Pac-12: Nick Toon

Pac-12 media day extravaganza!

December, 30, 2011
LOS ANGELES -- The 2012 Rose Bowl media day is now history. We'll have heaps of reports and videos the rest of the day.

But some quick impressions.
  • Oregon was the smaller team against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl two years ago and against Auburn in the national championship game last year, but Wisconsin dwarfs both of those teams. The Badgers, quite simply, are the biggest football team I've seen, and that includes a few years covering the NFL. That doesn't mean the Badgers are going to dominate up front. There are certain to be moments when their size creates mismatches and big plays, just as there are certain to be moments when the Ducks quickness makes the beefy Badgers look bad.
  • This is clearly a business trip for both teams. There were very few wide-eyes over the media horde throwing out random, redundant and often silly questions, one after another. Both teams seemed loose and relaxed. Both teams seem more game-oriented than the whole "enjoying the bowl experience" thing.
  • Wisconsin's outstanding center Peter Konz told's Brian Bennett the ankle injury that knocked him out of the final three games of the season feels much better. He wouldn't say for sure he was going to start on Monday, but the odds are certainly looking better than they did a week ago.
  • Badgers receiver Jared Abbrederis is this year's Jeff Maehl. You look at the former walk-on and go, "Really?" -- just as the national media did at Maehl last year. But the sophomore is definitely a player to watch, considering his numbers nearly match leading receiver Nick Toon, son of former Wisconsin and NFL receiver Al Toon. He caught 55 passes for 822 yards -- 14.9 yards per catch -- with nine TDs this season. Looks, as Maehl showed over and over in 2010, can be deceiving.
  • The Ducks said that coach Chip Kelly made no major changes to how the team prepared for the previous two bowl games. A couple said they felt like the team might be more serious this year, but that just might be because there are fewer seniors.

Arizona State will measure itself at Wisconsin

September, 14, 2010
The bad joke provoked an eye-roll from Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson that was palpable even through the telephone line.

So, sounds like Wisconsin has a bit of a finesse offense, eh coach?

"Yeah, right," Erickson said. "They are physical. That is the best way to describe them. They are physical on the offensive front. We obviously haven't see that this year."

Nope. Arizona State is 2-0 after whipping a pair of FCS teams. Wisconsin is ranked 11th in the nation. Among FBS teams.

The Sun Devils defense ranks among the nation's leaders in most statistical categories. Erickson thought he had a good defense entering the season and he still thinks he has a good defense.

But thinking and knowing are two different things.

"We obviously don't know where we're at because of the competition in the first two football games," he said.

So let's just say Wisconsin will bring the knowledge. On paper, it has no offensive weaknesses. It welcomes back 10 starters from the Big Ten's highest scoring offense in 2009.

Quarterback? Scott Tolzien is a senior who led the Big Ten in passing efficiency last year. Running back? 250-pound John Clay is one of the nation's best, and the rotation behind him is deep and talented. Receiver? Nick Toon was preseason second-team All-Big Ten, according to Phil Steele, and Lance Kendricks might be the best tight end in the Big Ten.

But it's the offensive line that stands out. They average 6-foot-5, 320 pounds and have a combined 117 career starts between them. Steele ranked them the second-best unit in the nation.

If the Sun Devils shut down -- or just significantly slow down -- the Badgers, Erickson will know his defense is among the best in the nation.

Now, even if the Sun Devils shine on defense, that doesn't mean they'll notch the upset. Their new spread offense will make its debut against BCS conference competition in front of 80,000-plus fans who won't be terribly supportive. The Badgers defense will look nothing like Portland State or Northern Arizona, and the latter held the Sun Devils to 56 yards rushing on 29 carries (1.9 yards per carry).

ASU quarterback Steven Threet, a Michigan transfer, has some history with the Badgers. As a redshirt freshman in 2008, he led the Wolverines to the second biggest comeback in school history when he rallied them from a 19-0 third-quarter deficit to a 27-25 win over Wisconsin. In a Sun Devils uniform, he has looked good thus far, but it's unlikely he'll be able to just sit comfortably in the pocket without any support from a run game.

Wisconsin also has a big, physical defense that will challenge the Sun Devils inexperienced offensive line. It's going to be a long day if the Sun Devils are completely one-dimensional.

While Arizona State hasn't played anyone of note, there have been enough flashes of potential versus the FCS foes to suggest it might be better than ninth-place in the Pac-10, where it was dumped in the preseason media poll after finishing in that spot in 2009.

How the Sun Devils show at Wisconsin, however, should be mighty revealing.

Said Erickson, "They are ranked 11th in the country, so we will find a lot about ourselves in this game."



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12