Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin....
Like former cheesehead Brett Favre giving it one more shot as an NFL Quarterback (no, wait, his career was ended on this sack by former Northwestern DE Corey Wootton!), OTE is back with another Potluck. This time, we
tackle try to tackle the Wisconsin Badgers (honestly, where does Wisconsin keep finding steamrolling running backs to pound through huge holes opened up by their offensive line?)
Possibly fueled by the series of fireworks, liquor, cheese, and porn shops dotting the highway up I-94 as you pass into Wisconsin from Illinois, this potluck is a little less family friendly than most....along with help from John Veldhuis at the excellent Bucky's 5th Quarter, we discuss how Wisconsin's 2011 Rose Bowl performance was like a certain Northwestern sex education class demonstration,
jump around toss around the idea that a booze and cheese-fueled Camp Randall at night may be the most intimidating stadium in the B1G, discuss Scott Tolzien as the "missionary position," prepare for our eyes to bleed on October 1st, and discuss campus bars.....
1. Appetizer: Since our Potluck questions have started to apparently annoy fans of the team of the week (see: last week's consternation by Spartan fans over our negative opinions on Michigan State), let's keep the streak alive by annoying the Badgers. Complete the analogy: Wisconsin deciding to go to a pass-first offense in the 3rd Quarter of the 2011 Rose Bowl (and on the game's pivotal 2 point conversion) when it was rushing for 6 yards a carry against an undersized TCU defense is like ________________.
Ted Glover: A sex education class at Northwestern without the fucksaw. Wisconsin has done one thing better than almost anyone else in college football for 20 years, and that's run the ball like a fucksaw. Why, in the biggest game of the year, did the fucksaw get put in the desk drawer? Bret Bielema and Paul Chryst were idiots that day. That is all. Fucksaw.
John Veldhuis: It's like if Paul Chryst lost his car keys, then frantically tried to pick the lock and smashed the window before realizing "Gosh darn it,
my three thousand yard rushers and massive offensive line my keys were in my pocket the whole time. Boy is my face red." Seriously, who does that? I sat down to re-watch the Ohio State game last night on my DVR, and there's a moment before Wisconsin's first series where Herbstreit said the Badgers would need to throw on the early downs to set up the running game. 20 runs out of 25 plays later, Wisconsin is up 21-0. Apparently Chryst forgot an important life lesson: Nobody listens to Herbie. Just thinking about it takes me back to a cold Minnesota January, when I felt like a thousand knives of fire were stabbing me in the heart. It was like a crisis in football faith. I didn't know what to believe in anymore. Look at Ricardo- I don't think he's been the same since.
Hilary Lee: Have you ever read any Kafka? Yeah. That's pretty much what it's like. All of it. I'll let you figure out how that metaphor works for yourselves.
2. Salad: The Horseshoe. White Outs at Beaver Stadium. The fans almost literally on top of you at Kinnick (all the better to bathe in their tears of sorrow if you're a Northwestern player after another upset win!). The Big Ten has its share of intimidating venues....but none, in my opinion, compare to the electric and loud atmosphere that Camp Randall put on for the Badgers win over Ohio State in 2010. The cheese and beer-fueled crowd was so frenzied, Ohio State lost the game the minute they stepped onto the field. Will the Big Ten's recent push for later kickoff times and more night games help Wisconsin more than any other team in the conference? How big of a factor is a raucous Camp Randall crowd in the Badgers' push for national prominence (i.e. being able to compete for a BCS championship)?
Ted Glover: I think we're really getting into murky waters with this argument. The great thing about this conference is that even though Wisky has a great atmosphere, what they gain at home can be taken away just as quickly on the road. I'm not trying to knock the advantage Camp Randall has over any other place, but if the B1G really does go to more night games, the chances of Wisconsin having to play in one of the conference's other great venues at night are pretty good, especially if a spot in the title game is at stake. And with the atmosphere at many venues as crazy as Camp Randall, I think it all evens out in the end.
John Veldhuis: I'll say this- I think ultimately it comes down to the quality of the opponent, but I definitely don't think it will hurt the Badgers to have more night games. There's just a lot more energy in the crowd at night than at 11 A.M. when half of the students are still in the process of getting hammered. The atmosphere against Ohio State was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced (from the second row, where my ears almost started to bleed after Gilreath's kickoff return) and if the Badgers want to keep on moving up on the BCS food chain, they'll need to be able to reproduce something like that pre-game intensity. The Badgers have a perfect opportunity this year- there are potentially three home night games this year (UNLV, Nebraska, and maybe a early evening start against Penn State) and I'm willing to bet College Gameday will pay Madison another visit for the Nebraska game. If "Camp Randall" is to ever be synonymous with "The Swamp," "Death Valley," or "The Shoe," the Badgers need to bring out that crazed, drunken intensity again this year.
Jonathan Franz: I wanted to answer this question for two reasons: First, I was in Camp Randall Stadium last October when the top-ranked Buckeyes were blasted by Bucky. And second, I've been to all of the places you've mentioned as a visiting fan for night games, so unlike Steve Gorten of the Orlando Sun Sentinel, my perspective is based on personal experience.
Let's get one thing straight: Camp Randall is hands down the most difficult place to play on the road in the Big Ten if you're an Ohio State fan. I'd like to think that fans of the other eleven schools are probably split between the Horseshoe and the Camp. Since I'll never have the opportunity to visit Ohio Stadium as a visiting fan, I'm squarely in Bucky's corner.
The Camp Randall experience starts from the moment you see the stadium, entrenched at the bottom of Monroe street like an old fort. Fans are packed tight in the passageways and portals. There are no open concourses like at Kinnick. Once you're in, you're in. Sure, Beaver Stadium is a bad place to be if you like personal space, but there you can always see out through the chain link fences and skinny steel supports. By comparison, Camp Randall is one claustrophobic colossus.
After my first visit in 2008, I had this to say about the noise:
...the crowd is up like fire ants, a deep groan envelops the risers, thundering like the wheels of a freight train at speed. The roar distorts, then harmonizes, an echoing pool of physical sound that hits the chest and drowns supporting vocals. I've never heard stadium noise like this.
Unlike Michigan Stadium, which hemorrhages noise, Camp Randall holds sound like a trap. It's not just the sound that gets you, it's the whole Goddamn scene. Fans wave, twist, and turn in a dizzying display, like a carnival gone terribly wrong.
Put simply, it's madness. And that's when it's not raining.
Now, in all fairness I've never been there during the day. But what I've seen on TV looks tame by comparison. So yes, I'd say the later the greater for Madison -- more so than any other school in the conference -- except maybe Ohio State.
But before you think I'm just scarred by last year's experience, remember I've seen the Buckeyes win at Camp Randall too.
Now, having said all that I have seen at least one chink in Bucky's armor. The student second seems to be largely made up of fair weather fans. Last year the risers weren't even 2/3rds full when David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Of course, you say, they were still drinking. But that doesn't explain the silence that crept over the crowd when Dan Herron scored a touchdown to bring the game to within 3-points with eleven minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Or the complete lack of energy on the next two possessions. Instead of rallying the troops, the crowd seemed ready to throw in the towel.
And that's why while the Camp is a huge homefield advantage, it's only as good as the 11 guys on the field. And that's why Wisconsin still feels a lot like South Carolina on the national stage.
Hilary Lee: I'm honestly not sure it will make much of a difference in the long run. Camp Randall is already known as one of the hardest stadiums to play at for visiting teams -- I don't know that having late kickoffs will necessarily make it any worse. The reason the Ohio State game was so much more over the top wasn't just because of the kickoff time. It was because OSU was ranked #1. Because Wisconsin had everything to gain by a victory, even though almost no one believed they could actually do it.
Oh, and, ESPN was there. Really, what it comes down to is the fact that there are some games that will always rile up the home fan bases more than others. Maybe later kickoff times will create more of those, but really it's probably just good play and the possibility of a division/conference win and national attention that'll make it happen. Hopefully Wisky can be in that situation for the next several years.
As far as competing for a BCS berth goes... it might actually be a disadvantage. If the voters start to think that big victories that Wisconsin gets at home are cheapened by the toughness of the Camp Randall atmosphere, then they may get penalized in the polls, even though they shouldn't be. But, life's a bitch sometimes.
3. Potato/Rice: Scott Tolzien might have been the most "Wisconsin" of Wisconsin QBs with his 2010 season: incredibly accurate (72.9% completion rate, 165.9 QB Rating), protected the ball (16 TDs compared to just 6 INTs), no mobility (30 rushing attempts for....negative 30 yards), and rarely touched behind the mammoth Wisconsin O-line (sacked just 13 times all season). Russell Wilson (the now presumptive replacement, although Jon Budmayr may have something to say about that) is....not Scott Tolzien. Wilson's mobile (435 yards rushing last year), but also not as accurate (58.4% completion rate, 127.5 QB rating, and 28 TD/14 INTs in 2010). Does Wilson "fit" the Wisconsin offense? Or will his comparative lack of accuracy actually hinder an offense that already has plenty of running threats?
Ted Glover: I don't see how Wilson takes away from this offense at all. I think his receivers are better at Wisconsin than what he had at NC State, and his mobility just gives the Badgers a dimension that will give B1G defensive coordinators fits. I also think his completion percentage was hurt a bit by the amount of passes NC State receivers dropped last year--I saw three games they played, and it seemed they dropped 5 in every one. Small sample size, though. Wilson has good mechanics and the ability to get away from trouble and make something happen. This is a great get for the Badgers, and as an OSU fan, I'm glad he's only going to be around for one year.
John Veldhuis: I think Chryst will be able to find a way to use Wilson's mobility without compromising the "Run first, pound the rock" identity we Wisconsinites love, cherish, and swear by. I think the TD/INT rate will be better next year, just because the big boys up front will give him the time he needs to find an open man. Seriously, if Wilson adapts to the new offense/terminology, I don't think the Badgers will miss a beat offensively. Look at this Big Ten Network analysis from 2009: Skip ahead to the QB keeper at 2:18 mark, and mentally replace Tolzien with Wilson. If the much more athletic Wilson runs that QB keeper after they've set up the base play, he takes it for six. Plus, Wilson's agility is just another way to set up the play-action, which could result in more plays like the one you see at the 7:15 mark. Still gives me goose bumps.
Ricardo Efendi: The objections raised are valid ones, and I've already expressed my concerns about having a quarterback from outside the system come in and start his first game only two months after signing on. But allow me to assuage some concerns. While he chucked the ball almost as much in 2010 as Tolzien did in his last two seasons combined and spent an inordinate amount of time in the shotgun at NC State, the fundamentals of Tom O'Brien's NC State offense share many similarities with Wisconsin's: pro-style attacks that feature strong running games. While the running game didn't pan out and more and more responsibility was placed on Wilson's shoulders (leading to a lower completion percentage), he remains familiar with the offense's concepts. So the transition should be less bumpy than some might predict. Now at Wisconsin, much less will be demanded of him (unless of course Paul Chryst goes crazy again...). Not only will he have a stronger offensive line than he ever dreamed of at NC State, the presence of the running game will give present more one-on-one match-ups on the outside and simplified coverage schemes because of a focus on shutting down Montee Ball and James Whilte. Finally Wilson is, by all accounts, a high-character, mature, and intelligent young man. He'll learn fairly quickly to play within the system.
Chadnudj: Scott Tolzien is the missionary position; Russell Wilson is some new position your girl wants to try because she saw it in Cosmo. Let me explain....
Here's my worry about Wilson -- Wisconsin frankly doesn't need him to succeed on offense. As Tolzien showed last year, the Wisconsin offense needs its QB to (a) hand the ball off to White/Ball, (b) run the play action frequently, (c) hit the tight end in the flat and over the middle, and, most importantly, (d) avoid mistakes and maintain a high completion rate. Tolzien did all of those things perfectly well, and the Badgers steamrolled almost everyone. In this sense, Tolzien was the missionary position of QBs -- not too flashy or exciting, but he consistently got things done without a mistake (because
he always wore a condom only threw 6 INTS), and everyone ended up happy almost every time (yes, I'm saying Wisconsin didn't orgasm against Michigan State and TCU).
While Wilson brings the added dimension of being able to run the ball in his own right, the Badgers offense doesn't need a running QB -- they need to make sure passes are completed, the play action works, and there are no turnovers. Dropping 10+% in completion rate from Tolzien to Wilson is kind of a big deal....sure, passion propeller/Arc de Triomph/V is for Vixen might be fun and flashy like Wilson, but Wisconsin was
climaxing winning games with the missionary position Tolzien and his accurate passing.
Hilary Lee: Oh Chad. But isn't variety the spice of life? Missionary all the time is so dull. If a girl wanted me to try new things you better believe I'd be all over that shit. Which is probably what Paul Chryst and the rest of the Wisconsin coaching staff is thinking right about now. Look, temporary 3rd quarter insanity aside, Chryst is a damn good OC. I have no doubt that he'll be able to get the most out of Russell Wilson while still maintaining the identity of the offense.
And actually, I'm happy that we might have a more versatile QB this year. Though our o-line has reloaded, let's not forget that we have lost some serious talent in the off-season. Though I declared that
honey Bucky badger just don't care about player losses, it's still something in the back of my mind. I don't really know how this new offensive line is going to be at opening holes. If they're a bit worse than last year's version (which seems likely) then it's possible the run game is going to stall at some points, and a mobile quarterback who can keep the defense honest and prevent too much box stacking might be just what Wisconsin needs to run roughshod over its opponents.
4. Meat/Hot Dish: Wisconsin gets the honor of hosting Nebraska for the Cornhusker's first B1G game on October 1st, in a night game at Camp Randall. Other than the fact that our eyes will bleed from seeing so much red, give me your prediction for arguably the most anticipated game of the entire B1G season.
John Veldhuis: Oh man, it's tough for me to make a call on this one without having seen Wilson play with the team. I'll say this though, if Wilson is under center and Bucky's non-con games go without many hitches, I think the Cornhuskers leave Madison disappointed. Call me a homer if you want, but that's my gut feeling. UW v. Nebraska is one of those games where I could imagine feeling a "No. 1 OSU" type of atmosphere. But really, I probably won't decide for sure about it until the week before the game. There are just too many variables.
Jonathan Franz: This is an easy one. While I like Nebraska a lot, and certainly think Bo Pellini has the program moving in the right direction, this is still a team that struggles to beat Top-25 competition. To get out of Madison alive you have to be able to sustain late-game drives, and I just don't think the Husker offense is there yet. The Blackshirts will keep it close, but in the end Nebraska starts its inaugural B1G season with a loss. Fortunately, they'll have the chance to return the favor in the far friendlier confines of Lucas Oil Stadium.
5. Dessert: You might not have been aware of this, but Wisconsin fans? They like to drink. And Madison certainly is built to accommodate them -- arguably the best college town anywhere (and almost certainly the best in the Big Ten), Madison also has some of the best bars our conference has to offer. The student union even serves beer in popcorn buckets (I'm not even kidding). In that spirit (or spirits), tell us about the bars in your team's home-town -- the good, the shady, the awesome drink specials, and the obscene.
John Veldhuis: Again, I may be a homer, but Madison is the best college town in America. Just ask Scott Van Pelt. That said- my personal recommendation is State Street Brats. It's in the perfect location, has excellent food, and has a great atmosphere if you can't actually go to the game. But if SSB doesn't sound like your type of place, Madison provides. Head down to the Kollege Klub after a game, and you might just run into some football players. Or just walk about a block over to the Memorial Union terrace on Lake Mendota- its absolutely gorgeous at dawn or dusk. Everyone has a favorite watering hole in Madison, so you can't really go wrong. You just have to venture out and find one that is a good fit for you.
Chadnudj: Evanston was once the home of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, so as a result, our bar scene is, shall we say, still lacking compared to some of our B1G brethren. Still, for those looking for a drink in the shadiest of shady college bars (honestly, you'll be allowed in with a note from your "Mom" saying that you're 21, and a dude got shot there a couple years ago), the Keg of Evanston still throws Big Cup Thursdays (32 oz. of Miller Lite for $2.50, I think, although maybe there's been inflation since I went there) -- and given its general social awkwardness, it's pretty much the most "Northwestern" bar I know. And, if you're really shady and still wanna drink after closing time at the Keg, head down to the Mark II Lounge, aka the Deuce, (technically across the border into Chicago) to drink with wasted Northwestern students and shady locals, throw darts, and eat toaster-oven cooked Tombstone pizza until 4 am.
For those with taste/class/a desire to avoid catching a bullet at the Keg, Tommy Nevins is a phenomenal Irish pub where they know how to pour a proper pint of Guinness, and Prarie Moon gets high marks for an excellent craft and microbrew selection (plus a pretty good menu of food). Of course, none of these bars are near Ryan Field on gameday....but did I mention that pre-football games at Northwestern, you can get FREE GOOSE ISLAND BEER at the Northwestern baseball/softball fields just north of Ryan Field? Yes...yes you can.
Jonathan Franz: I have to admit, because Ohio State is an urban campus, its bar scene lacks the colloquial character of other college towns. Still, High Street/Downtown is home to a number of fine watering holes, as long as you don't mind the walk. Every good fall Friday night should start at The Thurman Cafe in German Village. Order a Thurman Burger -- of Man vs. Food fame -- and wash it town with a Magic Hat No. 9. Then head over to Plank's Bier Garten for a Sam Adams Octoberfest. For a night cap, Bar 23 makes a mean Manhattan. Enjoy it on the patio with a big ring Padron.
On Saturday, Varsity Club on Lane is the quintessential gameday haunt. As long as you don't mind drinking out of a plastic cup, you'll feel at home with the 1,600 others who pack the house like quartering soldiers.
After the game, I recommend holing up at Eddie George's Grille 27 on the other side of campus. It's usually an hour wait for a table, but the beer selection is solid, and so are the wild-game burgers. Relish the opportunity to piss on the Michigan-M urinal cakes, and enjoy the one-way mirrors in the men's bathroom that ensure you don't miss a down.
Hilary Lee: A question about beer? How could I not respond! But... yeah this one is kind of weird for me. I guess my town for this is Chicago. Which is kind of large. In case you have been living in a prairie somewhere in the midwest, there are a lot of bars in Chicago. A very very lot of bars. I have been to many of them, and enjoy quite a few. But for my money, the place I love to watch Badger games at is Will's Northwoods Inn. It's pretty much the only actual Wisconsin bar in the entire city, and you really feel that when you walk in the door.
I have had some epic, epic days at Will's (like the time I watched the Superbowl there and was part of a group that consumed 15,000 calories of beer...). This is the type of place where seeing people play bar dice or euchre before a game starts is completely and utterly normal. On game days they sell 32 oz souvenir cups of beer for $5.00. $5.00 people! And they grill out and make burgers and brats... oh and free trays of CHEESE AND SAUSAGE. Can you think of any place that sounds more Wisconsin? I didn't think so.