Big Ten: Jaevery McFadden

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
Spring practice is in the books, and I'll be taking a look back at each Big Ten team's spring session today. First up, Wisconsin.

2009 overall record: 10-3

2009 conference record: 5-3, T-4th

Returning starters

Offense: 10, defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

RB John Clay, QB Scott Tolzien, LT Gabe Carimi, G/C John Moffitt, WR Nick Toon, DE J.J. Watt, LB Chris Borland, SS Jay Valai

Key losses

TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield, LB Jaevery McFadden, FS Chris Maragos

2009 statistical leaders (*-returners)

Rushing: John Clay* (1,517 yards)

Passing: Scott Tolzien* (2,705 yards)

Receiving: Nick Toon* (805 yards)

Tackles: Jaevery McFadden (74)

Sacks: O'Brien Schofield (12)

Interceptions: Chris Maragos (4)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line should be fine: Wisconsin appears to have the pieces to survive the losses of O'Brien Schofield, a first-team All-Big Ten performer, as well as tackles Dan Moore and Jeff Stehle. J.J. Watt could be a superstar at end, and Louis Nzegwu stepped up nicely this spring at the other spot. Patrick Butrym and Jordan Kohout will occupy the starting tackle spots, and if the Badgers can build a bit more depth inside this summer, they should be very solid.

2. Kendricks transitions seamlessly: First-team All-Big Ten tight end Garrett Graham departs, but Wisconsin once again shouldn't miss a bit as Lance Kendricks moves into a starting role. Kendricks turned in a career performance at the Champs Sports Bowl and followed with a solid spring, recording six receptions for 63 yards in the spring game April 17.

3. Secondary coming together: After a slow start to the spring, the defensive backs finished strong, as Antonio Fenelus and others stepped up in the spring game. Chris Maragos was a great leader and leaves a void, but Jay Valai and converted cornerback Aaron Henry seem to complement each other well at the safety spots. There's good depth at cornerback as starters Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley return and Fenelus provides some depth.

Fall questions

1. Key players returning from injuries: It was tough to grade Wisconsin's spring because so many key players sat out with injuries. Star running back Clay needs a strong preseason camp after undergoing two ankle surgeries during the winter to relieve pressure. Starting linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor also will be back from injuries, and the offensive line gets a chance to come together after missing several pieces this spring.

2. Backup quarterback: Curt Phillips' torn ACL was the biggest blow of spring ball, and his uncertain return puts redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr in the spotlight. Budmayr struggled in spring scrimmages and needs to elevate his game to be a reliable option behind Tolzien. Tolzien has been both durable and reliable, but Wisconsin needs the talented Budmayr to take a step forward this summer.

3. More options at wideout: Toon should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall, but Wisconsin needs other wideouts to develop around him. David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson all have plenty of experience but must be more consistent. Redshirt freshman walk-on Jared Abbrederis made a big splash this spring and could work his way into the mix if he keeps it up.
Wisconsin's defense was the unit that entered the spring with question marks.

The Badgers had to replace All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield, middle linebacker Jaevery McFadden, safety leader Chris Maragos and both starting defensive tackles. Plus, they had to build depth at linebacker as Chris Borland, the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and Mike Taylor sat out with injuries.

But when spring practice ended Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, it was the Badgers offense, a unit that returns nine starters, that seemed to be searching for answers.

The defense stepped up in Saturday's spring game, holding the offense to only two touchdowns and just 101 total rushing yards (for Wisconsin, that translates to about 30). The Big Ten's top red zone offense in 2009 had to settle for three short field goals after stalling near the goal line.

To be fair, the offense played without star running back John Clay and top wide receiver Nick Toon, and the offensive line has seen a lot of shuffling this spring because of injuries. But quarterback Scott Tolzien (12-for-22, 138 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) and his fellow offensive teammates were disappointed in their performance.
"We need to be better than that come fall," Tolzien said. "It's good for us to have a setback like that as long as we use it to our advantage and just realize there's a sense of urgency here. We've got to have a great offseason."

Defensive end Louis Nzegwu moved closer to locking up a starting spot with three sacks, and linebacker Culmer St. Jean and safety Jay Valai both recorded interceptions. Cornerbacks Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith also came on strong toward the end of the spring.

Other nuggets:

  • Jon Budmayr is still settling in as Wisconsin's backup quarterback, and he'll need a strong summer after struggling in several spring scrimmages. Budmayr completed just 9 of 19 passes for 68 yards with two interceptions for the second-team offense on Saturday. He completed 3 of 6 passes for 16 yards with the first-team offense and was sacked three times in the game.
  • Lance Kendricks looks ready to become an elite tight end in the Big Ten and recorded six receptions for 63 yards, including a 19-yarder.
  • Redshirt freshman linebacker Ethan Armstrong recorded a game-high 14 tackles and a pass breakup, while linebacker Conor O'Neill had 12 stops and a pass breakup.
  • Head coach Bret Bielema confirmed that wide receiver Kraig Appleton has left school and won't return to the team. Appleton and two other players, defensive end Shelby Harris and linebacker Nick Hill, were indefinitely suspended in February for unspecified violations. Harris and Hill both could work their way back to the team.
Wisconsin's 20-14 victory in the Champs Sports Bowl marked a fitting end to a season where the program reclaimed its identity.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireJohn Clay rushed for 121 yards and two TDs in the win over Miami.
In 2008, the Badgers got away from the things that made them a respected upper-tier Big Ten program for the better part of the past 15 years. They lacked discipline and consistency, and they didn't just lose games, but got thrashed by Penn State, Iowa and Florida State.

The 2009 campaign will be remembered as the season Wisconsin got back on track. Everything seemed to stabilize, from the quarterback to the head coach to the defensive leadership.

Many of the reasons for UW's turnaround showed up Tuesday night against No. 15 Miami. An aggressive defense shut down Jacory Harris and the Hurricanes offense. A balanced offense found gaps in Miami's defense and should have scored at least 30 points. Quarterback Scott Tolzien made good decisions and tough throws. Tight ends Lance Kendricks and Garrett Graham torched Miami for 13 receptions and 205 receiving yards (107 after the catch). The offensive line imposed its will for backs John Clay (121 rush yards, 2 TDs) and Montee Ball (61 rush yards).

Keep in mind, Miami is the type of team that supposedly gives the Big Ten trouble, but Wisconsin faced very little adversity aside from the opening minute and the final two.

Wisconsin had a fairly watered-down 9-3 record entering the Champs Sports Bowl, but a signature win against Miami changes things. And raises the bar for 2010.

The Badgers lose only one offensive starter in Graham. Clay likely will enter the fall as a Heisman Trophy candidate. There are some significant departures on defense, namely end O'Brien Schofield, linebacker Jaevery McFadden and safety Chris Maragos. But Wisconsin boasts a lot of young talent on defense, including linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year this fall, as well as end J.J. Watt, linebacker Mike Taylor and cornerback Devin Smith.

For the most part, Wisconsin remains a young team. And a good one.

Expectations will be higher for Wisconsin in 2010, and they should be. The Badgers should challenge both Ohio State and Iowa for the Big Ten title. Wisconsin proved Tuesday it can win a big game on a big stage, and the bowl victory could signal bigger things ahead for Bielema's crew.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 24, 2009
Wishing you a happy holiday.

Both defenses look strong early on

October, 17, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Both Wisconsin and Iowa are making some nice defensive adjustments so far in this one.

On Iowa's first drive, the Hawkeyes did an effective job of taking Wisconsin star defensive end O'Brien Schofield out of the picture. The Hawkeyes repeatedly assigned multiple linemen to block Schofield and created some running room for Adam Robinson. But other Wisconsin players started to take advantage of the gaps, and linebackers Jaevery McFadden and Chris Borland made nice stops.

Wisconsin went to bruising back John Clay on its first five offensive plays, and the sophomore found some huge holes at first. But Iowa did a better job of filling gaps later in the drive and linebacker Pat Angerer clocked quarterback Scott Tolzien on a well-executed blitz.

Wisconsin's Henry passes tests

August, 25, 2009
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Aaron Henry didn't need a knee injury to humble him.

David Stluka/Getty Images

Aaron Henry missed the entire 2008 season due to injuries.

He didn't need a year away from football to make him mentally tougher. His grandmother took care of that long ago, and his faith has kept him that way as he traveled nearly 1,500 miles from home to play football at Wisconsin. Spend a few minutes with Henry, who will call you "sir" or "ma'am" no matter your age, and it's easy to see why his Badgers coaches and teammates speak so highly of the sophomore cornerback.

What Henry's knee injury and his failed comeback did was make certain that everything he had been taught could be put into action.

"It's not about what kind of tests are thrown at you, but it's how you overcome it," Henry said. "My grandmother did a great job of raising me by the letter of that Bible, man, and I truly think I was always this way, but I really wasn't tested. I always looked as football as my outlet, and I tore my ACL. Being a cornerback, all we do is run, and you tear your ACL, it's very challenging. I overcame all that, so it's great to be out there."

Henry tore his ACL during bowl practice in 2007 and sat out spring ball before returning to practice last August. But midway through camp he needed a second surgery to repair his lateral meniscus.

Despite attempts to make it back for the season, Henry, a projected starter, had to shut things down.

“I didn't want to put my team in a position where they couldn't rely on me," said Henry, a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore from Immokalee, Fla. "Me being the confident player I am, I didn't feel like I could play to the best of my abilities. But it's 2009, man. A whole new day, a different new mindset."

Training camp is a grind for most Big Ten players, but Henry has enjoyed every minute of it. The coaches have limited him at times, and he missed Monday's practice with right knee inflammation, but he's projected to start at cornerback when the Badgers open the season Sept. 5 against Northern Illinois.

"It's definitely a sense of relief and pure joy," he said. "Some people can find camp to be grueling, you have to fight through all the practices. But it's kind of like a party for me."

Henry is expected to fill the void left by All-Big Ten cornerback Allen Langford, who recorded two interceptions, 13 pass breakups and a fumble recovery last fall. Langford also sustained a torn ACL during the 2007 season but recovered and returned to form.

Henry spent much of last season around Langford, picking his brain and watching film of opposing receivers together. His time away gave him a different perspective that he has started to put into action.

"I don't want to make the wide receivers mad, but he's had one or two of the best catches in camp where he just goes up and gets the ball at its highest point," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "He's a pretty exciting player."

Linebacker Jaevery McFadden is impressed by how quickly Henry has readjusted.

"To come back and not miss a beat is pretty good," McFadden said. "He's a shut-down type of guy. He can do a lot of big things this year."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema doesn't second-guess his decision to indefinitely suspend senior safeties Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant last week, even though family members of the players plan to fight the ruling.

Neither side has revealed the reasons behind the suspensions, but Carter's brother and Pleasant's father told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the situation was handled poorly and a request for an expedited hearing has been made.

Bielema isn't backing down, either. 

"They can do what they want," the coach told me Tuesday. "I know who's going to be on my team. I wouldn't have done something if I didn't know where it was going to end up."

Badgers senior linebacker Jaevery McFadden remains close with both suspended players and talked to Pleasant on Monday, but McFadden said he's still in the dark about what happened. 

"It's a difficult situation, but there's nothing I can do," McFadden said. "They're missing what they love to do, but times are hard."

Bielema was encouraged to see the team respond well shortly after he announced the suspensions Friday.

The team went through its first two-a-day session Saturday, and after struggling at the end of the morning workout, Bielema told players they would remain in full pads at night. They delivered their best practice of camp under the lights.

"It tells me the mind over matter thing is real," he said. "Their bodies weren't in the ideal shape to go out and do that, but their minds were, and that's why they prevailed."

As a leader on defense, McFadden knew he needed to push ahead. 

"I came in with those guys [Pleasant and Carter], so it hurt me," he said. "But at the same time, I couldn't let it affect my play and hurt the team. Some of the leaders on the team, we gathered the team up, got them together and told them, 'What happened, happened. Nothing we can do about it. We've got to move forward.'

"That's what we did."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The final seven Big Ten teams open preseason camp, including defending co-champs Penn State and Ohio State.

Here are three questions for the remaining seven squads during the next four weeks. If you missed Part I, check it out.


Camp opens: Monday

1. Will true freshman Tate Forcier create some early separation in the quarterback competition?

Forcier enters camp as the frontrunner after a solid spring, and he could further cement himself as the Wolverines' top quarterback in the coming weeks. He'll face some real competition now as junior Nick Sheridan returns from a broken leg and athletic freshman Denard Robinson joins the mix.

2. Who will step up alongside Brandon Graham on the defensive line?

Michigan brings back a potential All-American in Graham, who has 18.5 sacks the past two seasons. He'll need help up front, though, and the Wolverines need strong camps from Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and William Campbell.

3. How many true freshmen see the field this fall?

The Wolverines will be much more experienced at several positions, but head coach Rich Rodriguez brought in a strong recruiting class, and several freshmen should contribute immediately. Along with Forcier, Robinson and Campbell, running back Vincent Smith impressed this spring and hopes are high for safety Vladimir Emilien. Defensive end Craig Roh also could be one to watch.


Camp opens: Monday

1. Will we see any separation at quarterback before Sept. 5?

Head coach Mark Dantonio isn't planning on it and fully intends to play both Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol during non-league play. The two signal-callers paced one another throughout spring ball, but there's a chance one man might be ready to take the job.

2. Can true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper emerge as the top running backs?

None of Michigan State's older players really took charge in the spring, though Caulton Ray's emergence is intriguing. Many expect Michigan State's heralded recruits to emerge as potential starters by the end of training camp.

3. How will the secondary look by the end of camp?

Dantonio has a very good problem in the secondary -- loads of experience. Eight returning players have starting experience, and that doesn't include safety Trenton Robinson, the story of the spring on defense. The competition in the back four should be fun to watch.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The position rankings march on with the linebackers, another position that looks fairly stacked throughout the Big Ten. Much like the D-lines, I don't see many truly weak groups here, though there's a drop-off after No. 4. 

1. Penn State -- The Lions return the Big Ten's most explosive linebacker from a year ago (Navorro Bowman) and one of the league's most productive 'backers from 2007 (Sean Lee). If Lee returns to form, he and Bowman will form arguably the nation's best linebacker tandem and anchor a Nittany Lions defense that led the Big Ten against the run. Josh Hull adds experience at the third starting spot, while hopes are very high for sophomore Michael Mauti. 

  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  Greg Jones, the Big 10 preseason Defensive Player of the Year, leads Michigan State's linebacking corps.

2. Iowa -- Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds lead a group that always seems to get it done. Angerer tied for the league lead in interceptions last year and led the team with 106 tackles in a breakout junior season. His production overshadowed the solid play of Edds, who should have a big senior season. Jeremiha Hunter also returns for his second year as the starter. Depth might be a bit of a concern here, but the top three are very good. 

3. Michigan State -- Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones is the headliner, and he has a nice supporting cast around him. Jones has led the Spartans in tackles in each of his first two seasons and consistently finds his way into the offensive backfield. Eric Gordon has developed into a fine outside linebacker, and Brandon Denson takes on a bigger role this fall. The Spartans also can look to their bench for Adam Decker, who made the game-clinching tackle against Iowa's Shonn Greene last year.

4. Ohio State -- The Buckeyes lose one of the more productive linebacker tandems in recent Big Ten history, as James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman move on to the NFL. The good news is Austin Spitler, Tyler Moeller and others have waited their turn and probably would have earned starting jobs on any other team. Spitler and Moeller step into bigger roles along with Brian Rolle, and Ohio State needs bigger things from Ross Homan in his second year as a starter. There are some question marks, but this should be a good group.

5. Michigan -- Linebacker figures to be Michigan's strongest area on defense. Obi Ezeh has proved to be a reliable Big Ten defender, and he'll benefit from having a healthy Jonas Mouton in the fold. The big question is whether Stevie Brown makes a smooth transition from safety and builds on a strong spring. If Brown steps up, the Wolverines should be fine here. Hopes are also high for Brandon Herron and Marell Evans.   

6. Minnesota -- This group could take a major step forward in 2009, but the Gophers must defend better against the run. Lee Campbell quietly had a nice junior season, recording 80 tackles and four sacks, and Simoni Lawrence proved himself as a playmaker with 10.5 tackles for loss (4 sacks), two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Minnesota boasts a ton of speed at linebacker, and it'll be interesting to see how Keanon Cooper and Gary Tinsley perform. Sam Maresh could provide an emotional lift after his amazing return from heart surgery. 

7. Indiana -- It's time for Matt Mayberry and his fellow 'backers to lead this defense to better results in 2009. Mayberry has the talent and the experience to turn in a monster senior season, but he needs to show up every week and make big plays. Will Patterson provides leadership at middle linebacker, and Tyler Replogle steps into a bigger role. If Indiana turns things around on defense, the linebackers must lead the way. 

8. Northwestern -- Head coach Pat Fitzgerald identified his top three linebackers in spring, which bodes well for a group that loses Malcolm Arrington and Prince Kwateng. Outside linebacker Quentin Davie has quietly put up some very impressive numbers, and Nate Williams will be more comfortable in a major role. Fitzgerald is excited about speedy sophomore Ben Johnson, and safety Brad Phillips might see more time in a hybrid role. There are some lingering questions here, but this group could make a big jump.

9. Wisconsin -- The jury's out on the Badgers after they lose DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, who combined for 15.5 tackles for loss last year. I like what Jaevery McFadden brings at middle linebacker, but he'll need some help from Culmer St. Jean, who saw increased time down the stretch in 2008. Aside from McFadden and St. Jean, the group is unproven and needs to show it's not the weak link of the defense.

10. Illinois -- Ron Zook thinks this will be the year Martez Wilson emerges as an elite Big Ten defender, and history is on his side. The move to middle linebacker worked out well for Brit Miller last year, and Wilson showed some promise in the middle this spring. Illinois needs big things from Wilson because it lacks much experience around him. Junior college transfer Aaron Gress might be a key addition, but I'm far from sold on this group.

11. Purdue -- The Boilers lose an extremely productive and underrated linebacker in Anthony Heygood, and a lot of questions remain with this group. As much as Purdue wants to see Jason Werner healthy, the team can't rely on a guy with a history of back problems. Joe Holland and Chris Carlino need big seasons this fall, and Purdue must build some depth around them.  

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Fifteen spring practices still don't mask all the warts a team has, and every head coach has a position group that keeps him awake at night. After looking at where each Big Ten team got help this spring, here's a look at the positions that still look a little shaky around the league.

Illinois' offensive line -- The Illini boast arguably more offensive firepower than any Big Ten team, but they'll struggle without improvement up front. There's youth throughout the front five, and while players like Jeff Allen boast loads of potential, there are a few unknowns heading into the fall. The line allowed five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in the spring game.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Kellen Lewis' dismissal from the program after spring practice creates a major void at receiver. Lewis was pegged to be Ben Chappell's top target, and with Ray Fisher moving from wideout to cornerback, the Hoosiers need big things from young players like Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- This position will be a question mark for the Hawkeyes right up until the season opener, and most likely beyond. Iowa must find a way to replace mainstays Mitch King and Matt Kroul, and it lacks much experience besides Karl Klug. The team needs continued development from guys like Mike Daniels and Cody Hundertmark.

Michigan's defensive line -- Brandon Graham should be one of the nation's top pass-rushers this fall, but he needs some help up front. Michigan likes what it has in young linemen like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and incoming freshman Craig Roh. Those players will need to grow up fast so the defense can generate consistent pressure.

Michigan State's running backs -- Few players meant more to an offense than Javon Ringer did to Michigan State last fall, and the search for a replacement remains a bit murky. Aside from a brief surge by Ashton Leggett, the running back room remains very crowded as Caulton Ray entered the mix this spring. Two heralded freshmen arrive during the summer in Edwin Baker and Larry Caper.

Minnesota's offensive line -- The Gophers have the bodies up front, but they've still got a long way to go in picking up the new offensive system/philosophy. It's a fairly dramatic change for returning starters like Dom Alford and Ned Tavale, so growing pains are expected. But a talented Gophers team can't take another step forward if its offensive line doesn't come together.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters are gone at receiver, and no one really wowed during spring practice. Northwestern should get better here as Jeremy Ebert returns from hip surgery, but it's time for experienced players like Andrew Brewer and Sidney Stewart to step up as primary targets for new starting quarterback Mike Kafka.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Michigan transfer Justin Boren undoubtedly had a positive effect on the offensive line this spring, but questions remain about a group that underachieved for most of 2008. Can Mike Adams complement his physical gifts with a toughness needed to play left tackle in the Big Ten? How will Jim Cordle and Bryant Browning adjust to new positions when the games begin? Stay tuned.

Penn State's secondary -- Head coach Joe Paterno didn't hide his concern for this group, which lost all four starters from 2008. Breakdowns in the secondary doomed Penn State in its only two losses last fall. Safety Drew Astorino should be ready for big things, but cornerback A.J. Wallace must find a way to stay healthy and become a legit shutdown guy on the outside.

Purdue's quarterbacks -- Joey Elliott boasts the knowledge to be an effective Big Ten starter, but does he have the skills to get it done? He has spent a lot of time on the sideline during his college career, and Purdue would benefit from having another viable option at quarterback. Justin Siller's dismissal really stings, and the development of backup Caleb TerBush looms large this summer.

Wisconsin's linebackers -- The Badgers lose a lot of production in DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, and they don't have much proven depth at linebacker. They can ill afford an injury to Jaevery McFadden or Culmer St. Jean, and it's imperative to develop more linebackers during preseason camp.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

After suffering through one of the most disappointing seasons in the country last fall, Wisconsin needed to make changes, and everyone knew it.

The problem? Spring practice was more than three months away. 

  Ben Herbert, a former defensive end, has rejuvenated Wisconsin's strength and conditioning  program with his unconventional ideas.

The weight room provided the first platform to shake things up, and thanks to some creative ideas and favorable timing, that's exactly where the Badgers capitalized.

Longtime head strength and conditioning coach John Dettman, a key figure in the football program's resurgence during the 1990s, moved into an administrative position and turned the football responsibilities over to his assistant.

Ben Herbert's time had arrived, and the former Badgers defensive linemen, who had assisted Dettman since 2003, didn't waste a second in his new role.

It took a wrestling belt, two potted plants, plenty of hand-holding (not the kind you think), some nontraditional tests and a lot of tough love, but Herbert got the desired results.

"Guys, they were looking for something to spark them a little bit," Herbert said. "I thought I had some of the answers for that. You never know until you get through a training cycle and then full winter and spring ball. But looking back on it, I couldn't have it go any other way.

"It worked out exactly how I wanted it to."

(Read full post)

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 6, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin Badgers
2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Dustin Sherer, RB John Clay, LT Gabe Carimi, TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield, LB Jaevery McFadden, CB Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch

Key losses

RB P.J. Hill, G Kraig Urbik, G Andy Kemp, TE Travis Beckum, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DT Mike Newkirk, LB DeAndre Levy, LB Jonathan Casillas

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: P.J. Hill (1,161 yds)
: Dustin Sherer* (1,389 yds)
Receiving: Garrett Graham* (540 yds)
: Jaevery McFadden* (84)
: O'Brien Schofield* and DeAndre Levy (5)
: Niles Brinkley* (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Northern Illinois
Sept. 12 Fresno State
Sept. 19 Wofford
Sept. 26 Michigan State
Oct. 3 at Minnesota
Oct. 10 at Ohio State
Oct. 17 Iowa
Oct. 24 BYE
Oct. 31 Purdue
Nov. 7 at Indiana
Nov. 14 Michigan
Nov. 21 at Northwestern
Nov. 28 BYE
Dec. 5 at Hawaii

Spring answers

1. Toon time -- After struggling at receiver in 2008, Wisconsin might have identified a top wideout this spring, and he has a familiar name. Sophomore Nick Toon, the son of former Wisconsin great and three-time All-Pro Al Toon, blossomed during spring ball. Toon brings both speed and size to the outside receiver spot. He had a game-high four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

2. Phillips emerges -- Wisconsin wanted to find another quarterback to challenge projected starter Dustin Sherer, and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips emerged late in spring ball. Phillips finished with a flourish, completing 10 of 16 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. The Tennessee native might not be a textbook passer, but he brings playmaking ability to the pocket.

3. High Wattage -- Opportunity abounds on the defensive line, which loses three multiyear starters, and end J.J. Watt seized it this spring. The Central Michigan transfer earned a starting spot opposite O'Brien Schofield and has the versatility to play both line positions after transforming his body during the last year. Watt's presence elevates expectations for the Badgers' pass rush.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback clarity -- The big dilemma in Madison is this: Will Wisconsin go with a more experienced player in Sherer and live with another one-and-done situation at quarterback, or will the coaches take a risk with Phillips? Sherer had a solid offseason and played well at points last season. He likely remains the team's best option, but Phillips could provide continuity for the future.

2. Secondary shuffle -- At least two starting defensive back positions and possibly three are unsettled entering the summer. Hard-hitting junior safety Jay Valai must fend off senior Aubrey Pleasant for a starting spot, while Niles Brinkley, last year's interceptions leader, is being pushed by sophomore Devin Smith. Senior Shane Carter is listed as a backup safety on the post-spring depth chart, but he could push Chris Maragos.

3. Clay's conditioning -- There's little doubt that sophomore John Clay possesses the skills to be a first-team All-Big Ten running back in 2009. But Clay has struggled with his weight, which exceeded 250 pounds late last season. He also has had recurrent ankle problems, so maintaining a healthy weight (235-240 pounds) will be vital through the summer and into preseason camp.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema likely will return to his roots with his 2009 recruiting haul.

A former defensive lineman at Iowa, Bielema needs to replenish a Badgers' defensive front that loses three multiyear starters (end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman). Wisconsin needs to start generating pressure again, and Bielema will be looking for contributors at both line positions.

The Badgers also lose plenty of experience at linebacker, as mainstays DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas graduate. Though Jaevery McFadden developed nicely this fall, there's not too much experience behind him.

For the second straight season, the Badgers will lose their best cover man as first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Allen Langford graduates. The secondary isn't a pressing need, but the Badgers would be well served by adding a defensive back or two.

On the offensive side, a mammoth line that helped Wisconsin lead the Big Ten in rushing loses three starters, including standout guards Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp. Wisconsin likely won't need a true freshman to start but should try to build depth up front.

Wisconsin's wide receivers were a major disappointment this season, and while the team remains young at that position, a sure-hands target or two in the 2009 class wouldn't be a bad move. Standout tight end Travis Beckum graduates and Garrett Graham enters his senior season, so tight end also is somewhat of a need with this class.

The Badgers' struggles on return and coverage teams also provide paths for several freshmen to see the field this fall.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

After a lengthy hiatus, What to Watch is back as we take a look at the first three Big Ten bowl games.

  • Champs Sports -- Wisconsin vs. Florida State, Dec. 27
  • Valero Alamo -- Northwestern vs. Missouri, Dec. 29
  • Insight -- Minnesota vs. Kansas, Dec. 31

Here are some things to keep an eye on as you watch the games (in order).

1. Wisconsin's power run game -- The Champs Sports Bowl will feature strength vs. speed, and Wisconsin needs to overpower a swift Florida State defense with 473 pounds of running back. P.J. Hill and John Clay form a bruising rushing tandem, and Wisconsin will have to control the clock and wear down the Seminoles. The Hill-Clay attack seemed to surge in the final five games.

2. Wisconsin linebacker Culmer St. Jean -- He appeared in every game this fall and racked up 16 tackles, but the Badgers sophomore linebacker takes on a much bigger role against the 'Noles. St. Jean will start at middle linebacker as Jaevery McFadden moves to the weak side to replace the injured Jonathan Casillas. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said St. Jean has been peaking in practice heading into the bowl.

3. Wisconsin wide receiver David Gilreath -- The sophomore could be an X-factor in this game. He took on a bigger role in the rushing attack late in the season, but Wisconsin has to find better ways to use his speed. It's baffling that Wisconsin ranks last nationally in kickoff returns despite having Gilreath as the return man. If offensive coordinator Paul Chryst finds creative ways to use Gilreath, Wisconsin could surprise Florida State.

4. The Badgers' offensive line -- Sure, they're big, and at times they've played well as a unit, but few things have gone according to plan for the Wisconsin offense this season. The next task is a daunting one -- finding a way to block Florida State defensive end Everette Brown. Sophomore left tackle Gabe Carimi receives the undesirable task of trying to keep Brown from digesting quarterback Dustin Sherer.

5. C.J. Bacher and Northwestern's passing attack -- Northwestern was able to win nine games without summoning superhuman performances from Bacher, who delivered a couple of them last season. But to get win No. 10, Bacher will need to be at his best. Missouri's high-powered offense probably can't be held down for 60 minutes, but the Tigers' pass defense is miserable. Bacher can put up big numbers with a veteran receiving corps, but he must avoid interceptions, his bugaboo, and make more plays in the red zone.

6. Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton -- There's some talk that Northwestern's all-conference end could enter the NFL draft after a stellar junior season. He can showcase his ability on a national stage against Chase Daniel and Missouri. Northwestern will have to generate a strong pass rush against Daniel, and Wootton leads a defense that led the Big Ten in sacks (33) this fall.

7. Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton -- Northwestern likely will get its best all-around player back for the Alamo Bowl, but how he responds from left wrist surgery is a big question. Sutton, who typically carries the ball in his right arm, will wear a cast for the game and expects to be fine. The Wildcats struggled to generate a consistent run game without him and need one to control the clock against Missouri.

8. Minnesota's offensive line -- Head coach Tim Brewster acknowledged his team got beat up down the stretch, and no unit suffered more than the offensive line. Brewster brought in veteran line coach Tim Davis after the regular season, and it will be interesting to see what impact Davis has on a young group. The Gophers need to reduce the pressure on quarterback Adam Weber and find a way to run the ball against Kansas.

9. Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker -- The first-team All-Big Ten selection underwent left knee surgery after the regular season but is expected to be fine for the Insight Bowl. Minnesota seemed to lose its consistency on offense after Decker sprained his ankle Nov. 1, and Weber undoubtedly will be thrilled to have his top target healthy again. If Weber and Deck regain their rhythm and keep Todd Reesing and the Kansas offense off the field, Minnesota should have a shot in this one.

10. Gophers secondary and forcing turnovers -- Minnesota built its 7-1 start on amazingly opportunistic defense, particularly from the secondary. The Gophers' four starting defensive backs -- Traye Simmons, Tramaine Brock, Marcus Sherels and Kyle Theret -- have combined for 10 interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. The group also owns a whopping 47 pass deflections. Minnesota's secondary has to force mistakes from Reesing, who has thrown 12 interceptions this season.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

I hope everyone had a good weekend. I spent part of it pushing my car off a hunk of ice with the wind chill at 20 below. For those of you wondering why there aren't more bowl games in northern cities that could help Big Ten teams, please feel free to visit me in Chicago today. Cold doesn't do it justice. 

Here are some links to warm you up. 

"There is pressure, though, [Texas coach Mack] Brown said. It's an accepted part of the job for any coach at a place such as Ohio State or Texas, with huge stadiums, enrollments, alumni bases and fans. He said when he and Tressel stood at midfield in Ohio Stadium before the 2005 game, they could see the pressure building by the minute. 'I could see as all the people in scarlet were walking into the stadium. I kind of laughed at him,' Brown said. 'He said, 'Yeah, you've got the same thing. Yours just wear orange.'"

"Coach Joe Paterno will unleash his players into the City of Angels during the early portion of Penn State's stay. But his task, as the days count down, will be corralling the Lions back into their pens as the team nears a Jan. 1 kickoff. It may not be that easy considering the pull and allure of Los Angeles."