Young and the Restless - The Soap Opera that is the Badger Assistant Coach Salary Debate

by Andy Schaaf

Last year the 5 teams with the most talent in Major League Baseball were the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Giants.

If you’re a baseball fan you might be confused by that because only 2 of those 5 teams made the playoffs and the two that did - Dodgers and Yankees - were quick exits. The Red Sox were abysmal.

What am I basing the most talent on? These were the top 5 teams in total payroll dollars spent. They must be pretty good and those owners must be the most committed to winning in all of baseball, after all they spent the most money.

We know that’s not true of course, the Royals won the World Series by playing a somewhat unique brand of baseball and finding guys who fit their system. They beat the Mets who focused on young pitching and less on other parts of the team. The Cubs made a run with young, cheap bats. Their owners didn’t want it less than the other owners, they were just smarter about how they spent their money.

You get where I’m going (hopefully). Payroll is an awful way to evaluate baseball teams, but payroll is really the only way we really evaluate assistant coaching talent in college football, at least this time of year. If Team A pays their assistants $4m and Team B pays their assistants $2m, then Team A has better coaches and is obviously more committed to building a winning team.

We don’t do this for any other sport.  When it comes to talent, good teams find ways to get it for cheap. They avoid paying that expensive past his prime veteran *cough Jeff Suppan cough* the huge money. They know the goal isn’t to spend the most money, the goal is to spend smart money .

Like everyone else in the world, college coaches are paid based on their resume. Want a guy with a ton of experience? That will cost you. Want an assistant who used to be a head coach? That will cost you (and the SEC loves these guys). Want a guy to come to your school when he has zero connections to the area? That’ll cost you.

With the recent focus on Badger assistant coaches, I decided to look at the ages of the coaching staffs in their peer group. I wanted to try to get an answer on if the Badgers were paying “cheap” for guys with bad resumes or “cheap” for guys with short resumes. I think the difference is really important.

Paying cheap salaries for guys with poor resumes is obviously not something you want to do. Paying cheap salaries for a younger guy with lots of potential, that’s alright. It allows the Badgers to take risks some teams in the Big Ten can’t. Getting a 36 year old DC with a short resume (1 year at Utah St, 2 years at Hawaii) isn’t something a SEC team would ever do, but it got the Badgers 3 really good years with a great assistant coach.

Lets look at the average age of the top 8 schools in B1G assistant coaches salaries for 2015, from which Wisconsin was #8.

Average age:

  • Iowa - 50
  • Ohio State - 49
  • Michigan St - 48
  • Nebraska - 48
  • Michigan - 46
  • Minnesota - 44
  • Maryland - 44
  • Wisconsin  - 41

 

Obviously could be influenced by a couple outliers, so if we look at median age:

  • Nebraska - 51
  • Iowa - 49
  • Mich State - 49
  • Ohio State - 49
  • Minnesota - 46
  • Michigan - 46
  • Maryland - 46
  • Wisconsin  - 43

 

There’s no doubt about it, a large reason Wisconsin pays less for assistants is they target younger assistants than their peer group.

It seems to suggest Wisconsin is paying less money for guys with the short resume and betting they outperform it, not paying less money for guys with poor resumes.

This is a pattern as well. Four of the last five defensive coordinators were given the job when they were in their 30s. They seem to always have room for a young coach with potential - Strickland, Brown, Turner. Heck, it goes back to betting on Bielema to run a program when he was only 35 years old.

One of the major complaints when Alvarez was coaching was the assistants got complacent and there was a lack of fresh blood with new ideas coming in. It certainly hasn’t been that way since he left.

Teams spend money in different ways:

  • Nebraska is paying 52 year old Bruce Read $450,000 as a special teams coach. He doesn’t recruit.

  • Michigan State has had a mostly stable group of guys who started with a lower salary but through raises all make over $300k. Neither coordinator made more than Rudolph/Aranda but overall salary was higher.

  • Iowa pays their offensive line coach $317,000 and Iowa is his first college coaching job. His last name is Ferentz.

  • Maryland paid Mike Locksley $891k in hopes he would jump start their recruiting.

 

That’s not making judgements, just showing teams have different reasons for paying guys. Its not necessarily the best guys making the most money.

Going young has its drawbacks of course. Sometimes that young assistant does so well that he becomes close to impossible to keep on staff - Aranda, Doereen and Brown come to mind. Had Bielema stayed at Wisconsin its likely Ash and Partridge would have left for opportunities they couldn’t pass up. An assistant in his 50s or 60s may not have the career ambitions an assistant in his 30s and 40s does.

Sometimes that assistant isn’t quite ready for the job.

It also brings up the inevitable - the younger, cheaper, less accomplished staff won’t always be this cheap. Opportunities will arise, raises will be demanded. Its a weird time to complain NOW about the low salaries, the time to complain, if ever, will be when the once young cheap staff becomes older and not so cheap (basically, what Michigan St is dealing with). That’s where decisions will have to be made and the checks will need to be cut.

For now, be happy that it appears the Badgers have a pretty good staff (pending the DC hire of course) with room to grow the payroll to the higher end of the conference if and when its needed. They dealt with a variety of key injuries, still won 10 games and as of this morning have the 28th ranked recruiting class per 247 Sports.

This isn’t to say Wisconsin has never had poor assistants, they certainly have or perhaps currently do. God knows I’ve complained about a few. Analyzing the staff is fine, there are certainly strong parts and weak parts. Rudolph adjusting and developing the OL. Settle, uh, “recruiting.” Before the season starts we’ll live and die with every recruiting win or loss, then we’ll spend 4 months to analyzing every game. We have a lot more ways to evaluate and opine on the staff instead of the dollar amount assigned to their contracts.

 

Holiday Bowl Preview

Longtime Buckaround contributor Rex Sheild gives his Holiday Bowl thoughts and a prediction - will the Badgers win this thing?

The 2015 Wisconsin football season has been an odd one, to say the least. Yes, the Badgers won nine games, are in their 14th-consecutive bowl game, and are on the verge of a 10-win season - an accomplishment that should never be taken for granted. Mind you, the team spent the better portion of the season without their star running back, the offensive line played one helluva game of musical chairs, and the quarterback play was, well, a bit inconsistent. Wisconsin did not beat a team with a record over .500, which is shorthand for “its schedule was a complete joke” (the notable exception be No. 2 Alabama, a loss). The Badgers’ two toughest conference games – Iowa and Northwestern – which were also at home, were both losses. So just what was the team’s best win, strictly based on how it played? Rutgers? Illinois? Purdue? Minnesota? I’m hard-pressed to find a game where UW turned in a solid performance from start to finish.

However, if Corey Clement plays against Iowa (insert this statement for, practically, every game that Clement did not play) and the Big Ten officials do not botch the Jazz Peavy touchdown against Northwestern, then head coach Paul Chryst is 11-1 in his first regular season at the helm, with his only loss against mighty Alabama in the season opener. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Southern California, at #25 in the final College Football Playoff standings, seems finally past the NCAA sanctions that crippled the program over the last several years. Yet, the head coaching hires and decisions made by athletic director Pat Haden still, in my eyes, holds the program back in its quest to legitimately get back into the national title conversation. Will this bowl game against the Badgers tell one way or another whether newly named head coach Clay Helton can bring the Trojans back to the promised land? Maybe, but it surely won't yield a high amount of confidence if USC loses to UW and closes out a season that began with it ranked in the top 10 by losing three out of four games.  Not to mention, similar to what happened with Auburn last year just prior to the Outback Bowl, USC will be without its regular season defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox (who was among several defensive assistants Helton canned when the regular season ended).

At any rate, the Trojans were a pretty good football team in 2015, so let’s take a look at how senior quarterback Cody Kessler and his teammates match up against the Badgers and who has the edge at some key positions.  

USC QB: Cody Kessler

    USC QB Cody Kessler could have a big day against UW

 

USC QB Cody Kessler could have a big day against UW

The senior gunslinger may not leave USC as one of the most polished NFL-ready quarterbacks in program history, but Kessler still deserves plenty of attention. During this past season, Kessler threw for 3,315 yards, as well as 28 touchdowns and six interceptions. Over 13 games, his 273.5 passing yards per game was good for 31st in the country, which is in stark contrast to his 33.1 pass attempts that ranks 57th.  He also completed 67.6 percent of his passes this season and, as it stands today, will finish 2nd and 17th on the Pac-12 and NCAA career pass completion percentage list, respectively. Impressive, eh? Of course, but there was that game  against Washington – 16/29 for 156 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 9.4 QBR.

While Kessler sprained his thumb against Stanford in the conference championship game, head coach Helton made you feel like the dumbest person alive for thinking, even for a second, that Kessler wouldn’t play against UW.  "You could probably cut his right wrist off and he would still play," Helton said, via the Los Angeles Times.

Wisconsin QB: Joel Stave

I’m not a Joel Stave believer anymore.  Yes, he started out the year in a way that had many, including me, excited after seeing the Wisconsin native, for years, throw ball at wide receivers’ feet. Through the first three games, Stave completed 67% of his passes and threw for 666 yards, to go along with six touchdowns and two interceptions. This stood as a dramatic improvement to his first three games of the 2014 season: 50% pass completion, 342 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He then promptly crapped the bed against Iowa in UW's Big Ten opener - and when I say he crapped the bed, I mean that he recorded a 9.7 QBR, threw two interceptions, and fumbled two more times, including on Iowa’s two-yard line in the fourth quarter.

    Our man Joel Stave

 

Our man Joel Stave

Altogether this season so far, Stave ended up with more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10). To give him some credit, he stood out against Purdue with a 76.9% (30/39) completion rate, his highest of the season, and slightly edging out his performance against Troy (13/17, 76.5). Moreover, while I do not have the greatest confidence in Stave, Chryst certainly does - Stave threw the ball an average of 32.5 times per game (61st nationally). Stave also seems to respond to the coach's play calls as his 229.2 yards/game average is good for 55th in the country. That is, he is probably better than people give him credit for.

The engineering major wins football games and there’s no denying that, but he’s a game manager and nothing more, folks. In this match-up, he easily takes a back seat to Kessler.

Edge: USC

Wisconsin RBs: Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale, Taiwan Deal

What in the heck happened to the Wisconsin running game this season? My goodness. To put the brutal year into perspective, the Badgers’ 148.1 ypg rushing, which ranked 90th (!!) in the country, was the worst average since the 2003 season by a large margin; the next lowest was 164 ypg in 2004-05, which still ranked 46th nationally. Obviously it did not help that Clement was far from a consistent fixture, and that you could never figure out who was going to be playing along the offensive line, but count me as one who was surprised all year.

With Clement presumably back in the backfield against USC, Wisconsin does finally have some solid depth at the position. I’m not quite as big of a Dare fan as Rich is, but he is an excellent change-of-pace back and is quite good in pass protection. The Milwaukee native leads the team in rushing attempts (181), yards (769) and touchdowns (7), is second in receptions (34) and third in receiving yards (278), which is impressive considering he started last season at cornerback. Deal’s physical presence is intimidating by itself, and it certainly showed against the Gophers in the regular season finale. Again, assuming that Clement is the starting running back against the Trojans, I’d imagine seeing a heavy dose of the three-headed backfield, which will be put to the test against the Trojans’ run defense.

USC RBs: Ronald Jones II, Justin Davis

 According to USCFootball.com reporter Keely Eure, senior Tre Madden will not suit up against the Badgers, and will undergo knee surgery. This may not be a massive loss for USC, but Madden was still tied for second on the team with five rushing touchdowns, and also added 17 receptions for 133 yards and one touchdown. Alternatively, junior Davis led the team in carries (157) and also added five touchdowns on the ground. Finally, freshman Jones led the team in rushing yards (940), rushing average (6.5 yards/carry) and touchdowns (8). As a collective unit, the USC tailbacks are not the most spectacular in the country, but there’s no denying their element of speed. As to who may replace Madden, your guess is as good as mine – Dominic Davis only had 14 total carries in 2015, Aca’Cedric Ware only had 12 total carries, and Adoree’ Jackson only had six total carries. However, I would expect Jackson, a hybrid athlete who also plays on defense and special teams, to be a bigger part of the offensive game plan for the Trojans. 

Edge: USC

Wisconsin WRs/TEs:

Alex Erickson, Rob Wheelwright, Jazz Peavy, Tanner McEvoy

Troy Fumagalli, Austin Traylor

Erickson has turned into a pretty good, maybe great, wide receiver for the Wisconsin Badgers. The former walk-on registered 72 receptions for 924 yards with three touchdowns this season. To put Erickson's value to this offense into perspective, the next best WR in terms of yards is Wheelwright with 369. Speaking of Wheelwright, it’ll be nice to have him back, as he leads the team in receiving touchdowns with four. This game could also serve as a nice springboard for Mr. Peavy, as his role and needed contributions will only continue to escalate next season. I’ve been waiting for McEvoy to actually assert himself offensively, or to at least see the play callers to utilize the former quarterback more effectively. Will Wednesday, his last day on the field as a Badger, finally be the day? I sure hope so, because the senior has way too much athleticism to only register 10 receptions for 109 yards over 13 games.

It is disappointing that Traylor (three touchdowns) broke his arm earlier in the year because this unit could have been substantially better than what the numbers show. Still, Fumagalli filled in nicely as the starting tight end, which should be valuable experience going forward for the sophomore. Nonetheless, I’m still waiting for a tight end screen to be utilized, preferably in the middle of the field on third down. Oddly specific, I know.

USC WRs/TEs:

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Adoree’ Jackson, Steven Mitchell Jr., Darreus Rogers

Tyler Petite, Taylor McNamara

    USC stud wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster

 

USC stud wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster

It’s pretty much the JuJu Show for the USC receiving corps because the young man can ball, as the kids like to say. The sophomore wideout registered a whopping 85 receptions for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns. Mitchell is second on the team with 35 receptions, and Jackson is second on the team with 382 yards. Point being, there’s a wide gap between Smith-Schuster and the rest of his teammates. However, the Long Beach, CA, native has not registered a touchdown since November 13 against Colorado (3 receptions/66 yards/1 TD) and has not put up over 100 yards since November 7 against Arizona (8/138/1). Through his first nine games, Smith-Schuster averaged right around 122 yards/game. Through his last four? Right around 74 yards/game. Thus, Smith-Schuster will either continue his downward trend or revert back to the way he was playing to start the season.

As for the tight end position, well, there’s not much to see, here. Petite leads the unit in receptions (13) and receiving yards (119). However, and oddly enough, McNamara leads the unit in touchdowns with four, but only has 10 receptions for 62 yards. Ah, red zone targets will always do the trick: he had one catch for two yards and a touchdown against Arkansas State, one catch for four yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame, one catch for two yards and a touchdown against Colorado, and two catches (!) for 14 yards (!!) and a touchdown against UCLA.

Edge: USC

Wisconsin Defense:

Let us never forget the 2015 Wisconsin Badgers defense. Let us never forget defensive coordinator Dave Aranda! The End. In all seriousness though, this unit was a lot of fun to watch on each and every snap. Across the board, you could make a strong argument that this unit is the best one in the country – 1st in points/game (13.1), 1st in yards/game (267.1), 3rd in rushing yards/game (98.2), and 5th in passing yards/game (168.9). One of the lone knocks is that they do not get after the passer very often, as they only sack the quarterback 2.2 times/game, good for 57th. However, USC allows 2.7 sacks/game, which stands as 100th in the country (i.e., not good), so something has to give at Qualcomm Stadium.

I also really like the emergence of outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who's been a force off the edge throughout the last few weeks. With Joe Schobert, the conference linebacker of the year and All-American honoree, and Vince Biegel, an all-around animal, I would think that the front seven could provide some disruption and force Kessler to make some ill-advised throws. Schobert and Biegel have combined for 17.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss. Although UW hasn't not played a quarterback of Kessler's caliber the entire season, if the Badgers can force the Trojans into obvious passing downs and call up some creative blitzes, Wisconsin may have some success. USC’s third down conversion percentage (39.43%) is 65th in the country - there is hope.

    Cornerback Sojourn Shelton will be on the spot

 

Cornerback Sojourn Shelton will be on the spot

Cornerback Sojourn Shelton has played much better than he did a season ago (six pass breakups, one interception in 2015), but he is going to have a difficult time against Smith-Schuster. I would expect Aranda to throw several different looks at the star wide receiver, most likely bump-and-run coverage and consistently shading a safety over to help - straight single coverage will be rare because Smith-Schuster's just too good. I also wonder how much time Darius Hillary (six pass breakups) or Derrick Tindal (five pass breakups) will spend on containing the star WR. Still, Tanner McEvoy’s play-making ability at safety (six interceptions & six pass breakups) and Michael Caputo’s toughness and solid tackling should be strong enough to keep Kessler from looking like Carson Palmer 2.0.

USC Defense

The Trojans’ defense has featured many highs and lows over the course of the 2015 season. As to the latter, the unit allowed 25.9 points/game (51st), 400.9 yards/game (67th), and 253.8 passing yards/game (94th). As to the former, the unit sacked the quarterback roughly three times/game (13th) and held running backs to 147 rush yards/game (36th), as well as 4.0 yards/rush attempt (40th).

To no one's surprise, USC has plenty of athletes on the defensive side of the ball and enough to potentially make for a long afternoon for offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph. Among the front seven, senior defensive tackle Delvon Simmons and junior linebacker Su’a Cravens, who recently announced his intentions to enter into the NFL Draft, were both 1st-team All-Pac 12 selections. Simmons was second on the team in sacks (4) and tackles for loss (8.5), while Cravens tied for first in tackles (78), and first in tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (5.5). Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson was another 1st-team All-Pac 12 selection, who registered six pass breakups and one interception.

While USC’s defensive unit is not lights-out by any means, it very well could be for years to come, thanks to the play of two freshmen this season. Linebacker Cameron Smith is tied for first in interceptions (3), while also accounting for the highest percentage of team tackles (8.4%), according to SB Nation. Freshman Iman Marshall leads the team in pass breakups (7) and is tied for first in interceptions (3).

All in all, USC’s defense is not better than Dave Aranda’s bunch (not many are), but it should be able to impose its will against a pretty mediocre Wisconsin offense for long stretches.

Edge: Wisconsin

Prediction:

In terms of national recognition, a bowl victory for Wisconsin against one of the few traditionally elite programs would be a huge step in the right direction. Not to mention, it would give the fan base some confidence that Paul Chryst can win big games. However, that huge step is going to have to wait.

I believe that the offensive line will not be able to handle USC's speed upfront and, honestly, who knows how healthy Corey Clement actually is. Plus, Stave could very well have another clunker of a game, and that simply will not cut it against the Trojans. USC wins the Holiday Bowl for the second-straight year, 24-16.

P.S. Next year is going to be brutal; the schedule features LSU (at Lambeau Field), Ohio State, at Michigan State, at Michigan, and at Iowa, so start looking ahead to 2017?

BuckAround's All-Big Ten Teams (actually, just Max's)

BuckAround’s All-Big Ten Teams

Rich explicitly disavows any input to this or other accolades for individual players or coaches.

First Team Offense

QB: C.J. Beathard, Iowa – who else, right? But Iowa’s undefeated with a chance for the CFP. Beathard has been the straw that’s stirred the drink all season long.

RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State; Jordan Howard, Indiana

WR: Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State; Leonte Carroo, Rutgers – don’t care if Carroo was hurt or suspended or didn’t play, he deserves to be here.

TE: Jake Butt, Michigan

Tackles: Jason Spriggs, Indiana; Taylor Decker, Ohio State – Spriggs is possibly the league best pro prospect at tackle, watch him at the Senior Bowl. Assuming Decker's been invited.

Guards: Jordan Welsh, Iowa; Pat Elflein, Ohio State – two of the league’s top run games went through them.

Center: Austin Blythe, Iowa

First Team Defense

Tackles: Anthony Zettel, Penn State; Ryan Glasgow, Michigan – When Glasgow was lost for the season prior to Indiana, the Wolverines’ run defense just wasn’t the same; Zettel tackled a lot more than trees this season.

Ends: Joey Bosa, Ohio State; Carl Nassib, Penn State – most would have Bosa as the better pro prospect (“he’s a young J.J. Watt!!"); Nassib will win more post-season AWARDS.

Linebackers: Joe Schobert, Wisconsin; Anthony Walker, Northwestern; Josey Jewell, Iowa – no Buckeyes? Ya, I know.

Cornerbacks: Desmond King, Iowa; Jourdan Lewis, Michigan – both are Thorpe Award finalists. Two of the league’s top return men, too.

Safeties: Vonn Bell, Ohio State; Michael Caputo, Wisconsin – Caputo, along with teammate Schobert (see above), led the Badgers’ stellar defense, which in turn, led the nation in scoring during the regular season. Bell is one of the best safeties in the nation.

First Team Special Teams

Kicker: Brad Craddock, Maryland – still the best kicker in the Big Ten.

Punter: Peter Mortell, Minnesota – third in the league in punting average by a hair, but had at least 15 more punts than the top two.

Returner: Will Likely, Maryland – future Devin Hester is one of the best return men the league’s had in quite a while. By far the best player on his team.

Long Snapper: Um, no.

Holder: Very no.

Second Team Offense

QB: (Tie) Nate Sudfeld, Indiana; Connor Cook, Michigan State – the voters could not come to a consensus.

RB: Justin Jackson, Northwestern; Jordan Canzeri, Iowa

WR: Alex Erickson, Wisconsin; Michael Thomas, Ohio State – Erickson was basically the only receiver on a 9-3 team with an uncharacteristically crappy running game. Thomas could have been a Biletnikoff finalist in a different offense – aside from Carroo, he’s the most physically gifted receiver in the league.

TE: Josiah Price, Michigan State – he was hurt, true, but the voters couldn’t combine Iowa’s George Kittle and Henry Krieger Coble into one guy.

Tackles: Jack Conklin, Michigan State; Alex Lewis, Nebraska – Conklin’s season was affected by injury, but he’s still one of the best in the league. Nebraska had a disappointing season, but they were tied with Indiana for first in the league in sacks allowed with 13. Honorable Mention: Tyler Marz (thoughts?)

Guards: Dan Feeney, Indiana; Ted Karras, Illinois

Center: Jack Allen, Michigan State

Second Team Defense

Tackles: Adolphus Washington, Ohio State; Maliek Collins, Nebraska – future pros both.

Ends: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State; Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland – Ngakoue finished second in the league (and nationally) to Carl Nassib with 9.5 sacks. Calhoun will be a solid pro. Honorable Mention: Malik McDowell, Michigan State – he’ll be on this list next year.

Linebackers: Joshua Perry/Darron Lee/Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State; Mason Monheim, Illinois; Vince Biegel, Wisconsin – Ohio State does have some great linebackers. Honorable Mention: Riley Bullough, Michigan State; Steve Longa, Rutgers.

Cornerbacks: Darius Hillary, Wisconsin; Nick VanHoose, Northwestern – wily veterans both.

Safeties: Tyvis Powell, Ohio State; Clayton Fejedelem, Illinois – Who led the league in tackles? Fejedelem, with a whopping 140; second was Longa at 117. Honorable Mention: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan – future star.

Second Team Special Teams

Kicker: Griffin Oakes, Indiana – led the league in FG percentage with 22 makes on 25 attempts.

Punter: Cameron Johnston, Ohio State

Returner: Janarion Grant, Rutgers – game changer; don’t know why he didn’t return more punts.

Long Snapper: Still, no (apologies).

New Look Badgers? Maybe

By Andy Schaaf

Coming into 2015 it was easy to look at the schedule and focus on a few key dates: Alabama in Week 1, Iowa and Nebraska to start the Big Ten season. Like most people, I focused on these few dates as barometers as to what to expect for 2015. These three games were to tell us everything we needed to know about this year’s team.

 Corey Clement's return gives Wisconsin a true game-breaker.

 Corey Clement's return gives Wisconsin a true game-breaker.

The Alabama loss showed pretty early that the Badgers weren’t going to be national players this year, but most suspected that going in. The Iowa and Nebraska games both showed this team would struggle to be much more than a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team. The Badgers went 1-1 in those games, but the results mattered less than the visual on the field.

The Badgers simply couldn’t run the ball and were depending on a quarterback and wide receiver corps that were never supposed to carry the team. The defense was and continues to be fantastic, but they still have been susceptible at times to big plays, and don’t have the dynamic playmakers that you'd associate with a great college defense; everyone is simply solid. The offensive line has varied from trainwreck to just bad - it has been a pretty big departure from what we've been used to from the Badgers.

The rest of the non-conference didn’t help perception either: 28 points vs. Troy, 28 points vs. Hawaii - the product wasn’t necessarily bad, but nothing that elicited any strong positive emotions.

After sleepwalking through a 24-7 win against Purdue, fan apathy started to set in. I know I sent numerous emails and texts to friends complaining about how boring the team and schedule were. You got the feeling there would be a lot of low scoring games where you hope Stave doesn’t throw a big pick - that's no way to live life. Even though the weather was miserable against Rutgers, it was probably the worst attended game at Camp Randall since the weird November 2008 game against Cal Poly (yes, seven years later I am still bitter for having attended that game).

A couple things changed since Purdue, however. Corey Clement came back, and, stay with me here - Bart Houston lit it up against Illinois.

The Badgers started becoming interesting and worth watching.

The first of those things is obvious. Even I was a bit surprised just how BIG the difference between Clement and the other RBs is - quickly hitting the hole, dodging the first guy, running away from the second guy, gliding into the end zone like he did. Clement was clearly hobbled but it was just so refreshing to see him go to work, even against a terrible Rutgers defense.

The second one less obvious, and I want to make it clear here before Jeff Potrykus reads this and fires off a 2,000 word rebuttal on JS Online - I think Stave should start the rest of the year, but that Houston performance was notable if nothing else.

B1Ss80nCEAA2NwA.jpg

If anything, I do think what Houston did was to get some more fan interest for this season - I got more “are you seeing what Houston is doing!!” texts during the Illinois game than Badger related text messages during the entire non-Alabama non-conference combined. It dragged out the apathetic Badger fans who trailed off after the Iowa game back talking about the team.

Yes, I know a lot of these hot takes from people bordered on (or were well into) the absurd, but I’m embracing it. People were talking about the Badgers the week before the Rutgers game. Rutgers! Maybe people were watching Saturday to cheer Stave’s failures, but they were watching.

This is getting into weird columnist narrative, but I also think Houston showing something in the 2nd half against Illinois lit a bit of a fire under Stave and the rest of the team - it had to have. Houston seemed to take more chances than Stave, and yes, even though a couple of those chances were picked off in the end zone, some of them resulted in a slick Wheelwright touchdown and a couple smooth Erickson grabs. It was fun to watch.

On Saturday, Stave was for the first time taking more chances downfield than before. The ball he put on Peavy’s hands in the end zone was perhaps his best throw this year. A couple nice deep throws to Erickson and Frederick opened things up a bit on offense as well. 

Of course, he had the most Stave-est interception of all Stave interceptions on the pick-6. It wouldn’t be a Stave game without something like that happening.

The other interception on the pass to Erickson was a bit easier to deal with; he gave Erickson a chance, but it just didn't work out. The most frustrating thing about most of Stave’s interceptions are they are often just dumb passes right to the defender, you can live it if he's taking good chances on deeper balls every once in awhile. Even with the two interceptions though, Stave played as well as he has all year, more than the 13-25 passing, 1 TD, 2 INT line would indicate.

Thanks to magnificent scheduling, the Badgers get to play Maryland and then have a week off. Perhaps my perceived interest in the Badgers fades away. Perhaps Stave goes back to being Stave and Clement isn’t quite as ready to come back as he thinks he is. Perhaps this is just the classic overreaction to a game against a terrible opponent. All of that and more may be true, but at least for one Saturday, I felt a little different about this team.


Joel Stave Might Suck, but so do all College Quarterbacks

by Andy Schaaf

Everyone has an opinion on Joel Stave. It’s a prerequisite to being a Badger fan. It can run from the rational - see DC Dan’s statistical breakdown of the season so far, to the crazy - see JS Comments (self-promo!) or the guy screaming two rows behind you at Camp Randall who just won’t shut up oh God please shut up.

It’s not unique to Wisconsin. Almost every college football fan has, or has had issues with their quarterbacks because as a general rule all college quarterbacks suck. NFL fans who can’t stand to see people enjoying football on Saturdays routinely gripe about it, and they mostly have a point. Unlike the QB driven NFL, college football is very dependent on people running the ball, not passing.

It’s especially an issue in the Big Ten where QBs suck at a whole other level. NFL teams are so desperate for a QB they do things like take Blake Bortles with the 1st pick and draft 13 different QBs most years, yet since 2010 there have been a grand total of 4 Big Ten QBs even drafted - Kafka, Stanzi, Cousins and Wilson. That’s your Mt. Rushmore right there.

The Big Ten is so bad with QBs that Iowa willingly let/begged Jake Ruddock transfer to another Big Ten team just so they could play somebody else, and now Ruddock and Michigan are among the favorites in the conference. It makes no sense. There have been 132 QBs drafted in the past decade and Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Penn State haven’t had one of them.

If you’re reading this you know Wisconsin fans for the most part have never REALLY been satisfied with the QB play the way they have been for other positions. Samuel, Bollinger vs Sorgi (and Sorgi vs Bollinger), Stocco, the varying success of the post-Stocco to pre-Senior Year Scott Tolzien years. You’re hard pressed to find a QB that had a smooth career at Wisconsin outside of Russell Wilson, who we are now learning is some sort of weird cyborg sent from the future to antagonize Twitter and win football games.

That’s not to say it wasn’t all deserved, it just showcases what a high profile position it is. This year’s defensive line isn’t particularly strong, and the reaction is mostly “well I hope they improve and Aranda schemes around it.” The QB struggles and you have multiple 10 page message board threads about it.

Joel Stave is no exception to this, but also unique because he has been with the program for what feels like forever. He’s been a QB for 3 different coaching staffs. He’s gone from walk-on to mainstay, scapegoat to savior. It’s been a totally unique ride.

The perception and narrative of Stave has changed every year :

  • 2012: Would have won the Rose Bowl had Alvarez played him.
  • 2013: Can’t beat good teams with him.
  • 2014: Would have made the Playoffs if Andersen hadn’t named McEvoy starter. Or something, I’m always slightly confused on this one.
  • 2015 Post- Alabama: The QB Whisperer Chryst will have him on NFL draft boards by the end of the year.
  • 2015 Post-Iowa: The Badgers may never score a TD again.

That’s not even mentioning the off-field issues and stories associated with him. Stave has packed so many different storylines and invited so many different opinions in a 4 year period it is no wonder you can check Twitter on any Saturday and see tweets from non-Badger fans asking how he is STILL in school; it feels like forever.

His career has been fascinating to follow and I don’t think there’s been anything like it.

Stave has always been the best QB option for the Badgers in his four years here. He’s beaten out 6 different scholarship QBs at one point or another: Danny O’Brien, Curt Phillips, Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy, DJ Gillins and Alex Hornibrook. You’ll always have people calling for that backup but by most rational analysis, Stave has always been the best option.

Despite Stave being the Badgers quarterback seemingly forever, he doesn’t have that “moment” where he was the linchpin in a Badger victory. You can argue almost every win from 2012 to today came pretty easy for the Badgers and it is hard to look at a game and think “Stave was great that day.” At best he’s always been pretty good and let Ball, White, Clement and/or Gordon do their thing, and the Badgers won pretty easily.

In his 4 years here I have one “wow” moment -- the first half of the game at Ohio State in 2013 where Stave was throwing bombs to Abbrederis, a game that ended in a loss.

Stave has been the Badgers starting QB in 24 wins. Of those wins only 2 were of less than 10 points, and we can mostly credit Melvin Gordon (Iowa, Auburn) and the running game for those. It is amazing a QB with as many games as Stave has lacks a signature moment.

We remember the games where he didn’t do enough to get over the hump - losing by 3 points at Nebraska in 2012, falling just short against Arizona St (I know, I know…), Ohio State and South Carolina in 2013, 2014 vs Northwestern, last week vs Iowa.

Fair or not, when the Badgers have been a play or two away from getting a good win, Stave hasn’t provided that play.

That’s the challenge for Stave in the upcoming weeks. If we’re being kind, we’ll simply call the talent around him underdeveloped. There aren’t likely to be many more 38-10 wins where Stave has to show up, hand the ball off and run a few play action passes. There will be more 17-13 games where a key pass, or non-turnover, wins it. At this point Stave likely is what he is as a QB, but there is a chance for him to change his perception. The Iowa game was a high profile failure in this department, but he has 2 more months to add yet another storyline to his long, long Badger career.


Can Joel Stave's Arm Save Wisconsin's Offense?

by DC Dan

Prior to the Iowa game, I had hoped to publish an article this week seeking an answer to the question of whether or not Joel Stave was actually showing signs of improvement in his senior season. After the Iowa game, however, I sincerely doubt any Badger fans are still of the opinion that spending last offseason with “quarterback guru” Paul Chryst has suddenly transformed Joel Stave into the second coming of Russell Wilson.

You turn the ball over four times, you've had a bad day. But a deeper look at this past Saturday shows just how ugly it was and points towards some troubling signs for the Badgers’ primary pass-thrower.

Stave’s line, on the surface, doesn’t look too abysmal (21/38 for 234 yards, no TDs, but 2 interceptions). That’s good for a 55% completion percentage and 6.2 yards-per-attempt (Y/A) – not great, but better than most non-Melvin Gordon-fueled rushing attacks, and probably good enough to win in a low-scoring game. It’s actually even better than Stave did against Alabama in week one, where he tallied only 5.8 Y/A.

Unfortunately, those numbers do not account for scoring plays, turnovers, or sacks, which are all crucial components of quarterbacking. Adjusted-net-yards-per-attempt (where the “adjusted” provides a +20 yard bonus to touchdown passes and a -45 yard penalty for interceptions, and “net” accounts for yards lost due to sacks) gives a much better overall picture of the average number of yards gained per pass play. Stave’s ANY/A (adjusted-net-yards-per-attempt for the uninitiated) on Saturday:  a meager 3.3 yards per pass.

That’s bad, but it gets worse, because it doesn’t account for Stave’s costly fumbles, one of which took place on a designed pass play. Stave technically ran the ball twice: a three-yard scramble and a four-yard loss after being stepped on by his own offensive lineman (which led to one of the fumbles) while attempting a handoff. Accounting for the scramble and the fumble lost on one of his two sacks, Stave ends up with 234 passing yards, 3 rushing yards, two picks, two sacks, and one fumble on 41 passing plays. Fumbles are actually given an even bigger penalty than interceptions in adjusted yardage (-50 yards instead of -45) because they typically happen closer to the line of scrimmage, resulting in better field position for the opposing team. Against Iowa, each time Coach Chryst dialed up a pass, Stave and the Badgers offense effectively moved the ball, on average, merely 2.0 (adjusted) yards. 

Going forward, it’s extremely doubtful Stave will have this poor of a game again. Thankfully for the Badgers’ offense, a four-turnover game doesn’t occur very often (and a fair number of football analytics studies have shown that turnovers are largely a factor of luck, anyway). As bad as they are, the bigger sign of trouble for Stave isn’t actually in his yards-per-attempt numbers (he has a serviceable 6.2 ANY/A on the season) but instead is found in his success rate.

Success rate is like a completion percentage of sorts, where any scoring play or play that increases the chances of sustaining a drive counts as a success, while all other plays count as failures. For the season, Stave has compiled only a 48% success rate, despite a respectable 63% completion percentage. In other words, roughly half the time Stave drops back to pass, he fails to increase Wisconsin’s likelihood of sustaining its current drive. (Stave has, oddly enough, been fairly consistent in this respect, posting success rates between 43%-50% in each of his games this season.)

A low success rate doesn’t necessarily lead to a low-scoring offense. If the offense can pick up yardage in bunches with a boom-or-bust philosophy, it can still be effective by creating big plays (not unlike Melvin Gordon’s 2014 campaign, where he led the universe in runs of 10+ yards).

Stave, though, is only averaging 11.5 yards per completed pass this season, a number typically associated with a “West Coast” style of quarterback that completes a high percentage of short- and medium-routes. This means that Stave’s successes aren’t all that big, or at least not big enough to make the threat of him passing the ball a very dangerous one.

Stave2.jpg

In order for Stave and the Wisconsin offense to improve their performance, Chryst will need to find a way to either increase Stave’s efficiency at throwing high-percentage short and medium passes in order to sustain drives, or otherwise attempt to stretch the field by going for the home run ball more often. Based on what we’ve seen of Stave and his receiving corps thus far, I’d say the former is more suited to existing talent on the roster than the latter, but neither will be easy to accomplish.

Most of us expected to see a dropoff in Wisconsin’s offensive numbers following the departure of Melvin Gordon, but many hoped that the new head coach would be able to rejuvenate Stave’s potential and breathe some life into the lackluster passing game of recent years. To say that Chryst’s offense still has a lot to prove going into the heart of conference play would be a gross understatement.

It's Here - the BuckAround 2015 Season Preview

BuckAround contributor Neal Olson (@olewr7) wraps up his preview series - how will it go for the Badgers this year?  Find out below . . .

The Paul Chryst regime will begin with a bang this Saturday in Dallas against Alabama. Depending on your proclivity for optimism, this is either the best or worst way to start a new coaching era. While most top 25 teams will be cashing big checks with home games against directional universities, the Badgers get a first-rate opportunity to test their mettle against one of the big boys of college football.

Without putting too much emphasis on a single game, the outcome in the opener is likely to skew Wisconsin football fans on the potential of the program under Chryst. A victory will skyrocket Chryst’s status in the state, with legitimate and well-earned playoff talk likely to follow. A loss probably won't  tell us much (it is favored Alabama after all), depending on the lopsidedness of the scoreboard; a loss will also do nothing to dissuade some from questioning whether Wisconsin can complete at the highest level of college football.

Chryst’s predecessors at Wisconsin had very different legacies when it came to individual games. Barry Alvarez was a master at preparing and winning (usually) games against higher-ranked teams, specifically bowl games played in Pasadena.  However, Barry’s teams had a penchant for losing games they were expected to comfortably win, most notably in 1993 at Minnesota, and in 1999 at Cincinnati; Rose Bowl champions both, that dropped road games against unranked opponents.

Bret Bielema, on the other hand, made hay destroying the bottom-feeding teams on the schedule. For three consecutive seasons from 2010-2012, the Badgers averaged 68 points with a 54 point margin of victory over Indiana for example. However, where Alvarez was at his best in the spotlight of big games, Bielema consistently fell short - he had a 2-7 bowl record at Wisconsin (and yes, he should take the lump for the third Rose Bowl loss, Barry’s still 3-0!) and beat Ohio State just once (even though the Buckeyes were #1 in 2010). And while the two Big Ten championship games were fun, a calming internet meme will never be Bielema’s forte. 

As far as Chryst is concerned in 2015, we are much more likely to see how he handles games against the bottom feeders. Aside from Alabama, the Badgers should be favored in nearly every other game this season. Dave Bartoo who, runs CFBMatrix (and recently broke down Chryst and the Badgers on the BuckAround podcast), identified the Badgers' schedule as the easiest of the Power 5 conferences after week 1.

In conference play, the Badgers face two road games on the road, at Nebraska and at Minnesota, which will be their biggest challenges (sorry Max, I just can’t include Iowa! [ed. note - it's ok, I understand]). Fortunately, Wisconsin has owned the Ax since the Clinton Administration and have had Nebraska’s number since the Huskers joined the Big Ten (2012 in Lincoln and Danny O'Brien notwithstanding). Winning is never guaranteed of course, but losing any of the games outside the Marquee Three ('Bama, Nebraska, Minnesota) will certainly ignite the Badger faithful - check the @JSComments Twitter feed with trepidation at that point.

The three home non-conference games against Miami (OH) (not the program that was subject of TWO 30 for 30s), Troy, and Hawaii are all leading candidates for oldsters to complain about the late-arriving student section. Wisconsin shouldn't have any problems winning all three games.

A good portion of the Big Ten West is in disarray. When a majority of the storylines are related to setting up a players union or firing your coach one week prior to the first game of the season, there just isn't a whole lot of fear garnered by games against those opponents. The two crossover games with the East division are Rutgers and Maryland, both expected to finish at the bottom of their division. Without completely jinxing the season, there's a good chance present day Bret Bielema could quarterback this Badger team to a winning record and a bowl game. In short, past the opener, the schedule is ideal for a new head coach hoping to win over fans.

The schedule has been a focal point thus far, and rightfully so, but that shouldn't detract from a talented roster. Barry Alvarez was a believer in Lou Holtz's five outstanding player theory. The theory holds that a team needs no less than five superstars, surrounded by solid role players, to be championship caliber. With Corey Clement, Michael Caputo, Vince Biegel, and Joe Schobert, the Badgers are close to knocking on the door of that magic formula.

Not only do the Badgers have playmakers on both sides of the ball, they are a relatively young team. On the initial depth chart released Monday, nine of the starting 22 players are seniors, and only 12 seniors appear in the two-deep in total. Whatever this season brings, the Badgers should be well-stocked for next season and beyond.

Paul Chryst’s tenure at Wisconsin will be an interesting barometer for Wisconsin football. The past two coaches left in surprising fashion to oversee programs that should be considered lateral moves at best. Wisconsin football has long been a model of consistency. A “B+” program with an occasional “A” season sprinkled in every four to five years.  Can Chryst be coach that vaults them into a bona fide playoff and national title contender?

Whether this season ends up as one for the record books, or merely paves the way for future success, the #QuestForFun starts Saturday in Dallas. So ready your hashtags, enjoy the screen game renaissance, and relax. Football on Saturdays is finally back.

Final Prediction: 10-2, Big Ten Title Game, New Year’s Day Bowl (probably against Bielema and Arkansas - #karma).

2015 Preview - Defense

BuckAround contributor Neal Olson (@olewr7) previews the Badgers defense - should be pretty salty, as in recent times.  Should stay that way as long as Dave Aranda is running it.

Four schools have finished in the top 20 the past three seasons in points allowed per game. Alabama and Michigan State are almost a given; both programs have built a national reputation as defensive powers. Wisconsin's presence on that list may surprise some, but the defense has kept some pretty impressive company since 2012.

Lost in the shuffle of the Gary Andersen era of botched post-game song choices and QB mismanagement, coordinator Dave Aranda has created an emerging defensive juggernaut. Since 2013, Wisconsin has allowed 18.6 points per game. Keep in mind that includes the 59 points scored by the Buckeyes in the Game that Shall Not be Named.

Aranda and Wisconsin’s best performance may have been in the Outback Bowl against Auburn. Fresh off the nightmarish Big Ten Title game, and facing an Auburn offense that had hung 44 points against the vaunted Alabama defense the last time it played, the Badgers held Auburn held to just 31 points, including overtime.  The defensive stand in said overtime was an ultimate final touch.

As much as the re-vamped, aggressive defense can be attributed to Aranda, it takes the players on the field to execute. In that respect, Aranda found two staples to lead the attack in linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel. Both players wreak havoc in the offensive backfield. Biegel lead the team with 16.5 tackles for loss last season while Schobert was third with 13.5.

Schobert is yet another chapter in the long line of walk-on success stories at Wisconsin and Aranda should be credited with recognizing Schobert’s versatility against spread offenses.  Schobert earned a start against Arizona State’s spread as a sophomore and has never relinquished his role on the field. His ability to play both the run and pass with equal comfort has given the Badger’s defense a dimension it has lacked in the past.

Contrasting with Schobert's versatile, even-keeled approach, Biegel’s wild, aggressive on-field play even carries over to his choice in haircuts. The similarities to crazy-man legend Brian Bosworth are uncanny - going forward, let’s all agree to refer to Biegel as simply “The Biegs”. His speed and power as an edge rusher puts a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and offensive backfields. Forming maybe one of top LB duos maybe the country, the Biegs' and Schobert's differing styles complement each other nicely.

   The resemblance is uncanny . . .

 

The resemblance is uncanny . . .

While Schobert and The Biegs are entrenched on the outside, both inside linebacker spots are somewhat up for grabs. The presumed starters Leon Jacobs and TJ Edwards both missed time in fall camp but are expected to be ready for the season opener. Jacobs has played special teams and filled in for Marcus Trotter effectively against Illinois last season (12 tackles); Edwards, an RS frosh and converted quarterback has no game experience. Fifth-year grad transfer Kellen Jones and RS sophomore Keelon Brookins, as well as true freshman Nick Thomas, Chris Orr and Ryan Connelly, have all rotated time with the first unit and flashed playmaking ability.  Walk-on Connelly was recently given a scholarship and some have Orr penciled as the fourth ILB. 

Aranda will likely use a multitude of linebackers to keep legs fresh and defenses guessing. Missed practice by already inexperienced players is not ideal, but it has allowed several younger players to gain valuable first team reps. The stable of linebackers is talented and will continue to lead the charge in Aranda’s defense.

Speaking of deep and talented position groups, the secondary is returning plenty of experience led by safety Michael Caputo. Caputo is a legitimate first team All American candidate and one of the reasons Athlon Sports named the Wisconsin secondary as a top ten defensive backfield in the country. Similar to Schobert, Caputo’s strength is in versatility. His comfort in a hybrid linebacker/safety role allows Aranda to unpredictably mix coverages and blitzes, probably the most critical key to success in Aranda's system.

Another major reason for the high expectations in the Badgers secondary is Darius Hillary. Hillary was sort of lost in the shuffle after Sojourn Shelton’s impressive freshman campaign of 2013. But with Shelton struggling through most of last season, Hillary turned into a true lock-down corner. To be fair, the Big Ten has lacked dynamic passing offenses the past few years, but Hillary's consistency and ability have been such that teams have rarely challenged him.

So rare in fact, that Hillary’s improvement probably contributed to a lot more targets of Shelton's mark. The increased volume definitely increased the pressure to perform for Shelton. He brings that South Florida football swagger to Wisconsin, and relies heavily on instincts and confidence. It was clear he lost that for much of last year. However, starting in spring practice and continuing into fall camp, he seems to have regained that edge.

As noted in the offensive preview, Tanner McEvoy’s presence at wide receiver is a pretty clear indication that the staff trusts Leo Musso, Lubern Figaro, or even the rejuvenated and hard-hitting D’Cota Dixon at the other safety spot. Knowing they have a back-up plan with McEvoy should the game call for it, it’s likely those three will see a vast majority of playing time in the remaining secondary spot.

While linebacker and secondary groups are solid and filled with talented players, the defensive line will need some players to step up in order for the playmakers behind them to shine. Despite the unheralded nature of the position, guys like Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski where stalwarts of the defense last year. Their ability, when they were on the field, to absorb space and blockers was a big reason guys like The Biegs, Schobert, and Caputo were able to make all those tackles for loss or after very short gains.

Fortunately, most of the players expected to be battling in the trenches have some game experience. However, going from a handful of plays a game, to consistent output will be the challenge. RS sophomores Chikwe Obasih and Alec James will likely see a bulk of the snaps at the end spots, and sophomore Connor Sheehy will feature prominently on the nose. All three are talented enough to make an impact but need to show they can be dependable down after down.

At end and nose, swing lineman Arthur Goldberg has started games in the past (at both end and nose); the primary depth at nose will be large-sized RS freshmen Jeremy Patterson, who's been limited by a leg injury after the first week of fall camp. Zander Neuville, a former walk on put on scholarship recently with Ryan Connelly, will figure into the d-line rotation, along with veteran Jake Keefer, who's been sidelined with injury and may not be ready when the season starts.

By and large, the success of the defense will hinge on whether the big bodies up front can take up blockers and allow the players behind them to make tackles. The success of the 3-4 is predicated on the linemen commanding double teams. The line group will be challenged right off the bat against Alabama's very good offensive line and running backs and may have some growing pains through the season.  Fortunately, the non-conference shouldn't be too challenging, and no opponent on the B1G schedule brings an offense that will strike too much fear into this unit.

Still, considering the uncertainty along the offensive line and the potential impact that will have on moving and scoring the ball, Aranda and the defense will be counted on to keep games close this season. Luckily, Wisconsin has the playmakers capable of taking over games on defense, especially if they can force more turnovers than in the recent past.

Taking the longer view, Wisconsin's defense has established itself nationally during Aranda's tenure, so much so that he may not be long for UW.  He interviewed for an assistant position with the Green Bay Packers during the off-season and will be a hot name for any college head coach (or another, potentially more lucrative, coordinator) opening the next few seasons.  As long as the Aranda Express stays in Madison though, opponents can expect to face a top tier defense in every game against the Badgers.