NCF Nation: Curt Phillips


A late surge gave South Carolina another 11-win season, as the Gamecocks defeated Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl.

This marked a program-best third consecutive season that South Carolina won a bowl game. Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Freshman linebacker Skai Moore intercepted a Wisconsin pass in the end zone with 3:14 remaining. Badgers backup quarterback Curt Phillips threw a 16-yard pass into heavy coverage, and Moore made an athletic pick to ice the game.

Game ball goes to: South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. The performance of Shaw against Wisconsin (9-4) cannot be understated. Stats usually don't tell the whole story, but these numbers should definitely give you a good idea of his efficiency: 22-of-25, 312 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions. Wisconsin's secondary struggled against Shaw and the South Carolina receivers all day, and Shaw made the Badgers' defense pay in other ways, too. He caught a 9-yard touchdown pass, ran for a 1-yard touchdown and even rushed for 47 yards. Shaw did anything and everything for the Gamecocks.

Stat of the game: 88 percent. That's the completion rate for the Gamecocks, between Shaw's 22-of-25 passing and wide receiver Bruce Ellington's 1-of-1 stat line. South Carolina threw just three incompletions in 60 minutes and never threw more than one incompletion in a quarter.

Unsung hero: Ellington. Not only did he account for more than 40 percent of his team's yards through the air and catch two touchdown passes, he also threw a 9-yard TD pass on a double-reverse pass play. Ellington finished with six catches for 140 yards and he came up big when the Gamecocks needed it. On a key fourth-and-7 play in the second half, Ellington kept the drive alive by making an acrobatic catch after tipping the pass -- one that's sure to be a "SportsCenter" highlight. He made a tough 22-yard TD catch one play later to give his team a 20-17 lead.

What it means: This punctuated what looks like the golden age of Gamecocks football. Steve Spurrier's team has finished the last three seasons with the same record (11-2) and ended each season with a bowl victory. That's never been done before in school history. Before this three-year streak, the Gamecocks had won just four bowl games and hadn't had a 10-win season since 1984.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Capital One Bowl, click here.
1. Cal hired Sonny Dykes as its head coach in part because of what his spread offense created at Louisiana Tech. Midway through August workouts, the changes are beginning to show in Berkeley. Freshman Khalfani Muhammad, just the third two-time California high school champion in the 100 and 200 meters, got behind the defense for a 59-yard touchdown pass in a scrimmage this week. If Cal finds a deep threat to pair with running back Brendan Bigelow, Dykes’ rehabilitation of the Bears will be fast.

2. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has given no indication that he is close to naming his starting quarterback. Sophomore Joel Stave gave Badgers fans a reason to exhale earlier this week when he completed a 65-yard touchdown pass. Andersen digs the long ball. Sixth-year senior Curt Phillips has been solid in August as well. Stave started last season until he broke his collarbone. Look for Andersen to make an announcement as early as next week.

3. Washington has been ravaged by injuries the last few years, so in the offseason, Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian decided to revamp summer workouts and how the team practiced the first two weeks of the season. The result? Only one major injury, a freak event in which the player’s hand got caught under a body and resulted in a broken finger. Unfortunately, the player is preseason All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
It's no real secret that new Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen likes mobile quarterbacks. He put them to use at Utah State and has expressed his preference for guys who can extend plays and make things happen with their feet.

But if there were any remaining doubts about which direction the Badgers are headed under center, Andersen's recent recruitment should tell you everything you need to know.

Earlier this week, Wisconsin gained a commitment from D.J. Gillins, a four-star quarterback prospect from Jacksonville, Fla. ranks Gillins as the No. 13 dual-threat signal-caller in the 2014 class, and though he did miss last year with a torn ACL, the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder is known for having great quickness and escapability.

[+] EnlargeJoel Stave
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireQuarterback Joel Stave, who might have the inside track on the starting job for 2013, does not possess a lot of mobility.
Earlier this offseason, the Badgers landed a verbal pledge from 2015 quarterback Austin Kafentzis, from Sandy, Utah. Kafentzis, who measures in at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, threw for 2,860 yards and ran for 1,689 yards last year as a high school sophomore. He ran for 1,377 yards as a freshman.

And, of course, Andersen brought in junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy back in February. McEvoy is a rangy 6-foot-5 athlete who can make things happen outside of the pocket. Some viewed him as the top dual-threat junior college quarterback last year. He'll compete for the starting job this August.

If you think the Badgers' quarterback picture is crowded now -- and it is -- just wait a couple of years. Joel Stave, who might have the inside track on the starting job for 2013, is just a redshirt sophomore, as is McEvoy. Bart Houston, the once highly touted prospect, is a redshirt freshman. Gillins will be a freshman in 2014, while Kafentzis will enter in 2015. Teams often like to pick up a quarterback in each class, so it makes sense, and with potential redshirts and unforeseen injuries, the spacing may work out. Yet it's hard to see how Stave, McEvoy and Houston will all co-exist going forward.

And you wonder if Stave, who does not possess a lot of mobility, will be the type of quarterback Andersen wants going forward. At Utah State the past two years, he started Chuckie Keeton after handing him the reins as a true freshman. Keeton ran for 618 yards and eight touchdowns last year for the Aggies.

Andersen had this to say last month when I asked him about McEvoy:

"He has the ability to hurt you with his arm, his mind and his legs, and that's important. Coming from a defensive background, I know that when a quarterback has all three of those, it's much more difficult to defend than if he only has one of the three or two of the three. It becomes a pretty vicious weapon."

It seems clear that Andersen wants guys who can do all three of those things. Don't expect any Denard Robinson-types or even the 2012 version of Braxton Miller at Wisconsin. Andersen has pledged to keep the Badgers' tradition of the power run game strong, and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has a pro-style philosophy. What adding a mobile quarterback will do is give the Wisconsin offense an added wrinkle.

Andersen also isn't bringing in players who are just athletes standing in the shotgun. McEvoy completed 67.3 percent of his passes last year at Arizona Western. Gillins and Kafentzis have also been known for their accuracy. At Utah State, Keeton connected on 67.6 percent of his passes.

This new wave of Badgers quarterbacks could, in a perfect world, look like a version of Russell Wilson: players with great ability to get out of trouble and still find receivers down the field outside of the pocket. Wilson didn't run the ball all that much at Wisconsin, a product of both his unbelievable acumen in keeping his eyes downfield for the open man and the team's utter lack of depth behind him. A plethora of athletic options could allow Andersen to call more designed quarterback runs in the near future.

While many fans may think of Wisconsin as the land of huge offensive linemen, great running backs and game-managers at quarterback, this wouldn't be the first time in recent memory that the Badgers have had mobile quarterbacks. There was Wilson, of course. Tyler Donovan was a scrambler, and Brooks Bollinger allowed the team to run some option. Current sixth-year senior Curt Phillips, another candidate to start in 2013, was ticketed as a big-time dual-threat quarterback before multiple knee injuries robbed him of his speed.

In the future, a lot of Wisconsin's quarterbacks could look like what Phillips was supposed to become.
Taking over a new program as a head coach always brings its share of challenges.

First-year coaches have to work with a group of players that with few exceptions they never recruited. They often must implement new styles of play and terminology, adjust their own philosophies to the talent on hand and win over the fan base. Oh, and they'd better win right away, too, or the criticism will start early.

The Big Ten has two new head coaches this season in Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell. What are some of the specific challenges facing each man? Let's examine:

Gary Andersen

It's rare a new coach comes into a program that has been winning at a high level. After all, there's usually a reason why the team made a coaching change in the first place, and successful programs often look to promote one of "their guys" in a transition. So Andersen is an unusual case in that he's taking over a Badgers team that has won three straight Big Ten titles and gone to three straight Rose Bowls. Yet athletic director Barry Alvarez went with someone who had no Wisconsin ties (or, really, much of any roots east of the Rockies) when he hired Andersen from Utah State to replace Bret Bielema.

You always have to worry about players who have won a lot under the old ways accepting a change and a new voice, but Andersen seemed to connect with the Wisconsin players quickly by earning their respect and trust. Badgers fans, many of whom disliked Bielema more than most outsiders could imagine, have also already embraced Andersen. Of course, if Wisconsin doesn't win early under Andersen, there will be a lot more people who start talking about the good old days. He will have to live up to Bielema's impressive record and the very large shadow of Alvarez, a Hall of Famer who's still revered by Badgers everywhere.

On a more micro level, Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda are switching to a 3-4 defense that will be unique to the Big Ten. That will require an adjustment. Wisconsin also has a close quarterback battle raging between Joel Stave and Curt Phillips that will be intensified when Tanner McEvoy -- an Andersen recruit -- arrives this summer. The offense needs to get better at the receiver position outside of Jared Abbrederis, and Andersen must maintain the tradition of outstanding offensive line play, even if his staff teaches blocking techniques differently than their predecessors.

Still, as far as first-year jobs go, this is a plum assignment, given Wisconsin's recent success and the talent on hand. Andersen's No. 1 challenge in 2013 may well be something outside of his immediate control: Ohio State.

Darrell Hazell

There's one major difference between Hazell and Andersen: Hazell doesn't have to worry about living up to his predecessor's record. Danny Hope went just 22-27 in West Lafayette, and the vast majority of Boilermakers fans had soured on Hope by the time he was fired following last season's regular-season finale. Hazell was greeted with open arms by Purdue supporters if for no other reason than that he wasn't Danny Hope; he's also an impressive public speaker who can get a crowd fired up when he talks, unlike the often rambling Hope.

Hazell's challenges, then, are of a more practical sort. To put it simply, he needs to get the Boilers to perform better on the field. Though Purdue reached back-to-back bowl games the past two seasons, the team often wilted in spotlight games and showed a lack of mental grit and discipline at key moments. The offense lacked an identity at times, and the defense suffered from a linebacker unit that wasn't good enough for upper-echelon Big Ten standards.

Toughness is a word Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop have used a lot in the offseason. Hazell's surprising Kent State team last season ran the ball with authority, and that's something he wants Purdue to adopt as well. The trouble is that the two quarterbacks who started last season -- Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush -- are both gone, and the lead tailback, Akeem Hunt, carried the ball just 42 times last year. The Boilers could end up going with a true freshman -- Danny Etling -- under center this season.

The 2013 schedule -- which includes nonconference games against Cincinnati and versus Notre Dame and Northern Illinois, plus crossover games against Nebraska and Michigan State -- is very demanding and will make it difficult for Purdue to get off to a strong start. And one of Hazell's big challenges is to build enthusiasm and excitement again among Boilermakers fans who stopped showing up at Ross-Ade Stadium last year. If the team loses five or six of its first seven games -- a distinct possibility -- then the rebuilding effort only becomes more difficult. It could also affect recruiting, which has never been particularly easy at Purdue.

Then again, no one said being a first-year head coach would be easy.

100-days checklist: Big Ten

May, 21, 2013
Good news: We are just 100 days away from the start of college football.

To mark the occasion, we're pulling out a checklist today of things that Big Ten teams need to accomplish between now and the start of the season. It's not quite "The Final Countdown" (cue GOB Bluth), but we are inching ever so close to kickoff. Here's what needs to happen in the next 100 days:

1. Identify a starting quarterback at Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin: It seems as if there are an unusually high number of Big Ten teams who don't know for sure who their starting quarterbacks will be in the fall. (You could also add Illinois and Minnesota to this list, though it appears likely that Nathan Scheelhaase and Philip Nelson, respectively, would have to lose the job in the summer.) Iowa had a three-man race this spring that will probably come down to Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol in training camp. There's very little separation between Cameron Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at Indiana. Connor Cook continues to breathe down the neck of incumbent Andrew Maxwell at Michigan State. Tyler Ferguson claimed the starting job at Penn State during the spring, prompting Steven Bench to transfer, but highly touted recruit Christian Hackenberg will push for immediate time. Purdue will likely decide between senior Rob Henry and true freshman Danny Etling. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips separated themselves from the Wisconsin QB derby this spring, while incoming junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy could expand the race this summer. All these situations should work themselves out in August, but no team wants to be dealing with an unsettled quarterback competition once the season starts.

2. Solidify the defensive front sevens at Nebraska and Ohio State: The Huskers and Buckeyes stand out as two of the top Big Ten contenders in 2013, but both have serious questions at defensive line and linebacker. The issue is more dire at Nebraska, which struggled there last year and is replacing all but one starter from 2012. Summer arrivals, including junior college star Randy Gregory, could make an immediate impact, and players coming back from injury such as linebacker Zaire Anderson and defensive tackle Thad Randle will need to play up to potential. Ohio State is less concerned about its defense after the spring performance of defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, but linebacker Ryan Shazier is still the only returning starter in the front seven. Curtis Grant must finally live up to his talent to provide help to Shazier, and someone must assume John Simon's leadership role.

3. Locate the next great receivers: A few Big Ten teams, such as Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana, don't have to worry too much about who will catch the ball this year. But just about everybody else needs to find playmakers in the passing game. The top of that list includes Iowa, which couldn't generate a downfield passing attack last year; Illinois, which needs receivers to make new coordinator Bill Cubit's spread system work; Michigan State, whose young wideouts must improve on last year's shaky performance; Minnesota, which doesn't have many proven weapons to surround Nelson; and Wisconsin, which still must find a complement to Jared Abbrederis. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is hoping some incoming freshmen augment a very thin receiver group, while Michigan needs to replace the production of Roy Roundtree. Purdue and Northwestern have lots of speedy options but could use the emergence of a true No. 1 target. Receiver was a weak spot as a whole in the Big Ten in 2012, and hopefully some players will improve through offseason voluntary passing drills.

4. Strengthen the running game at Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and elsewhere: It's a cliché to say that you have to run the ball to win, but in the case of the Big Ten, that's always been true. That's why it's so vital for the Wolverines and Spartans -- who both expect to contend in the Legends Division -- to find answers in their rushing attacks. Michigan is replacing its entire starting interior offensive line after struggling to get a running game going outside of Denard Robinson last year. Fitz Toussaint is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season and a leg injury, while hotshot freshman Derrick Green could get lots of carries right away. Michigan State's efforts to replace workhorse extraordinaire Le'Veon Bell this spring ended up with converted linebacker Riley Bullough emerging as the top back in a mediocre field. Three incoming freshmen will compete for time right away this summer. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson put a heavy emphasis on the running game this spring, hoping for more balance after his team led the league in passing and finished last in rushing last season. Iowa has depth for once at running back but needs to stay healthy there, as the ground game is the key to the Hawkeyes' entire offensive philosophy. Nebraska also can't afford injuries, as Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross are the lone backs with any experience. Illinois averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team last year, a number that must improve. And while Purdue loved what it saw from Akeem Hunt this spring, he still must prove he can be an every-down back after attempting only 42 carries last season.

5. Mesh with new coaches: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell are the fresh faces among head coaches in the league, and while they did a great job of connecting with their players this spring, they still need to get their new systems fully in place. The Badgers will be using some new, 3-4 looks on defense, while Hazell wants a more physical and disciplined team than we've seen from the Boilermakers of late. Michigan State has a new offensive playcaller in Dave Warner, while Cubit was one of many staff changes at Illinois. Penn State's John Butler takes over from Ted Roof as the Lions' defensive coordinator. With only 15 spring practices so far to implement their styles, those new coaches have had to rely on a lot of classroom time and players learning on their own. That will have to continue this summer during voluntary workouts and then will intensify when preseason practice begins. For new coaches, it's a race against the calendar -- and the calendar says there are only 100 days until kickoff.
On Wednesday, the head coach and one player from each Big Ten Legends Division team participated in a spring football teleconference with the media. On Thursday, it was the Leaders Division's turn. Here are some notes and updates from the call:

  • Head coach Tim Beckman said the junior college players he brought in helped with depth and age issues on his young team. "We have 40 football players that have never been in our spring football until this year," he said. Of the juco imports, Beckman said wide receiver Martize Barr has quick hands and good playmaking skills, both in the passing game and on kick returns; Eric Finney has earned a starting job at the Star linebacker position; Abe Cajuste is adding depth by playing both defensive tackle and defensive end; and Dallas Hinkhouse is making an impact at offensive tackle.
  • Beckman sung the praises of offensive lineman Corey Lewis, a sixth-year senior who has battled back from five knee surgeries and has become a team leader. "Corey Lewis comes to my office probably four or five times a week, just to talk," he said. "To me, he is what college football is all about." Beckman said that Lewis has "had a special spring" and hinted that he has earned a starting job.
  • Quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole will take most of the snaps in Friday's spring game so they can get more experience in the new offense. Beckman said Scheelhaase has "got a step in front" because of his experience, but the competition continues.
  • Scheelhaase on reasons for optimism in 2013: "Establishing an identity. That's something I don't know that we necessarily had last year, on offense or defense or as a team in general.
  • Like many of you, head coach Kevin Wilson would like to know the new Big Ten division alignment. The reason? It's harder to recruit without being able to tell a prospect where he'll be playing his freshman season. Wilson added that if the league does indeed go to an East/West split, he'd like to see the Hoosiers placed in the East since they're located in the Eastern Time Zone.
  • Wilson said run defense and takeaways are two huge priorities for the Hoosiers' defense during the offseason. He noted that the Big Ten doesn't boast a large group of elite pass offenses, so IU must prepare better for run-driven attacks. Indiana finished last in the Big Ten in both run defense (231.3 ypg) and takeaways (13). Cornerback Greg Heban said the defense is working on takeaways every day in practice. "Every time the ball touches the ground, the defense is scooping it and scoring it," Heban said, "trying to give us a feel of what it's like."
  • Both Wilson and Heban praised the play of junior cornerback Tim Bennett this spring. Other spring standouts include linebacker T.J. Simmons, a freshman early enrollee, and Steven Funderburk, a junior-college transfer.
  • Heban called this "easily the best spring I've been around." He has seen more physical play and better effort on both sides of the ball, and the team also is having more fun than in past springs.
Ohio State
  • Head coach Urban Meyer said running back Rod Smith won't play in Saturday's spring game because he recently suffered a concussion. Before that, Meyer said Smith was one of the five most improved players on offense this spring. Meyer listed Carlos Hyde and Smith as the team's top two running backs, while Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball are even for the No. 3 spot.
  • Although the receivers have been better this spring -- especially Corey Brown and Chris Fields -- the depth is still nowhere near where it needs to be for Meyer's spread offense. "We’re way behind on quality of depth at that position," Meyer said. "That's a major, major concern." Moving Jordan Hall to H-back should help, and Meyer noted that the Buckeyes boast two good tight ends in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett.
  • Buckeyes offensive tackle Jack Mewhort paid close attention to the way John Simon and others led in 2012. He's ready to take on a greater load this season. "I welcome that," he said. "I see that as an honor, being compared to a guy like John Simon. I also see it as a challenge. I feel the pressure to step up and get guys going in the right direction." Mewhort also has seen quarterback Braxton Miller recognize his leadership responsibilities more this spring and get after teammates when he needs to.
  • Meyer said he puts more emphasis on spring practice and the spring game than most coaches. He has told his players that there will be a depth chart after spring ends, and while changes are possible in the summer, they're not likely. "In spring ball, you're trying to win a spot," he said. "During the fall, we're trying to win games."
Penn State
  • Quarterbacks Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson are receiving equal reps during practice and, not surprisingly, have endured some ups and downs. Head coach Bill O'Brien praised both players' intelligence, noting that they aren't making mental errors during workouts. "These guys have had productive practices," O'Brien said. "Has every play been great? No. But the word patience is a very important word here. Coming from pro football, I definitely have to learn more patience with all these young players. I think I have, but I can do a lot better." Senior guard John Urschel, who was highly entertaining during the teleconference, said he's the wrong person to ask about quarterbacks but praised Bench and Ferguson for picking up the system and showing leadership.
  • Urschel said the first-team offensive line right now consists of himself and Miles Dieffenbach at guard, Ty Howle at center and Donovan Smith and Adam Gress at the tackle spots. Of Howle, he said, "I could talk about Ty all day. If you ask me, he's one of the most underrated players on our team. ... Honestly, when I got here, I thought Ty was the best offensive linemen in our year, of the seven of us." Urschel also said Dieffenbach "started a lot for us last year but really is starting to take his game to the next level."
  • O'Brien said Zach Zwinak would get the start at running back if the season opened now, but all three backs -- Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch -- have had good springs. Lynch, a redshirt freshman, has "improved every single day of spring practice."
  • O'Brien is excited about Penn State's starting linebackers -- Glenn Carson, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman -- but admits the lack of depth at the position is "something I think about 24-7." He said it's vital to get Carson, Hull and Wartman through the rest of the offseason healthy, and hope for contributions from others like Ben Kline and incoming freshman Brandon Bell. Penn State won't shift players to linebackers because "there’s really nobody to move" and will instead closely monitor reps the rest of the spring and in preseason camp.
  • Head coach Darrell Hazell said the Boilermakers have made major improvements in the last three and a half weeks. "Anytime you put in three different schemes, there's a little bit of a learning curve for the first couple weeks," he said. "You could see guys start to really get comfortable the last five or six practices."
  • Hazell said he has "three capable guys" right now at quarterback with Rob Henry, Danny Etling and Austin Appleby. He reiterated that he would keep the competition open until two weeks before the opener at Cincinnati. Of Etling, a freshman early enrollee, Hazell said: "For a young guy, a guy that should be at his prom, I think he's got tremendous poise. He's smart and really studies the game."
  • Hazell said backup tight end Justin Sinz and center Robert Kugler are two guys that have really caught his eye this spring. He called Kugler a "very much a leader on the offensive line."
  • Cornerback Ricardo Allen said Hazell has instilled an "all is one" mentality. "If one person does something, we all have to do it. We all wear black socks. We all wear the same uniform. We all tuck our shirts in. I feel like we're becoming closer as a team, and it's helping us build."
  • Head coach Gary Andersen confirmed Curt Phillips and Joel Stave have separated themselves in the quarterback competition. It's a "mixed bag" of who takes snaps with the first-team offense, but both will continue to rotate through the rest of the spring and into fall camp. "The way they've separated themselves is simply production," Andersen said. "They know exactly where they sit and so does the rest of the team. … If they put all their friendships aside, their depth chart would look exactly like our depth chart."
  • Andersen praised the offensive line for tackling another transition, as the group works with its fourth position coach (T.J. Woods) since the 2012 Rose Bowl. The line has seen varying looks from the defense in practice and had players move around to different positions, in part because of injuries. Wisconsin had only seven healthy linemen a week ago, but Andersen is hopeful the number will rise to nine or 10 by next week's spring game. "Those kids have grinded through it every single day," Andersen said. "They're a tough-minded group."
  • Badgers senior linebacker Chris Borland said losing defensive end David Gilbert to recurring foot problems is a blow but the team has others to step in like Tyler Dippel, Brendan Kelly and Jesse Hayes, a redshirt sophomore who has stood out this spring.
  • Much like his old boss Urban Meyer, Andersen believes in constant competition and declares winners and losers in each practice. Andersen also mixes in some fun with a dance-off and throwing footballs into trash cans. "Some of them are a little bit quirky, but through the years establish some things we like," he said.
  • Borland said the strength program has brought the biggest changes in the transition to Andersen's staff. Cardiovascular work is stressed more, as is preventative care. Head strength and conditioning coach Evan Simon operates at a faster pace and uses more of an instructional approach than Ben Herbert, who stressed motivation.
When Curt Phillips received a sixth season of eligibility at Wisconsin, some viewed him as a nice insurance policy at quarterback.

Make no mistake, Badgers fans appreciated Phillips' contributions last season, when he started the team's final five games, including the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl. Phillips' quest to continue his football career despite three ACL surgeries is admired by all who have followed his Wisconsin career.

[+] EnlargeCurt Phillips
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCurt Phillips threw for 540 yards and five touchdowns last season.
But Phillips was hardly the talk of the offseason among Badgers quarterbacks. When spring practice kicked off last month, most wanted to see Bart Houston, the strong-armed, highly recruited redshirt freshman, or Joel Stave, who seemed to be blossoming last season as the starter before suffering a broken collarbone against Michigan State. Even Tanner McEvoy, a junior-college quarterback Wisconsin signed in February, generated more buzz than Phillips.

The fact that Phillips only entered the starting lineup following Stave's injury and Danny O'Brien's struggles keeps him under the radar.

So where do things stand as Wisconsin enters the final stretch of spring practice? Exactly how they did after the 2012 season. Phillips and Stave have been sharing reps with the first-team unit, but Phillips has consistently received the first set of reps and performed well in Saturday's scrimmage.

"I want the job," Phillips told last month. "I didn't come back for a sixth year and from all these surgeries to sit on the bench. That's far and away my No. 1 goal."

Wisconsin's new coaches know they have a motivated player in Phillips. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig called the sixth-year senior "a grinder" and "ultra competitive."

"Curt is a good athlete, not a great athlete," Ludwig said. "He throws a good ball, not a great ball. But he is doing everything we ask him to do. He can rally the troops."

Winning the locker room won't be a problem for Phillips if he wins the starting job. To do so, he must show he can be an effective pocket passer for a unit that finished last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in passing a season ago.

Phillips is learning his third offensive system with the Badgers, and while new terminology and new protections prove challenging, there are similarities between Ludwig's West Coast-style scheme and the one he first learned under former coordinator Paul Chryst. He has more confidence after playing in several huge games last season, and after "finding a rhythm toward the end," he's trying to build on it.

"I want to continue to improve my game, becoming more of a pure pocket passer," Phillips said. "And then just developing more of that athleticism. By no means am I anywhere close to how I was pre-injury, but the further I get away from that, it's definitely something that I can get back."

Phillips came to Wisconsin as a true dual-threat quarterback after rushing for 3,788 yards in high school. He had 138 yards on 14 carries as a redshirt freshman in 2009 before the knee injuries started.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Phillips sustained another knee injury -- a more minor one -- in the Rose Bowl that has somewhat limited his mobility this spring. But he expects to be moving much better by preseason camp.

"I've heard Coach [Gary] Andersen mention that he wants a mobile quarterback," Phillips said. "With the athletes we have here at Wisconsin, we don't necessarily need the quarterbacks to do anything special, but at the same time, if you are able to extend the play a little bit and get the ball in those guys' hands, it's going to be big for us."

Ludwig and Andersen want to reduce the candidate pool to two by the end of the spring, and Phillips and Stave appear to be closing in on those spots. The competition undoubtedly will continue in fall camp -- McEvoy will have a chance to push the top two when he arrives -- and Andersen doesn't have a firm deadline on when they'll pick a starter.

"If it's a battle that's gone down to the wire, we'll probably let him jog onto the field for the first time and announce himself as the starter," Andersen said.

Don't be surprised if he's wearing No. 10.
Gary AndersenAP Photo/David StlukaGary Andersen has paid close attention to every detail in his transition as Wisconsin's new coach.
MADISON, Wis. -- When Gary Andersen arrived at Utah State in December 2008, he didn't spend much time looking back. Some would say he didn't want to strain his eyes.

At the time, Utah State barely seemed worthy of FBS citizenship. The Aggies had endured 11 consecutive losing seasons, 30 losses in the previous three seasons and eight consecutive seasons of four or fewer victories. Andersen faced a total rebuild, but at least he could wipe the slate clean and look only to the future.

It's not so simple at Wisconsin. Despite the construction going on just north of Camp Randall Stadium, Andersen isn't walking into a mess. Quite the contrary.

He takes over a Badgers team that has won three consecutive Big Ten championships, reached three consecutive Rose Bowls, won 40 games in the past four seasons and hasn't endured a losing campaign since 2001. Andersen's new program has produced 39 NFL draft picks and five consensus first-team All-Americans since 2002. The man who hired him, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, won three conference titles and three Rose Bowls as Badgers coach, resuscitating a downtrodden program and building it into the closest thing we've seen to a third Big Ten power.

"You take a lot longer and harder look at what's made them successful and what's made the kids successful," Andersen told "For me, there were so many familiarities. The types of young men in this program are what I'm used to at Utah State, the emphasis on in-state recruiting, the emphasis they’ve had in the walk-on program. All those things are staples to what I believe in.

"The transition, there's nothing difficult about it, but you’re more open-minded to what's happened in the past."

Andersen and his assistants also are mindful of what Wisconsin players have been through. One of the nation's most successful and stable programs has endured drastic changes in each of the past two winters.

Six assistant coaches departed after the 2011 season, and head coach Bret Bielema made a surprise exit to Arkansas in December, just three days after watching his team upset Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Andersen brings in seven new assistants, including T.J. Woods, the team's fourth offensive line coach since the 2012 Rose Bowl.

"We've been through a lot of changes," senior defensive tackle Beau Allen said. "Last season we had all these new facilities [being built] and we were in different locker rooms on different days. Sometimes we didn't really know where we were practicing. And then with all the coaching changes. I think we've rolled with it pretty well."

Allen could be right, but Andersen is taking no chances during the transition. He has gone to great lengths to connect with the players during his first three months on the job.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin Badgers
Adam Rittenberg/ESPN.comWisconsin coaches have incorporated team-building exercises into offseason training with a competition called the Badger Team Accountability Challenge.
It starts with the BTA Challenge (Badger Team Accountability), a competition that includes 10 teams of 10 players, each assigned to two coaches or support staffers. They compete in academics, community service events, weightlifting and even dodgeball. The challenge has carried over to the practice field this spring.

Andersen meets regularly with the 27-player leadership council. He brought the team together to watch the Super Bowl in the players lounge. During practices, he'll snap the ball to the quarterbacks (Andersen played center in college) or press receivers on the line. Players often receive calls from Andersen, just to check in.

"Guys appreciate that," linebacker Chris Borland said. "He's really in tune with the pulse of the team."

Andersen's player-focused approach is a big reason Alvarez hired him.

"A lot of coaches don't feel that’s important," Alvarez said. "You're a dictator and you’re going to do this and this. The good ones still get close to their kids. They’re still demanding, yet they have an empathy.

"The bottom line in everything he talks about is the kids."

When Andersen accepted the Wisconsin job 18 days after announcing he'd stay at Utah State, he called all 106 Aggies to inform them of his move, reaching the final player at 2:30 a.m. Andersen's new players took notice of the gesture. Badgers running back James White said he "knew it was a good fit right away."

Although Bielema was also popular with the players during his time at Wisconsin, Andersen has brought "a different energy" to practices, according to quarterback Curt Phillips. Practices are crisp and upbeat, and music blares throughout the workouts, a change from the past.

"It’s getting there," Andersen said. "They get an idea of who we are, the way we practice. The speed, the pace, everything we do, we want it to be fast and quick. We want to make sure we’re putting the kids first.

"I want them to know I care about them."

Andersen's assistants also are doing their part to ease the burden on players. Woods has kept about 60 percent of the terminology the Badger offensive linemen used last season under Bart Miller. It helps that Woods has a direct connection to Miller -- he coached him at New Mexico -- and an indirect one to former longtime Badgers line coach Bob Bostad. (Woods worked for Jason Lenzmeier, who had played under Bostad at New Mexico.)

"I'm the fourth guy in two years to walk through those doors in that meeting room," Woods said. "I've tried to strain myself more than them just because of the situation they've been in."

There's certainly an if-it-ain't-broke element of Andersen's challenge at Wisconsin.

The offense will remain rooted in the power run, while mixing in some play-action passes. Andersen inherits two backs -- White and sophomore Melvin Gordon -- who would start for almost any FBS team, veteran linemen like Ryan Groy and Rob Havenstein, and good depth at tight end. Although the quarterback competition is crowded, Wisconsin has three options with Big Ten starting experience: Phillips, Joel Stave and Danny O'Brien. He also has bionic-armed redshirt freshman Bart Houston and incoming junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy.

"It's been easy for the players to adapt because we're doing stuff that they've done," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "There's a little different terminology, but again, we're trying to draw as much as we can from the past."

Andersen's influence will be seen more on defense, where his expertise lies. The Badgers will be the only Big Ten team operating out of a 3-4 set, although their flexibility with the outside linebackers, who previously played defensive end, allows them to show a 5-2 personnel package.

There will be much more variation in coverages and calls for a unit that has been statistically strong in recent years but a notch or two below elite status.

"We've been on the cusp of greatness, but I don't think we've achieved it yet," Borland said. "We've got a lot of seniors, a lot of guys who have experience. We haven't set any concrete goals, but I think we should be one of the best defenses there is."

Expectations are high despite the coaching change, and for good reason. Wisconsin returns 25 seniors and many key underclassmen who have only experienced winning in their careers.

Bielema often pointed to the 2013 Wisconsin team as potentially his best. Although many are already handing the Big Ten title to Ohio State, the Badgers are aiming for a fourth straight Rose Bowl appearance, which would tie the record held by Ohio State (1973-76) and USC (1967-70).

"There is a good core," Andersen said. "As with every program, there are definite questions that need to be answered. But to say we're not excited about next season would be the ultimate understatement."
Way back in the heady days of the 2012 preseason, we ranked every Big Ten position group from No. 1 through 12. We had to base our thoughts on previous performance and a lot of projections in August.

We're going back now and issuing a final, postseason ranking for each position group, and these will be far less subjective now because we have an actual full season's worth of data on hand.

Quarterbacks, naturally, are up first. (Those guys hog all the glory). You can take a look back and see how we ranked this group in the preseason here. Depth is an important factor in these position rankings, but having a standout main guy under center (or in the shotgun) is the most overriding concern with this group.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThanks to consistent play by QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes finished the 2012 season unbeaten.
1. Ohio State (Preseason rank: 5): We figured Braxton Miller would improve greatly in his second year of starting and in Urban Meyer's system. We didn't know he'd become the Big Ten offensive player of the year or finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. While he didn't always throw the ball with precision, Miller made all the big plays and led his team to a 12-0 record. The biggest preseason worry was what would happen if he got hurt. Kenny Guiton answered that in the Purdue comeback.

2. Penn State (Preseason: 12): The Nittany Lions were dead last in our preseason rankings, and with good reason considering their past performances at the position. But I did write at the time: "Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter." Uh, yeah. McGloin led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,266) and passing touchdowns (24) while throwing only five interceptions. And he stayed healthy, keeping Penn State's youthful backups from getting exposed.

3. Nebraska (Preseason: 3): Taylor Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense and completed a career-best 62 percent of his passes. When he was good, he was as good as there was in the league. But he still struggled with turnovers in key games, including 12 interceptions and numerous fumbles. If he can eliminate the mistakes, the sky's the limit.

4. Michigan (Preseason: 2): The Wolverines are a hard to team to peg in these rankings. Do we rank them based on Denard Robinson's poor showings in big games against Alabama and Notre Dame? Do we rank them based on Devin Gardner's strong finish to the season, when he was as productive as any Big Ten QB? How much do we factor in the team's lack of a solid backup plan in the Nebraska loss when Robinson got hurt early? You have to weigh the good with the bad, which makes this spot feel about right.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 9): Starting quarterback Kain Colter threw for 872 yards, which was nearly 450 yards less than nominal backup Trevor Siemian. But Colter also rushed for 894 yards and kept defenses off balance with his versatility. Meanwhile, the Wildcats could use Siemian when they needed to stretch the field. The next step for Northwestern is developing a more consistent downfield passing attack.

6. Indiana (Preseason: 11): Who would have guessed in the preseason that the Hoosiers would actually exhibit the best depth at quarterback? After starter Tre Roberson went down in Week 2, Indiana was able to plug in juco transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld to sustain the league's top passing offense. The three combined to throw for more than 3,700 yards. Coffman got the bulk of the work but needed a better touchdown-to-interception ration than his 15-to-11 mark.

7. Purdue (Preseason: 1): We overrated the Boilermakers' depth in the preseason. It turned out that only one of the trio of former starters performed at a high level, and Robert Marve didn't play enough because of a torn ACL and Danny Hope's misguided insistence on sticking with Caleb TerBush. Purdue actually led the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (30) and finished third in passing yards, but much of that was because the team often had to throw the ball a lot after falling way behind. This ranking could have been higher with a full season of Marve.

8. Wisconsin (Preseason: 8): Danny O'Brien quickly showed that he was not the next Russell Wilson, but luckily the Badgers had some depth. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave showed major promise before his season was derailed by a broken collarbone, and Curt Phillips turned in a nice comeback story by managing the team well down the stretch. Still, Wisconsin ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards.

9. Michigan State (Preseason: 10): It was not exactly a season to remember for first-year starter Andrew Maxwell, who was benched late in the Spartans' bowl game. But for all his struggles, Maxwell still finished No. 4 in the league in passing and had some nice games in the middle of the year.

10. Minnesota (Preseason: 6): What could MarQueis Gray have done if he hadn't hurt his ankle, prompting an eventual move to receiver? True freshman Philip Nelson took over the reins midseason and broke out with a huge first half against Purdue. However, he failed to throw for more than 80 yards in the team's final three regular season games. Nelson led the team with just 873 passing yards on the season, and the Gophers threw 15 interceptions.

11. Iowa (Preseason: 4): Nobody took a bigger tumble than the Hawkeyes, as James Vandenberg went from a 3,000-yard passer as a junior to often looking lost as a senior. He completed only 57.3 percent of his passes and tossed only seven touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and Iowa showed almost no ability to go vertical. And no other Hawkeye attempted a pass all season.

12. Illinois (Preseason: 7): The Illini had experience at the position with Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, but they were both part of a wildly dysfunctional offense. Illinois was next-to-last in passing yards in the Big Ten and also had just 11 touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions. In fairness, both QBs were often running for their lives and had very little help.

Badgers land junior college QB

February, 4, 2013
Wisconsin has landed a highly sought after junior college quarterback, making the crowded competition for playing time under center a little more interesting.

Tanner McEvoy, a 6-foot-6, 215-pounder who played last season at Arizona Western College, committed to the Badgers on Monday. His other finalists were Florida, Oregon and West Virginia. McEvoy is a New Jersey native who signed with South Carolina out of high school but transferred after being buried on the depth chart his redshirt freshman season.

He completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,813 yards and 24 touchdowns with five interceptions last year at Arizona Western while also rushing 49 times for 252 yards and three touchdowns.

He gives new coach Gary Andersen and his staff another option in the quarterback race. The Badgers return three players who started at that position last year: Sophomore Joel Stave, sixth-year senior Curt Phillips and senior Danny O'Brien. In addition, Wisconsin has Bart Houston, a well-regarded 2012 signee who redshirted this past season with an injury, and Jon Budmayr, who is trying to overcome multiple arm injuries.

If you're wondering why the team would sign a junior college signal-caller with all those guys in place, consider that McEvoy will have three years of eligibility remaining. And his mobility gives him a weapon that only Phillips really brings to the table, and Phillips has undergone three ACL surgeries.

And take a look again at McEvoy's size. If somehow he didn't work out at quarterback, Wisconsin could find a place for him elsewhere. ESPN Recruiting Nation had this to say in its scouting report on him:

"We said it when McEvoy was coming out of high school and we still feel he is playing the wrong position if he wants to maximize his upside. He is a great athlete with terrific height and a frame that can still be developed. He is reminiscent of former Villanova and Atlanta Falcons WR Brian Finneran, and McEvoy could be a big, long-armed wideout who could make a ton of plays if he were used as a WR/slot/H-back."

That scouting report goes on to compare McEvoy to Kansas State QB and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein, saying he's a better athlete than he is a passer and that he has a quirky delivery with a low arm angle.

They say you can never have enough quarterbacks, and sometimes you just recruit as many athletes as you can and figure out what to do with them later. If nothing else, McEvoy presents some intriguing options for the Badgers down the road.
When I talked to Curt Phillips in late December for a feature story on his career, the Wisconsin quarterback was optimistic that he would get a sixth year from the NCAA. But you never know for sure with the NCAA, and so he was making sure to savor the Rose Bowl experience just in case.

[+] EnlargeCurt Phillips
AP Photo/David StlukaThe NCAA granted Curt Phillips another shot at guiding the Wisconsin offense.
On Thursday, Phillips found out that he had indeed been granted an extra year of eligibility. That's great news both for he and the Badgers.

The NCAA has been doing a better job of late in granting these waivers, and Phillips had one of the best cases ever for using the rule. He missed the 2010 and 2011 seasons with two ACL tears and a third surgery after his body rejected the second operation. It was inspiring to see him assume the Wisconsin QB position after Joel Stave got hurt, as Phillips started the final five games of the season, including the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl.

Phillips went 10-for-16 for 83 yards and a touchdown in the 20-14 loss against Stanford and threw an interception on the Badgers' final drive. Some fans wanted to see more of Stave in that game as he returned from his broken collarbone to throw two passes in Pasadena. But Phillips also showed some great mobility in the game, running five times for 64 yards, including a 38-yarder. He was originally recruited as a dual-threat quarterback, but the knee injuries never really let him show that in college.

Wisconsin now has much more depth at quarterback than it has seen in a while, and the competition this spring under new head coach Gary Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will be fun to track. Phillips and Stave will battle it out, along with former starter Danny O'Brien, former hotshot recruit Bart Houston and possibly Jon Budmayr if Budmayr can overcome his arm injury issues. At the very least, the Badgers will have some experienced options behind the starter.

Phillips did not show tremendous arm strength this season, but his father, Dr. Jim Phillips, told me that Curt had to change his throwing mechanics this year to adjust to not having much leg strength. He believes that with another year away from the knee surgeries, Curt will get back to a more natural throwing motion and have much more zip on his passes.

It wasn't guaranteed that Phillips would get a chance to do that again at Wisconsin. Thanks to the right decision by the NCAA, he will.
What we learned from the seven Big Ten bowl games:

1. Need for speed (and skill): The narrative about the Big Ten being slow is tiresome and oversimplified. But the bowls showed it's not entirely inaccurate. Whether it was Michigan struggling to contain South Carolina's Ace Sanders, Minnesota getting burned by Texas Tech's passing game, Wisconsin desperately lacking a game-breaker versus Stanford or whatever it was Purdue attempted to do against Oklahoma State, the bowl games exposed a need for several teams to increase their overall athleticism at the skill positions. Big Ten teams came close to winning in four of the league's five postseason losses. The difference in those games often comes down to one or two playmakers, and the league could use a few more.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsIs there more success in store for Northwestern and coach Pat Fitzgerald ? He said he'll have his fastest team ever in 2013.
2. Northwestern has become a complete team: The Wildcats have often brought good offenses into their bowl games. They usually have not been as good on defense or suffered from special-teams problems. Northwestern won its first bowl game since 1949 because Pat Fitzgerald finally crafted a complete team this season. The defense limited Mississippi State to just 106 passing yards and intercepted Tyler Russell four times in a 34-20 victory in the Gator Bowl. The offense featured a balanced attack between its rushing and passing games, and Northwestern had one of the best punt returners (Venric Mark) and field goal kickers (Jeff Budzien) in the business. In a season when many Big Ten teams lacked essential elements (defense at Nebraska, running game at Michigan, passing game at Michigan State, etc.), the Wildcats managed to put it all together for the league's best bowl win.

3. Quarterback competitions are on for Spartans, Badgers: The biggest surprise of the league's bowl season might have been that Connor Cook led Michigan State's game-winning drive against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Cook, a redshirt freshman, hadn't played since Week 2, and it appeared that Andrew Maxwell had the quarterback job locked down despite an inconsistent season. But after a poor performance by Maxwell and the spark provided by Cook, the Spartans now have an open competition at quarterback that will be fascinating to watch this offseason. The competition is also on at Wisconsin, where Curt Phillips is expected to get a sixth year from the NCAA and battle with sophomore Joel Stave, who appeared for two plays in the Rose Bowl after breaking his collarbone against Michigan State. Stave is a better passer, while Phillips showed some good wheels versus Stanford. There's a new coaching staff in place to give each a clean slate. Who wins at each school is important, because both the Spartans and Badgers need to improve their passing attacks to contend for division titles in 2013.

4. Minnesota is on the way up: The Gophers suffered a heartbreaking loss against Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, where they led 31-24 with less than 90 seconds to play but somehow lost 34-31. Yet the overall takeaway remains a positive one for Jerry Kill's team. After struggling mightily to move the ball down the stretch of the Big Ten season, Minnesota pounded the Red Raiders for 222 rushing yards, while freshman Philip Nelson threw two touchdown passes. Kill must find and develop more wide receivers, but Minnesota showed the physical style the team is capable of when its offensive line is healthy. The Legends Division will be deep in 2013, but the Gophers should continue to make gains.

5. Darrell Hazell and Bo Pelini need to focus on defense: New Purdue coach Hazell saw just how much work awaits him in the Boilermakers' 58-14 thrashing by Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Purdue gave up at least 34 points seven times in 2012 and loses its best player in defensive tackle Kawann Short. There's no doubt where Hazell's focus must be in his first spring in West Lafayette. The same goes for Nebraska, which surrendered 115 points in its final two games and a staggering average of 53.5 points in its four losses. Pelini will replace eight defensive starters and is optimistic that some young, athletic players will step into those roles and restore the Blackshirts' honor. The Huskers -- which scored 31 points in a little more than three quarters against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl -- should again field one of the most prolific offenses in the country next season. It won't matter if that defense doesn't figure out some answers.

Badgers still see rosy future

January, 2, 2013
PASADENA, Calif. -- After he'd finished all his Rose Bowl postgame media obligations, Barry Alvarez took one last stroll through the Wisconsin locker room to talk to some players. He embraced redshirt freshman Derek Watt and told him, "You're going to be the best fullback in America next year."

Another year, another painful Pasadena memory for the Badgers, who lost 20-14 to Stanford on New Year's Day. But as Alvarez scanned that locker room, he saw enough returning talent to think that Wisconsin can get to a fourth straight Granddaddy.

"We have a very good nucleus coming back next year, a lot of juniors, and they have a chance to be an outstanding squad again next year," he said.

Of course, Alvarez heads back to his athletic director's office today, and it will be up to new coach Gary Andersen to mold that talent for another run. Andersen should have a pretty good idea of the team's strengths and weaknesses after attending some of Wisconsin's bowl practices and then watching Tuesday's game from the sidelines.

Yet transitioning to another new coaching staff might remain the team's biggest challenge for 2013. Andersen has retained running backs coach Thomas Hammock and defensive backs coach Ben Strickland and may keep offensive line coach Bart Miller to oversee tight ends. But other than that, the staff will be entirely new, with two new coordinators. In that regard, it will be like last year's offseason, when Wisconsin lost six assistants, then dumped offensive line coach Mike Markuson for Miller after Week 2.

"Obviously, it's frustrating to lose coaches and have to learn a new offense," quarterback Curt Phillips said. "But I think our guys responded well to that this year. We didn't start off the season like we would like, but I thought rebounded really well and hopefully we can do the same thing next year."

Andersen's job should be made easier by a wealth of experience returning. The Badgers' two-deep against Stanford included nine seniors, but two of them -- Phillips and defensive end Brendan Kelly -- will return for a sixth year next season, assuming the NCAA does the right thing with Phillips' waiver request. Four juniors -- center Travis Frederick, linebacker Chris Borland, receiver Jared Abbrederis and guard Ryan Groy -- submitted paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board, but Borland told after the game that he was definitely returning to school.

Wisconsin returns its top eight players on the defensive line and all but one offensive lineman (Ricky Wagner) if Frederick and Groy stick around. After battling quarterback depth issues for a couple of years, the Badgers should have their fiercest offseason battle there in some time. Phillips, Joel Stave and Danny O'Brien all started games this year and will return, while redshirt freshman Bart Houston should be healthy and thrown into the mix and Jon Budmayr will give it another go.

The team's biggest star, touchdown king Montee Ball, is moving on to collect paychecks. But there's little worry about the running back position, not with James White back as a senior and budding superstar Melvin Gordon should start receiving many more carries.

The two biggest concerns are at wide receiver, where Wisconsin never established a another threat to complement Abbrederis, and in the secondary, which loses three starters. But the Badgers will have a senior-laden team and one that former coach Bret Bielema predicted would be his best before he bolted for Arkansas.

"We're going to have one of the biggest senior classes coming out next year since I've been around," departing senior cornerback Devin Smith said. "A lot of underclassmen were big contributors this year. So I think it's going to be a great team with a chance to get back here next year."

Of course, the Badgers won't benefit from Ohio State being on probation next season, and they'll have to go to Columbus. But they trade Nebraska and Michigan State as crossover division games for Iowa and Northwestern, the latter of which is at Camp Randall Stadium. They will have to solve the riddle of why they lost so many close games in 2012 (six by a combined 25 points).

"We've got to look at it as a learning experience," Frederick said, "and try to figure out what was the same in all those games and what troubled us."

If they can do that, make a successful transition and deal with the monster Urban Meyer is building, then maybe Wisconsin will go for a fourth Rose petal in four years. The Big Ten and the rest of America might not like that, as the Badgers run the risk of becoming college football's version of the 1990 Buffalo Bills.

Ball is the only player to score a touchdown in three straight Rose Bowls, but he understood that his legacy will also include those three straight losses.

"Hopefully, they can come here next year and win it," he said, "which was something I couldn't do."
1. While it may sound familiar that the Big Ten went 1-4 on New Year’s Day, the fact that Northwestern got the victory made it feel a lot better. The Wildcats found a lot of painful ways to lose bowl games -- by a lot, by a little, in overtime -- before beating Mississippi State, 34-20, in the Gator Bowl. Northwestern gets Pat Fitzgerald's first 10-win season. Fitzgerald has 50 wins and two seasons to go before he turns 40. That could be the foundation of a long, legendary career.

2. Big Ten champion Wisconsin played the best of the four losing Big Ten teams, fighting Stanford to the final 2:30 even as the Badgers failed to penetrate beyond the Cardinal 46-yard-line in the second half. The ticking clock and a 20-14 deficit forced fifth-year quarterback Curt Phillips to emerge from his comfort zone and start passing. Phillips threw a sloppy pass over the middle, and defensive back Usua Amanam picked it off. In the second half, Phillips completed 3 of 8 passes for 15 yards and that pick.

3. It is inconceivable that Nebraska went 10-4 and scored a minimum of 30 points in each of those four losses. It is unfathomable that the school that made black shirts famous gave up five touchdown passes to Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. It is mind-boggling that the Huskers gave up 70 points to Wisconsin and 63 to Ohio State. It’s also pretty easy to figure out Job No. 1 for head coach Bo Pelini over the next eight months. If he can fix his defense, Nebraska -- and maybe the Big Ten -- will return to power.
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.