Archive for October, 2009

Boilermakers/Badgers Preview: The Power Of Good Byes
October 28, 2009

What: Purdue @ Wisconsin.

Where: Camp Randall Stadium, ESPN2

When: Saturday, October 31, 11 AM CST.

I love the double bye.

I support the double bye.

I miss the double bye.

For anyone too young or for anyone too heavily engaged in the then-dominant stoner grunge scene to remember it clearly, the 1993 NFL season was the season of the double bye.  

For the first and only time, NFL teams (there were only 28 back then) played their 16 games over a period of 18 weeks, ensuring that each team had two bye weeks.

Also ensuring that NFL fans had an extra week to enjoy meaningful games.

But supposedly most teams found the double bye weeks too disruptive and the experiment, like The Golden Girls spin-off, ended after only one year.

But this year, the Wisconsin Badgers are bringing back the double byes, having just come off of one and also having another one over the Thanksgiving break before finishing the regular season at Hawaii the first Saturday in December.

Whatever fans might think of the weeks off, it’s clear that the first bye came at an opportune time for the Badgers, who needed the extra time to regroup after they were dominated for the first time this season two weeks ago against the then- and still-undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes. (I’m still calling that Ohio State loss a result of giving up big plays and not of being dominated.)

On paper, the Badgers should win the reminder of their games, but perhaps no upcoming game is more of a question mark than Saturday’s home game against Purdue.

Here are the Channel 3000 3 storylines for Halloween’s Badger/Boilermaker tilt, which is, oddly enough, the team’s first meeting since 2006, which Wisconsin won 24-3.

1. Who are these guys? At the start of this season, many were confused about the Badgers’ true identity, as the emergence of quarterback Scott Tolzien led to a much more balanced offensive attack than most preseason predictions indicated.

But a glance at Purdue’s 2009 wins and losses reveals the makings of a real schizophrenic squad: A win against Ohio State and a heartbreaking 38-36 loss to No. 10 Oregon suggests a very good team, while losses to Northern Illinois and Minnesota (part of an overall five-game losing streak) suggest a very bad team.

It’s fairly simple: Purdue can win when its defense plays well and when its offense limits mistakes. The Boilermakers had their first turnover-free game of the season last week against Illinois and the week before held Ohio State to just 287 yards of total offense while forcing Terrelle Pryor and company into five turnovers.

If the Boilermakers can force the suddenly error-prone Scott Tolzien (five interceptions in his last two games) into turning the ball over, they’ll have a good chance at pulling the upset.

2. Run Johnny Run. How do the Badgers best put Scott Tolzien into a position to regain his early season form? Simply by running the football with John Clay. Not coincidentally, Clay has been held in check during the Badgers’ two-game losing streak, totalling just 134 yards on the ground after besting that total in three of the Badgers’ first five wins.  

The good news for  pre=”for “>Tolzien and Clay (and freshman Montee Ball and Zach Brown, who returns after missing the Iowa game with a concussion) is that Purdue is lousy against the run, surrendering 156 yards a game and a conference-worst 18 rushing touchdowns on the season. If the Badgers can establish the run against Purdue, and all signs indicate that they should be able to, Wisconsin should snap their losing streak.

3. Protect the quarterback, pressure the quarterback. Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott has quietly been having a great season, ranking second in the conference and 15th in the nation in total offense per game (280 yards). The Badgers need to get pressure on him to try to discombobulate the Boilermakers’ proficient passing attack. Elliott has only been sacked twice during Purdue’s two-game winning streak.

Conversely, over the last two weeks, Scott Tolzien has been dumped more often than Willie Parker from NFL fantasy football rosters: Ten sacks in the last two games. When Tolzien is called on to make plays — and hey, even JaMarcus Russell is called on to make plays — the Badgers’ O-line has to do a better job of keeping him upright.

Despite Purdue being a tougher out than most people — even after the Ohio State upset — probably give them credit for, this looks like a good matchup for Wisconsin, particularly at home, and particularly coming off the first of their two bye weeks.

Predicted final: Wisconsin 35, Purdue 20.

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NFL Trimester Report: The Best Blog Entry Ever
October 23, 2009

This week I was surprised to discover that Yahoo! featured a sports blog entry as one of the featured news stories on its home page. (I’m not going to link to it, the writer’s gotten enough play from it.)

The entry concerned one of the many botched calls in this year’s baseball playoffs, calling the Game 4 ALCS play in which Yankee Robinson Cano was ruled safe despite being clearly tagged out by Angels catcher Mike Napoli “the worst call of all time.”

Now clearly that’s ridiculous hyperbole. An argument could be made that the call in question wasn’t even the worst call in this year’s baseball postseason — Joe Mauer’s ALDS Game 2 foul ball that clearly wasn’t foul, anyone? — much less the worst call in history.

But clearlythe tactic worked — yes, I know the blogger in question works for Yahoo! Sports, but, to speak in old-school terms, getting the “above the fold” exposure is colossal on a Web site that reportedly gets 1.575 billion visitors annually. The guy is probably next in line to replace Steve “Crotch Birthmark”  Phillips on ESPN.

Anyway, armed with the new knowledge that crazy exaggeration equals page views, I present my similarly-overblown trimester report card on all 32 NFL teams.

AFC East:

  1. New England Patriots. After starting the season in disappointing fashion — a shaky win against a lousy Buffalo team and an ugly loss to the New York Jets wasn’t how people envisioned the return of all that is Tom Brady — everything now seems rosy in Patriots country. After last week’s 59-0 win over Tennessee – the most dominating victory in the history of American sports – the Patriots are officially scary again. Grade so far: A-
  2. New York Jets. Mark Sanchez has gone from the toast of New York to the worst quarterback in Jets history in a span of three weeks. Only JaMarcus Russell – the worst quarterback in the history of the NFL – has generated worse statistics over six games. The Jets run the ball great and still have a good defense, but ask the 2008 Minnesota Vikings how fall that will get you. Grade so far: C+
  3. Miami Dolphins. The 2009 Dolphins have the best running game in the history of the NFL. The great rushing attack allows them to convert on third downs (where they lead the NFL), keep the ball (they lead the NFL in TOP), and be the only team in the league to effectively use the wildcat, which for other teams works about as well as a third-generation carpet sweeper. Their problem? An unproven quarterback (although due to byes, I’m starting him this week, so go Chad!). Grade: C
  4. Buffalo Bills. Ugh. How this team has won two games is a bigger mystery than why people watch Ghost Whisperer. The 2009 Bills will go down in history as the losing team in the worst game ever played in professional sports, a 6-3 loss to Cleveland at home. Grade: D

 AFC North:

  1. Cincinnati Bengals. I’m not ready to give up on this team after last week’s inexplicable loss to the Houston Texans. Cedric Benson is having the best comeback season by a running back in league history and their schedule from Thanksgiving on looks like cake. Grade: B+
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers. Sunday’s game against the undefeated Minnesota Vikings will tell us a lot, but the 2009 Steelers are playing remarkably uninspired football. They also have the stupidest kicker in the league in Jeff “Fighting Stance” Reed. No surprise he’s only hit on 70 percent of his field goal chances. Grade: B
  3. Baltimore Ravens. I know they’re only 3-3, but with Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Ray Lewis on board, I can’t imagine this team, currently the most underachieving team in football, not making the playoffs. I just don’t know who they take out. Grade: B
  4. Cleveland Browns. The worst quarterback tandem in the history of the NFL. The worst head coach in football. Poor Joe Thomas. I’ll bet he wishes he was fishing with his dad every weekend of the NFL season. Grade: F

AFC South:

  1. Indianapolis Colts. The only negative thing you can say about this team under first-year head coach Jim Caldwell is that their 5-0 start makes previous accomplishments by good guy Tony Dungy seem less impressive. Peyton Manning is the best player in football. Grade: A
  2. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars are on the bye, although since the Jaguars have the worst fan support in NFL history, not many people might notice. But for anyone paying attention, the Jags have won three games, but two of them were against teams that have yet to win. And they aren’t that far removed from getting thumped 41-0 by a mediocre team. Grade: C
  3. Houston Texans. Studs on offense. Will that be enough to get the Texans, consistently the worst franchise in the history of the NFL, their first playoff berth? Nope. Grade: C+
  4. Tennessee Titans. Oh boy. Suffice it to say that this is the most disappointing team in the history of sports, be it professional, amateur, American, African, Indonesian, whatever. Jeff Fisher needs a hug. Grade: F

 AFC West:

  1. Denver Broncos. I believe. I believe. The most surprising team in the history of the NFL, particularly on defense. Grade: A
  2. San Diego Chargers. How can a team with LaDaianian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles have the most disappointingly awful rushing attack in the history of the league? If they can become more balanced on offense, this traditionally late-starting team still has a chance. Grade: C
  3. Oakland Raiders. The most disorganized mess in professional sports. I don’t put any stock in their surprising victory over Philadelphia. Grade: F
  4. Kansas City Chiefs. Despite a lousy record, they’ve played some teams tough. The best 1-5 team in the NFL. Grade: C-

 NFC East:

  1. New York Giants. The Giants are talented. They’ve also had – before last week’s New Orleans game – a cake schedule. The most overrated team in the NFL. Grade: B+
  2. Philadelphia Eagles. 54 pass plays and 12 run plays in a close loss to the Raiders? When you have Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy? Andy Reid is the most overrated coach in football. Grade: B-
  3. Dallas Cowboys. Everybody loves to dump on Dallas. So I will too. Even without T.O., this is the most dysfunctional team in football that has yet to win a game against a quality opponent. Tony Romo and Wade Phillips are not long for Big D. Love the videoboard, though. Grade: C-
  4. Washington Redskins. The most putrid display of offense in NFL history. Grade: F

NFC North:

  1. Minnesota Vikings. With Antonie Winfield out, the Vikings’ secondary is the worst in the league. When teams start to figure that out, things will start to get dicey for Brett Favre and company. Oops, judging by last week’s fourth quarter against Baltimore, teams already have. Grade: B+
  2. Green Bay Packers. How do you beat a team 26-0 but still look lousy? By having the worst offensive line in NFL history. Penalties are a continuing issue too. Love Aaron Rodgers though. And Aaron Kampmann and Ryan Grant looked better last week, too. The Packers will need those two players performing at a high level if they want to return to the postseason. Grade: B-
  3. Chicago Bears. If the Bears can get Matt Forte going, they have a real chance of winning this division. The team best equipped to make a late-season run. Grade: B
  4. Detroit Lions. They play hard. But they have the least amount of talent among any NFL team. Grade: D

NFC South:

  1. New Orleans Saints. They are the Saints, so I’m wondering how they can screw this up going forward. But for now, they are the best team in football. What’s gotten into Darren Sharper? Grade: A
  2. Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan is the best second-year QB in the history of the league. And don’t look now, but the Falcons defense is statistically the fourth-best in the league. Grade: A-
  3. Carolina Panthers. What’s happening with wide receiver Steve Smith is the biggest waste of an NFL individual talent in years. I would have written “NFL history,” but I still remember what happened to Randy Moss when he went to Oakland. Grade: D
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Enough to make Bucs fans yearn for their glory expansion years of 1976-1977 when they went 0-26. This team will not win a game in 2009. Grade: F

NFC West:

  1. San Francisco 49ers. Mike Singletary is the most entertaining head coach in the history of the league. With Michael Crabtree and the return of Frank Gore, his team is in good shape too. Grade: B
  2. Arizona Cardinals. This team has to learn to run the football. The most insanely imbalanced offense in the league. Grade: B-
  3. Seattle Seahawks. Take out the two shutout wins (over Jacksonville and St. Louis), and you have a pretty mediocre team. The least interesting team in football. Grade: C
  4. St. Louis Rams. It’s amazing how far this team has fallen from the years of the “greatest show on turf.” The worst team in football. Grade: F

Badgers Hope To Bounce Back Against Tough Hawkeye Team
October 15, 2009

Who: Iowa Hawkeyes @ Wisconsin Badgers.

Where: Camp Randall Stadium, ESPN.

When:  Saturday, October 17, 11 AM CST.

 

If you like television — and really, don’t you believe those people with the “Kill Your Television” license plates are scary crazy? — you should check out a book called The Last Great Ride by the late NBC president Brandon Tartikoff.

The Last Great Ride is full of great stories about the TV industry, but one of the best concerns the casting of the sitcom Family Ties.

Tartikoff was unimpressed by Michael J. Fox and tried to talk the producers out of casting the then-unknown Canadian actor as Alex P. Keaton. “This is not the kind of face you’ll ever see on a lunch box,” Tartikoff protested. Of course, after Back to the Future became a monster hit, Fox’s mug did indeed appear on lunch boxes, one of which he sent to Tartikoff.

With the box, Fox included this note: “This is for you to put your crow in.” 

Well, after the Buckeyes beat the Badgers by 18 points after I had loudly and vehemently protested that game’s 16-point spread, my readers informed me it was my turn to eat crow.

“Mike” sarcastically wrote: “Jeff, you were right. It was 18 points, not 16. The oddsmakers sure got that one wrong. Defenses are just too strong for the O line of Wissyconsin.”

Well, Mike, yes. I was wrong. (Although I did pick Ohio State to win.) But here’s my argument: If Wisconsin and Ohio State were to line up and play every Saturday for the rest of the season, I strongly doubt that any meeting is that lopsided again. No team can count on three non-offensive touchdowns every week.

To my last point, “Kyle” wrote, “It doesn’t matter how a TD is scored — it’s 6 points either way. If those two INTs and the KO return did not go for TDs, that’s three offensive possessions for OSU where they have an opportunity to score an offensive TD, like they did right before the end of the first half with extreme prejudice.”

Kyle seems to think that OSU could have and would have scored more on offense had they had the ball more — because of defensive and special teams scoring, OSU only ran 40 offensive plays, just three in the third quarter. But that’s simply ignoring how inept OSU’s offense, and Terrelle Pryor in particular, were throughout that game.

Take out the one drive at the end of the first half, and OSU’s offensive drives netted totals of 9, 11, 4, 0, 7, 60 (field goal), -3, and -1 yards. Those are numbers that would make Cleveland Browns fans wince.

Mike was right about one thing though: Wisconsin’s offensive line — which announcer Matt “31-84” Millen regrettably gushed about during the pregame — was beyond lousy, as they failed to open any running lanes for John Clay and, much worse, allowed six sacks.

Watching Tolzien take a beating on Saturday certainly gave many fans unwanted flashbacks to last Monday night’s Packers/Vikings game, when Rodgers hit the turf eight times.

The good news for the Packers is they get Detroit and Cleveland next. The bad news for the Badgers is they get Iowa.

You know, Iowa, the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten.

Iowa, the team that’s won ten games in a row dating back to last season.

Iowa, the team that’s beaten Wisconsin in five of its last seven meetings, including a 38-16 beatdown last year.

But despite their unblemished 6-0 record, not everything is perfect with Kirk Ferentz’s team. How else could you explain the fact that the Hawkeyes narrowly escaped getting beaten by a downtrodden Arkansas State team just two weeks ago?

Wisconsin needs this game. While their upcoming schedule is soft enough to prevent a repeat of last year’s long losing streak, they need to beat Iowa if they want to once again be considered anywhere near among the elite teams in the Big Ten.

Here are the Channel 3000 3 storylines to Saturday’s Homecoming battle for the Heartland Trophy:

1. Get Down On The Ground. Even though quarterback Scott Tolzien had his worst day as a starter against Ohio State, he only looked truly befuddled twice: His throw that was intercepted by Kurt Coleman in the first quarter for a pick-six, and his futile attempt to get a high five from someone, anyone after the Badgers’ successful fake field goal went for a touchdown in the second quarter.

(I smell a new catch phrase here, namely, the use of “Tolziened” instead of “snubbed.” Try this out: You’re waiting to buy a drink. The bartender keeps passing you up to service attractive women. You turn to your friends and say, “I’m getting totally Tolziened here!” Yeah, I know Tolzien was the one that got snubbed. He wasn’t doing the snubbing. But come on, don’t ruin my brand-new catchphrase with your Vulcan-like logic.)

Despite Tolzien’s not that-bad day, look for Bret Bielema and Paul Chryst to make things easier on their QB this Saturday by pounding the football with John Clay. That should give the Badgers the best chance for success on offense: Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in rushing, while only one Big Ten team gives up more yards per rushing attempt than Iowa.

2. Flip the Script. Last week both of Scott Tolzien’s interceptions were returned for touchdowns. This week at quarterback the Badgers face Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi, who has already thrown eight interceptions, three of which Iowa’s opponents have returned for touchdowns. The Badgers have nine interceptions on the season but, like showboating 49ers cornerback Dre Bly, have yet to take one to the house.

In what looks to be a game dominated by defense — Iowa is third in the conference in defense but a lowly ninth in scoring — the Badgers would love to do to Iowa what Ohio State did to them last week and score with their offense on the sidelines.

3. Battle of the Tight Ends. Anyone who plays fantasy football knows the increased role tight ends are playing in both college and professional football this year. (They also know not to start, under any circumstances, anyone who plays for the Oakland Raiders.)

Iowa and Wisconsin have two of the best tight ends in the country — Wisconsin’s Garrett Graham ranks third in the country among tight ends in receptions and fourth in yards. Meanwhile, since returning from an ankle injury, Iowa’s Tony Moeaki is hotter than Blake Lively in a backless dress: In only three games, he has 17 receptions for 192 yards and three touchdowns.

Tolzien and Stanzi rely on Graham and Moeaki for their success as much as John Oates relies on his partnership with Daryl Hall to pay his mortgage. Whichever tight end is best able to make plays on Saturday may be enough to make the difference.

Badgers, Buckeyes Battle For Big Ten Supremacy
October 9, 2009

Who: Wisconsin Badgers @ Ohio State Buckeyes.

Where: Ohio Stadium, ABC.

When: Saturday, October 10, 2:30 PM CST.

Sometimes people aren’t so smart.

For example, last Tuesday I overheard a restaurant employee complaining to a colleague about the Packers’ loss to the Vikings the night before: “The defense couldn’t stop the run,” he moaned.

Uh, person who should have been giving me my Angus Third Pound burger instead of pontificating on football: What game were you watching?  I’d say holding the NFC’s leading rusher to 55 yards on 25 carries was nothing short of spectacular run defense. The problem for the Packers Monday night was that the only person who was hitting the turf quicker and harder than Adrian Peterson was Aaron Rodgers.

Then today I read an on-line story that included a shot of the next issue of Entertainment Weekly: The obviously doctored cover photo shows a pants less David Letterman. Among the posted reader comments was one complaining that if Letterman really wanted his scandal to go away, he shouldn’t be posing for magazine covers.

Uh, clearly deluded person who thought the photo was genuine: You really think that David Letterman, a celebrity who fiercely guards his private life, would call a national magazine in the middle of a hugely embarrassing personal sex scandal and say, “I’ve got a great idea. You should take a photo for the cover of me with my pants off. You know, because I couldn’t keep my pants on at work because I was so busy having lots of sex. It’ll be hysterical!”

But the most egregious example of stupidity I came across this week was finding out that the Ohio State Buckeyes football team was favored by no fewer than 16 points to beat the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday.

16 points? What is this, Florida versus Charleston Southern? The Harlem Globetrotters versus the Atlantic City Seagulls? The New York Yankees versus the Minnesota Twins?

The odds makers clearly haven’t been watching the Badgers play football.

The Badgers are a respectable 3-3 in their last six meetings with Ohio State. Only one of those losses, a 38-17 defeat in 2007, was out of hand. And even in that game, the Badgers led 17-10 in the third quarter. When Ohio State was the number one-ranked team in the country. And the Badgers had a sluggish rushing attack because their star running back at the time, P.J. Hill, was out due to injury.

More importantly, the Badgers are playing good football right now. They dominated the Gophers last week in Minneapolis, particularly in the second half. Wisconsin currently leads the Big Ten in five key categories: Scoring offense, rushing offense, passer efficiency, turnover margin, and fewest sacks allowed.

Most importantly, they’re undefeated and one of only two Big Ten teams to be 2-0 in the conference.

That other team? Ohio State.

Yeah, they’re good too. But not 16 points better than the Badgers, even in Columbus.

Let’s take a look at the Channel 3000 3 storylines to Saturday’s game:

1. John Clay versus the Buckeyes run defense. If there was any doubt who Wisconsin’s best runner was, Clay obliterated that with his 184-yard performance against Minnesota. Not only is Clay Wisconsin’s best runner, he’s the Big Ten’s best runner and statistically the fourth-best runner in the country.

Ohio State, however, boasts the conference’s best rushing defense, allowing a ridiculously low 18 yards on the ground last week against Illinois. But the Buckeyes haven’t faced a back as tough to bring down as Clay.

2. Scott Tolzien versus Terrelle Pryor. In his first road game last week, Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien came back to earth a bit; he needed and got the run game that Clay provided to bolster his comparatively pedestrian performance (16-26, 1 TD, 1 INT).

Meanwhile, the Badgers held Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in check in last year’s 20-17 loss. Well, until the Buckeyes’ 80-yard fourth-quarter scoring drive that won them the game.

If the Badgers’ defense can pressure or otherwise confuse Pryor, they should be able to force Pryor into some poor throws. (Pryor has already been picked off five times this season while the Badgers have forced a league-best 15 turnovers).

While Pryor has received the media attention, Tolzien has actually been the superior quarterback, bettering Pryor in every statistical category. If Tolzien can outperform Pryor on Saturday, he should start getting the national attention he deserves.

3. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Despite getting better every week, despite a passing game better than anyone could have hoped for entering the season, despite an elite rushing attack, despite a ball hawking, opportunistic, aggressive defense, the 16-point spread in this game shows Wisconsin clearly isn’t held in high regard.

I don’t think they’ll win the game, but in their toughest contest of the season, the Badgers will make things interesting enough to earn that elusive respect.

Predicted final: Ohio State 21, Wisconsin 17.

Badgers/Gophers Preview: You Know, That Other Rivalry Game
October 1, 2009

Who: Wisconsin Badgers @ Minnesota Gophers

Where: TCF Bank Stadium, ESPN

When: Saturday, October 3, 11 AM CST.

In listening to the new Beatles remasters, I keep having the same thought over and over:

Man, that Paul McCartney can play the bass.

In continuing with my musings, I also consider how McCartney was clearly the best vocalist of the four, clearly the best looking of the four (not completely irrelevant in their embroynic period), and not that far behind Lennon in terms of songwriting.

Yet Beatle Paul is almost universally underappreciated and disrespected in comparison to Beatle John.

I feel the same way about this weekend’s Wisconsin/Minnesota Border Battles: The Packers/Vikings game is getting all the attention, while the Badgers/Gophers game is getting no respect.

And like I could make several arguments why Paul McCartney was the most talented Beatle, I could make several arguments why the Badgers/ Gophers match-up Saturday will actually be the better game.

So here, with a nod to the Beatles, are the Channel 3000 3 storylines to watch as the Badgers travel to Minneapolis to continue the longest rivalry in NCAA Division 1-A football:

1. Why Don’t We Do It (On) The Road? The Badgers — particularly Scott Tolzien — have been fairly impressive so far, but can they repeat their early-season success on the road?

Last year’s Badger team was uninspiring away from Camp Randall, beating only Fresno State and lowly Indiana to finish 2-4 (including that awful showing in the Florida Citrus Bowl) on the road.

With upcoming games against Top 25 teams Ohio State and Iowa (the Hawkeyes coming off that big upset over Penn State), it’s imperative for Wisconsin to play well in Minneapolis Saturday to avoid a slide reminiscent of last year’s 0-4 stretch.

Beyond the obvious aesthetic improvements over the crappy Metrodome and the fact that alcohol is now no longer sold at Gopher home games, the fact that the game is Minnesota’s first Big Ten game in their new on-campus TCF Bank Stadium shouldn’t matter much. They could play this game at the new $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium or at Appleton West High School and it would be a game that both teams have circled on their calendars.

2. Will Scott Tolzien Be Throwing Here, There, and Everywhere?  Wisconsin’s passing game is improving every week, and while fans shouldn’t expect Tolzien to repeat his four-touchdown performance from a week ago that came against a horrid Michigan State secondary, it’s worth noting that Minnesota has its own issues with its defense.

Just last week, the Gophers gave up a whopping 309 passing yards in a 35-24 victory against Northwestern; then, on Monday, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster suspended two defensive players for violating team rules.

Seems like the Minnesota defense is as good a defense as any for Tolzien to face in his first conference road game.

3. Will Eric Decker Have The Badgers Secondary Yelling “Help!”? Wisconsin’s defense did a fine job last week of shutting down Michigan State’s formidable passing attack, only allowing the Spartans to open it up after building a 38-17 fourth-quarter lead. (255 of MSU’s 396 passing yards came in the final quarter.)

Now Wisconsin’s backfield has to contend with Minnesota wideout Eric Decker, who is statistically the third-best receiver in the country: In four games this year, Decker has four touchdowns while averaging over 124 yards a game.

Last year, in what was a wild 35-32 Wisconsin win at home, Decker was out; two years ago, Decker torched the Badgers for 125 yards on just six receptions for two touchdowns. Decker is the best opposing skill player the Badgers have faced so far this season and they will have their hands full containing him.

In my preseason preview, I picked the Badgers to suffer their first loss of the season on Saturday. Obviously I’ve been right so far, but given the unexpected strong play of Scott Tolzien (which has been so good people have been forgetting about the run game, which oh, by the way, is second in the Big Ten) I expect to be proven wrong.

Picking the Gophers to take possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which has only happened twice since 1995?

I Should Have Known Better.