Dodd: Big Ten expansion? | w/Chad Henne | w/IU's Lynch
Sometimes it seems like being the Wisconsin quarterback hardly matters. Forget rolling off the tongue, they are names you have to spell check: Stocco, Sorgi, Bollinger. Rather, it is a program whose philosophy can be found in the paper towel aisle: Viva Brawny!
|Last season, it usually took a whole army of defenders to take down tailback P.J. Hill. (US Presswire)|
Ask Josh Nettles. Mention the backup defensive back's name in the Badgers' locker room and you're likely to get a mix of pity and laughter. It was during spring practice 2006 that Nettles became part of recent Wisconsin lore.
Tracking down tailback P.J. Hill near the sideline, Nettles chose the wrong angle.
"It was one of the most amazing things I ever saw," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "P.J. lifted him up and took him three yards and threw him out of bounds. The guys' legs were up in the air. P.J. did it right in front of the defense.
"We'd never seen anything like that. It was like Earl Campbell."
Or Ron Dayne (Heisman). Or Joe Thomas (Outland). Or Erasmus James (Nagurski). Those are just three of the major award winners in the program since 1999. These guys and this team are used to heavy lifting. Second-year coach Bret Bielema would trade the individual stuff, though, for the program's first Big Ten title since 1999.
|3. Ohio State|
|4. Penn State|
|10. Michigan State|
|Team to beat:|
|Mike Hart, Michigan|
|J Leman, Illinois|
|Coach of the year:|
|Bret Bielema, Wisconsin|
"It's American football," Bielema said of the ethic that was planted and nurtured by Barry Alvarez who left the sidelines after 17 seasons last year to become athletic director.
Bielema, the former Badgers defensive coordinator, is no different than his boss. He is just as likely to brag on his fullbacks as he is Hill, who became the fifth freshman in history to run for 1,000 yards in his first seven games. If Hill is going to progress as a sophomore, it will be largely up to a pair of 250-pound junior fullbacks: Bill Rentmeester and Chris Pressley.
"On certain teams in our league, you're not going to find one fullback ...," Bielema said. "To me short yardage is, 'Ok, mano y mano.' It's called an 'iso' because it's an isolation on a linebacker. That's the part that I like."
Which is why he likes the comeback being made by Pressley. The bruiser redshirted last season because of a leg injury. Then as part of his business school studies, went to China this summer for a month. He came back 20 pounds lighter, which is fine with Hill.
"Press is looking real nice right now, he's probably even stronger," Hill said. "I can't wait to run behind him."
With a healthy fullback, Hill might surpass his freshman season when he clubbed Nettles on his way to 1,569 yards and 15 touchdowns, putting together the seventh-best freshman season in I-A history. Bielema will rely even more on running, considering quarterback John Stocco (it's been spell checked) is gone. One of Stocco's possible replacements, Kansas State transfer Allan Evridge, is the dual-threat type. Wisconsin's ethic was shaped by Barry Alvarez who handed it off to Bielema in 2006 after 17 seasons. The seamless transition led to a 12-1 season that left the Badgers short of a BCS bowl because of a technicality (only two teams per conference can go).
|2007 Conference Previews|
|Sun Belt||Big 12|
Now Wisconsin is the trendy pick in the Big Ten this season if you ignore Michigan and its monster offense backed up by a rebuilt defense. The schedule is manageable aside from trips to Penn State and Ohio State. Cheeseheads everywhere are looking forward to the Michigan game Nov. 10 at Camp Randall.
And maybe a new-look Hill whose body is a bit tired of giving and receiving all those hits.
"This year I'm going to be smarter about the contact I make," he said. "If I can beat a defender with my speed, I'm going to beat a defender with my speed.
"This is just so I can play longer. During the whole week I'll be sore. It's taking me too long to recover."
Viva finesse? At Wisconsin, it doesn't sound right.
Predicted order of finish
1. Michigan: The Triplets -- Michael Hart, Chad Henne and Jake Long -- all came back as seniors to win the Big Ten title (and perhaps national title) that slipped away last year.
2. Wisconsin: Bret Bielema really needs to suffer some adversity. In his rookie season he won 12 and is loaded for '07. Madison will truly become Mad Town if Michigan goes down on Nov. 10 at Camp Randall.
|Ron Zook needs to show some sideline savvy in Year 3 at Illinois. (Getty Images)|
4. Penn State: The Nittany Lions won't win the league, but won't be terrible either. What is it they say: You're either getting better or getting worse? That's the key question in JoePa's 42nd season.
5. Purdue: The Boilers will move the ball, as always. With 20 starters back and Notre Dame and Ohio State at home, Purdue could be the surprise of the Big Ten.
6. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz will lean on his linebackers and a tough running game trying to get back in contention. '06 was a huge bummer with losses to Northwestern and Indiana.
7. Illinois: Yeah, yeah, we know. Ron Zook can recruit, but can he coach? He'd better start with all that young talent. The Illini is 2-30 in their last 32 conference games.
8. Indiana: Bill Lynch tries to pick up the emotional pieces after the death of Terry Hoeppner. The Hoosiers will be entertaining, though, with Kellen Lewis, Marcus Thigpen and James Hardy.
9. Northwestern: Take out the month of October (0-4) and the surprisingly competitive Wildcats were 4-4. Pat Fitzgerald will pull off an upset or two in his second season.
10. Michigan State: Mark Dantonio knows the league but John L. Smith didn't leave him much, only 12 starters.
11. Minnesota: If decibels were victory, loud-talking Tim Brewster would be in the Rose Bowl right now.