagan, Minn.; and Brad Navin, a freshman forward from Waupaca, Wis.
Eaves put Butters in charge of the blue line corps. "And I'm more comfortable with them,'' Butters said of his returning players, "and they're more comfortable with me.''
Butters' transition extended beyond the ice. He also had to adjust to a new campus and community; and a new coaching environment within the UW athletic department.
"I had a good session with Bret Bielema the other day,'' Butters said of the UW football coach. "We had a recruit in town and he (Bielema) was wonderful.
"He took about 20 minutes to talk with him while the team was practicing. Just to see that side of the Badgers (family) and how everyone is pulling for each other is cool.''
Shuchuk was once an integral playing member of the Badger family. In 1990, he was an All-American and the leading scorer on a UW team that won the national championship.
"This being my second year on the coaching staff, I really feel a part of the program,'' Shuchuk said. "I know when I can speak up without stepping on Mike's or Bill's toes.
"Now I feel more comfortable with what I'm capable of doing. What's even better is I'm still learning from those guys. The three of us enjoy each other's company.
"We just love coming to work every day. We don't see it as a job. And we want to convey that to the boys in the locker room that 'You play this game to have fun.'''
Of course, it's more fun when you're winning hockey games on a consistent basis. That will be a challenge this season with so many freshmen and sophomores on the roster and so much inexperience on the ice.
"We're a young team and we realize that as a staff,'' Butters said. "We're not putting any pressure on the players. But we're not saying 'We're young' so we can lose 20 games and that's OK.
"We want to win here and we want our young guys to grow up real quick, if they can. But we know there might be some growing pains with them early on and we're going to be patient with them.''
Butters has more answers than questions with his returning defensemen. That includes an All-American and top-10 Hobey Baker Award finalist in Justin Schultz, who led the Badgers in scoring last season.
Complementing Schultz will be team captain John Ramage. "Our blue line should be a strength for us,'' said Butters. "That should give our forwards a chance to grow a little bit.''
Butters is counting on getting contributions from Frankie Simonelli, Joe Faust and Eric Springer, the lone senior. "They'll all get some playing time,'' he pointed out.
A freshman, Jake McCabe, will also factor into the mix. "He's kind of like Jake Gardiner (who signed with Toronto),'' Butters said. "He's got a good stick; he's a good skater and a strong kid.''
That has always been a teaching point for Butters -- how a defenseman handles his stick.
"I think the guys are more used to how I want them to play,'' he said. "I'd like our guys to be more like me (as a player). But I'd have liked to have been more like them. They have a lot more talent.
"We just need to be a little more physical. I'm not asking Justin Schultz to crush guys. But John Ramage and some others have that 'crush-ability' and they should step into a few more bodies.''
Shuchuk likes the energy and emotion that Ramage brings to the rink. "He's a steady guy who plays the game with heart,'' he said, "and he's trying to share his passion with a lot of the other guys.''
The competition should be pretty intense for spots on the forward lines, he added.
"If you want to play and be in the starting lineup, you have to show us,'' Shuchuk said. "We're basically having open auditions for a lot of things; power play, penalty-killing. That's the intriguing thing.
"I'd love to be a player coming in here right now. If you weren't hyped as a goal-scorer or a first-line player, this is your chance to prove that 'This is my spot now.'''
That would also apply to the three goaltenders: Mitch Thompson, Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson. "Who wants to take the bull by the horn and be the number one guy?'' Shuchuk asked.
That will be answered in time. "That's going to be an important part,'' Butters said, "to see how we play in our zone and give those guys (the goalies) some confidence.''
Shuchuk nodded and said, "Our defensive corps is a huge catalyst.''
It's definitely a good starting point.
Prior to Thursday's practice, UW coach Bret Bielema and ESPN/ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit were engaged in an animated conversation that was more of an extension of their friendship than a chalk talk.
During his network radio show that night, Bielema playfully suggested that Herbstreit was a "nerd'' when they first met as 22-year-old seniors at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon in Chicago.
Bielema, the Iowa nose tackle, and Herbstreit, the Ohio State quarterback, went out for pizza and discovered that they had many things in common. They've enjoyed each other's company since.
"When his career was beginning to grow,'' Bielema said, "I remember Kirk coming to Iowa City as a sideline reporter for ESPN Radio and from there he kind of blossomed into what you see today.
"I know sometimes he doesn't give the Badgers a lot of love and sometimes people don't like him, but we have an unbelievable relationship. We talk once a week if not more and send texts.''
Herbstreit, who has won back-to-back Sports Emmys for Outstanding Studio Analyst, and Bielema bantered for about 20 minutes before practice got under way in the McClain Facility.
"That's probably the highlight of my job,'' said Herbstreit, 42, who grew up answering to a coach. His dad, Jim, was a halfback for the Buckeyes and later an assistant under Woody Hayes.
His ESPN/ABC job, he said, entails "going all over the country, talking with coaches, getting in the film room with them and having a chance to really find out how these guys tick on a personal level.''
So what makes Bielema tick?
"He has not forgotten what it's like to be a player; he relates very well to players,'' Herbstreit said. "He has also surrounded himself with a great (coaching) staff.
"He's got people that he trusts to coach on both sides of the ball, which has freed him up to be more of an administrator over the top of everything else.
"At the end of the day, if you're a parent and you're going to send your son to play for Bret, you're going to know that he will always have your son's best interests in mind.''Wilson changes Badgers' dynamic
As the stretching exercises were ending, Russell Wilson jogged over and shook Herbstreit's hand. Briefly trading pleasantries, Herbstreit promised to touch base with Wilson after practice.
"When I heard that he was looking to go to Auburn or Wisconsin,'' Herbstreit said, "I personally was hoping that he would go to Wisconsin only because I knew what was returning in Madison.
"That was the one position (quarterback) -- with Scott (Tolzien) leaving -- that was a huge question mark for the Badgers.
"So when he decided to come here, I thought if he picks up the offense, it could be really scary how good they could be.''
Herbstreit recognized that Wilson, a three-year starter at NC State, would bring a certain level of maturity to the position. "But it's still a difference scheme, different terminology,'' he said.
From the beginning, Herbstreit noted, Wilson was committed to devouring the playbook.
"What people don't understand is that it's not just the playbook,'' he said. "It's the adjustments that are associated with each play based on the coverage you see. It's remarkable what he has done.
"His poise and accuracy are two things that stand out for me. I've studied him all week. For any quarterback sitting in the pocket, there's a tendency when things aren't there to take off and create.
"Even though he has that ability to make plays with his feet, he's more than willing to let the play develop and be patient in the pocket. He has such trust in his teammates.
"To me, it's the way he has fit in from an intangible standpoint that's been very special.''Toon makes connection with new QB
Herbstreit's film study confirmed the chemistry between Wilson and wide receiver Nick Toon.
"They're both appreciating one another,'' he said. "When you're a quarterback -- whether you want to admit it or not -- you always have 'your guy.'
"And even though you have to read a defense before you make a decision on where to go with the ball, there's always 'your guy' that you're looking for and, clearly, Toon is that guy for Wilson.''
The Badgers have been dominating opposing defenses, but Herbstreit cautioned against drawing too many conclusions off the non-conference sample, especially given the strength of their opponents.
"Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska offense will challenge Wisconsin more than it has been challenged all year,'' he said. "This is where we'll really find out how good the Badgers are.
"Up to this point, they've done everything they're supposed to do. They've beaten up on a lot of inferior teams.
"But now here's a chance for Wisconsin. If the Badgers can go out and win this game, they can earn a lot more credibility on a national level than maybe what they've received so far.''Huskers back in contention
There's no question Nebraska has once again become a solid football program under Bo Pelini. But there is a question on how the Huskers' athleticism and physicality will translate in the Big Ten.
"In the Big 12, their defense was built for more of a 4-2-5 with five and, sometimes, six defensive backs,'' Herbstreit said, "because everybody is spreading you out and throwing sideline to sideline.
"Now they're going to face more teams that are going to try and run the football at them, right down hill. There's a transition period defensively for what they're going through.
"Bo Pelini played with me at Ohio State. He was a captain, he grew up in Ohio. Much like Bret, he knows the Big Ten. He'll be able to prepare his players for what they're about to face.
"But you have what you have. It's the same thing with Brady Hoke at Michigan. They're in a transition period and Brady is doing the best that he can.
"Eventually you have to go out and find personnel that fits your team and what you do and that might take Nebraska couple of years to do that.''Building perception of the Big Ten
Even with the addition of the Cornhuskers, the Big Ten is still trying to earn respect, Herbstreit said. As such, Saturday's winner will not automatically join the Big Boy Football fraternity.
SEC teams have won five straight national championships.
"The perception nationally of the Big Ten is that it's a step or two down,'' he said, "so even if you win this game, you're on the outside looking in. That's the reality of playing in the Big Ten.''
That won't change, Herbstreit added, "Until we as a conference change that perception by winning some heavyweight nonconference games and (BCS) bowl games.
"With that being said, Wisconsin takes a much higher step (nationally) if it beats Nebraska than Nebraska would if it beats Wisconsin. The opportunity is there for Wisconsin.
"People respect where Wisconsin's program is with Bret as the guy in charge. But playing in the Big Ten, the reality is that you need help in order to get up there with LSU, Oklahoma and Alabama.''
Thousands of celebrating Badger fans did something after Wisconsin's victory over No. 1 ranked Ohio State last season that tailback Montee Ball didn't do during the game.
They got on the field.
Ball didn't play a snap against the Buckeyes, which made his late-season run -- make that his late-season running -- all the more noteworthy, especially given the numbers that Ball has put up since.
Since Oct. 23, 2010, Ball has accounted for 25 touchdowns, including at least one score in each of his last 10 games. Oregon's LaMichael James has 21 touchdowns over the same time span.
What is significant about Oct. 23?
One week after the Ohio State game, Ball came off the bench at Iowa -- replacing the injured James White in the rotation -- and scored the game-winning touchdown on a clutch 8-yard run.
That restored whatever confidence that he had lost. Ball finished with a flourish by rushing for over 100 yards in each of the final five games of the 2010 season.
After Tuesday's practice, Ball reflected on the sequence of events last October.
"The week leading up to it,'' he said of playing Ohio State, "was really exciting because we were playing the No. 1 team in the country. You can't ask for a bigger stage.
"But afterward I was a little depressed and a little sad about it (not playing).''
That prompted an office visit with his position coach, John Settle, who's now with the Carolina Panthers. Ball let him know, "I'm still committed to the team 100 percent.''
What else could he do?
"Basically I had no other options,'' Ball said. "It was either get better or go home.''
Ball informed Settle, "I'm ready whenever my number is called to go in and produce.''
Although he wasn't expecting to play at Iowa, he kept his word and delivered.
"I knew I had to get better,'' Ball said, "and I had to stay hungry.''
That's so ironic today in light of the fact that Ball has shed almost 40 pounds.
On Monday's national teleconference, Ball referenced his hunger again.
"I'm really, really hungry for this game,'' he said of Saturday's Big Ten opener against Nebraska.
That's due in part to being a spectator the last time the Badgers got a primetime kickoff against a premier opponent.
"This is what I prepared for in the off-season, and I'm loving it,'' Ball said. "I'm making sure I'm staying on top of school and everything so there are no distractions at all this week.
"I'm putting the cell phone away and focusing on Nebraska.''
That's a major sacrifice in this day and age.
UW coach Bret Bielema appreciates Ball's commitment on multiple fronts.
"The immediate effect physically is just the burst in speed and the pure things that you see him do on the football field,'' Bielema said of his weight loss. "A lot of that is because of the heart and mind.
"He's doing some things naturally and instinctive that a lot of people just don't do.''
Bielema has a great deal of confidence that Ball and White can produce in short-yardage situations, even though neither comes close to matching the size of previous UW tailbacks.
"I think we're probably more explosive than we've ever been,'' Bielema said. "I understand we don't have that real big back like we had with P.J. (Hill) and John (Clay) and obviously Ron Dayne.
"But I like the running backs we have. I wouldn't really trade them in for anything.''
Ball doesn't believe the hype surrounding the Nebraska game will be a distraction.
"We're used to it from last year and Ohio State,'' he said. "And also with Russell Wilson coming into the program there were TV cameras on him throughout training camp.''
ESPN is featuring Wilson in a quarterback special to air in October.
"They followed him everywhere,'' Ball said. "It's second nature to us now. We're used to it.''
Positioned outside of Bret Bielema's office was a USA Today
college football writer -- she was waiting for her scheduled 1:15 p.m. interview with UW quarterback Russell Wilson.
Positioned inside of Bielema's office were Wilson, tailback Montee Ball and middle linebacker Chris Borland -- they were crowded around a phone Monday for a 1-800-number teleconference.
The media obligations are part of any game week; especially this week with the Nebraska Cornhuskers coming to Madison for the Big Ten opener.
"There's not going to be anything involved when we're at practice,'' said Bielema. "But there was some outside interest out of the norm and we're doing all of that Sunday and (Monday).
"When we get into our work week on Tuesday, we'll be able to focus on what we need to do.''
ESPN's College GameDay will also be here to validate the magnitude of the matchup.
"Sometimes it's not the media,'' Bielema said of potential distractions. "It's the family requests, the friend's request; the people that want to come to town on Wednesday instead of Friday.
"That's what you've got to be guarded against.''
On the whole, Bielema wants his players to enjoy the moment, and atmosphere.
"We've worked very hard to get ourselves in the position we are today,'' he said, noting that the last time Camp Randall Stadium played host to two Top 10 ranked teams was 49 years ago.
"Hey, we're here. We don't plan on leaving. So let's take advantage of some of the opportunities that are coming in front of us.''
In front of Bielema's office desk are four "action figures'' -- Pat Richter, Barry Alvarez, Elroy Hirsch and Bear Bryant (Bielema was a finalist for the Bryant national coach of the year award in 2006).
Wilson, Ball and Borland were behind the desk taking questions on the teleconference. Radio stations in Omaha and Lincoln were represented. So were the Associated Press, ESPN.com and the New York Times
"I think the level of excitement is extremely high,'' Wilson said of the buzz on campus. "We're excited about it. But at the same time you don't want to be too high.
"You want to focus on what you need to focus on and make sure you're doing the right things at the right time in terms of preparation. We've got to have a great week (of practice) obviously.''
No bulletin board material here.
Borland was quizzed on Taylor Martinez, the Nebraska quarterback. He put him in the same "speed" category with Michigan's Denard Robinson and former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
"Probably one of the best running quarterbacks I've seen on film,'' Borland said.
Who will be the scout team quarterback simulating Martinez for the No. 1 defense?
That honor will fall to Lance Baretz, a walk-on from Franklin High School.
"He might be the fastest guy on our football team,'' Bielema said. "But I'm not saying he's Taylor Martinez, otherwise he might be playing (for us).''
Ball fielded an unusual request. He was asked for his thoughts on the Nebraska running game.
Ball is a running back. On game week, he watches film of the Huskers' defense, not offense.
Shrugging, he still came up with a reasonable answer to appease the questioner.
That was followed by an inquiry on the impact of "Jump Around'' -- the Camp Randall anthem.
"It really gets you hyped for the fourth quarter,'' Ball said.
At about that point, Wilson excused himself for the USA Today
Wisconsin's offensive line will be featured in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated
"At first I wasn't going to do it and then I kind of decided to let it happen,'' Bielema said of his decision-making process in granting access for the magazine piece.
"They did it last week, so it wasn't a distraction to our preparation for this week. How many times has Sports Illustrated
asked to come in and do an article on offensive linemen? It's very rare.''
During last Thursday's team meeting, Bielema starting prepping his players for this week.
"I talked about how everybody has a plate,'' he said, "and on that plate you can only put so much. If you put too much on it, things begin to fall off. ''
On a big platter, Bielema placed a football, a cell phone and an apple.
Each symbolized an area in a player's life; the cell phone being the social component and the apple being academics. Bielema removed the football from the platter and put it on a small plate.
The football engulfed it.
"When it comes to game day,'' Borland interpretated, "you can only handle football.''
"Our kids really have to be great about where their focus is this week,'' Bielema said.