Big Ten: Canadian Football League
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- A crowded backfield and the power run game used to be pillars of Big Ten football, the traits that made teams famous and feared for their size, strength and toughness.
Big Ten teams built on those seemingly rock-ribbed values are now known by a different term.
"We're the dinosaurs, now, huh?" Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst joked Sunday at media day.
Wisconsin's offense resembles the systems run by most Big Ten teams as recently as 10 years ago.
The Badgers try to punish defenses with big running backs -- starter P.J. Hill and third-stringer John Clay both weigh more than 235 pounds, while backup Zach Brown is hardly a waif at 207. There's usually a fullback in the mix, with 259-pound tank Chris Pressley the projected starter this fall. Clearing a path are five offensive linemen who don't want to be mistaken for finesse players.
Their average weight is 319 pounds. Left tackle Gabe Carimi is the runt at 301.
Wisconsin isn't adverse to the passing game and boasts tight end Travis Beckum, the Big Ten's returning receiving yards leader (982). The Badgers also will operate from the shotgun on occasion this fall. But a spread offense this is not.
The spread has swept through the Big Ten, with seven or eight teams using some version of it. But the Badgers wagged a beefy finger at the trendy scheme. Not here, they said.
"Wisconsin has a deep tradition of fullback, running back and just shove it up the middle," senior guard Kraig Urbik said. "You never know, but hopefully, this year, we stay with the power running game and whatever happens later is fine."
Added Brown: "We're unique right now. You like being unique."
Urbik's younger teammates on the line likely don't have to worry about Wisconsin getting trendy with the spread. Chryst got an early taste of it while coaching in the Canadian Football League in the mid-1990s, but he still feels a traditional offense suits Wisconsin, which eclipsed 30 points in seven games last season.
"I like being in the pro-style offense," he said. "There's reasons for it. I understand the benefits of the spread. When you watch some of those teams go, when it's rolling, it's fun to watch. There's no anti-spread here or anything like that. Being up in Canada, that's as spread as spread could be. But for the teams that we've had and the players we've had, these [systems] have been the right fits."
The Badgers are among the many teams still figuring out how to consistently defend the spread, but their own offense presents challenges for opponents.
"When they practice [first-team offense vs. first-team defense], they're going against their team's offense," Urbik said. "They can't really practice our type of offense, so when it comes to game time, maybe they're not used to the smash-mouth football we play."
At 6-6 and 332 pounds, Urbik enjoys using his strength downfield rather than pass-blocking 30-40 times a game.
"I like the 1-on-1 blocks, just set your pads and get under guys," he said. "It just feels so much better when you make that block."
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Iowa Pittsburgh 12:00 PM ET Eastern Michigan 11 Michigan State 12:00 PM ET Western Illinois Northwestern 12:00 PM ET Southern Illinois Purdue 12:00 PM ET Bowling Green 19 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET Maryland Syracuse 3:30 PM ET Utah Michigan 3:30 PM ET Rutgers Navy 4:00 PM ET Massachusetts Penn State 4:00 PM ET San Jose State Minnesota 4:00 PM ET Texas State Illinois 4:00 PM ET Indiana 18 Missouri 8:00 PM ET Miami (FL) 24 Nebraska