Big Ten: Bart Miller

Gary AndersenAP Photo/David StlukaGary Andersen has paid close attention to every detail in his transition as Wisconsin's new coach.
MADISON, Wis. -- When Gary Andersen arrived at Utah State in December 2008, he didn't spend much time looking back. Some would say he didn't want to strain his eyes.

At the time, Utah State barely seemed worthy of FBS citizenship. The Aggies had endured 11 consecutive losing seasons, 30 losses in the previous three seasons and eight consecutive seasons of four or fewer victories. Andersen faced a total rebuild, but at least he could wipe the slate clean and look only to the future.

It's not so simple at Wisconsin. Despite the construction going on just north of Camp Randall Stadium, Andersen isn't walking into a mess. Quite the contrary.

He takes over a Badgers team that has won three consecutive Big Ten championships, reached three consecutive Rose Bowls, won 40 games in the past four seasons and hasn't endured a losing campaign since 2001. Andersen's new program has produced 39 NFL draft picks and five consensus first-team All-Americans since 2002. The man who hired him, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, won three conference titles and three Rose Bowls as Badgers coach, resuscitating a downtrodden program and building it into the closest thing we've seen to a third Big Ten power.

"You take a lot longer and harder look at what's made them successful and what's made the kids successful," Andersen told ESPN.com. "For me, there were so many familiarities. The types of young men in this program are what I'm used to at Utah State, the emphasis on in-state recruiting, the emphasis they’ve had in the walk-on program. All those things are staples to what I believe in.

"The transition, there's nothing difficult about it, but you’re more open-minded to what's happened in the past."

Andersen and his assistants also are mindful of what Wisconsin players have been through. One of the nation's most successful and stable programs has endured drastic changes in each of the past two winters.

Six assistant coaches departed after the 2011 season, and head coach Bret Bielema made a surprise exit to Arkansas in December, just three days after watching his team upset Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Andersen brings in seven new assistants, including T.J. Woods, the team's fourth offensive line coach since the 2012 Rose Bowl.

"We've been through a lot of changes," senior defensive tackle Beau Allen said. "Last season we had all these new facilities [being built] and we were in different locker rooms on different days. Sometimes we didn't really know where we were practicing. And then with all the coaching changes. I think we've rolled with it pretty well."

Allen could be right, but Andersen is taking no chances during the transition. He has gone to great lengths to connect with the players during his first three months on the job.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin Badgers
Adam Rittenberg/ESPN.comWisconsin coaches have incorporated team-building exercises into offseason training with a competition called the Badger Team Accountability Challenge.
It starts with the BTA Challenge (Badger Team Accountability), a competition that includes 10 teams of 10 players, each assigned to two coaches or support staffers. They compete in academics, community service events, weightlifting and even dodgeball. The challenge has carried over to the practice field this spring.

Andersen meets regularly with the 27-player leadership council. He brought the team together to watch the Super Bowl in the players lounge. During practices, he'll snap the ball to the quarterbacks (Andersen played center in college) or press receivers on the line. Players often receive calls from Andersen, just to check in.

"Guys appreciate that," linebacker Chris Borland said. "He's really in tune with the pulse of the team."

Andersen's player-focused approach is a big reason Alvarez hired him.

"A lot of coaches don't feel that’s important," Alvarez said. "You're a dictator and you’re going to do this and this. The good ones still get close to their kids. They’re still demanding, yet they have an empathy.

"The bottom line in everything he talks about is the kids."

When Andersen accepted the Wisconsin job 18 days after announcing he'd stay at Utah State, he called all 106 Aggies to inform them of his move, reaching the final player at 2:30 a.m. Andersen's new players took notice of the gesture. Badgers running back James White said he "knew it was a good fit right away."

Although Bielema was also popular with the players during his time at Wisconsin, Andersen has brought "a different energy" to practices, according to quarterback Curt Phillips. Practices are crisp and upbeat, and music blares throughout the workouts, a change from the past.

"It’s getting there," Andersen said. "They get an idea of who we are, the way we practice. The speed, the pace, everything we do, we want it to be fast and quick. We want to make sure we’re putting the kids first.

"I want them to know I care about them."

Andersen's assistants also are doing their part to ease the burden on players. Woods has kept about 60 percent of the terminology the Badger offensive linemen used last season under Bart Miller. It helps that Woods has a direct connection to Miller -- he coached him at New Mexico -- and an indirect one to former longtime Badgers line coach Bob Bostad. (Woods worked for Jason Lenzmeier, who had played under Bostad at New Mexico.)

"I'm the fourth guy in two years to walk through those doors in that meeting room," Woods said. "I've tried to strain myself more than them just because of the situation they've been in."

There's certainly an if-it-ain't-broke element of Andersen's challenge at Wisconsin.

The offense will remain rooted in the power run, while mixing in some play-action passes. Andersen inherits two backs -- White and sophomore Melvin Gordon -- who would start for almost any FBS team, veteran linemen like Ryan Groy and Rob Havenstein, and good depth at tight end. Although the quarterback competition is crowded, Wisconsin has three options with Big Ten starting experience: Phillips, Joel Stave and Danny O'Brien. He also has bionic-armed redshirt freshman Bart Houston and incoming junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy.

"It's been easy for the players to adapt because we're doing stuff that they've done," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "There's a little different terminology, but again, we're trying to draw as much as we can from the past."

Andersen's influence will be seen more on defense, where his expertise lies. The Badgers will be the only Big Ten team operating out of a 3-4 set, although their flexibility with the outside linebackers, who previously played defensive end, allows them to show a 5-2 personnel package.

There will be much more variation in coverages and calls for a unit that has been statistically strong in recent years but a notch or two below elite status.

"We've been on the cusp of greatness, but I don't think we've achieved it yet," Borland said. "We've got a lot of seniors, a lot of guys who have experience. We haven't set any concrete goals, but I think we should be one of the best defenses there is."

Expectations are high despite the coaching change, and for good reason. Wisconsin returns 25 seniors and many key underclassmen who have only experienced winning in their careers.

Bielema often pointed to the 2013 Wisconsin team as potentially his best. Although many are already handing the Big Ten title to Ohio State, the Badgers are aiming for a fourth straight Rose Bowl appearance, which would tie the record held by Ohio State (1973-76) and USC (1967-70).

"There is a good core," Andersen said. "As with every program, there are definite questions that need to be answered. But to say we're not excited about next season would be the ultimate understatement."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 15, 2013
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Wishing you a great St. Patrick's Day weekend ...

Adam from Austin, Texas, writes: Adam,Looking over Michigan's 2010 recruiting class, of the original Rich Rodriguez-recruited 27 members, only six recruits remain on the Wolverine squad, including Will Hagerup, whose days with the team may be numbered. That's nearly 80% of the 2010 class gone. How do these attrition numbers compare with other B1G programs? Will there be a senior leadership-void for the 2013 squad? And with a few stable, higher-quality recruiting classes under Hoke's belt, should Wolverine Nation's expectations be tempered at conference championships, or beyond?

Adam Rittenberg: Our calculations (thanks to colleague Mike Rothstein) have 11 players from the 2010 class remaining with Michigan, but there has been a good deal of attrition. You see some with every coaching change, but not usually to this degree. Minnesota had some turnover between Tim Brewster and Jerry Kill. The senior-leadership question is a fair one, but Michigan got a big lift in that department when Taylor Lewan decided to return for his final season. Lewan will provide excellent leadership, and he really embodies the Michigan Man ideal Brady Hoke preaches. It will be interesting to see who joins Lewan in that capacity, but I'd expect Devin Gardner to claim a larger leadership role as the starting quarterback. He's more established now. I'm interested to see who replaces Jordan Kovacs as the leader on defense. Linebacker Jake Ryan seems like a good choice. End Jibreel Black also could step up there.




AJ from Madison, Wis., writes: Hi Adam! Two similar questions: 1. Why isn't Rob Havenstein being talked about at all for the left tackle consideration? I keep hearing about all these other possible candidates, but he seems ideal after a very solid year last year. 2. Do you think T.J. Woods has the ability to maintain the elite legacy of Wisconsin o-linemen? He has BIG shoes to fill.

Adam Rittenberg: AJ, sometimes it makes sense to move an experienced right tackle to the more glamorous left side when there's a vacancy. But Havenstein might be more suited to the right tackle spot, where he has had some success. Perhaps more important, he could be more comfortable there. You don't want to disrupt two positions. I'll try to get some answers for you when I'm in Madison next week. I agree T.J. Woods has big shoes to fill -- Bob Bostad's more than Bart Miller's, although Miller did a nice job -- and I think he'll continue the tradition Wisconsin has had with its line. Woods did a good job with Utah State's line and reportedly is a lot like Miller/Bostad. The adjustment for the linemen this year doesn't seem to be nearly as dramatic as it was last spring with Mike Markuson.




Jed from West Lafayette, Ind., writes: Adam, I just got done reading your post about the most interesting QB race in the B1G this spring and was stunned to not see Purdue in that category. You have Indiana ahead of Purdue which seems slightly odd considering Kevin Wilson has said publicly that Tre Roberson is their QB as long as he is healthy. Purdue has 3 different QB's (4 if you count Bilal Marshall) in Henry, Etling, and Appleby and with a new coaching staff and what has gone on in the past (the carnival ride QB position last year and Purdue as the Cradle of QB's) that it would be ahead of IU in that Roberson is already an established QB with the full support from his HC?In all honesty, I agree with all of your other picks but in all honesty Purdue or even NU will have more interesting QB battles than IU.

Adam Rittenberg: Jed, I went back after the post published and realized I should have subbed out Penn State for Purdue. I agree Purdue has a very intriguing quarterback race because we know so little about what these candidates can do. There's a lot of buzz about Austin Appleby and Danny Etling, and I'm excited to see what both can do on the practice field this spring. That said, I think you're wrong about Indiana. Although Tre Roberson claimed the starting job last year, he's coming off of a pretty major injury and has to re-establish himself as the top option when two others -- Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld -- played a lot last season. If you read my spring Q&A with Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, he didn't sound like a guy who had settled on a starter. "Guys are pushing guys to be on the field," he said. "We've got a lot of guys back who have been second-teamers and the first-teamer [ahead of them] is back. Now how do you push that first-teamer and beat him him out? A great example is at quarterback." So both quarterback races should be interesting, and in hindsight, I should have included both in the poll.




Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, why should the B10 agree to travel 2000+ miles for another lower tier bowl when there plenty of equivalent bowls east of the Rockies? We already play in Pasadena and Tempe. How about the P12 treks east to play the B10 for once instead?

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, the Pac-12 would never go for it because its fans don't travel. It's a huge difference between the two leagues. Big Ten fans are famous for being willing to escape the deep freeze for warm-weather destinations in late December or early January, whether they're in the East, West or South. Pac-12 fans, meanwhile, have a tough time leaving their states for games. Texas is probably their limit as far as bowl distance. But it's bad business for Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott to tie into bowl games on the East Coast. It's risky business for him to tie into games outside the Pac-12 footprint.




Austin from Ames, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam,Long time reader of the blog. I am a Buckeye here in Cyclone Nation and I am a little confused. Why hasn't there been any talk about adding Iowa State? It makes sense geographically, culturally, and academically as ISU has been a member of the AAU since 1958. Not to mention they are a program on the rise with Paul Rhodes trying to turn things around. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Austin, it actually doesn't make sense geographically. Follow my logic here, but the Big Ten is trying to expand its footprint, not solidify areas it already has. Look at the recent expansions around college sports. Every league is looking to bring in new markets and literally expand its reach. The Big Ten already has a strong presence in Iowa with the University of Iowa and Nebraska just to the West. Iowa State does absolutely nothing for the Big Ten in terms of demographics, the word league commissioner Jim Delany used repeatedly when discussing the last expansions. Iowa State has many of the right components for a Big Ten expansion candidate, but its location is a killer.




Jack from Omaha writes: Hey Adam, big fan of the B1G blog and for whatever reason I have never sent in a question to my favorite part of the blog, the mailbag. Anyways I was hoping you could do something a little different and right an article about a video game, the game that Denard Robinson will be on the cover of. I realize the blog has announced this news but my buddy brought up some good points that I was hoping you could answer/discus. My buddy said that being on the cover not only helps Denard/Michigan but also allows the rest of the B1G to receive important spotlight, I disagree and was wondering if you see the cover benefiting the rest of the B1G? He also says the cover will help Michigan in future recruiting, although they may gain a few more fans I seriously doubt this help them land a top prospect. What are your thoughts on these ideas?

Adam Rittenberg: Jack, I won't do another video game story, but I'm happy to respond to your question. I think it's a much bigger deal for Denard than it is for Michigan or the Big Ten, but it certainly can't hurt the Maize and Blue to have one of its players on the cover. High school football players, like college players and pro players, love video games and will see Denard every time they play "NCAA Football." Will it make a difference with elite recruits? Probably not. But it's definitely not a negative. It's a big positive for Denard, though, as it helps him build his brand as he enters the great unknown of the NFL. He's one of the most recognizable Big Ten players in recent memory, but his future brand is a big question mark because no one knows where he fits into the NFL. So I would say it doesn't really impact the Big Ten one way or the other. It helps Michigan a little and Denard a lot.

Big Ten mailblog

March, 5, 2013
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To your emails ...

Grant from Detroit writes: In response to your article about a Narduzzi succession, that would be extremely ideal. I know Dantonio won't be retiring any time soon, but he has brought such a sense of stability to a program that, before him, was a joke of a coaching carousel. I feel that Izzo and Dantonio are on similar paths. Izzo took a MSU job and turned it into a destination position when he decides to retire. There will be a line to fill that spot. I feel that Dantonio has a similar philosophy about the head coach position for football. He has taken the right steps in making that a reality, and I think the smartest move he has made so far may be the promotion of Narduzzi to assistant coach. Narduzzi has obviously been an invaluable part of the Michigan State machine, always fielding a competitive (and lately dominant) defense that has made up for shortcomings elsewhere. He has also been great for recruiting, as defensive players WANT to come to MSU, after seeing us turn out professional players (and prospects) like Greg Jones, Jerel Worthy, Trenton Robinson, Will Gholston, etc. I doubt that Narduzzi will stick around long enough for the MSU position to be handed to him, even with the assistant coach label. I fear that he will go the way of Will Muschamp and jump ship before the head coaching position becomes available. But I still think the move at least establishes a mold for candidates for the position, should Dantonio decide to retire.

Chris K. from Jackson, Mich., writes: Regarding Narduzzi, I would love it if he would become head coach at MSU after Dantonio. Narduzzi is a high-energy guy and a good recruiter and I think that would be the style of the assistant coaches, whether the current assistants are there or not.

Brian from Conshocken, Pa., writes: I love the idea of Pat Narduzzi taking over as head coach (when Coach D is ready to step down, of course) and I hope his acceptance of the assistant head coach shows that the feeling is mutual. Having his guidance over the years is the best chance for MSU Football to compete with the rest of the league in the years to come.

Adam Rittenberg: It doesn't surprise me to see such strong support for Narduzzi among Spartans fans. He has done an excellent job building Michigan State's defense into a nationally elite unit, and his recruiting efforts certainly have helped shape the defense. He's a fiery guy, which appeals to most fans, and certainly would bring energy to the job, perhaps more so than Dantonio does. I've been very impressed by Narduzzi as well and was surprised he didn't get more of a look for the Cincinnati job. My only concern with him is whether he's too much of a loose cannon. He got in trouble for his "60 minutes of unnecessary roughness" comment in 2011 and publicly discussed what he felt was abridged game film from Ohio State last year. As a media member, I love Narduzzi's candor, but most athletic directors usually like their coaches a little more restrained.


Ed from Philadelphia writes: Adam, Regarding the Ireland game for Penn State: It seems that you've chosen not to mention one of the more important pieces of the puzzle, which is that NCAA bylaws allow a 13th regular season game if it's played in Hawaii or otherwise outside the mainland US. In other words, PSU wouldn't have to worry about dumping a non-conference game if they do it while the sanctions are still in effect. They could just count it as their extra game.Obviously, it would still probably have to be done at the beginning of the season rather than the back end, as nobody would agree to interfere with their possible bowl season preparation. In fact, really the only realistic time would be the very first game of the year to minimize the fatigue of traveling.

Adam Rittenberg: Ed, thanks for bringing up this issue with the potential Penn State game in Ireland. I checked the NCAA bylaws regarding maximum number of contests, and there are a few things of note. The bylaw you cite about a team being allowed to play a 13th game if it takes place in Hawaii only applies to games placed against NCAA institutions in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico. It doesn't apply to two mainland teams playing a game out of the country.
17.9.5.2 Annual Exemptions. [FBS/FCS] The maximum number of football contests shall exclude the following:

(j) Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico. [FBS/FCS] Any football games played in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico, respectively, either against or under the sponsorship of an active member institution located in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico, by a Division I member institution located outside the area in question

There also is an exemption for a "foreign tour," but these games are against teams from other countries -- rather than another FBS team -- and don't count in the record book.
17.28.1.7 Opponents. The team shall not compete during the tour against other American teams (colleges or other U.S. teams) other than teams composed of U.S. armed forces personnel stationed at U.S. military bases in foreign countries

Here's what the manual notes about in-season foreign competition.
17.9.5.1.1 In-Season Foreign Competition. [FBS/FCS] A member institution may play one or more of its countable contests in football in one or more foreign countries on one trip during the prescribed playing season. However, except for contests played in Canada, Mexico or on a certified foreign tour 17 (see Bylaw 17.28), the institution may not engage in such in-season foreign competition more than once every four years.

It doesn't mention anything about exceeding the 12-game limit. A Penn State official told me a game in Ireland would count against the 12-game limit for the season. I agree with you that Penn State almost certainly would have to schedule the Ireland game as a season opener because of the travel issues.


Bryson from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey AR, Any chance that with the Boulware exit out of Madison we see our beloved Bart Miller come out and take over the TE's? I know Boulware was going to coach special teams as well and is a decorated recruiter. Who is on our radar for now? Oh and where did Bart Miller end up anyway?

Adam Rittenberg: It's funny you mention Miller's name, Bryson, because Brian Bennett and I brought him up immediately after the Boulware exit. Ultimately, I don't see it happening as Gary Andersen already had one chance to keep the popular Miller on staff and chose not to. Maybe the second time changes things, but Andersen has been pretty decisive in his hires. Also, Miller's inexperience as a full-time assistant coach likely would hurt him for this job as Andersen wants the coach to handle both a position group and special teams. Footballscoop.com reports that Jeff Genyk, a former Northwestern assistant and the former Eastern Michigan head coach, is interviewing for the job. He'd be a good hire.


Brock from Little Rock, Ark., writes: Not quite sure many people are paying attention to Kevin Wilson's and IU's recruiting class for 2013. If they are not they should be. With Taj Williams committing they jumped up to 4th in the B1G (according to Rivals). Coming off of a 4-8 season, is this a positive reflection of what Hoosier fans can expect year in and year out, both in recruiting and on field performance?

Adam Rittenberg: Brock, I agree more people should take notice of Indiana's recruiting efforts, and I think the Hoosiers are starting to make waves around the Big Ten. Williams is a big addition and will strengthen an already talented receiving corps led by Kofi Hughes, Shane Wynn and Cody Latimer. But the even bigger development in my view is Indiana's recruiting gains on the defensive side of the ball. Remember, the Hoosiers have had great wide receivers for years -- James Hardy, Tandon Doss, etc. -- but they haven't been able to stop anyone from scoring. They've simply lacked enough Big Ten-quality defenders, but things seem to be changing under Wilson. According to ESPN Recruiting, the top six players in Indiana's class will play defense in Bloomington (Williams hasn't been added to the list yet). That's a very encouraging sign because Indiana always will pile up yards and points under Wilson. Maybe the Hoosiers soon will prevent opponents from doing the same.


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: After reading the stories about assistant coaches moving from program to program, how about a story about Coach Kill and his staff staying together.

Adam Rittenberg: It's certainly worth noting, Craig. Minnesota and Northwestern are the only FBS teams to keep their entire coaching staffs in place for the past three seasons. Even Big Ten teams that had been incredibly stable, like Iowa, have seen sweeping changes in recent years. Kill's staff continuity is one of his hallmarks, and several of his assistants have been with him since his FCS and/or Division II days at Southern Illinois, Emporia State and Saginaw Valley State. The loyalty Kill has shown to his assistants and vice versa stands out in this volatile coaching environment, and it has played a role in Kill having success everywhere he's been.


Joe from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Thoughts on Iowa's open practice in Des Moines being held on the same day as Iowa State's spring game?

Adam Rittenberg: I like it, Joe. For starters, it shows that Iowa notices Iowa State and the success the Cyclones have had in recent years. Although some Iowa fans always will dismiss Iowa State as inferior, the Iowa program shouldn't take an arrogant attitude toward their rival from Ames. The bottom line is Iowa State has more than held its own against Kirk Ferentz's teams, and the improved recruiting efforts from Ames should be noted in Iowa City.

Also, as Mike Hlas writes, the practice in Des Moines will generate buzz and interest for a portion of Hawkeyes fans who can't access the program as easily as those in the Eastern portion of the state.

Hlas writes:
For the first time, they’re coming to the people instead of the people coming to them. There’s no taking you for granted, central Iowans. The Hawkeyes need you, they love you, they want you to know how much you mean to them. It’s a smart play.

I completely agree. And yes, the fact Iowa went 4-8 last season has something to do with it. Iowa fans are extremely passionate and loyal and will continue to come to games, but last season did some damage. It's nice to see the Hawkeyes being proactive in reaching out to their fans and also to potential recruits deciding between Iowa and Iowa State. Good move.

Best and worst of 2012: Wisconsin

January, 16, 2013
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Our series examining the best and worst moments of 2012 for each Big Ten team continues now with the Wisconsin Badgers.

Best moment: Victory lap in Indy

After a season of adversity where nothing came easy for Wisconsin, especially on offense, the Badgers had a surprisingly easy time annihilating Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten championship. The Badgers came to Indy as an underdog, a five-loss team that finished third in the Leaders Division and only qualified for the title game because Ohio State and Penn State were saddled with NCAA sanctions. Nebraska came in riding a six-game win streak and aimed for its first conference crown since 1999. But Wisconsin took control from the get-go and never looked back, piling up 70 points, 640 yards and 539 rush yards against a shell-shocked Blackshirts defense. The 70 points marked Wisconsin's second-highest total in the modern era, and the Badgers ran for more yards than any Nebraska opponent in team history. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada called the game of his life, using the entire playbook to stay a step (or three) ahead of the Nebraska coaches. Doak Walker Award winner Montee Ball did his thing (202 rush yards), and freshman running back Melvin Gordon had a breakout performance with 216 rush yards on only nine carries (24 yards per attempt). Wisconsin punched its ticket to the Rose Bowl for the third straight year and saved its best performance for last.

Worst moment: Offense bottoms out against Oregon State

Close losses and inconsistent offense came to define Wisconsin's 2012 season, but the first sign that things were very wrong surfaced in Week 2 at Oregon State. A Wisconsin offense that had ranked in the top six nationally in scoring in each of the past two seasons failed to score for more than 58 minutes against the Beavers and recorded just four first downs in the first half. The run-oriented Badgers finished the game with a measly 35 rush yards on 23 attempts (1.5 ypr). They allowed three sacks and converted just 2 of 14 third-down opportunities. Wisconsin had its lowest yards total (207) in five seasons. Although the season was still young, the poor performance led then-head coach Bret Bielema to dump offensive line coach Mike Markuson and replace him with graduate assistant Bart Miller. Although Wisconsin's offense eventually got on track, the unit certainly didn't look normal for most of the fall.

Previous best/worst

Minnesota
Michigan
Nebraska
Northwestern
Penn State
Iowa
Indiana
Purdue Michigan State
Illinois
New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen confirmed at his introductory news conference that one Badgers assistant, secondary coach Ben Strickland, would remain on staff after the transition.

Word leaked out shortly after that another assistant, running backs coach Thomas Hammock, would be retained. Six of the other seven Badgers assistants already had accepted jobs with other programs.

That left one assistant with an uncertain future: Bart Miller.

The former graduate assistant had been elevated to offensive line coach after the firing of Mike Markuson just two games into the season. Despite Miller's age (27) and lack of experience, then-Badgers coach Bret Bielema felt confident in his ability to get the offensive line, usually the strongest position group on the squad, back on track. Miller helped the group refocus, won the respect of the players and fostered some improvement as Big Ten play went on. But this wasn't a typical year for Wisconsin's offensive line. Rather than the sustained dominance we saw for years under previous line coach Bob Bostad, the unit fluctuated week to week.

Miller mentioned before the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizo that he could be auditioning for his job. He evidently didn't make the cut.

When Andersen announced most of his coaching staff Thursday -- seven of nine assistants -- Miller's name was nowhere to be found. Included in the new hires is T.J. Woods, who coached offensive line for Andersen at Utah State and who will hold the same post for the Badgers.

The Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Mulhern reported Saturday that Miller indeed wouldn't be retained on Andersen's staff. Athletic director Barry Alvarez had recommended Miller to be the team's tight ends coach, but Andersen is expected to go elsewhere with the hire.

Is it a mistake? Only time will tell.

It's rare for new coaches with no direct ties to a program or its assistants to retain more than one or two assistants from the previous staff. Andersen has the right to make his own staff decisions and to appoint the people he trusts to certain positions. Woods by all accounts did an excellent job at Utah State, coaching four first-team All-WAC selections the past two seasons. Utah State is one of just four FBS programs -- Wisconsin is another -- to produce a 1,500-yard rusher in each of the past two seasons. Utah State ranked sixth and 25th nationally in rushing offense in Woods' two seasons.

On the flip side, Miller did a pretty solid job in a very tough situation at Wisconsin, and seems to have a bright future in coaching. If Bielema had remained Wisconsin's coach, Miller would have stayed on as line coach. The Badgers offensive linemen love the guy, and not surprisingly stumped for him to remain their coach.

"He came into that position of power," tackle Rob Havenstein told me last month. "It couldn't be borrowed any more. He came off and talked to some of the older guys, the guys who were going to play for him, and said, 'It's got to be Coach. It's going to change a little bit.' I was all for it. I was very happy to hear that he got the position because I respect the hell out of the man. Everyone in our room does. He coaches football the right way. I was very happy to play for him."

No position group values continuity more than the offensive line, not just with one another, but with their coach. Wisconsin had that for years with Bostad. It would have had continuity with Miller, too. Instead, the linemen must adjust to a new coach who will put his own spin on things.

Andersen had a tough call and went with familiarity. We'll soon find out if it was the right decision.

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
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Can Touchdown Jesus save us from our eternal S(EC)suffering?
New Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen on Thursday announced five assistant coaches for the 2013 season.

Several of these names have already been reported but they're now official. Here's the rundown:
  • Andy Ludwig, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
  • Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator
  • Bill Busch, secondary
  • Chad Kauha'aha'a, defensive line
  • T.J. Woods, offensive line

Andersen is retaining two assistants from the previous Badgers staff: running backs coach Thomas Hammock and Ben Strickland, who coached the secondary in 2011 and will assist Busch.

Andersen worked with Ludwig at Utah, and Kauha'aha'a worked on Andersen's staff at Utah State before joining Utah's last year. The other three assistants -- Aranda, Busch and Woods -- served on Andersen's staff at Utah State this past season.

The notable absence here is Bart Miller, who coached Wisconsin's offensive line this season after being promoted from his graduate-assistant role to replace the fired Mike Markuson. Miller fostered improvement with the line and gained the respect of the players, but Andersen opted to go with Woods, who coached four first-team All-WAC selections the past two seasons, as his line coach. Miller mentioned before the Rose Bowl that he could be auditioning for a spot on Andersen's staff. Ironically, Woods helped tutor Miller at New Mexico as an offensive graduate assistant there.

Andersen still has two assistant coaches to hire, so we'll see if Miller ends up filling one of those spots. Tight ends/H-backs coach is a possibility for Miller.
"I have previously worked with the five coaches we are bringing in and I have gotten to know Thomas and Ben in the last few weeks so that familiarity will be beneficial," Andersen said in a prepared statement. "Both on offense and defense, these coaches have shown a lot of flexibility within their systems, and their main goal is to get the best 11 players on the field and build around their strengths. Our style on offense will be very familiar to Wisconsin fans while on defense I am confident that we can continue the great tradition of tough and physical units that has been established here."

Although most of the new additions spent most of their careers on the West Coast, Busch has ties to Wisconsin after serving as a graduate assistant for former Badgers coach Barry Alvarez in 1993-94.

Thoughts on Andersen's staff additions?

Badgers still see rosy future

January, 2, 2013
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PASADENA, Calif. -- After he'd finished all his Rose Bowl postgame media obligations, Barry Alvarez took one last stroll through the Wisconsin locker room to talk to some players. He embraced redshirt freshman Derek Watt and told him, "You're going to be the best fullback in America next year."

Another year, another painful Pasadena memory for the Badgers, who lost 20-14 to Stanford on New Year's Day. But as Alvarez scanned that locker room, he saw enough returning talent to think that Wisconsin can get to a fourth straight Granddaddy.

"We have a very good nucleus coming back next year, a lot of juniors, and they have a chance to be an outstanding squad again next year," he said.

Of course, Alvarez heads back to his athletic director's office today, and it will be up to new coach Gary Andersen to mold that talent for another run. Andersen should have a pretty good idea of the team's strengths and weaknesses after attending some of Wisconsin's bowl practices and then watching Tuesday's game from the sidelines.

Yet transitioning to another new coaching staff might remain the team's biggest challenge for 2013. Andersen has retained running backs coach Thomas Hammock and defensive backs coach Ben Strickland and may keep offensive line coach Bart Miller to oversee tight ends. But other than that, the staff will be entirely new, with two new coordinators. In that regard, it will be like last year's offseason, when Wisconsin lost six assistants, then dumped offensive line coach Mike Markuson for Miller after Week 2.

"Obviously, it's frustrating to lose coaches and have to learn a new offense," quarterback Curt Phillips said. "But I think our guys responded well to that this year. We didn't start off the season like we would like, but I thought rebounded really well and hopefully we can do the same thing next year."

Andersen's job should be made easier by a wealth of experience returning. The Badgers' two-deep against Stanford included nine seniors, but two of them -- Phillips and defensive end Brendan Kelly -- will return for a sixth year next season, assuming the NCAA does the right thing with Phillips' waiver request. Four juniors -- center Travis Frederick, linebacker Chris Borland, receiver Jared Abbrederis and guard Ryan Groy -- submitted paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board, but Borland told ESPN.com after the game that he was definitely returning to school.

Wisconsin returns its top eight players on the defensive line and all but one offensive lineman (Ricky Wagner) if Frederick and Groy stick around. After battling quarterback depth issues for a couple of years, the Badgers should have their fiercest offseason battle there in some time. Phillips, Joel Stave and Danny O'Brien all started games this year and will return, while redshirt freshman Bart Houston should be healthy and thrown into the mix and Jon Budmayr will give it another go.

The team's biggest star, touchdown king Montee Ball, is moving on to collect paychecks. But there's little worry about the running back position, not with James White back as a senior and budding superstar Melvin Gordon should start receiving many more carries.

The two biggest concerns are at wide receiver, where Wisconsin never established a another threat to complement Abbrederis, and in the secondary, which loses three starters. But the Badgers will have a senior-laden team and one that former coach Bret Bielema predicted would be his best before he bolted for Arkansas.

"We're going to have one of the biggest senior classes coming out next year since I've been around," departing senior cornerback Devin Smith said. "A lot of underclassmen were big contributors this year. So I think it's going to be a great team with a chance to get back here next year."

Of course, the Badgers won't benefit from Ohio State being on probation next season, and they'll have to go to Columbus. But they trade Nebraska and Michigan State as crossover division games for Iowa and Northwestern, the latter of which is at Camp Randall Stadium. They will have to solve the riddle of why they lost so many close games in 2012 (six by a combined 25 points).

"We've got to look at it as a learning experience," Frederick said, "and try to figure out what was the same in all those games and what troubled us."

If they can do that, make a successful transition and deal with the monster Urban Meyer is building, then maybe Wisconsin will go for a fourth Rose petal in four years. The Big Ten and the rest of America might not like that, as the Badgers run the risk of becoming college football's version of the 1990 Buffalo Bills.

Ball is the only player to score a touchdown in three straight Rose Bowls, but he understood that his legacy will also include those three straight losses.

"Hopefully, they can come here next year and win it," he said, "which was something I couldn't do."

Season report card: Wisconsin

December, 31, 2012
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Our series of grades for each Big Ten's regular season comes to a close with a look at the Wisconsin Badgers.

Offense: B-minus

If you just look at the final numbers, you'd say Wisconsin had a typical year on offense. The Badgers scored 30.8 points per game and finished 12th in the nation in rushing yards per game, at 237.8. In reality, the offense struggled early on as the line and running game weren't in sync. The promotion of Bart Miller to offensive-line coach improved things, but Wisconsin piled up stats against teams like Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue. The Badgers scored only 13 points against Michigan State, 14 against Ohio State and 21 at Penn State, all losses. The passing game was a mess at times as the team went through three starting quarterbacks. Danny O'Brien didn't live up to billing. Joel Stave showed promising signs before getting hurt. Curt Phillips finished the season but wasn't asked to do a whole lot with his arm. Finding a reliable receiver other than Jared Abbrederis proved problematic. Still, Wisconsin erupted for 70 points in the Big Ten championship game, and Montee Ball had another outstanding season after a slow start.

Defense: A

This was maybe the most underrated defense in the Big Ten, if not the country. Only one team, Nebraska, scored more than 26 points against Wisconsin. The Badgers finished 13th nationally in total defense and tied for 19th in scoring, allowing just over 19 points per game. Linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor were their normal brilliant selves, while the defensive line gummed up opposing teams' running attacks and the secondary shored up some of the problems it exhibited a year ago. While still overshadowed by the offense, Chris Ash's defense played great all year long.

Special teams: C-minus

The good: Wisconsin led the Big Ten in kickoff returns (though it only had a league-low 20 attempts), ranked fifth in punting and punt returns and third in kickoff coverage. The bad: The Badgers made just 10 of 18 field goals, an atrocious percentage that certainly cost them in their many close losses.

Overall: B

Ordinarily, a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth would automatically result in an A grade. But this was anything but an ordinary year. Wisconsin only got to Indianapolis because of the probation at Ohio State and Penn State; a third-place Leaders Division finish and 7-5 regular-season record fell well below expectations in Madison. The Badgers weren't able to protect Camp Randall Stadium in home losses to Michigan State and Ohio State and would have lost to Utah State if not for a missed chip-shot field goal by the Aggies. The Badgers were in every game and lost their five by a total of 19 points. Ultimately, the Big Ten championship game performance redeemed much of the year, and a victory in the Rose Bowl would elevate this grade. But a loss in Pasadena would mean an 8-6 final record and mark Wisconsin as one of the least accomplished Rose Bowl teams in history.

Previous report cards:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Ohio State
Nebraska

Minnesota

Northwestern
Penn State
Purdue
The day after Wisconsin lost at Oregon State in Week 2, Bart Miller was summoned to coach Bret Bielema's office.

Miller's first thought was that he might be in trouble with the boss. He'd noticed an odd vibe around the football complex that day, as assistant coaches' doors that normally stayed open were now closed.

Bielema stunned Miller with his most unconventional coaching decision of the year -- yes, even more surprising than Bielema's eventual departure for Arkansas. He'd fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson after just two games and handed that job to a previously little-known, 27-year-old graduate assistant.

Miller barely had time to process the shocking battlefield promotion, since he had to try and rework the program's signature position group in less than a week before the Utah State game.

"There wasn't a lot of time to think about it," he said. "We had to get ready to go."

[+] EnlargeBart Miller
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin's offensive linemen have flourished under 27-year-old coach Bart Miller.
Pressure? You bet. The Badgers were coming off one of their worst performances in years at Oregon State, rushing for just 35 yards on 23 carries and scoring only seven points in the loss. Bielema basically admitted that hiring Markuson -- a respected coach who brought in different techniques and training drills than the Wisconsin offensive linemen were used to doing -- was a mistake. It was on Miller to get the Badgers back to their old habits.

In Miller's first meeting with the linemen as their new leader, he told them, "We're all in this together. If I fail, then you guys fail. And vice versa."

Luckily for them, neither happened. While the return of the Thick Red Line was a gradual process with some starts and stops, the Badgers looked more like their old selves as the year went on. They crushed Purdue for 467 rushing yards, which was impressive until they ran for a school-record 564 yards and seven touchdowns at Indiana a few weeks later. And then, of course, there was the Big Ten title game, when Wisconsin gashed Nebraska for 539 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in the 70-31 blowout that got the team to the Rose Bowl.

"He got us all back on one page, got us all together as a unit instead of five individuals, which we lost there for a little bit," tackle Rob Havenstein said. "We started getting back to trying to be the best in the country."

It helped that the players immediately embraced the elevation of Miller. They'd resisted some of the changes Markuson had made and were glad to see a return to the old style that former assistant Bob Bostad had taught them. Miller also served as a graduate assistant in 2011 under Bostad and played for him at New Mexico. Though he added some of his own touches, Miller got the linemen back to using double-teams on blocks and attacking downhill. And as a young guy who'd just wrapped up his own career as a right guard in 2007, Miller had no trouble relating to the players.

"He comes off like he’s one of us," guard Ryan Groy said. "He treats us like we’re friends, treats us like what it is. It’s nice having somebody his age."

"I was very happy to hear that he got the position, because I respect the hell out of the man," Havenstein added. "Everyone in our room does. He coaches football the right way."

Miller isn't afraid to challenge his guys with statistical goals. Leading up to the Purdue game, Miller said, the line had some sloppy practices and still was looking for its breakout game. At halftime of that game, Wisconsin had already rushed for 190 yards but lost star left tackle Ricky Wagner to a leg injury. Miller came in at halftime and told the players they needed to finish with 450 rushing yards.

"We had just lost Rick, and I didn't want there to be any letdown there," Miller said. "I wanted to inspire them to play the way they were certainly capable of playing all along."

Before the Big Ten championship game, Miller said he told the linemen, "If we play the way we're capable of, it will get out of hand." That proved prophetic, as the Badgers raced out to a 42-10 halftime lead. Miller is hopeful that the confidence gained from that performance will carry over into Tuesday's Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio matchup against Stanford, which owns the nation's No. 3 rushing defense.

Miller doesn't know where he will coach after New Year's Day. Incoming Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen is bringing his offensive line coach over from Utah State and has talked to Miller about staying on as the tight ends coach. Miller said he would like to stay with the Badgers if possible.

"It's hard not knowing what the future holds," Miller said. "But at the same time, I feel like we did all we could do up front to establish ourselves and show the conference and the country what Wisconsin's offensive line is all about."

Ball, Taylor deserve Rose Bowl spotlight

December, 28, 2012
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The Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio features the FBS all-time touchdown king and the leading rusher in Stanford history. Running backs Montee Ball and Stepfan Taylor undoubtedly command the lion's share of the attention from each defense.

Yet neither star may be getting enough attention from the public at large.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Richard Mackson/USA Today SportsMontee Ball focused on his production after contact this season. Wise move. He enters the Rose Bowl with 21 TDs.
That's a strange thing to say about the 2012 Doak Walker Award winner (Wisconsin's Ball) and a three-year starter playing in his second straight BCS game (the Cardinal's Taylor). But are we sure we truly appreciate the accomplishments of both men?

Ball has received plenty of acclaim for his record 82 career touchdowns (76 of them rushing, also a record). Still, he'll end his career having never finished higher than fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting (2011), something future college football historians may have trouble believing. After a slow start this year that was due in part to a preseason assault and a struggling offensive line, Ball was labeled by some as a major disappointment. Such a claim looks ludicrous now for a player who rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns.

There are critics who will always be leery of a Wisconsin running back's numbers, believing they are merely a product of the Badgers' powerful offensive line opening massive holes that any decent athlete could run through. In some ways, then, Ball had a better season this year than in 2011, when he led the nation in rushing and tied an FBS record with 39 touchdowns. His running lanes were smaller, and he concentrated more on creating yards after contact.

"The thing that makes Montee so special is that he attacks the line of scrimmage," Wisconsin offensive line coach Bart Miller said. "He gets the ball and runs with fire. He runs the way we play offensive line, and guys love that. We don't want a guy who tiptoes along the line of scrimmage. We want a guy who attacks it, runs a guy over, makes him miss. All those kinds of things are what Montee does."

If Ball is underappreciated, then Taylor is criminally undervalued. He was overshadowed in his own backfield the past couple of years by Andrew Luck. This season, he carried the offense at times as it went through the post-Luck transition and reworked its offensive line, finishing with 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he had a hard time gaining notice even in his own conference, as the Pac-12 had other outstanding running backs such as UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireWith a new quarterback and an offensive line in transition, RB Stepfan Taylor fueled Stanford's offense this season.
Franklin and Barner joined Ball as Doak Walker finalists, while Taylor got shut out. As fate would have it, Taylor will finish his career going head-to-head against those three finalists in his final four games (Stanford played UCLA twice). He outgained Barner 161-66 in the win over Oregon. He had 142 yards to Franklin's 65 in the first UCLA game, though Franklin ran for 194 to Taylor's 78 in the Pac-12 title game. More important, the Cardinal won both meetings.

"Stepfan is the kind of guy who would say he doesn't even know who's up for those awards," Stanford running backs coach Mike Sanford said. "But I remind him."

The Cardinal bill Taylor as "the most complete back in America," one who never comes off the field and who excels in pass protection and blocking as well as carrying the ball. Sanford points out that Taylor has fumbled only twice in 340 touches this season. The Cardinal pride themselves on being a physical team, and Taylor helps give them that identity on offense.

"He's the steady rock for us," Sanford said. "Even if things weren't flowing early in the season, we knew he'd be able to almost will himself to keep the chains moving. Very few backs in college football are as well-rounded as him."

Ball and Taylor share much in common. They're each listed at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds. They're both workhorses -- Ball leads all active FBS players with 900 career carries, while Taylor ranks third with 823.

"When you talk about Montee Ball, you're talking about one of the best in the country," Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "He's got speed, size and great vision. Very much like Stepfan Taylor."

Both will be the undisputed stars of this Rose Bowl. And both deserve every bit of the spotlight.

B1G bowl primer: Rose Bowl

December, 24, 2012
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Our snapshots of each bowl game featuring a Big Ten team continues.

ROSE BOWL GAME PRESENTED BY VIZIO

Wisconsin (8-5) vs. Stanford (11-2)

Where: Rose Bowl; Pasadena, Calif.

When: Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. PT)

TV: ESPN

About Wisconsin: The Badgers' road to the Rose Bowl has been anything but smooth. They had a shaky start that led to a change at both offensive line coach (Mike Markuson to Bart Miller) and starting quarterback (Danny O'Brien to Joel Stave). They had another quarterback change midway through Big Ten play (Stave to Curt Phillips), lost five games by a total of 19 points (three in overtime) and endured the loss of head coach Bret Bielema to Arkansas three days after a dominant performance in the Big Ten championship. This team isn't as strong as the previous two Badgers squads that played in Pasadena, but its resilience has been impressive. Hall of Famer Barry Alvarez will lead the Badgers after being asked to coach the team following Bielema's exit. Alvarez led Wisconsin to three Rose Bowl wins in his tenure and was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2009. Although the Badger offense has been inconsistent, it put up 70 points in the Big Ten championship and boasts a three-headed rushing attack of Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon. An underrated defense kept Wisconsin in every game and ranks in the top 20 in both points allowed and yards allowed.

About Stanford: Arguably no FBS team finished the season playing better than Stanford, which won its final seven games following a controversial overtime loss at Notre Dame on Oct. 13. The Cardinal stunned recent nemesis Oregon in Eugene on Nov. 17 and punched their ticket to Pasadena with back-to-back wins against UCLA. An aggressive and physical defense fueled Stanford in its first season without Andrew Luck, as the unit led the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss, ranked third against the run and ranked 14th in points allowed. First-team All-Pac-12 linebackers Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy led the way for the defense, which allowed 17 points or fewer in nine games. The offense endured some predictable ups and downs without Luck, although redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan showed promise down the stretch.

Key players, Wisconsin: Ball didn't quite replicate his historic 2011 season, but he still performed extremely well in Big Ten play and earned the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. The senior finished seventh nationally in rushing average (133.1 ypg) and scored 21 touchdowns, becoming the NCAA's all-time touchdowns king. The speedy White gives Wisconsin another excellent ball-carrying option, and Gordon had a breakout performance in the Big Ten title game (216 yards on nine touches). All-Big Ten linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor combined for 215 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks to trigger the defense.

Key players, Stanford: Thomas and Murphy fuel Stanford's aggressive 3-4 defense, combining for 17.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss. Veteran linemen Henry Anderson and Ben Gardner add to the rush with a combined 27.5 tackles for loss. First-team All-Pac-12 safety Ed Reynolds has six interceptions on the season, while fellow safety Jordan Richards has three picks and 12 pass breakups. Running back Stepfan Taylor earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors after finishing 20th nationally in rushing (110.9 ypg). Senior tight end Zach Ertz, a John Mackey Award finalist, is the team's top receiver with 66 receptions for 837 yards and six touchdowns.

Did you know: Wisconsin is the first five-loss team ever to play in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers are the third Big Ten program to play in three consecutive Rose Bowl games, joining Ohio State (1973-76) and Michigan (1977-79). Alvarez is the only Big Ten coach to win Rose Bowls in consecutive years (1999, 2000). ... Stanford is making a team-record fourth consecutive bowl appearance, reaching a BCS bowl for the third straight year. The Cardinal have recorded 11 wins in three straight seasons for the first time. Wisconsin is making its fifth appearance in a BCS bowl game. Only six teams have made more: Ohio State (9), Oklahoma (8), Florida State (7), Florida (7), USC (7) and Virginia Tech (6). ... Stanford is 5-6-1 in 12 previous appearances in the Rose Bowl Game, including a 17-9 loss to Wisconsin in its last appearance in 2000. ... Alvarez becomes the fourth member of the College Football Hall of Fame to be inducted as an FBS coach and then coach a game after his induction, joining Chris Ault (Nevada), Bobby Bowden (Florida State) and Joe Paterno (Penn State). Alvarez will join Ault as the only Hall of Famers to come out of retirement to coach a game (Bowden and Paterno were inducted as active coaches).

Big Ten chat wrap: Dec. 20

December, 20, 2012
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My Big Ten chat took place one day later than usual, but you guys didn't seem to mind the delay. Some really good questions today, and hopefully some decent answers.

Did you miss the chat? No worries, I've got the complete transcript for ya.

Some highlights:

Ben from Columbus: Adam, which position group on the Buckeyes needs to have the best offseason? Which individual player?

Adam Rittenberg: Definitely the defensive line, Ben. It loses Big Ten DPOY John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel ... the list goes on. There's a lot of youth up front -- a lot of talent, too. That group really needs to grow up and make progress for Ohio State to compete for a national title in 2013.

Colin from Lansing: Regardless of how the B1G sets up the new divisions, do you agree that ALL regular-season finales should be against divisional opponents?

Adam Rittenberg: Colin, this is a good point brought up by several fans. There do seem to be too many cross-division matchups on the final Saturday because of the rivalries. If you put Michigan and Ohio State in the same division, it would solve that one. I think it's something the Big Ten must consider going forward.

Dale from Minneapolis: In terms of recruiting, is it important to look at a select player's recruiting rankings or what kind of offers that player is receiving?

Adam Rittenberg: Really good question, Dale. I'd definitely look at the offers more than the rankings, which can be all over the place depending on which service you use. Nebraska, for example, just landed an offensive line recruit (David Knevel) who also had an offer from Alabama. That's very significant in my view.

Mike from Paris, Ohio: Adam,There was recently an article on ESPN.com talking about the ACC vs. the Big Ten and which conference is in worse shape. in the article it talked about how both teams need to win some marquee games to help their repuation and how Wisconsin beating Stanford would be a big help.However, the BIg Ten is already 4-2 in their last 6 BCS games on the field (3-2 when you take away OSU) and it hasn't helped their reputation one bit. Why is that?

Adam Rittenberg: Hey Mike, I actually wrote that article. ... Although the Big Ten's recent BCS record isn't as lousy as it was from 2006-2008, the New Year's Day results have been particularly damaging. Going winless on Jan. 1, 2011, was really bad, and last year's results (only one win in triple overtime) weren't much better. The Big Ten rolls the dice a bit with putting so many bowl games on the same day -- it has lost the last two years, and that's why the league has taken some heat.

Jon from Colorado: If Alvarez can keep three of the five coaches being targeted (Miller, Strickland, Hammock, Partridge, and Herbert) how big of a coup is that? To me Herbert is one of if not the biggest loss of the offseason given what he has done for the strength program.

Adam Rittenberg: Herbert is outstanding, Jon. I'd say Miller and Strickland are the likeliest to remain, but if Wisconsin can get two of the other three -- Herbert, Hammock, Partridge -- it would be really big.

Thanks again for all your questions. If I didn't get to you, my apologies. Let's do it again soon.

Wisconsin could keep some assistants

December, 20, 2012
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The Gary Andersen hire still hasn't been made officially official, and Wisconsin is expected to formally introduce him Friday after digging out of a snowstorm today.

But already there is much speculation about who will be on Andersen's Badgers staff. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that athletic director Barry Alvarez has targeted some current assistants for Andersen to retain, including two who have already accepted jobs with Bret Bielema at Arkansas.

Those are co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge and strength coach Ben Herbert, both of whom took the same roles with the Razorbacks. But the paper reports Partridge has only a $50,000 buyout in his contract if he decides to stay and work for Andersen instead of going to Fayetteville.

Alvarez reportedly would also like to hold onto offensive line coach Bart Miller. He was a graduate assistant until after the second game of this season, when Bielema fired Mike Markuson and elevated Miller to a full-time role. The Badgers' offensive line play greatly improved, and Miller is seen as a rising star.

Andersen's offensive coordinator at Utah State, Matt Wells, has interviewed for the head coaching job for the Aggies and has a great chance to get the gig. If so, that would leave Andersen needing a playcaller. The Badgers' current offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, has accepted that same job at NC State under former Wisconsin assistant Dave Doeren. Could Canada be convinced to stay if Andersen wanted some continuity on the offensive side?

The assistant carousel is still spinning. Stay tuned.
Former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema and former Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Doeren both are assembling new staffs at Arkansas and NC State, respectively.

Both men also are looking to their old stomping ground for quality assistants.

Bielema already has hired two Wisconsin assistants -- defensive coordinator Chris Ash and co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Charlie Partridge. Doeren added offensive coordinator Matt Canada during the weekend and swiped another assistant from a Badgers program still without a head coach.

Eddie Faulkner will join Doeren's staff at NC State as the team's tight ends/fullbacks coach and special teams coordinator. Faulkner, a former Wisconsin running back, spent just one season back at his alma mater coaching tight ends. Like Canada, Faulkner spent the 2011 season coaching for Doeren at Northern Illinois.
"He's a very detailed, ultra-organized, connected recruiter who also has great passion and pride for special teams performance," Doeren said in a prepared statement. "Eddie has coached on back-to-back conference championship staffs -- 2011 in the MAC and 2012 in the Big Ten with Wisconsin -- and has been on championship ball clubs as a player, an assistant coach and coordinator. He also has experience as a tailback in the Big Ten on a Rose Bowl team. I look forward to working with him again."

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez expressed his disappointment Sunday in losing so many quality assistants in recent days. He didn't cite Bielema or Doeren by name but made it known he didn't appreciate coaches giving Wisconsin assistants short deadlines to make decisions on offers. The flip side of that is that both Bielema and Doeren are trying to assemble their staffs as quickly as possible.

Only three Wisconsin assistants haven't accepted offers elsewhere: running backs coach Thomas Hammock, who reportedly has an offer from Bielema at Arkansas; offensive line coach Bart Miller and secondary coach Ben Strickland.

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