Archive | June, 2011

From Red to…Red: Russell Wilson Officially a Badger

27 Jun

Well Badger fans, it’s official. After months of speculation following dismal quarterback performances at April’s annual spring game and the announcement that North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson was transferring, the Wisconsin Badgers have a quarterback for the 2011 season. And, as many news outlets had been predicting, it is indeed the former signal-caller for the Wolfpack.

Wilson, who for the last three years was under center in the ACC, will be heading to Madison and the Big Ten in the hopes of leading the Badgers to consecutive Rose Bowl appearances.

After being replaced as the NCSU starting quarterback because of his commitment to his professional baseball career, it appears as though Wilson will again put that part of his life on hold. Following a two-day visit to the UW campus, Wilson will be trading in his N.C. State red for Wisconsin cardinal.

So, it’s real. Russell Wilson will be a Badger for the 2011 season.

But, what will he actually do for Wisconsin? Can he replace the departed Scott Tolzien and match or improve on the 11-2 season Wisconsin posted last year?

Let’s take a quick glance at Wilson.

Standing 5-11, Wilson does not have the ideal size for a Big Ten quarterback. Big Ten offensive lineman (especially in Wisconsin’s case) are huge and it’s essential for a quarterback to be able to see down the field. Wilson will be shorter than every single one of his lineman.

But, unlike Tolzien (who stood an impressive 6-3), Wilson has scrambling ability and is more than comfortable moving out of the pocket. Then, it doesn’t really matter how tall you are. If you can dodge defenders while still looking downfield, size matters little.

In three years at N.C. State, Wilson tossed 76 touchdowns and just 26 interceptions. In fact, in statistically his worst year, Wilson threw 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season while still leading the Wolfpack to a bowl win. On the other hand, Tolzien, considered by many to be one of Wisconsin’s best quarterbacks, threw 32 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in two years as a starter. Not exactly Heisman-esque.

Now, of course, the Badgers ran the ball much, much more than N.C. State. And, unless coach Bret Bielema completely alters Wisconsin’s game plan to match Wilson’s skills, there is no way Wilson will throw as much as he did the previous three years. That said, it’s pretty obvious Wilson has passing skills not seen by Wisconsin fans in years.

With the signing of Wilson, Wisconsin becomes the odds-on favorite to win the Leaders Division in the Big Ten. As Terrelle Pryor is no longer a Buckeye, Ohio State will, for the first time in a decade, play second fiddle to Wisconsin to begin a season.

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Wilson will bring the talent and experience that Wisconsin hasn’t had at the quarterback position in maybe…ever. But, he’s not a savior.

The rushing attack, led by James White and Montee Ball, will still be key to Wisconsin taking the Big Ten. Wilson, if he can be as efficient and protective of the ball as Tolzien, will be vital to any success the Badgers have. Yes, he’ll bring a passing option that Wisconsin hasn’t seen in years. But to think that he’ll be airing it out all year would be foolish.

In the end, for one year at least, Wilson could be one of the best quarterbacks in school history. He’s certainly a better option that Jon Budmayr, who, as the spring game indicated, needs another year learning the system before he’ll be capable of taking over the Wisconsin offense. But, he won’t put up the ridiculous numbers be put up in the ACC, not only because the Big Ten features much better defenses, but simply because the Badgers run a much more ground-oriented attack.

If he can match the production of Scott Tolzien in 2010, he’ll be worth all the buzz he’s currently receiving.

Getting to Know Us

8 Jun

We’re new here, you’re new here. Let’s just get some of the introductory questions out of the way.

Q: Favorite Badger of all time?

Larson: I know the likes of Dayne and Ameche might be the smart, easy pick here, but I’m going with a little someone different, somebody that embodies Wisconsin football: Jimmy Leonhard. From humble beginnings and through hard work, Leonhard eventually received stardom at Wisconsin. Constantly being told he was too small, too slow, Leonhard is essentially UW’s Rudy. Leonhard leads Wisconsin all-time in interceptions and at one point held the B1G record for punt return yards. The fact that he came through such adversity to become great at the collegiate level makes Jimmy my favorite.

Oleson: Standing slightly over 5’6″, Anthony Davis was not the prototypical All-Big Ten running back. Yet, in his four years as a starter, Davis rushed for almost 4,700 yards (second in school history only to Ron Dayne) and scored 42 touchdowns. Oh, and he maintained close to a 4.0 grade-point average throughout his time in Madison, a difficult task for a regular student let alone a star running back. The definition of a student-athlete, Davis set an example for  incoming players not only on the field, but off it as well.

Q: Favorite Badger memory of all time?

Larson: If it’s via TV, then Dayne pounding out 200 against Stanford to win the 2000 Rose Bowl. If in person, it’s gotta be watching the Badgers knock off the #1 Buckeyes. I’ll never forget the roar of the stadium as Gilreath took the opening kickoff back. Gives me chills every time I think about it.

Oleson: TV: No question for me. Watching the Badgers special teams unit block a Minnesota punt with under a minute left, land on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and escape the Humpty Dump with a miraculous win in 2005 is one of the most satisfying moments in my young life. Suck it Gophers. In-person: Watching fireworks shoot out of Camp Randall as the Badgers celebrated their first Big Ten title in a decade after putting up a 70-spot on Northwestern.

Q: Best game you’ve been at?

Larson: My partner might disagree with me, but it’s gotta be Wisconsin at Iowa. For as much fun as it was busting up OSU, the game against Iowa was back-and-forth until the clock ran out. Between Ball’s heroics, Tolzien’s efficiency, and the infamous “Chains” fake punt, Wisconsin at Iowa had me holding my breath the entire time. Our impromptu rendition of the 5th Quarter was the exclamation point on the craziest game of my life.

Oleson: Not at all. Watching the clock run out as Iowa hopelessly scrambled to set up their field goal unit in the final seconds was one of the most exhilarating moments in my life. On paper, a 31-30 game seems like it was great. In person, it was unforgettable.

Q: Favorite section in the Student Section?

Larson: “O sucks P.” Enough said.

Oleson: N. No rivalries, simply the best views in the section.

Which Big Ten team do you hate most?

Larson: Can I say all of them? No? Ok. Well then I’ll have to go with all-time, probably the team that everyone loves to hate, Ohio State. Currently, though, Michigan State takes the cake. Seriously MSU, quite your whining about getting snubbed from the 2010 Rose Bowl. Maybe next time don’t get killed at Iowa and then thoroughly embarrassed by ‘Bama.

Oleson: Yeah, listening to Michigan State moan and whine was annoying. No doubt. But, I don’t care if they are the worst football program in the country (which, honestly, they’re probably pretty close), I hate Minnesota. Whether it’s because their students relentlessly believe that the “U” stacks up (or even surpasses the UW…pfff) when it comes to both academics and athletics or because they have t-shirts that proclaim “Better Dead Than Red,” the Gophers will always be on the top of my list. I can deal with a loss to Ohio State or Iowa, but losing to Minnesota (even though it’s been a while), would be a punch to the gut.

Q: Favorite Wisconsin Football tradition?

Larson: The singing of “Varsity”. Cliche, I know, there’s no greater feeling, spiritually, than locking arms with 80,000 brothers and sisters and lamenting the greatness of our school. Not even Jump Around can top that.

Oleson: Jump Around. No doubt. Yeah, “Varsity” and the “Fifth Quarter” are traditional, but Jump Around happens but seven times a year. Watching 14,000 people jump, fall, and sing half the words to a classic ’90s hip-hop jam is tiring, yet the experience of a lifetime.

Q: Toughest 2010 player to replace?

Larson: Difficult choices between Carimi, Tolzien, Clay, or Watt, but I’m going to go with J.J. His intensity as a player and leader were, in my opinion, the difference-maker last year. UW will always churn out O lineman and backs, and as good as Scotty was last year, a stable of backs often makes the QB play second-fiddle. But Watt was a one-of-a-kind player who will be tough to replace.

Oleson: Tolzien. As any Wisconsin fan knows, finding a reliable quarterback at the U-Dub is a rare treat. Not having one can literally ruin a season. Allen Evridge, anyone? On the other hand, Tolzien may go down as the greatest quarterback in Wisconsin history and was the key to the Badger offense last year. Yeah, the running backs get all of the attention, but if the quarterback can’t deliver the ball down the field, teams will stack eight or nine guys in the box and then it doesn’t matter how big, strong or fast your line or backs are. Tolzien will be missed.

Q: Most exciting player to watch on 2011’s team?

Larson: (Assuming Russell Wilson doesn’t don a Motion W next year) It’s gotta be James White. The speed and moves of the kid dazzled in 2010 (His TD scamper vs OSU, anyone?) and I expect more of the same. I know it’s early, but the shoulder shrugs of the kid are, dare I say it, Barry Sanders-esque.

Oleson: Certainly James White will be the most exciting player to watch on offense. But how about linebacker Chris Borland on defense? After missing almost all of 2010, Borland should be back to his Freshman All-America form by 2011 and will be one of the most-feared pass rushers in the Big Ten. You have an NFL comparison for White? Well, I’ve got one for Borland. Sans the long, blond hair, Borland’s athleticism and speed scream Clay Matthews.

Q: Can’t miss game of 2011?

Larson: Red jerseys vs Blackshirts. Welcome to the B1G, Huskers. Madison, under the lights, in the inaugural Big Ten game of one of the country’s most storied programs will be ridiculous. Remember the intensity and emotion of last year’s OSU game? I expect this game to match that. 

Oleson: You can’t argue that. Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener will probably be one of the most-hyped games in all of college football next year. That is unless they meet again in Indy for the Big Ten Championship. Knock on wood.