Big Ten: Derek Watt

Big Ten morning links

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
A tip of the cap to the Big Ten for staying ahead of the curve. For sticking its collective conference neck out there.

Yes, that Big Ten, often criticized for its conservative nature -- the league slow to stage night games late in the season or play on Thursday nights, the same Big Ten that’s reluctant to pit foes early in the fall when mismatches abound and the fans crave meaningful football.

That Big Ten is leading the way this year in playing neutral-site games. Starting with Rutgers-Washington State on Thursday in Seattle -- if that doesn’t scream Big Ten, nothing does -- league schools will play in five of eight neutral-site games nationally early this season.

On Saturday, you’ve got Penn State-Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, Ohio State-Navy in Baltimore and Wisconsin-LSU in Houston. Notre Dame and Purdue play in Indianapolis on Sept. 13.

The Big Ten has officially embraced a college football trend popularized by the Southeastern Conference. Dare we say, the Big Ten is doing it better than any other league this year?

And even if not, Big Ten teams are trying hard to reach new audiences and tap fertile recruiting grounds. It counts for something.

Forget, for a moment, the financial ramifications. Yes, the neutral-site games can be profitable. Some offer payouts in excess of $5 million, which can equal the revenue lost from a home game, considering that the neutral-site pairings don’t require a road game in return.

But it’s about more than money.

Indirectly, everything about scheduling involves money. By playing games outside of their comfort zones, though, Big Ten programs illustrate that they want to grow their brands. They show that they’re not content with bundles of TV-generated cash and underachieving reputations.

“The kids should walk out of there with a big-time experience,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said of the Badgers’ showdown on Saturday night.

His program receives $2 million for the game.

Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN, competing for viewers with Florida State-Oklahoma State at 8 p.m. ET on ABC from Arlington, Texas.

These are big-time draws, especially a week before the NFL regular season hogs attention.

Next year, the Badgers face Alabama in the Cowboys Classic. In two years, LSU visits Lambeau Field in Green Bay for the Wisconsin rematch.

Here’s to more neutral-site games in the Big Ten region. Illinois and Northwestern have tested pro stadiums in Chicago and figure to go back, but how about Nebraska or Michigan, Iowa or Michigan State at other venues easily accessible to their fans?

Keep thinking big, Big Ten.

One day before kickoff, let’s go around the league…

East Division
West Division
Bonus links
  • Who said Penn State would go back to nameless jerseys? Not James Franklin. In fact, he's not saying anything.
  • Johnny Manziel weighs in on Miller, J.T. Barrett the Ohio State quarterback situation.
  • A little fun with Kevin Wilson after practice at Indiana.

Wisconsin Badgers season preview

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21

» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Wisconsin Badgers:

2013 overall record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten)

Key losses: RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, OG Ryan Groy, DE Pat Muldoon, DT Beau Allen, LB Chris Borland, S Dezmen Southward

Key returnees: RB Melvin Gordon, OT Rob Havenstein, OG Kyle Costigan, OT Tyler Marz, CB Sojourn Shelton, S Michael Caputo

Instant impact newcomer: Safety Lubern Figaro. If you're from outside the Badger State, you're probably asking, "Who?" After all, Figaro was just a three-star recruit and enrolled over the summer -- but he's already projected to start in the opener. Part of the reason is reportedly an injury to safety Leo Musso, but Figaro has already done plenty to separate himself. In the first scrimmage this preseason, he returned a pick for a touchdown. DB Sojourn Shelton made an impact last season when he was a true freshman; now it looks as if it's Figaro's turn.

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsSojourn Shelton and the Badgers' defense will have their hands full against teams in the West Division.
Projected starters

Offense: QB: Joel Stave, RS Jr., 6-5, 220; RB: Melvin Gordon, RS Jr., 6-1, 213; FB: Derek Watt, RS Jr., 6-2, 236; WR: Alex Erickson, RS So., 6-0, 196; WR: Reggie Love, RS So., 6-3, 214; TE: Sam Arneson, Sr., 6-4, 244; OT: Tyler Marz, RS Jr., 6-5, 321; OG: Dallas Lewallen, RS Sr., 6-6, 321: C: Dan Voltz, RS So., 6-3, 311; OG: Kyle Costigan, RS Sr., 6-5, 319; OT: Rob Havenstein, RS Sr., 6-8, 333

Defense: DE: Chikwe Obasih, RS Fr., 6-2, 268; DT: Warren Herring, RS Sr., 6-3, 294; DE: Konrad Zagzebski, RS Sr., 6-3, 277; OLB: Joe Schobert, Jr., 6-2, 240; ILB: Marcus Trotter, RS Sr., 6-0, 226; ILB: Derek Landisch, Sr., 6-0, 231; OLB: Vince Biegel, RS So., 6-4, 244; CB: Darius Hillary, RS Jr., 5-11, 188; CB: Sojourn Shelton, So., 5-9, 178; S: Michael Caputo, RS Jr., 6-1, 212; S: Lubern Figaro, Fr., 6-0, 179

Specialists: P: Drew Meyer, RS Jr., 6-3, 187; PK: Rafael Gaglianone, Fr., 5-11, 231

Biggest question mark: Can this front seven recover from so many key departures? Of the seven players who started in the Badgers' bowl game last season, only one returns. That leaves quite a few holes, especially when considering the departures of Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Borland and two All-Big Ten honorable mentions (Beau Allen, Pat Muldoon). Wisconsin's front seven dominated in 2013, as they helped the Badgers rank No. 5 nationally in rush defense (102.5 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring defense (16.3 points per game). Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is solid, but he's not a magician. Those defensive numbers will almost certainly drop from last season -- but just how much?

Most important game: Nov. 15 versus Nebraska. It's basically a three-team race in the West Division, so this is a must-win if Wisconsin wants a spot in the Big Ten championship game. There's no Ohio State or Michigan State on the schedule this season, so the Huskers and Iowa Hawkeyes are the teams to beat. Iowa is just as important, but that contest comes a week later, and that won't mean a thing if Wisconsin first can't get past this contest.

Upset special: Nov. 29 versus Minnesota. A lot could be on the line when the Badgers square off against Minnesota in the final game of the regular season. And, depending how Wisconsin's defense progresses, this could be an interesting one. Wisconsin's run defense is a wild card right now, and the Gophers could boast the second-toughest rushing attack on Wisconsin's schedule (outside of Nebraska). No team held Wisconsin to fewer points (20) last season than Minnesota, so there is some potential here. Plus, one has to think the Gophers will be able to manage better than a seven-point offensive effort this time around.

Key stat: Sure, everyone knows the departure of Jared Abbrederis will hurt Wisconsin. But the Badgers actually lost their top four targets, and only one (Jordan Fredrick) recorded catches in the double-digits. And he had just 10. Overall, Wisconsin lost 81 percent of its receiving production, as this year's returners had just 42 combined receptions last season compared with the 217 total catches.

What they're wearing: Wisconsin has come a long way since 2010, because it basically went from rotating between two uniform combinations to doing photo shoots with more than 20 combinations.

One possible new look includes an all-red, jersey-pant combo (not to be confused with Nebraska's all-red getup):

Team's top Twitter follows: Head coach Gary Andersen (@UWCoachAndersen) joined Twitter just a few weeks ago, but he pumps out unique tweets and is a great follow. The official Wisconsin football account (@BadgerFootball) tweets like crazy and is always on the ball. As far as players, running back Melvin Gordon (@Melvingordon25) is a no-brainer, while cornerback Sojourn Shelton (@SDS1_) definitely deserves a few more follows. There are quite a few good follows for your coverage needs -- besides us, of course -- including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) and SB Nation blog Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q).

They said it: "No question there's a temptation to run him every time." – Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen on running back Melvin Gordon

Stats & Info projection: 9.29 wins

Wise guys over/under: 9.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Ten wins. Wisconsin has a lot of question marks, but it also has a lot of talent. The rushing offense should be one of the nation's best and, while this defense will undoubtedly take a step back from last season, it shouldn't free-fall with Dave Aranda at the helm. Wisconsin's schedule is pretty favorable, as it doesn't play any of the big names from the East, and it's possible it could be favored in every game from Week 2 on. Wisconsin's getting the benefit of the doubt here, but if it can manage a win against LSU in the opener, that bandwagon is going to get big in a hurry.

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
Brackets are out. Who ya got? I'll be in Milwaukee for hoops duty later this week. Excited to check out Michigan, Wisconsin and others.

To the links ...

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 11, 2013
Never forget.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 7, 2013
Happy Sea Serpent Day.

Spring game recap: Wisconsin

April, 22, 2013
Three Big Ten programs wrapped up spring ball Saturday with spring games, and we're taking a look at each one.

First up, the Wisconsin Badgers, who held their first spring game under new coach Gary Andersen at Camp Randall Stadium.

You can find coverage of Wisconsin's spring game here and here and here and here.

Star of the game: Quarterback Joel Stave. The redshirt sophomore ended a solid spring by completing 15 of 20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. Along with senior Curt Phillips, Stave already had separated himself in the competition for the starting job, and he heeded Andersen's challenge to upgrade the passing game. "Joel was poised today," Andersen said. "I thought he it wasn't perfect, but it doesn't have to be perfect."

How it went down: The defense played without six starters, held out because of injury or as a precaution, but still won the scrimmage 61-47 thanks to a scoring system that appeared to favor the defense. Wisconsin's personnel situation both on defense and with the offensive line made it tough to get an accurate gauge on the team, although several players certainly helped themselves.

Stave played very well and Phillips (8-for-13 passing, 82 yards) had a good day. With top receiver Jared Abbrederis held out, junior Kenzel Doe stepped up to record eight receptions for 93 yards. Doe, who had 16 catches last season but has been used mainly on returns, put himself in position to contend for the No. 2 receiver spot.

"Kenzel had a really good spring all around," Stave said. "He just continues to get better. He's a very athletic kid, so when he can get the ball in a space he can really make some good things happen."

The offense finished with 250 pass yards -- quarterbacks Danny O'Brien and Bart Houston played sparingly -- and Andersen called the passing game progress "very encouraging."

Sophomore running back Melvin Gordon took the bulk of the carries with James White held out and finished with 74 rush yards and a touchdown on 17 attempts. Doe had a 9-yard rush, while fullback Derek Watt had 22 rush yards and 22 receiving yards, plus a receiving touchdown.

Linebacker Vince Biegel, who has been in and out of the first-team defense this spring, ended the session with a strong performance, recording two sacks, including a safety. Walk-on Joe Schobert completed a strong spring with seven tackles and a sack. He's also in the mix for a starting outside linebacker spot.

The secondary will continue to be a story line throughout fall camp as Wisconsin returns only one starter (safety Dezmen Southward). Cornerback Sojourn Shelton, an early enrollee who has drawn praise from the coaches all spring, recorded four tackles, including a tackle for loss, and broke up a few passes in the scrimmage. Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary, who are working as the top corners, had mixed results Saturday.

"The list is not real long with those kids," Andersen said, "but I think they have competed day in and day out, and techniques, moving to man coverage, moving to playing dog coverage, blitzing sometimes doesn't sound like a lot, but it's a lot to put on a kid's plate. They've got better every single day."
MADISON, Wis. -- Is this season James White's chance to finally be The Man at Wisconsin?

Standing outside Wisconsin's locker room earlier this spring, White began to answer the question when a passer-by interrupted him.

"You da man!" new Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said.

White burst into laughter, flashed his big smile, looked down and shook his head. Then he responded in typical fashion.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's James White
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)James White has 2,571 career rush yards and 32 career touchdowns at Wisconsin.
"No, I don't treat it that way," he said. "We have great competition going on in the running back room. Everybody wants that starting spot, so it's going to make each and every one of us better."

The truth is White could be The Man this season. He also could share carries with Melvin Gordon, who emerged late last fall as a significant contributor for Wisconsin's rushing attack. It's also possible Gordon, a sophomore that some believe has a higher ceiling than any recent Badgers back, moves into a featured role ahead of White. Gordon racked up 216 yards on only nine carries in Wisconsin's blowout of Nebraska in last year's Big Ten championship.

"Who's 1, who's 2? Not worried about that just yet," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said.

White certainly prefers Door No. 1, but you can be sure he'll react the same way regardless of what happens -- with a big smile on his face. At almost any other program, a running back with White's credentials -- 2,571 career rush yards, 32 career touchdowns, nine career 100-yard rushing performance -- would be a sure-fire starter, case closed. But Wisconsin isn't a normal program at the running back position. No one understands this better than White. No one embraces it better, either.

"It's a team sport and everybody can't be on the field at the same time," White said. "Everybody has to know their role on the team, and when you get your chance, you've got to take advantage of it. Sometimes you have to wait your turn, and at the same time, you have to attack each day."

White has done quite a bit of waiting the past two seasons after earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2010, when he rushed for a team-high 1,052 yards and recorded career bests in yards, carries (156) and rushing touchdowns (14). Montee Ball, who emerged down the stretch in 2010, claimed a featured role the following season, leading the FBS in rushing (1,923 yards) and tying Barry Sanders' single-season NCAA record for touchdowns (39). Ball was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011 and somewhat surprisingly returned to Wisconsin for his senior season, where he once again started and earned the Doak Walker Award.

Ball's emergence didn't spark anger or jealousy in White, who seemingly lacks both traits. White not only supported Ball on the field and accepted his role -- combining for 2,225 all-purpose yards -- but was one of his best friends off of it. A similar bond is developing between Gordon and White, whose Twitter page includes a photo of himself, Ball, Gordon and fullback Derek Watt in the locker room.

"They understand that they need each other," Andersen said. "As much as they're the same as backs, they're different as backs. They're both young men who understand they can make each other better."

Ball and White accepted Gordon as one of their own last season. Things have carried over with White and Gordon, and the other backs.

"We definitely compete with each other, but we're really good friends off of the field," Gordon said. "It's just his character and what type of guy he is. He's always in a good mood. To be honest, I don't think I've ever seen him upset.

"Just a friendly dude."

White's genial demeanor shouldn't be mistaken for a lack of fire. He wants to be the starter. And he knows his career could have taken a different arc elsewhere, especially after his freshman season.

"That goes through everybody's mind, that if you would have went somewhere else, you could have started four years," White said. "But I wouldn't change it. I learned a lot over these past three years, and I'll use my experiences to the best of my ability and help lead this team this year."

When Ludwig reviewed tape from the past two seasons, two players kept coming up on the screen: White and senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. Ludwig calls White and Gordon a "good 1-2 punch," and he's exploring ways to get both men on the field together.

White's receiving skills -- he has 34 career receptions for 370 yards and a touchdown -- could pay off in a slot role for Ludwig's offense.

"That's coming, and he knows that," Ludwig said. "We have some background of doing that with some of those running backs."

White's speed always has jumped out more than his size (5-foot-10, 197), and his versatility as a dual-threat back could improve his stock for the NFL.

"It definitely helps when you're trying to go to the next level," he said. "You have to be versatile, pass-protect, get out on routes, catch the ball and make defenders miss."

No matter what role White has this year or next, one thing is clear. He'll accept it with a smile.

INDIANAPOLIS -- They came in droves, as family members, friends and colleagues embraced Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada on what had become a field of dreams at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"That," Canada told one group of well-wishers, "was fun."

It hasn't been a fun season at times for Canada, his staff or the Badgers' players. Of the six assistants Wisconsin lost following the 2011 season, four were on the offensive side, including longtime coordinator Paul Chryst. Another staff change occurred after Week 2 this fall, as Wisconsin dismissed offensive line coach Mike Markuson and promoted a graduate assistant, Bart Miller, to the crucial role.

The Wisconsin offense -- one that had a whole lot of fun the previous few seasons -- stopped and started. It looked great against weaker opponents (Purdue, Illinois, Indiana) and inefficient against better ones (Oregon State, Michigan State). At times, it showed both of its faces in the same game (Nebraska Part 1, Ohio State, Penn State). Canada, the primary playcaller, took his share of heat, even in recent weeks.

"It's been a long year," Canada said. "I'm just really proud of the way our guys stuck together. ... We kept working and kept grinding, and our players kept believing."

The work and the belief culminated Saturday night, as Wisconsin put on a clinic in dismantling Nebraska 70-31 in the league title game. Wisconsin (8-5) is heading back to the Rose Bowl for the third consecutive year -- the Badgers will be the first five-loss team to play in the game -- and the Badgers punched their ticket in style.

Wisconsin racked up a team-record eight rushing touchdowns and 539 rushing yards, 25 shy of the team record set in the Badgers' previous trip to the Hoosier State (Nov. 10 at Indiana). The Badgers had three running backs eclipse 100 rushing yards for the first time in team history, with freshman Melvin Gordon (9 carries, 216 yards, 1 TD), senior Montee Ball (21 carries, 202 yards, 3 TDs) and junior James White (15 carries, 109 yards, 4 TDs). They averaged 10.8 yards per carry (11.8 yards through the first three quarters).

"I'm just happy they're with us," a beaming Thomas Hammock, the Badgers' running backs coach, said on the field afterward. "They compete hard, and they kept the same level of intensity all season. It obviously showed today."

[+] EnlargeChris Borland, Montee Ball
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLinebacker Chris Borland, left, and running back Montee Ball get their hands on the Big Ten hardware.
Although Wisconsin's 70 points tied for the second most in team history in the modern era, the Badgers aren't strangers to big numbers, even in this rocky season. What made Saturday night's performance unique is the variety of plays Canada called and the players executed to perfection.

It started with Gordon, an immense talent from whom Badgers fans have clamored for more, lining up at wide receiver to begin the game. Wisconsin ran both runs and a pass -- White connecting with Sam Arneson for a touchdown -- out of its "Barge" formation. Canada put his spin on the swinging-gate play in the first quarter as quarterback Curt Phillips found fullback Derek Watt while seven of their teammates lined up on the other hashmark. Wisconsin also hit on a wide receiver pass as Jared Abbrederis found a wide-open Phillips to set up a second-quarter touchdown.

"We practiced 99 percent of what they showed us today," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.

It certainly didn't look like it, as Wisconsin repeatedly used its standard plays -- like the jet sweep -- to set up its exotic ones.

"We've been practicing this stuff," Canada said. "That was the beauty of where we were. We felt like we had a chance to run some plays. We really didn't add a lot of plays this week."

Phillips insisted Wisconsin hadn't held back its creativity in recent games against Ohio State and Penn State. But the Badgers were determined to give Nebraska a vastly different look than the one it saw Sept. 29 in Lincoln.

"It was fun," Phillips said. "We practiced a lot of that stuff all season long. We just hadn't necessarily had an opportunity to use it. We had no reason to hold anything back."

Wisconsin undoubtedly was the looser team, in part because no one expected much from a squad that had lost five games and found itself in the title game only because both Ohio State and Penn State had been hit with NCAA sanctions. But no Big Ten team has been in more big games in recent years than the Badgers, who met the moment, especially on offense.

"The expectations were extremely high coming in, no doubt about it," Canada said. "If you want to do it, jump in the deep water with the big sharks and go get it."

Even a freshman such as Gordon understood the magnitude of Saturday's game.

"I kept telling myself, 'This is a big game,'" said Gordon, who averaged 24 yards a carry. "I wanted to install some trust in my coaches and teammates. All practice, all week, I told myself, 'Go hard, go hard, go hard. Something good is going to come out of it. This is a big stage. Make something happen.'"

Although Gordon had much of Badger Nation buzzing, Ball turned in another signature performance, setting the NCAA career rushing touchdowns record (76 total) and tying the NCAA mark for multiple-touchdown games (25). He eclipsed 190 rushing yards for the third time in four games and eclipsed 5,000 rushing yards for his career.

"Hopefully, this performance propels him to the top of the Doak Walker [Award]," head coach Bret Bielema said, "because he's a guy that deserves it in every way."

Many will say Wisconsin doesn't deserve a third straight trip to Pasadena, a first in the Big Ten since Michigan went from 1977 to '79. Some will say Saturday night's offensive explosion was an aberration and that Stanford's defense will provide a reality check Jan. 1.

Wisconsin's response?

"We're better than what our record shows," Gordon said. "We know that. We just came up short a couple times. I hope this puts any critics to rest about us being a bad team."

The criticism won't go away, but neither will Wisconsin. The Badgers are headed back to Pasadena.

Fun times, indeed.

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin running back Montee Ball's highlight tape of touchdowns might as well be a full-length feature. He entered Saturday with 77, one shy of the FBS all-time record.

Unfortunately for Ball, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier watched most of the movie in the week leading up to Saturday's game.

"He scores plenty of touchdowns," Shazier said. "I watched film on him, and I saw when he gets around the [1- or 2-yard line], he likes to jump. So once he jumped, I jumped, and I punched the ball out."

Shazier's forced fumble against Ball late in the fourth quarter -- just the second lost fumble in Ball's record-setting career -- ended up not meaning much. Wisconsin scored on its next possession to tie the game before Ohio State went on to win 21-14 in overtime.

But Shazier's play epitomized Ohio State's victory, one fueled by defense with a sprinkle of special teams, thanks to Corey "Philly" Brown.

Braxton Miller won't be on "SportsCenter" tonight, but Shazier should be. So should defensive end John Simon, who tied a career high with four sacks. So should cornerback Bradley Roby, who had to cover two players after a teammate blew an assignment and batted down a sure-fire touchdown catch by Derek Watt.

The silver bullets stood tall at Camp Randall Stadium, helping Ohio State secure a Leaders Division title, maintain a perfect 11-0 record and set up a chance for perfection in The Game next week against Michigan.

"Our offense kind of struggled a little bit, but at the same time, it's a team sport, so the defense, we needed to go out and do our thing," said Roby, who wore a Leaders Division championship T-shirt. "Defense wins championships. We thrive on that."

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Andy Manis)Ryan Shazier and the Ohio State defense wrapped up Montee Ball when it counted.
Added defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins: "Being here at Ohio State, the defense always carries this team."

Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) moved the ball better than Ohio State, outgaining the Buckeyes 360-236. The Badgers reached Buckeyes territory on four drives and started two others in plus territory. Ball had 191 rushing yards on 39 carries, while quarterback Curt Phillips passed the ball much more than he did the previous week with some success (14-for-25 passing).

But Ohio State allowed just 14 points.

"That's where it hurts the most," Ball said. "We're driving the football down the field, driving down the field, and we still fall short."

Ball tied Travis Prentice's Football Bowl Subdivision record midway through the second quarter and appeared ready to break it as Wisconsin reached the Buckeyes' 3-yard line with 3:44 remaining. Thanks to Shazier, Ball remains stuck on 77.

"We knew that he needed two to break the record, and we were not going to allow him to break it on us," Shazier said.

First-year coach Urban Meyer often tells his players, a team that refuses to be beat won't be beat. Ohio State at times has looked like a team that would be beat. It looked that way for stretches of the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. It looked that way for much of an Oct. 20 game against Purdue before surviving in overtime without Miller.

It even looked that way after Wisconsin forced overtime when Phillips found Jacob Pedersen in the end zone with eight seconds left in regulation.

"We were sucking our thumbs after that," Meyer said.

But once again, Ohio State made the plays it had to. Running back Carlos Hyde, who had just 13 carries in regulation, broke a tackle and ran 11 yards on the first play of overtime. Three plays later, he scooted easily into the end zone.

The defense then took over. Linebacker Etienne Sabino, playing for the first time since suffering a broken leg in the Big Ten opener against Nebraska, dropped Ball for a loss of 2 yards. Safety Christian Bryant, who recovered Ball's fumble in the fourth quarter, broke up a pass on fourth down to end it.

"We can't be beat," Hankins said. "We're not settling for a loss. We want to go undefeated, and that's our goal."

Shazier called Camp Randall Stadium a "gladiator-type atmosphere," as Wisconsin fans tried boost Ball and the other seniors to a win that would have further validated the Badgers' spot in the Big Ten title game Dec. 1. Instead, the Buckeyes were the bad guys again, sweeping their Big Ten road schedule -- a hallmark of Jim Tressel's best teams and Meyer's first.

"You go into someone else's home, in front of their fans, their moms, their girlfriends, and you just want to dominate them," Roby said. "What's better than that? Going into somebody else's house and taking everything they have. You see that when we play away games. We play way better than we do at home."

Ohio State will have to be good at home to preserve perfection. The season ends next Saturday no matter what for a Buckeyes team that, while flawed, has managed to walk off the field a winner 11 times.

Michigan comes in with an outside chance to reach the Big Ten title game and a definite chance to ruin the Buckeyes' quest for 12-0.

"We can talk about it now," Meyer said.

The Game is here. A chance for Ohio State's sixth-ever undefeated, untied season is at stake.

Buckle up.

"[Wisconsin] is not our rival," Meyer said. "The next one is."

You might look at the final score of Wisconsin's win over Illinois, 31-14, and conclude the Badgers are back.

That's not really true. The Badgers' offense still isn't quite where it once was. Yet the way things are going in the Leaders Division, it might be enough to play in the Big Ten championship game.

The Badgers weren't exactly impressive most of the way against Illinois at home, scoring just seven points in the first half. But the struggling Illini had even fewer answers, and Wisconsin was able to pull away late.

There were still some major red flags for the Badgers, not the least of which was their continued inability to run the ball with the power and ease we've grown accustomed to seeing. Well into the fourth quarter, they had just 94 rushing yards on 24 carries as a team, an average of fewer than 4 yards per carry. A strong finish against a tiring Illinois offense made the final stats look much better, and Montee Ball -- who had only 12 yards at halftime and 36 early in the fourth quarter --- finished with 116 yards and two touchdowns.

Two big plays -- which were really a rarity for most of this slog of a game -- made the difference.

Late in the first half, offensive coordinator Matt Canada dialed up a screen pass at the perfect time against the Illinois blitz. James White made the catch and darted 62 yards for a touchdown to make it a 7-7 game.

In the fourth quarter, Joel Stave found Jared Abbrederis for a 59-yard touchdown that really broke the game open. Stave threw for 254 yards, but he had several receivers open down the field that he couldn't connect with earlier in the game. Even with the running game not doing that much for three quarters, the play-action pass created lots of opportunities for Wisconsin. If Stave can hit some of those, that could really open some things up for this offense.

Illinois has been searching for an identity on offense all season and got a spark from a healthy Nathan Scheelhaase. The junior quarterback looked as spry as he's been since suffering an ankle injury in Week 1. That allowed him to use his feet to extend plays and pick up yardage. Scheelhaase led the team in rushing with 84 yards and threw for 178 yards and a touchdown.

But the search for more playmakers continues for first-year coach Tim Beckman. Illinois had only 22 rushing yards outside of Scheelhaase, and too often he was scrambling because there weren't any receivers open. Credit the Wisconsin defense for a solid game, but Illinois is really having trouble finding ways to score. And it will probably have trouble finding many wins the rest of the way, though at least the team brought a lot of energy to the start of this one.

The scariest moment of the game came when cornerback Terry Hawthorne was taken off the field in an ambulance after he collided with Wisconsin fullback Derek Watt. Hawthorne was motionless on his back for a while, but reports after the game indicated that Hawthorne had movement in all his extremities.

All in all, Wisconsin can't complain too much about a 17-point conference victory. With Purdue falling flat against Michigan today, the Badgers still look like the team to beat for the Leaders Division berth in Indianapolis. Next week's game in West Lafayette could well determine things, because if the Badgers win they will have a virtual two-game lead over both Purdue and Illinois.

They might not be back, per se, but they could easily get back to Indy with the way things are going.

Big Ten lunch links

April, 6, 2012
You're still here! You didn't go to the store for milk and heroin and then never come back.

Notes from Wisconsin practice

August, 17, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- Some notes and thoughts after watching Wisconsin's extensive full-pads practice Tuesday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.

  • Russell Wilson looks like the real deal. The quarterback transfer from NC State displayed impressive arm strength and touch and repeatedly extended plays with his feet. While he likely won't be as accurate as his predecessor Scott Tolzien, he might not be too far off and makes the difficult throws with ease. Wilson hit wideout Jared Abbrederis for a 25-yard touchdown during team drills and, aside from a poorly thrown shuffle pass, looked extremely polished. The offensive structure didn't look dramatically different with Wilson, who played in a pro-style system at NC State and seemed comfortable.
  • [+] EnlargeMontee Ball
    Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMontee Ball, who rushed for 996 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, stood out in practice on Tuesday.
  • The other player who really stood out was junior running back Montee Ball. He has dropped significant weight, checking in at 207 pounds, and makes much crisper cuts. Ball reaches the second level faster and should record more explosion plays this season. Fellow running back James White also looked sharp on several cuts. While the coaches say they'll go with the hot hand at running back, Ball looks like he has the inside track.
  • Both Ball and White likely will be significant factors in the passing game. Wisconsin lacks depth at wide receiver -- top target Nick Toon sat out Tuesday's practice -- and while tight ends Jacob Pedersen and Jake Byrne will be involved, Wilson likes checking down to his backs, both of whom have good hands. The Badgers could use a No. 3 receiver to develop and rotated several players Tuesday, including freshman Connor Cummins. I liked several of the freshmen receivers and tight ends, including Sam Arneson.
  • The Badgers likely won't have a J.J. Watt or an O'Brien Schofield along the defensive line, but they hope to make up for it with improved depth. Wisconsin will use a larger rotation up front this fall, and I like the options at defensive tackle with Patrick Butrym, Ethan Hemer and Beau Allen.
  • No surprise here, but Chris Borland makes a huge difference for the Badgers defense. The middle linebacker had a pass breakup during 7-on-7s and constantly was around the ball. Borland's health after multiple shoulder injuries could be the key to the season. Mike Taylor sat out Tuesday's workout, so I didn't get a read on what the starting linebacker corps will look like.
  • Strong safety is an open competition between Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson, although Johnson appears to have an edge right now. Wisconsin is hoping Marcus Cromartie can shore up the No. 3 cornerback spot.
  • The offensive line is a bit banged up but still had a mostly strong performance Tuesday, opening up some huge holes for Ball and White. Coach Bret Bielema said the injuries both last year and during the offseason have helped get more players ready for possible game action.
  • Freshmen Melvin Gordon and Jeff Lewis are in the mix for the No. 3 running back spot, and both had ups and downs Tuesday. Wisconsin always seems to have a freshman back blossom, so it'll be interesting to see who keeps the trend going.
  • Backup quarterback Jon Budmayr remained out with an elbow issue, so Joe Brennan and Joel Stave took reps behind Wilson. Brennan displayed nice touch on passes to White and Jordan Fredrick, but also got intercepted by Derek Watt, J.J.'s brother. There's still a pretty significant gap between Wilson and the other quarterbacks, so getting Budmayr healthy is vital.
Wisconsin's 2011 recruiting class is now official as the Badgers signed 20 scholarship players and eight walk-ons Wednesday.

Bret Bielema's class includes nine scholarship players from within the state. All eight walk-ons hail from Wisconsin.

There are 11 offensive players and nine defensive players.

Here's the position breakdown:

DL: 2
TE: 4
OL: 2
DB: 3
LB: 4
RB: 1
WR: 4

Some notes:
  • Wisconsin is truly a haven for tight ends. I don't have time to review every FBS recruiting class, but I'd be stunned if there's another that includes four tight ends.
  • Linebacker Derek Watt is the younger brother of former Badgers star defensive end J.J. Watt. The younger Watt originally committed to Northwestern before making the switch.
  • The Badgers' recruiting might not be done yet as they're holding two open scholarships for 2011, one that presumably would go to quarterback Jacoby Brissett if he picks UW.

Big Ten recruiting updates

December, 1, 2010
If you haven't bookmarked ESPN's college football recruiting page, you're really missing out.

While I do my best to provide recruiting updates on the blog, I've got a full plate covering the current players and coaches on 11 teams (soon to be 12). The recruiting guys have all your needs covered year-round.

Corey Long today brings you an update on Big Ten recruiting classes two months before national signing day. All 11 teams are profiled.

Some highlights:
  • Iowa: The big name at the top of the board for Iowa is five-star offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha). Even though Kouandjio's brother, Arie, is at Alabama and that's where Cyrus will take his first visit, the 6-foot-6, 325-pound blocker's interest in the Hawkeyes seems legitimate. Of course USC, Miami, New Mexico and UCLA are also in the hunt, but it would seem that Iowa is closer to the top of Kouandjio's board next to Alabama. Another offensive line prospect, Anthony Zettel (West Branch, Mich./Ogemaw Heights), went on an official visit two weeks ago and remains a possibility.
  • Michigan: Eight of the 14 recruits committed to Michigan are projected to play on the defensive side of the ball, and it's clear that [Rich] Rodriguez needs more impact players on that side of the field. Four-star linebacker Lamar Dawson (Danville, Ky./Boyle County) will be taking an official to Michigan on Jan. 21. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder will also be visiting Florida, USC and Tennessee. Michigan is also in the hunt for defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (Lake City, Fla./Columbia), after he went to the campus on an official visit last month.
  • Michigan State: For much of the year the Spartans have been trailing Ohio State in the hunt for four-star defensive back Doran Grant (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent St. Mary), but the Under Armour All-American is ready to take his official and will be joined by his father -- a former Spartans football player. Grant, however, doesn't plan on making a decision until he takes all five officials and that might not be until mid-January.
  • Ohio State: Coach Jim Tressel and staff focused heavily on both sides of the line and depth in the secondary. One of the names Buckeyes fans expected to add into this class was defensive back Jabari Gorman (Miami/Monsignor Pace). For months it appeared Gorman was heading to Columbus, but in recent weeks Florida has made a major charge for the four-star prospect, and he will be visiting Gainesville in early December.
  • Penn State: There's no need to panic yet for the Penn State faithful, as half of the top 10 prospects in Pennsylvania have yet to sign anywhere and many have Penn State among their top schools. Defensive end Deion Barnes (Philadelphia/Northeast) will be taking his official this upcoming weekend. Looking outside of the Keystone State, it appears that the Nittany Lions are in good standing for defensive standout Ishaq Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln), as he has been no stranger on the campus at Happy Valley.
  • Wisconsin: The Badgers have signed five of the top 10 players in Wisconsin, but the one still missing is four-star athlete Melvin Gordon (Kenosha, Wis./Bradford). Gordon had originally committed to Iowa but has since backed off that commitment and could commit to the Badgers as soon as this weekend. If Gordon commits, that would give Wisconsin 22 verbals and leave the Badgers with a near-full class.

Also, ESPN Recruiting's Craig Haubert breaks down recruiting in the state of Wisconsin. His piece features items on Gordon and Derek Watt, J.J.'s little brother who recently switched his verbal commitment from Northwestern to Wisconsin. Michigan State also has done pretty well recruiting in the state. Interesting.

You can also check out the state recruiting profiles for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nebraska.