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The Voice: Committee a year away, so Badgers must win


We are one year away from the four-team College Football Playoff, but there is no shortage of talk about it, especially as reports surfaced with the names of those who will make up the selection committee.

One name in particular raised some eyebrows. That name would be Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State.

I will admit to a bit of surprise. Not because of gender, but rather because Rice is not directly involved in the sport. Like many of us, I expected the committee to be made up of former players, coaches, administrators and perhaps a media member or two.

After giving it about five seconds of thought, I believe that Rice's involvement is not just interesting, but also sound. 

This is no attempt at making a political statement. I just tend to believe that Rice can process information and bring solid reasoning to a discussion involving the best teams in college football. I would guess the ability to process information was a rather important skill in her previous jobs.

There will always be questions about any selection committee, but I have to believe it will be a step forward from the current system.

I do believe the BCS era will go down as an improvement from the previous method. While flawed and tweaked along the way, the Bowl Championship Series generated a ton of interest, created some memorable games, and of course gave fans, writers and broadcasters plenty to talk about.

This weekend we will see the first BCS standings of the season. A projected ranking from Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has the Badgers at No. 29. Currently, Wisconsin is rated 26th in both the USA Today Coaches Poll as well as the Harris Poll.

At the risk of overreacting, I wonder whether the selection committee might have a more favorable opinion of the home team.

The record says the Badgers are 4-2, but nearly every neutral observer is putting an asterisk on the Arizona State game. While calling last Saturday's tilt against Northwestern, ABC/ESPN broadcaster Sean McDonough said he considered Wisconsin a one-loss team.

That one defeat would be the seven-point setback at Ohio State, currently rated fourth in the Harris Poll, third in the coaches poll and fifth in Palm's projected BCS standings.

The Badgers just dismantled a Northwestern team that came to town ranked in the top 20 of both major polls.

Yet, to this point it is not enough to impress the current pollsters into believing Wisconsin is top-25 material.

There is a month and a half remaining in the regular season, so it is a bit early to press the panic button. But keep in mind to be considered for an at-large birth to a BCS bowl, a team must finish in the top 14 of the final BCS standings. 

That is important to note. We keep hearing that the goal of the BCS is to determine the two teams that will play for the national title, but the current system also can help determine the other big-boy bowl matchups.

There are a thousand and one things that can happen between now and the end of the regular season. 

Yes, one more loss would likely knock out the Badgers from any BCS bowl consideration. However, I would like to believe that should this team go on a run the rest of the way, the coaches and Harris poll voters will do something the computers are unable to do -- take another long, hard look at what happened in Tempe.

Hopefully that will occur. Yet to be honest, I will be more confident next year, when a committee made up of very smart individuals will process information, discuss it and make reasonable decisions based on sound evidence.

Infographic: Badgers cage 'Cats in 35-6 win

A graphical look at Wisconsin's 35-6 Homecoming win over No. 19 Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday:


Better Know a Badger: Kyle Zuleger

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After spending the first three seasons of his Badgers career as a running back, senior Kyle Zuleger was approached by coach Gary Andersen this spring and asked if he'd consider a move to safety to help build depth in the secondary. Zuleger has embraced his new position and has become a jack-of-all-trades for Wisconsin as a leader on special teams, including returning kickoffs.

What was your first reaction when Coach Andersen asked if you'd move from running back to safety this spring?
"It made sense to me. I actually came to Wisconsin as a safety, so I didn't object to it too much. The switch gave me a shot to come in and make some plays, so I just went along with it."

Did the coaching staff do anything to sell you on the move?
"They talked up the new 3-4 defense and everything that goes with it. In the new system, we play a lot of defensive backs on the field at one time. That was a really good selling point."

What was the most difficult aspect of learning your new position?
"Just learning everything that goes into a new defense and switching your mindset from offense to defense is something that takes a little bit of a transition. But, like anything, if you're doing it everyday it naturally comes quicker and quicker."

What aspects of the new 3-4 scheme were the hardest to pick up on?
"There wasn't one specific thing, it was more all-encompassing. It was a lot of understanding where you need to line up, where your assignment is and where your eyes need to be."

You've been returning kickoffs recently. Is that a role that you enjoy?
"It's a lot of fun. Returning kicks in front of 90,000 people is always going to be fun."

You lead all players in special teams tackles this season. What's the key to being an effective special teams player?
"You have to play fast. You can't really think too much on special teams, otherwise you're beat. So you have to play fast."

A lot was made about the youth in the secondary this season. How have you seen that group develop and grow so far this season?
"I think a lot of guys are starting to understand the new defense more and things are starting to become second nature. There is less thinking and more reacting now. There's always cohesion that can be worked on, though. You can never be satisfied with where you are at. You have to come in everyday and work as a defense and as a unit." 

What's been the highlight of your Badger career so far?
"There are a lot of little things, like stuff in the locker room and the friendships and bonds that you make. But, the three Big Ten championships have been a great highlight."

What's your favorite part of game day?

- Ryan Evans

The Voice: After bye, time to say hello again to football


I have to admit that I enjoy bye weeks. Part of it could be my naturally lazy nature, but it was fun to sit back and watch nearly 12 straight hours of college football. I took a peek at the Illinois-Nebraska game, and watched with even more interest as Indiana scored an impressive victory against Penn State.

I found myself glued to the TV during the Georgia-Tennessee game, and later took in part of the Florida-Arkansas tilt, which featured former UW assistant coaches Tim Davis and Brian White for the Gators, plus -- well, you know -- the first-year head coach of the Razorbacks and the staffers who followed Bret Bielema to Fayetteville. Since I happen to like everyone involved, I had no real rooting interest. Sorry to play the role of Switzerland here, but I am telling the truth.

Moving right along, the Northwestern-Ohio State game was as good as advertised, maybe even a bit better than the hype.

While the Buckeyes pulled out the win, the Wildcats continued to make a statement that they are no longer a cute little story. This is more than a team full of bookworms who will play a little football in their spare time.

For those who have yet to notice, it is time to state what should be obvious -- Northwestern is good. Very good. It is hard to believe that Pat Fitzgerald is in his eighth season as the head coach. The College Football Hall of Famer is just 38 years old, but if ever there is a perfect fit for a program, it is Fitzgerald and Northwestern football.

When the national pundits talk about good rivalries and crazy games, it is unlikely many will mention the Badgers and the Cats, but in the last couple of decades, there have been some wild ones between these two teams.

The gut-wrenching loss in 1996, followed by a dramatic 27-26 UW victory a year later on a Matt Davenport field goal in the closing seconds.

A Northwestern double-overtime win in 2000. A shootout in 2005, when the Wildcats outscored the Badgers 51-48. On that October afternoon, the teams combined for 1,189 yards of offense.

In 2009, a late fumble allowed Northwestern to hold off the Badgers, 33-31.

In 2010, Wisconsin erupted for 70 points in route to clinching the Big Ten championship. No close-game drama, but it was a terrific day for the Badgers as they collected the first of three straight conference titles.

Given the fact that the campuses are less than three hours apart, it is good to see these teams meet again. This often-interrupted series should be stable for the time being. Starting next season, the Badgers and Northwestern will be in the same division, so fans from both sides can hope for -- if not expect -- more wild games in the coming years.

Simply put, this is a huge game. The Wildcats still control their own destiny in the Legends Division. The Badgers need help in the Leaders, but regardless of what happens with Ohio State, the home team knows full well there is plenty of season remaining, and plenty to gain by getting back on track this weekend.

Yes, bye weeks are good. Then again, it seems like it has been a month since the Badgers last played.

During a beautiful autumn week in Madison, it is time to get back to football.

Bring on the Wildcats, and let the season resume.

Badgers 'Shave to Save' with help of children's hospital patients


- Photo Gallery: Shave to Save

Several Badgers lost their hair on Thursday in the hope of helping gain awareness for the patients battling childhood cancer at the American Family Children's Hospital.

Eight members of the UW football team put their hair in the hands of patients from the children's hospital, losing their locks in the name of advancing a cure for cancer.

In just over an hour's time, LB Ethan Armstrong, WR Lance Baretz, OL Kyle Costigan, WR Connor Cummins, OL Ryan Groy, WR Chase Hammond, LB Conor O'Neill and TE Jacob Pedersen all walked out of the locker room with new close-cropped cuts.

Here's a look at how the event -- and the hair -- went down:

Ask the Badgers: How will you spend the bye week?

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PedersenWith the Wisconsin football team in the midst of the first of its two bye weeks this season, head coach Gary Andersen instructed the Badgers to step away from football for a bit this weekend. We asked a number of Badgers how they will spend their downtime for this week's issue of Varsity Magazine:

WR Jordan Fredrick:
"I'm going to relax and try to get my legs back. I don't have anything planned. It's nice being a Madison boy because I don't have to go too far to see my family. I'm going to try to relax and maybe play a quick round of golf, something relaxing that's not going to wear me out. We all have to get our bodies back, which is the biggest thing."

LB Chris Borland:
"I'm going to lay low. We've had a pretty stressful schedule for the last few weeks since camp, so it will be nice to just watch some football on Saturday and sleep in. I have to watch the Northwestern-Ohio State game, I'll watch games around the Big Ten and I have some friends that play at other schools, so hopefully their games will be on TV."

TE Jacob Pedersen:
"My brother is coming down from back home. I'm going to try to take him out and get a nice deer. He really likes to hunt, so we're going to go out, spend some time outdoors, have a good time and just relax."

WR Jared Abbrederis:
"I'm going to go home and probably go fishing and just relax in the country. It's really good to go back there and have nobody to bother you and just hang out with my family."

LB Ethan Armstrong:
"I'm going to head back home to Illinois, get my mom to cook a few meals for me and watch some TV."

QB Joel Stave:
"I don't really have any big plans. I'll probably just go home and hang out with my mom and dad for the weekend and just relax."

- Ryan Evans

The Voice: Bye brings chance for Badgers to hit reset button


To the credit of coach Gary Andersen, he refuses to harp on the number of injuries the Badgers are dealing with right now. In last week's game at Ohio State, tight end Jacob Pedersen was hoping to play but simply was not ready. In the fourth quarter, the Badgers were without Melvin Gordon, who was on pace for a 100-yard night against a Buckeyes defense determined to stop the run.

While the coach believes the overall health of the team is pretty good, this seems to be a very good time for a bye. With some luck, most of the banged-up Badgers will be up and running in time for the Northwestern game a week from Saturday.

That would be a good thing, because in my humble opinion, the league race is far from decided.

Yes, Ohio State has the inside track for the Leaders Division crown. For Wisconsin to advance to the conference title game for the third-straight year, it would need to run the table in Big Ten play and OSU would need to lose twice.

That might be asking a lot, but it is not asking for the impossible.

Don't get me wrong. Ohio State is very good. On Saturday in Columbus, it was the better team, and the Buckeyes won fair and square. However, I am not ready to say the Buckeyes are national title good, at least not yet.

As for the Badgers, I still believe they are very good as well. Not great, but very good.

Last week's game provided the latest example of how just a handful of plays can make the difference between winning and losing. A missed opportunity in the red zone. A chance to force a turnover but not quite finishing the play. A split-second breakdown that results in a big play, or as Andersen might say, a layup. Too many penalties.

Otherwise, one can make a good argument that the game was evenly matched.

Another popular saying in sports comes to mind -- minimizing mistakes is more important than making the spectacular play.

To repeat, I want to be careful not to take anything away from coach Urban Meyer's team. It is very gifted. Braxton Miller is a much improved passer, and there is no shortage of speed on either side of the ball.

That said, the best wide receiver on the field was Jared Abbrederis, and one could make a strong case that the best linebacker was Chris Borland.

Those are just two positions, but my point is the overall gap might not be as wide as some would lead us to believe.

Logic should tell us as much. Wisconsin was error-prone, yet still had a chance to force overtime. The mistakes are obvious. What also should be obvious is the Badgers' ability to keep fighting and stay in games that otherwise could get out of hand.

If Ohio State wins out, so be it. But to this observer, the Buckeyes will have their hands full this week in Evanston (as will the Badgers when they host the Wildcats). There is another tricky game or two in OSU's future, including a late November road trip to Ann Arbor.

The Badgers missed an opportunity last weekend. The good news is there is a long way to go. While helping themselves is priority number one, it is a bit early to dismiss the possibility that the Badgers could get a little outside help along the way.

Better Know a Badger: Rob Wheelwright

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Freshman WR Robert Wheelwright came to Wisconsin this fall with quite the football pedigree. His older brother, Ernie, starred as a receiver for Minnesota from 2004-07 and his grandfather, also named Ernie, was a running back in the 1960s for the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. Having grown up around football, Wheelwright is well-suited for his trial by fire at receiver as a true freshman in the Badgers' lineup, which will continue this Saturday in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, against No. 4 Ohio State.

What's it going to be like to be able to go home and play in Columbus?
"It's going to be a great experience, especially to be able to do it with a different team, with a different program, and be able to go back and try to beat my hometown team."

After growing up in Ohio, what made you decide to come to Wisconsin?
"It felt more like home here and I needed to grow up and mature on my own without having family around."

With a brother that played at Minnesota, is there any smack talk between you two now that you're a Badger?
"A little bit. He's here to support me, but when we play the Gophers he said he'd have his Wisconsin shirt on but will have his Minnesota Gophers shirt on underneath. We go back and forth like that, but he's more than likely a Wisconsin fan now."

What have you learned from your brother and grandfather and their football careers?
"I tried to learn everything that I could from them. Everything that they were good at they tried to teach me, and I tried to better myself off of their experiences in the (NFL) and in college football. I learned to take it one day at time, better myself and have a no days off mentality."

As a true freshman, what has it been like to learn and develop in front of 80,000 people every week?
"It has been a challenge, but as you go on, you have people here to help you. Your coaches and teammates are here to help you and so far that has been a great experience. They motivate me and they teach me the good values of being a great receiver."

Which teammates have you learned the most from so far?
"I've learned a lot from Jared Abbrederis, Kenzel Doe and Connor Cummins. They have all helped me in difference aspects of the game. They're all like my big mentors. They've taught be to have confidence, be consistent when I'm on the field and to play out here in front of 80,000 people like you would if it were Little League or if you were playing in front of your family and friends."

- Ryan Evans

The Voice: Relationships don't change reality of rivalry


It has become one of the Big Ten's more entertaining rivalries, enhanced because both teams have been championship caliber of late. In fact, in the last eight years, either Wisconsin or Ohio State has won the league title.

Taking it a step further, in the last 20 years, the Buckeyes and the Badgers rank 1-2 in the conference for number of victories.

It is the mark of a true, hotly-contested series. Add to it both programs have loyal, vocal fan bases that don't seem to care for one another, and you have the makings for good theatre.

But these days, there is a little twist. Former UW coach Bret Bielema did not see eye-to-eye with OSU's Urban Meyer. In a highly-competitive business, that will happen. However, there is a much different relationship between Gary Andersen and the Buckeyes boss. 

Actually, Andersen and Meyer are good friends and former co-workers. When Meyer was the head man at Utah, Andersen was the defensive line coach. The year they were together, the Utes went 12-0.

Granted, going undefeated is a good way to get along, but both Meyer and Andresen have made it very clear there is much respect and personal admiration between the two men.

It reminds me of the relationship basketball coach Bo Ryan has enjoyed with his Ohio State counterpart, Thad Matta. (For that matter, of much lesser importance, our broadcast team gets along extremely well with the Ohio State radio crew. Knowing that, I am sure you will sleep much better tonight.)

Sure, every one of these coaches is a fierce competitor, and when the teams square off, each wants his squad to beat the daylights out of the opponent. But each is careful to make it about the players, not coach versus coach. 

So, knowing that Andersen and Meyer are buds, does that alter your view of this rivalry?  Does it lesson the hype?  Does it make it any less enjoyable?

Nah, didn't think so. It is still Ohio State. Be honest -- you don't like the Buckeyes -- and they are not fond of the Badgers.

Understandable. Think about some of the recent meetings. It was 10 years ago when Matt Schabert connected with Lee Evans for the game-winning touchdown toss at Camp Randall Stadium. Good ol' 56 Jerk. That was the name of the play, with Evans running an out and up past star defensive back Chris Gamble.

Three years ago, there was David Gilreath's opening haymaker, a 97-yard kickoff return that sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Actually, the crowd had been in a frenzy for hours. The return ramped it up another notch -- or three.

Ohio State has had its moments too, especially recently. Last November Curt Phillips engineered a clutch scoring drive in the final minute of regulation, only to see the Buckeyes win in overtime. Two years ago was even worse, when a Russell Wilson-led rally was washed out by Braxton Miller's 40-yard strike to Devin Smith.

This Saturday night, I have the feeling it will be another close game. If that is the case, perhaps it is the Badgers turn to land the final blow.

Whatever happens, Andersen and Meyer will remain friends. At some point in the offseason, they likely will get together.

Friends and rivals. While not exactly a new concept, it is a change of pace in this series. 

It is just another interesting storyline in what has become a much-talked about matchup between two very good football programs, and two very good coaches.

Infographic: Badgers plow past Purdue

A graphical look at the Badgers' 41-10 win over Purdue as UW opened the Big Ten season with a victory and ran its win streak in the series to eight straight games: