Big Ten: Ken DeBauche
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'll be taking a look at Wisconsin throughout the day. Here are three key questions facing the Badgers this fall:
Can fifth-year senior quarterback Allan Evridge effectively lead the offense?
Evridge is distancing himself in the quarterback competition and will likely start the opener Aug. 30 against Akron. He's not a first-timer at this, having started six games as a redshirt freshman at Kansas State in 2005. He'll have help, thanks to a veteran offensive line, three capable running backs and an All-American tight end in Travis Beckum. Evridge looked good on rollouts in Saturday's scrimmage but occasionally forced throws, which he can't do this fall. Wisconsin doesn't need a hero under center, but rather a game manager with the ability to periodically punish defenses cheating up to the line. Evridge seems to have the right makeup, but it has been three seasons since he last received meaningful playing time.
How will the Badgers' special teams fare without All-Big Ten performers Taylor Mehlhaff and Ken DeBauche?
The kicking game has been a huge part of Wisconsin's success, as the Badgers tied for the Big Ten lead in field goals with 21 last season and DeBauche ranked third in the league in punting average [41.6 ypp). The offense likely won't surge right away, so field goals and field position will loom large. Freshman punter Brad Nortman has performed well in preseason practice, but his age is a mini concern. The bigger questions are at kicker, where coach Bret Bielema hopes to see some separation soon. Matt Fischer has a slight edge over Philip Welch coming out of the first week, but the junior has yet to attempt a kick in a game.
How will the secondary fare against some of the Big Ten's spread offenses?
This unit worries me a bit. The Badgers lost their top cover corner in Jack Ikegwuonu, and two potential starters at cornerback, Allen Langford and Aaron Henry, are coming off ACL surgeries. Free safety Shane Carter led the Big Ten in interceptions last season, but he'll have to improve his tackling this fall. Like many Big Ten secondaries, the Badgers struggled against spread teams last fall, allowing 501 yards against Minnesota and 410 yards to Illinois. Young defensive backs Mario Goins and Jay Valai look promising, and the Badgers will look for help from junior Chris Maragos, who should contribute at nickelback.
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin will be featured on the blog throughout Monday, but before I hit the road, here are some final thoughts and tidbits from Badger land.
I came away from Saturday's practice/scrimmage with some mixed feelings about this team. Until the scrimmage got going at the end of practice, the offense really didn't look good. Some questionable throws from the quarterbacks, a lot of dropped passes from the receivers. The performance in the scrimmage made some of those issues go away a bit, but Wisconsin will have some obstacles on offense, especially early in the season.
Allan Evridge seems like a really grounded guy who can lead the offense and manage the game, which is all Wisconsin asks its quarterbacks to do, but he'll face a huge test in Week 3 at Fresno State. If the Badgers survive at Bulldog Stadium and beat Michigan in their Big Ten opener Sept. 27, they'll be in excellent shape for a BCS push. But this team has some issues, particularly in the secondary and on special teams after losing All-Big Ten performers Taylor Mehlhaff and Ken DeBauche. The wide receivers might seem a bit shaky, but David Gilreath is big-time playmaker and Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson and Maurice Moore all are capable.
The good news is every Big Ten team but Ohio State has some flaws, and Wisconsin's home schedule sets up well. The more I look at Penn State, the more I like what they have coming back. Wisconsin remains my No. 2, but things might change between today and Aug. 30.
A couple of quick-hitters from coach Bret Bielema's news conference:
- Wisconsin is perfect at home under Bielema and has lost only one home contest [Iowa in 2005] since the 2003 season. The good news is the Badgers host Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium this fall.
"It's a very intimidating atmosphere," Bielema said. "I remember coming here as a competitor. ... Just the simple thing that we all love and kind of joke around. The fourth quarter, you're in a tight ballgame and you're trying to tell somebody how to line up against a certain formation or make an adjustment in the kicking game and all of a sudden, you've got 80,000 people jumpin' around to 'House of Pain,' from 60-year-olds down to 16-year-olds. It's hard to stop those people from kind of looking around and taking it all in."
- Bielema anticipates playing 6-8 true freshmen this year and listed several possibilities: defensive end Brendan Kelly, defensive backs Kevin Claxton, Antonio Fenelus and Shelton Johnson, offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler, running back Bradie Ewing and punter Brad Nortman. Dan Moore, a junior-college transfer, also will see action at defensive end.
- Special teams is a top priority in training camp as Wisconsin tries to replace Mehlhaff and DeBauche. Brad Nortman has stepped forward at punter, while Matt Fischer and Philip Welch continue to compete at place-kicker.
"Those guys are getting charted on every kick, on every opportunity that they have," Bielema said, "not only when the bullets are flying and we're out there together, but also during their pre-practice. Fish, right now, has probably got a little bit of an advantage, but we're going to put the heat on 'em this week. We'll do some scrimmage situations that involve the kicking game in the red zone. That will hopefully bring the best guy out."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Dust off those depth charts, people. Practice is finally here. Every Big Ten team --except Purdue -- lifts the curtain on preseason practice Monday. I'll be at Michigan's first workout at 2:30 p.m. ET, wearing a West Virginia shirt, of course. Relax, I'm joking.
Check back later today for interviews with Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, as well as other maize and blue-related items. For now, here's a look around the league:
- Much has been made of Michigan's new conditioning program under Mike Barwis, but the Wolverines' archrivals didn't exactly lounge around this summer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. Ohio State tackle Alex Boone said of the team's regimen: "It was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen. People keeling over, and just vomiting everywhere. It was sick. If people are going to say they outran us or outworked us, I don't believe that."
- Can chemistry take Ohio State back to the title game? The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May takes a look.
- Buckeyes running back Beanie Wells can finally practice at full strength.
- Forget about the quarterback spot. Michigan's fate on offense largely depends on a revamped offensive line, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Today won't be easy for injured Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, who will watch from the sidelines as the Nittany Lions open practice. But, as always, Lee will find a way to contribute, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Musselman also answers five questions about the team entering practice. Can you guess the first one?
- Penn State needs player-driven leadership in what will be a crucial month, Frank Bodani writes in the York Daily Record.
- It's open season on Wisconsin's quarterbacks as practice opens, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Badgers defenders can't wait, though they're more concerned about stopping the spread offense after struggling against it last season.
- Potrykus also looks at five things to watch at Badgers' practice. The competition at kicker and punter looms large after the losses of Taylor Mehlhaff and Ken DeBauche.
- Senior quarterback Brian Hoyer doesn't have to worry about his starting job, but Michigan State is looking for some insurance under center, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Purdue doesn't open camp until next Monday -- the Boilermakers have a bye in Week 1 of the season. Finding a third linebacker will top Joe Tiller's agenda when he steps on the practice field, Tom Kubat writes in The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier.
- Some good stuff from the Champaign News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen, who looks at an Illinois program on the rise and releases his top 25 (Illini are No. 15).
- Rantoul looks nothing like the Rose Bowl, but that's the idea for Illinois as it opens camp in an all-football, all-the-time environment, Lindsey Willhite writes in the Daily Herald.
- Illinois has become a passing team, at least according to top receiver Rejus Benn, Herb Gould writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Will Shonn Greene establish himself as Iowa's top running back? The Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson is excited to find out.
- Iowa's having a mini-turnaround in recruiting, as wide receiver Keenan Davis became the latest member of the Hawkeyes' 2009 class.
- The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutches sees no way quarterback Kellen Lewis doesn't start Indiana's season opener, but who Lewis throws to and who blocks for him are somewhat in doubt entering practice.
- Wide receiver and cornerback top Indiana's priority list today, LaMond Pope writes in The (Fort Wayne, Ind.) Journal Gazette.
- Close games dogged Minnesota last season, and coach Tim Brewster made the fourth quarter a greater emphasis during the offseason, Myron Medcalf writes in The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Here are five focal points in Gophers' practice, which begins today.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Cincinnati 17 Virginia Tech 33 Final 15 Arizona State 36 Duke 31 Final Miami (FL) 21 South Carolina 24 Final/OT Boston College 30 Penn State 31 Final Nebraska 42 24 USC 45
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State