Big Ten: Chase Hammond

PASADENA, Calif. -- The Hollywood ending was all set up. Wisconsin, the underdog in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, would reverse its recent history here under the steady guidance of the old pro who'd come out of retirement for one last assignment.

The opening scene played out as you'd expect. Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez delivered a rousing pregame speech in the locker room, during which he told the players "Wisconsin invented physical."

"I have never seen a bunch of guys so excited," defensive lineman Brendan Kelly said. "I was so sure we were going to win this game."

But the Badgers' Rose Bowl appearances instead keep unreeling like an unimaginative sequel. For a third straight year, they came up short, this time 20-14 to Stanford. For a third straight year, they were unable to make a big play in the closing minutes. For a third straight year, they walked dejectedly off the field as confetti rained down on their opponents.

Oh, there were many different circumstances this year. Alvarez took over the team after Bret Bielema left and brought some swagger. Assistant coaches hugged each other at the end of the game, knowing they would be parting ways on Tuesday when Gary Andersen begins remaking the staff and the program. With an 8-6 final record, Wisconsin players had to listen to one obnoxious fan shout "O-H-I-O" and remind them that Ohio State had the better team this year as they trudged into the tunnel to their locker room.

[+] EnlargeDevin Smith and Wisconsin Badgers
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergWisconsin has now lost its third straight Rose Bowl.
But those are just plot details. The ending remains unchanged.

"The immediate reaction is the same," linebacker Chris Borland said. "It's heartbreaking."

Wisconsin became the third team ever to lose three straight Rose Bowls, the first since Michigan did so from 1976-78. Each has brought its own set of painful memories. In 2010, a failed two-point conversion on a much-debated play call doomed the Badgers against TCU. Last year, some questionable clock management down the stretch left star quarterback Russell Wilson begging for an extra second at the Oregon 25 in a seven-point defeat.

This time, the Badgers had to play from behind the whole way after giving up two early touchdowns to Stanford, which broke out some new offensive wrinkles it hadn't shown on film. Wisconsin answered, though, with two second-quarter scores to slice the lead to 17-14. It seemingly had all the momentum after Curt Phillips' touchdown pass to Jordan Fredrick just 19 seconds before halftime.

But the Badgers would not score again in a second half where they managed only 82 total yards. There were opportunities, like a deep pass to the Cardinal red zone that Chase Hammond dropped before he got creamed by safety Jordan Richards. Wisconsin defensive backs missed a few chances to pick off Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan in his own territory.

Alvarez also chose to punt rather than go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Cardinal 46 near the end of the third quarter. It was an understandable decision, the way the Badgers defense was playing. But Wisconsin would never again have such good field position.

After Stanford earned some breathing room with a fourth-quarter field goal, the Badgers got one more possession, with a chance to drive for the winning touchdown.

"I felt like maybe we were a team of destiny," Alvarez said.

Phillips led the offense to the Stanford 49. Then, he looked for an out route to Jared Abbrederis, which was covered. He spotted Kenzel Doe on a crossing pattern; it wasn't open. On his third read, he tried to squeeze one in to tight end Jacob Pedersen but was intercepted by Usua Amanam with 2:03 to go.


"The game was in our hands and we just didn't capitalize," said star running back Montee Ball, who ran for exactly 100 yards but only 13 in the second half. "It's extremely frustrating because we had this game."

The Badgers have said that a lot, not just in Pasadena but all season long. They lost six games this year by a combined 25 points, including three in overtime. We thought this Rose Bowl would look a lot like a Big Ten game because of Stanford's physical nature and similar style. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, it looked a lot like the Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State losses, right down to the similar score.

"Our whole offseason approach will be to take the mindset of finishing," Kelly said. "If we do that, we'll be an unbelievable team. But that's the last little attribute we need."

The program is about to go through a lot of changes with Andersen, who watched the game from the sidelines but mostly kept his distance the past few weeks. The Badgers will have to contend with surging and now bowl-eligible Ohio State in the Leaders Division. Even if they manage to make a fourth straight Rose Bowl appearance, they might not find as favorable an athletic matchup as this one was. Stanford might not have invented physical, but the Cardinal perfected it. And Wisconsin won't have a Hall of Famer on the sidelines.

"It was awesome to play for Coach Alvarez," Phillips said. "I just hate the fact that we couldn't get him another [Rose Bowl win]."

The Hollywood ending would have seen the Badgers carry Alvarez off on their shoulders in triumph. But this story is one that keeps repeating itself.

Big Ten lunch links

October, 4, 2012
Debate these links.
Hours after naming Danny O'Brien as its starting quarterback for the season opener, Wisconsin revealed its complete preseason depth chart.

Senior Curt Phillips and redshirt freshman Joel Stave are listed as co-backups behind O'Brien.

Oh, in case there was any doubt, Montee Ball is listed as the team's starting running back despite suffering a concussion last month.

Some notes and thoughts on the Badgers' two-deep.
  • Jordan Fredrick translated a strong camp into a starting wide receiver spot opposite standout Jared Abbrederis. Fredrick, who redshirted in 2011, is listed ahead of both Chase Hammond and Manasseh Garner. Kenzel Doe also nabbed a starting receiver spot ahead of veteran Jeff Duckworth. At 5-8 and 170 pounds, Doe is one of the smallest players in the Big Ten but makes up for his size with speed. It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin rotates its receivers around Abbrederis, clearly the team's No. 1 target.
  • Sophomore Kyle Costigan won the starting right guard spot ahead of Robert Burge. Wisconsin's other four starting linemen were fairly set. The right side of the line is young with Costigan and sophomore tackle Rob Havenstein.
  • Junior Pat Muldoon is listed as a starter at both defensive end spots, alongside David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly. Both Gilbert and Kelly have dealt with injury issues, so you can expect more of a rotation at end as Wisconsin tries to identify a difference-making pass rusher.
  • Wisconsin often uses two tight ends, and junior Brian Wozniak tops the depth chart alongside Jacob Pedersen. Wozniak got the nod ahead of Brock DeCicco, a transfer from Pittsburgh who has done some good things in preseason camp.
  • Despite missing spring practice and undergoing four surgeries in the past year and a half, Ethan Armstrong secured a starting outside linebacker spot alongside All-Big Ten 'backers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. Armstrong started two game last season and is listed ahead of Conor O'Neill.
  • Special teams is a major area of interest for Wisconsin, and the Badgers have new starting specialists at both kicker (freshman Jack Russell) and punter (sophomore Drew Meyer). Sophomore Kyle French, the backup kicker, will handle kickoffs. Abbrederis, the team's top punt returner, also will handle kickoff returns with backup running back James White.
  • Jordan Kohout's career-ending injury thins the depth a bit at defensive tackle. Sophomores Warren Herring and Bryce Gilbert are listed as the backups behind Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer. Kohout likely would have been in a No. 2 role.

Thoughts on the Badgers' depth chart?

Big Ten Friday mailblog

August, 10, 2012
Thanks for your emails and Twitter questions (we'll keep using Twitter for mailblog questions going forward).

Brian will be driving the blog bus next week, so my next mailblog comes your way Aug. 21.

Let's do it ...

Justin from NYC writes: Hi Adam, Hope all is well in the Midwest, or wherever it is you're based out of, my question is 2 parts. First, Going off a question that was asked in yesterday's mailbag, do you think we will ever see Jim Delany reconsider his stance on a 9-game conference schedule? It seems absurd to me that teams will have to wait 4 years to play an out of division non-protected game with teams in their own conference. Secondly, If we were to move to a 9-game conference schedule, how do you think this would effect bye weeks and overall schedule timing? As a Buckeyes fan I feel that playing the Michigan game on Thanksgiving weekend is terrible for the students who have to travel back and forth from home and hurts the pre-game week festivities.

Adam Rittenberg: Things are great here in Chicago, Justin. Regarding the nine-game conference schedule, it's not Delany's call. It's the athletic directors who make that decision. Delany supported the move to nine games last August, and he has often talked about the importance of conference teams playing one another more, not less. But in the past year, momentum has slowed among the ADs to go to a nine-game league schedule. While some ADs like Michigan State's Mark Hollis never supported the idea, others also joined the movement to stay at eight. The league's coaches, not surprisingly, want to keep the eight-game league slate. Although the longer lulls between two Big Ten teams playing each other are an issue, the bigger concern among ADs was having unbalanced schedules (five Big Ten home games, four Big Ten road games) and the problems that creates when deciding a league champion. The eight-game schedule also helps the Big Ten's chances of reaching the national title game.

Regarding your second question, unless the season started earlier across college football, the Ohio State-Michigan game would remain on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to accommodate championship Saturday the following week. It doesn't have to do with bye weeks or number of league games, but when the season actually starts.

Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, I'd like to propose a follow-up to your players poll. Without revealing any personal info, did you notice any interesting correlations to the answers? Were skill position players more likely to answer the same way than teammates, etc. Did linemen and skill players see eye to eye, etc.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I didn't see too many huge differences between skill players and linemen for most of the questions. The linemen seemed more willing to identify dirty players, and typically named linemen on the other side of the ball. At least one of the "would leave Penn State" votes came from a star player with legitimate NFL skills. I think if we'd surveyed more freshmen and sophomores, we would have gotten more saying they'd leave Penn State. But overall, there weren't too many strong correlations.

@DoWorkLaRoy (via Twitter) writes: what highly ranked team are we most likely to look back on in December and say, "Wow, we really screwed that one up..."?

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan and Wisconsin are the likeliest candidates. While I understand why Michigan is the Big Ten's highest-ranked team entering the season, the Wolverines schedule is among the nation's toughest. As I've stated many times, the Wolverines easily could be a better team than 2011 with an inferior record (i.e. 9-3) this season. It's just very hard to get through a slate featuring Alabama (neutral), Notre Dame (road), Nebraska (road), Michigan State (home) and Ohio State (road), especially when the team has question marks on both lines. Wisconsin also could take a step back this fall. Danny O'Brien isn't Russell Wilson, and the offense likely won't maintain its incredible pace from the past two seasons. The more I look at Wisconsin's defense from 2011, I see a very average unit with good numbers because it wasn't on the field that much. If the Badgers don't find an elite pass-rusher and improve in the secondary, they'll have some problems.

Buckingham U. Badger from Madison, Wis., writes: It seems as though the Badgers haven't had someone really step-up and take hold of the second receiver slot. Obviously [Jared] Abbrederis and [Jacob] Pederson will be the top targets, but two targets is hardly enough. Can you envision a scenario in which the Badgers move James White into that slot role, sort of like Percy Harvin did at Florida? Especially given that Montee [Ball] will receive the majority of the carries and Melvin Gordon seems poised to take over as the feature back.

Adam Rittenberg: While I think White can be used in different ways this season, I don't see him as a No. 2 receiver. He can be a nice change-of-pace guy, but Wisconsin would really benefit if someone else stepped forward during camp. Jeff Duckworth made some big plays in the Big Ten title game, and Manasseh Garner, Marquis Mason and Chase Hammond are three intriguing players, all with good size. If one or two of those guys takes a step during camp and can complement Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin's offense will be that much better. I agree that White needs to have a more expanded role, but he just doesn't strike me as a No. 2 receiver.

Jay from Colorado writes: "At some point, it stops becoming about restoring legacies or wins or blasting the NCAA or the university president or the board of trustees. At some point, the focus and energy needs to shift toward what's happening now and what will happen in the future. "Why don't you let the PSU community do that without providing a judgmental timeline...determined by the media. Despite what you may think, you don't know what kind of effect this has had on the community. Graduating from PSU for meteorology was a life goal and source of pride for me. Cheering for an icon was a privilege. Just because the reporters are not there anymore, espousing their narrative, does not mean the pain has healed and that we need to move on because you think we have to. On the contrary, the PSU community has repeatedly been dealt blow after blow. We are trying to assess and assimilate all that has happened in less than a year. Nobody knew, outside of the select few, anything about what was happening. So it is an understatement to say PSU was rocked by this. And if you expect us to work through it in the speed of the twitter-verse that we now live in, it is you that has lost touch.We are dealing with it...and 'it' has a lot of layers (child abuse and victims, failing of our leaders, media bombardment, failing of the BoT, firing Paterno, a riot, Paterno's death, the Sandusky trial, the Freeh report, and seeming blind acceptance of the Freeh report despite not interviewing key witnesses. So sorry if we are reeling...and would like due process and objectivity...even though that doesn't meet your or ESPN's timeline for how things should go. Stick to the football side of this...please don't moralize about our reaction as this ongoing saga continuously unfolds before our eyes.

Adam Rittenberg: I never wrote Penn Staters didn't deserve time to process all that has happened. React how you want to react. My comment is directed more toward those who clearly aren't helping the situation. What's the point of appealing the NCAA sanctions, which aren't subject to appeal? To show that you're not weak? To show that you're standing up to evil? I understand those folks are hurt by what happened, but they're not making the situation any easier, especially for Bill O'Brien and the current team. Of course, Penn State has been rocked by this, and it will take a very long time to get through what has gone on there. But to keep blaming the media or the Freeh report investigators or the board or whatever, doesn't seem to serve a purpose at this stage. Neither does throwing out the term "due process" without understanding that the NCAA viewed the Freeh report as a self-report from Penn State. There's little need for an infractions hearing at that point.

Some very bad things happened in State College. No one can refute that. The perception of the school has been harmed, and is further harmed by these appeals. Doesn't it matter how this looks to the outside world? Again, quietly processing all that has happened is completely fine. Doing so while supporting O'Brien and the current team seems like the best approach.

@AdoubleD (via Twitter) writes: What are your impressions of MSU's defense that stands out above all others?

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State's defense has the best combination of talent and depth in the Big Ten. There's no obvious weakness on the unit, and even the defensive tackle position should be fine with Anthony Rashad White, Tyler Hoover and others. I love the way the Spartans have recruited on the defensive side, bringing in a lot of top-shelf athletes to East Lansing. They're not overly reliant on one or two stars, and they can go two or three deep at almost every position. Barring a wave of injuries, Michigan State should have a top 5 defense this season.

Patrick from Alexandria, Va., writes: Two comments on the "poll" results you have been posting. First, I think this is a terrible idea. Seriously, you are asking a bunch of kids which coach on other teams they'd least like to play for? Which opposing players are "dirty"? I know you guys like to get a little "edgy" but this is insulting. Second, you can't really ask for "anonymous" answers face-to-face; that's one reason why so many players did not respond to the negative questions. If you wanted to assure them of anonymity you should have used a simple on-line polling software (e.g., PollMonkey). That also would have allowed you to take a representative sample of players, giving you more valid and reliable results, rather than answers from a small, non-random group of interviewees. If you don't want to take the time how to do this right, then just stick to reporting and stay away from polling.

Adam Rittenberg: Patrick, some fair points here. It was our first go-round, and we certainly can improve our polling methods going forward. Maybe we'll poll Big Ten blog readers to get better questions next time, although I thought they worked out pretty well for the most part. Still, I don't know why you're "insulted" by a poll question, and as far as the edginess, deal with it. It's a blog. It's going to be opinionated and edgy. If you want to read about the loveliest things about each team and each program, all the rainbows and unicorns of the Big Ten, this isn't the place for that. I've made that clear a few thousand times. There are plenty of fanboy blogs out there for you to feel warm and fuzzy. But we'll make a better effort on the methods for polling next time around. We'll need cooperation from the schools, which isn't always easy, but we'll definitely give it a shot.

Home run summer: Wisconsin

June, 19, 2012
Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Wisconsin

Who needs to step it up: Receivers not named Jared Abbrederis

One of the most memorable moments of my spring trip to Wisconsin came after several dropped passes by Badgers wideouts during a scrimmage. An obviously frustrated Bret Bielema yelled out, "Somebody step up at receiver. You'll play!" While that seemed to light a fire under some of the receivers during the rest of that practice, spring definitely was an up-and-down time for players at the position with leading pass-catcher Abbrederis sitting out drills because of an injured foot. Abbrederis should be full go by August, but he'll need some help to keep defenses honest, because he is not the type of player who can impose his physical will on defensive backs. Wisconsin has some intriguing options in the passing game, including rangy receivers like Marquis Mason and Chase Hammond. Isaiah Williams and 5-foot-8 jitterbug Kenzel Doe bring different things to the table, and Big Ten championship game hero Jeff Duckworth will look to put together a full season of productivity. The wideouts will need to develop more consistency this summer while building chemistry with presumed starting quarterback and recent Madison arrival Danny O'Brien. The Badgers are pretty well set at just about every other position. Can Wisconsin win a lot of games without excellent play from receivers beyond Abbrederis? For sure, because of its outstanding running game. But to win another Big Ten title and chase greatness, the team likely will need those players to have a home run summer.

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
2011 record: 11-3

2011 conference record: 6-2 (Big Ten champions)

Returning starters:

Offense: 5; Defense: 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners:

RB Montee Ball, LT Ricky Wagner, OL Travis Frederick, WR Jared Abbrederis, RB James White, TE Jacob Pedersen, LB Chris Borland, LB Mike Taylor, CB Marcus Cromartie

Key losses:

QB Russell Wilson, OG Kevin Zeitler, C Peter Konz, WR Nick Toon, DT Patrick Butrym, S Aaron Henry, CB Antonio Fenelus

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Montee Ball* (1,923 yards)

Passing: Russell Wilson (3,175 yards)

Receiving: Jared Abbrederis* (933 yards)

Tackles: Mike Taylor* (150)

Sacks: Beau Allen* (4)

Interceptions: Shelton Johnson*, Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus (4)

Spring answers

1. Keep on running: The Badgers are enjoying the luxury of returning last year's Heisman finalist and record-breaking running back Montee Ball, who somehow managed to look a step faster this spring. They also still have the very capable James White, who produced 713 rushing yards a year ago. And while both sat out the spring game -- Ball as a precaution, White with a minor injury -- redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon stepped in and showed he could be the next star tailback in Madison. The Badgers can always run the ball, and this year could be a special season for the ground game.

2. Secondary matters: All-conference performers Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus are gone from the secondary, but Wisconsin was feeling good about its defensive backs this spring. Head coach Bret Bielema said Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson could be the best safety duo he's had during his tenure. Devin Smith is coming back from a foot injury and should fare well as a fifth-year senior starting cornerback. With fifth-year senior Marcus Cromartie also returning at corner, this is an experienced group that is looking to atone for a couple of late breakdowns last season.

3. Strong in the middle: Despite a few snapping problems in a late spring scrimmage, Travis Frederick looked good in replacing star center Peter Konz this spring. Ryan Groy appears ready to become an all-conference type player at left guard. Across from them lies the strength of the defensive line, with Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and the developing Warren Herring looming as potentially disruptive defensive tackles. If football is won in the middle of the trenches, then Wisconsin is well set up to defend its Big Ten title.

Fall questions

1. O'Brien to the rescue: The Badgers' passing game had its share of struggles this spring, with only Joe Brennan and walk-on redshirt freshman Joel Stave healthy at quarterback. Stave moved ahead of Brennan by the end of spring, but neither showed great consistency. Of course, Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien is on the way, hoping to replicate the success of Russell Wilson. That's far from guaranteed, though, and O'Brien will have to play more like he did as a freshman for the Terps than as a sophomore to make Wisconsin's passing game a true threat.

2. Who else at receiver? Abbrederis missed the spring with a foot injury, giving the coaching staff a long look at the possible contenders to complement him in the receiving corps. It was a very young and inexperienced group that had its ups and downs. Players like Marquis Mason and Chase Hammond have good size and ability but need to learn how to compete every down. Isaiah Williams showed some potential late in the spring. Having good tight ends and excellent pass-catchers out of the backfield should help, but the receiving group remains very much a work in progress.

3. Living on the edge: Wisconsin's defensive line was stout in the middle this spring but lacked a dynamic pass rusher on the edge. The coaching staff hopes that junior David Gilbert can fill that role, but he was out all spring with a foot injury that cut his 2011 season short. If Gilbert isn't all the way healthy or falls short of expectations, there aren't a lot of other candidates. The Badgers' defense is going to be solid with an experienced secondary and two stars at linebacker in Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, but it only reaches the elite level if someone can consistently get to the quarterback.

Wisconsin spring game recap

April, 30, 2012
The final two Big Ten spring games of the year were held this weekend, and we're here to review both of them, starting with Wisconsin.

You can find coverage of the Badgers' Cardinal and White scrimmage here, here and here.

Star of the game: Redshirt freshman running back Melvin Gordon carried 30 times for 159 yards and a touchdown.

How it went down: The Cardinal team, which included the first-string offense and defense, defeated the White squad 21-10. Gordon had a big day in the absence of Montee Ball (precautionary reasons) and James White (bruised knee), showing that the Badgers have serious depth and talent at tailback.

But that wasn't really the question going in. The quarterback situation was. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave appears to be the No. 1 guy until Danny O'Brien shows up, as he spent most of the day with the Cardinal team. He was 14-for-25 for 135 yards and a touchdown and a late interception while putting the ball on the money throughout the game. By contrast, Joe Brennan went just 2-for-11 for 24 yards.

“Joel continues to impress me -- his maturity, the way he handles it,” head coach Bret Bielema said.

Receiver was also a big question mark. Chase Hammond had a nice day, catching four passes for 48 yards and the lone receiving touchdown.

"Chase is an interesting prospect just because he's so lanky," Bielema said. "He's a very athletic specimen. He had surgery on an ankle twice, I believe. Really, at one point they told me he wouldn't be able to play. He's battled back from that. ... I think he made some steps this spring in certain times in practice. I'm excited because I think it is there. He's only a sophomore, so he's got a lot of good football, hopefully, in front of him."

"I just showed that when it’s time to play, I can make plays," Hammond said. "I think that’s been big on me. I may not always have the best practices but that’s what practice is for, to get better."

The Badgers' defense limited the offense for the most part, outside of a few big plays. It's hard to get a true read on Wisconsin from the spring game, since so many stars and potential starters -- like Ball, White, O'Brien, Mike Taylor and Chris Borland -- didn't play in the spring game. Remember that there were no offensive touchdowns in last year's Cardinal and White scrimmage, and that team ended up being pretty good on offense.

Spring game preview: Wisconsin

April, 27, 2012
There are just two spring games left in the Big Ten, and both are this weekend. We're here to get you ready for both, starting with Wisconsin.

When: 5 p.m. ET Saturday

Where: Camp Randall Stadium

Admission: $5 (proceeds go to the UW Center for Nonprofits). Stadium gates 1, 8, 9 and 10 open at 3 p.m. CT. Parking is available in Lots 16, 17 and 18 as space allows for $10. Lot 60 is free, but there will be no shuttle buses.

TV: The game will be streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network and BTN2Go. The Big Ten Network will televise the game at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Weather forecast: High of 45 degrees. Cloudy, with a 60 percent chance of rain.

What to watch for: If you're hoping to see a completely accurate preview of the 2012 Badgers, you'll be disappointed. Star running back Montee Ball will be held out for precautionary reasons, and several other stars are either out this spring (linebacker Mike Taylor, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis) or figure to be limited at best on Saturday (linebacker Chris Borland, running back James White, tight end Jacob Pedersen). And, of course, Maryland transfer quarterback Danny O'Brien isn't with the team yet.

Still, there are some interesting things to watch. Will the rebuilt right side of the offensive line live up to the Badgers' high standards? Robert Burge has had a few struggles at right tackle this spring. Which receiver out of a group that includes Isaiah Williams, Marquis Mason and Chase Hammond might emerge as a complementary threat to Abbrederis? How good is the defense, especially playing without projected starting defensive end David Gilbert and Taylor? And will Joel Stave stay ahead of Joe Brennan for the starting quarterback (for now) job? Can redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon make some noise at running back?

It should be a fun day in Madison, as the Crazylegs 8K run will end inside Camp Randall Stadium and several finishers are expected to hang around and watch the game.
MADISON, Wis. -- After watching a slew of incomplete passes during the first half of Saturday's scrimmage, a frustrated Bret Bielema yelled out, "Somebody step up at receiver. You'll play!"

Wisconsin's wideouts responded after that appeal from their head coach with some better play the rest of the day. Still, the limitations of the Badgers' passing game have been all too clear this spring.

Much of that was to be expected. The team no longer has quarterback Russell Wilson, who set an NCAA record for pass efficiency rating last year. Leading receiver Nick Toon will be selected by an NFL team sometime this weekend, and top returning pass-catcher Jared Abbrederis is out all spring with a foot injury.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
AP Photo/Cal Sport MediaDespite nagging injuries, Jared Abbrederis caught 55 passes for 933 yards last season.
A lack of experience from those throwing the ball and catching it has made for some ragged play at times by the offense this spring. The inconsistent play from the quarterbacks underscores the importance of Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien arriving this summer.

Redshirt freshman Joel Stave appears to have moved ahead of Joe Brennan for the No. 1 job right now, but neither can feel too secure. It sure looks like, for the second straight year, a transfer will come in and jump ahead of all the quarterbacks on campus. But with Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr hurt and incoming freshman Bart Houston likely headed for a redshirt year after shoulder surgery, Bielema felt he had little choice but to go the transfer route again.

"I don't think it's something [the returning quarterbacks] were high-fiving over," Bielema told "But I was very open and honest about everything. I spoke to the team and said, 'Hey, the truth of the matter is we've got a really good football team. But that position just by pure numbers is weak. If Curt and Jon don't come back, we can't go into the season with just two healthy quarterbacks.'"

Like with Wilson, Bielema says he has not promised anything other than O'Brien can compete for the job. O'Brien cannot even receive a copy of the Wisconsin playbook until he enrolls. The quarterbacks on campus will try to beat him out.

"My reaction to it was it was nothing I could control," said Brennan, who backed up Wilson last year. "Obviously, it was what Coach Bielema felt needed to be done. I'm just focusing on getting better each day and what I have to do to improve. I feel I have the ability to play college football and be a leader on this team."

Even if O'Brien shores up the quarterback spot, the question of to whom he will throw remains in doubt.

Abbrederis should slide into the No. 1 receiver role after catching 55 passes for 933 yards and eight touchdowns last year. His season was even more impressive considering he hurt his left foot in the fourth game of the season and played through discomfort all season. Doctors discovered he had a fracture after the Rose Bowl, which should heal through rest.

"If I have any more problems, maybe we'll do something after the season," he said. "If worse comes to worse, I'll just play with it again this year."

His absence has allowed younger receivers to get a lot of reps this spring, and they need them. Each has had moments but not enough of them in a row. A perfect example came in last week's scrimmage, when promising sophomore Marquis Mason caught a long pass to set the team up in the red zone, then jogged to the sidelines to take himself out. Wisconsin coaches were planning on calling a fade to the end zone for him.

Mason needs to develop toughness and to get over the mental hurdles presented by knee surgery last year. The good news is he's 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds. With him and 6-foot-5 sophomore Chase Hammond, the Badgers have the kind of tall, athletic receivers they've lacked over the years. Smaller guys like sophomore Isaiah Williams and the 5-foot-8 Kenzel Doe have shown flashes this spring as well.

Abbrederis is there to give advice to the youngsters, though he's not pestering them with coaching.

"I try to let them go out and play and not yell," he said. "When I was playing, I never liked the guy that sat out who wasn't doing all the hard work with me and then would be like, 'Hey, let's get going. Why aren't you running fast?' Well, I'd been running for like 20 days, and I'm tired."

Wisconsin has a long time before its passing game has to round into form, and it will have some pieces that are missing this spring. But for the Badgers to repeat as Leaders Division champs, they'll have to solve some issues at quarterback and receiver.

Big Ten recruiting nuggets

December, 21, 2009
A few Big Ten recruiting nuggets to pass along, beginning with the latest top 20 team rankings from ESPN's Scouts Inc., which actually came out Dec. 10 (sorry for the delay in posting these). Penn State comes in at No. 5 nationally, while Ohio State ranks at No. 12 and Michigan at No. 20.

Now for some recent news from ESPN's Scouts Inc.

Minnesota defender Beau Allen decides for the Badgers

Three-star defensive tackle Beau Allen of Minnetonka, Minn., has given the Badgers a Class of 2010 commitment. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound prospect also considered Minnesota, Notre Dame and Stanford.

Among his other offers were Colorado, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern UCLA and Vanderbilt.

ESPN's Craig Haubert said of the new, "The Wisconsin Badgers finished the 2009 regular season with a top ten rushing defense. In an attempt to keep that defense stingy against the run they just added a stout run defender to their trenches with a commitment from Beau Allen. Out of the backyard of a Big Ten foe, Allen seems like a great fit for the Badgers. He has good size and can be very tough to block when he stays low and uses his hands. He has a good motor and while his technique is not always great you do like that he pretty consistently plays with a physical and nasty attitude."

Wisconsin tops non-BCS offers for Youngstown receiver

Chase Hammond, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound receiver from Boardman (Youngstown, Ohio), has made his Class of 2010 decision to attend Wisconsin.

Ball State, Kent State, Ohio, Western Michigan and Air Force have also offered.

Hammond is the 19th pledge, second at wide receiver, for the Badgers.

Wideout Kevonte Martin-Manley picks the Hawkeyes

Iowa has gained a Class of 2010 pledge from three-star Brother Rice (Bloomfield, Mich.), receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley.

The 6-foot-0, 190-pound prospect chose the Big Ten Hawks after decommitting from Bowling Green. He was also sought by Central Michigan and Toledo.

As a senior, Martin-Manley caught 43 passes for 745 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Cali defensive back Brock Vereen headed to Minnesota

The Gophers have landed a commitment from three-star cornerback Brock Vereen of Valencia, Calif., for their Class of 2010.

The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Vereen was also offered by Stanford. Vereen's older brother Shane is a standout running back for Cal.

Defensive lineman Matt Hoch changes from Hawks to Tigers

Missouri has gained defensive end Matt Hoch of Harlan, Iowa, who decommitted from Iowa.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Hock also had offers from Stanford, Iowa State and Kansas State. His older brother, Dan, signed with the Tigers in 2008.

Missouri now has 22 commitments for the Class of 2010.

Signal-caller Dominique Brown drops hometown Cincinnati

Three-star athlete/quarterback Dominique Brown of Winton Woods (Cincinnati) has reopened his recruitment to Cincinnati following the departure of head coach Brian Kelly to Notre Dame.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound prospect is now drawing interest from Georgia Tech, Ohio State and Louisville.