ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Jim Rutledge
By: ZACH HEILPRIN (Zheilprin@gkbsports.com)
MADISON - If you’ve enjoyed the University of Wisconsin’s football rivalries with Ohio State and Michigan State in recent years, the Big Ten Conference schedule makers have some bad news for you. Neither of them are on the Badgers’ 2014 conference schedule that was released on Thursday. Penn State and Michigan are also missing. It’ll be the first time since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993 that the Badgers will miss all four teams in a single season. And you can blame conference expansion for their absence.
When the conference goes to 14 teams in the fall of next year the three-time defending champion Badgers will find themselves in a West Division that features six teams that haven’t won an outright Big Ten title since 1995. That team, Northwestern, is the squad the Badgers will open their 2014 conference schedule against on Oct. 4 in Evanston. It’ll be Wisconsin’s first visit to their neighbor to the south since the 2009 regular season finale.
The following week they’ll welcome Illinois to Camp Randall Stadium – a place the Illini last won in 2002.
Following a bye on Oct. 18, Wisconsin returns to action and plays their first crossover game against new Big Ten member Maryland in Madison on Oct. 25.
They’ll travel to the other new conference member – Rutgers – for a matchup on Nov. 1. It’ll be the first time Wisconsin plays in New Jersey since Syracuse pounded them 34-0 at the Meadowlands to open the 1997 season.
UW head coach Gary Andersen and company visit Purdue on Nov. 8. The Badgers dominated the Boilermakers last season 38-14, and in Wisconsin’s three games in the state of Indiana in 2012 they outscored their opponents 170-59 while rushing for 1,570 yards.
Nebraska comes to Madison for a second straight year on Nov. 15, and the Badgers follow that up with a trip to Iowa City on Nov. 22 to battle the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Heartland Trophy.
UW closes out the regular season portion of the schedule on Nov. 29 when they host Minnesota in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe – a trophy that’s been in Wisconsin’s possession since 2004.
As for the rest of the 2014 slate, three games are set for sure. Wisconsin will host Western Illinois on Sept. 6, Bowling Green on Sept. 20, and South Florida on Sept. 27. The fourth non-conference game is still up in the air.
The Badgers were supposed to travel to Washington State as part of a home-and-home series. However, that’s on hold as the UW tries to setup a two-game series with Louisiana State with the first game possibly being played in Houston, and the second game possibly taking place at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. At this week’s Big Ten meetings, UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez told ESPN that they don’t have a contract signed with the Tigers yet but are hopeful to have something worked out in the near future.
As for the teams not on Wisconsin’s schedule in 2014, the series against Michigan State and Ohio State will be especially missed. The three schools have combined for every Big Ten title since 2005.
The rivalry with the Spartans really got started in 2007 when coach Mark Dantonio arrived in East Lansing. Since then the two teams have played seven times with Michigan State winning four of the games, including the memorable “Hail Mary” in 2011. Wisconsin countered that win later in the season when they won the first Big Ten Championship game in dramatic fashion 42-39. In all of the team’s matchups the Spartans (215) have scored exactly six more points than Wisconsin (209).
Meanwhile, Ohio State has beaten Wisconsin four of the last five times they’ve played but the one Badgers’ win came when the Buckeyes were ranked number one in the country in 2010 – a loss that cost them a chance for a national title.
The 2015 schedule will have the same matchups but swap sites. Officials say game dates will be released within the next month.
Aug. 30 TBA
Sept. 6 Western Illinois
Sept. 13 TBA
Sept. 20 Bowling Green
Sept. 27 USF
Oct. 4 at Northwestern
Oct. 11 Illinois
Oct. 18 Bye
Oct. 25 Maryland
Nov. 1 at Rutgers
Nov. 8 at Purdue
Nov. 15 Nebraska
Nov. 22 at Iowa
Nov. 29 Minnesota
Dec. 6 Big Ten Championship
Home games in bold
By: JIM RUTLEDGE
While recently watching Stephen Curry light up the scoreboard in the NBA playoffs I suddenly had this horrible thought creep into my brain.
"Didn't the Bucks have a chance to get him but took Monta Ellis instead because of concerns of Curry's ankle?"
I researched it and according to veteran NBA reporter Peter Vecsey that was true at least at one point for the Milwaukee Bucks. I want to be clear about what I'm saying here:
THE BUCKS PICKED MONTA ELLIS OVER STEPHEN CURRY
Now I'm sure Curry would have been "Buck'd" and his ankles would have never been the same so at least there is that solace.
What is "Buck'd?"
It's a term I've come up with to describe what happens to players, coaches and executives who end up in Milwaukee.
Below you can read the part of Vecsey's piece that involves Ellis and Curry as well as a link to the whole story.
*Please note that Vecsey's report was last updated at 9:14 a.m. ET March 13th, 2012 and the Ellis trade was reported by ESPN at 4:09 a.m. ET on March 14th, 2012. This is important to me because since it's closer to the actual trade time and it's from Vecsey that proves to me it's more fact than speculation.
"The big IF is Stephen Curry. That’s who is being offered. Last week, it looked like the two-for-one deal (Robin Lopez would have been obtained from Phoenix and rerouted to Milwaukee) was almost 100 percent approved by both sides. Subsequently, Curry’s surgically repaired (last summer) ankle sometimes forces him to pull up in pain when he makes a sharp cut. It doesn’t seem to be a grave problem, but it’s serious enough to make him take a seat and serious enough for the Bucks to take pause." - Peter Vecsey, NY Post
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By: JIM RUTLEDGE
When a close friend of mine from high school came out after a year away at college my initial reaction was, “okay”, I said that because it didn’t change anything about our friendship or who he was. I later realized it was a very important and courageous step for him. I told him it doesn’t change my opinion of him at all, why would my opinion change of someone because of their sexuality? In fact if anything I had a new appreciation for his strength and how tough his life must have been until that point. I couldn’t imagine being confused about who I find attractive or having to hide it.
How can I understand what it’s like to hear people throw around homophobic slurs in your company, pretending to be attracted to someone, pretending to love someone, worrying about what my family will think, worrying about what my friends will think, I couldn’t imagine the fear that someone must feel when they decide to come out.
My friend showed strong strength of character when he came out and that’s what Jason Collins showed on Monday. Collins came out in a time where the social conscience on homosexuality is shifting towards understanding but he’s also the first male athlete to come out in a major American team sport.
A locker room is a microcosm of America. It’s a melting pot of different political and religious views, different ethnicities and sexuality. A successful team, like a society, needs to put aside those differences to reach the mountain top. That’s easier said than done in both a locker room and in a society.
American society has not had an easy ride towards equality. We’ve had plenty of embarrassing, horrific and damning moments in our past. What makes America great is that we try to learn from our past to grow forward as a society. We are far from the mountain top of equality but with every step towards understanding we move in that direction.
Sports have often reflected society. Jackie Robinson was a civil rights hero because of his courage and strength. Robinson had to endure open hatred and aggression that as a society we should be ashamed of. There are countless other sports hero’s that have helped changed America for the better but I do not want to start listing them out of fear of forgetting someone.
Jason Collins is on that list.
Collins had a secret that he could have kept to himself for a few more years until he retired, others have. Other athletes didn’t feel that the time was right for them to reveal their personal secret to the world and it’s their life so it’s their choice.
Jason Collins is a pioneer.
Collins has made the courageous choice to stand up for who he is and by default stand up for others in his situation.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.”
― Mark Twain
Jason Collins will be remembered in history as someone who helped lead the way for equality in sports and maybe in society. Politically we are fighting with ourselves about equality and what we believe is fair and just. The hate speech is embarrassing and we will regret as a society. Collins announcement has already revealed ignorance in the sports world:
“All these beautiful women in the [world] and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH…” – Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins
Collins can be an instrument of change, someone that young and old gay men can look to as a role model and that makes Collins a hero. A society should not want its members to suffer with depression, confusion and thoughts of suicide but that’s what happens for many struggling with their sexuality.
I don’t believe an athlete is a role model just because he is an athlete.
Jason Collins is a role model.
Collins has provided a beacon of hope for many and he’s a symbol of strength for all of us.
My first child is set to join this world soon and all I want is for my baby to be healthy and happy. That’s the sentiment of most, I believe, when their child is born. What changes? Nothing will for me, that’s one promise I can make as a soon to be parent. I will always want my child to be healthy and happy.
We as a society need to remember that our base was molded by a melting pot and that we are at our strongest when we embrace our differences and make them strengths.
We need to look to Jason Collins and his strength as a reminder of what courage is.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
― Winston Churchill
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MADISON -- The Wisconsin football program added three players to their historic list of now 261 former Badger athletes to be drafted into the National Football League.
Thursday, during the first round of the NFL draft the Dallas Cowboys selected center Travis Frederick with the 31st overall selection. Frederick, whose beard became a twitter trending topic after being drafted, is the 28th first round selection in Wisconsin history.
Following the selection Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters that he believes Frederick will be key for newfound success on the offensive line.
“We were going to take Frederick there because that lets us start the foundation for what we think to build our offensive line.”
Frederick was formally introduced to Cowboy Nation on Saturday during an introductory press conference:
“I am very excited not only to be here in Dallas but to be the only center taken and be taken in the first round. It really is a dream come true. Growing up as a child you think about wanting to play in the NFL and hearing your name called on Thursday night, that’s pretty exciting.”
Former Badgers defensive back Devin Smith will join Frederick in Big D, he went undrafted and agreed to terms on a rookie free agent contract with the team.
Montee Ball, who some thought may sneak his way into being a first round selection, was drafted 58th overall by his favorite team the Denver Broncos. (Pictured Below)
“Was meant to be!” Ball tweeted following his selection, along with a picture of a Bronco head on his bedroom wall.
Growing up a Broncos fan, being hand selected by John Elway must be a dream come true for Ball. Elway, Vice President of Football Operations had this to say to reporters about his future running back:
“He is a big back with a ton on production in college. (Ball) has great quickness and a great slashing type and is always heading north and south. We thought he could be a three-down guy for us, so we were thrilled he was available for us at the bottom of the second round.”
Ball will join a running back crew anchored by Willis Mcgahee and Knowshon Moreno but should be able to compete for the starting job from day one.
A year ago he was projected as the second overall draft pick in the 2013 draft but offensive lineman Ricky Wagner had to wait until Saturday to hear his name called. Wagner, a fifth round selection by the Baltimore Ravens, is overjoyed by the opportunity to play professional football.
“I can’t believe I’m a Raven,” he told the media. “It’s a great organization, I can’t wait.”
Like Smith, cornerback Marcus Cromartie also signed a free-agent rookie contract, his with the San Diego Chargers.
“Probably the most stressful moment in my life these past 3 days,” he tweeted. “I could probably say that I’m heading to San Diego.”
MADISON -- The Badgers are definitely not short on quarterbacks this spring. Freshman Bart Houston – who sat out all of last season after having a cyst removed from his shoulder – is back in the huddle and vying for the starting position.
A highly touted recruit out of high school, Houston is adjusting to life and competition at the collegiate level.
Jim Rutledge sat down with Houston to get his take on spring practice and the ongoing quarterback competition.
Q: Was it difficult to come back to practice after Spring Break? Any troubles shaking off any rust?
Houston: It wasn’t difficult, it was just a change of pace and getting back to the grind of college and college football. That was the most difficult thing. We faired well today.
Q: Did you do anything fun and exciting over Spring Break?
Houston: I went home and that’s California so yeah it was fun. I got to see all my old high school buddies and had a good time just hanging out.
Q: Before the old coaching staff left, you were around a lot during Rose Bowl practice, did they give you anything specific that they wanted you to work on coming into Spring practice?
Houston: After coach (Bielema) left and everyone kind of gave the vibe that they weren’t coming back they more focused on the starters because they were playing. I am the freshman just sitting in the meetings, just sitting there at that point. Listening by ear and listening to Curt (Phillips), Danny (O’Brien), Joel (Stave) and coach Canada whatever I could pick up I did as much as I could.
Q: How have you been able to lean on the other quarterbacks and learn things from them, whether battling back through injury and fighting through adversity?
Houston: Yeah I take a little bit of everything from them. Danny is guy on the board, he watches more film than I have ever known, I bet he doesn’t even go to class or anything. I’m kidding, but he knows the playbook and knows how to draw boards and coverage and all that stuff. Curt is the leader and anybody can take from that. Joel is the physical phenomena, he is the ‘California Boy’ sunshine and can throw the ball a country mile and everything. They’re all polished.
Q: Was there an adjustment coming from a high school recruit to a major college football program, and how did you adjust with the injury along with the transition? Going from the guy to the guy just sitting there in the meetings.
Houston: It is a big difference. I played three years, three straight years I took every snap and never went out unless we were up by 50 or something, then I come here and for the first week I was in a sling. I’m just basically sitting there watching and that kills people, it’s not fun at all. It took a lot of getting used too, a really humbling experience.
Q: You also have that backup quarterback syndrome where the fans hear that you are firing the ball around, and can throw the ball really hard. Everyone gets all excited about it, does that make you chuckle a little bit and think that you actually have a long way to go to be fully ready to take over at quarterback for Wisconsin?
Houston: Its fun to see and watch that, my dad really enjoys that more than I do. I don’t pay much attention to that unless my dad tells me. I just try to keep my nose to the ground and keep grinding and grinding everyday.
Q: Right now in practices are you getting feedback from the coaches saying what you need to work on a little bit?
Houston: Coach Ludwig is trying to work on escape ability and trying to extend a play, being quick in the pocket and being precise. All the movements and all the steps being accurate consistently, that’s a big deal. If you can throw one ball deep that’s great but if you can throw it ten times you are going to master the play.
Q: Is that the biggest adjustment from high school, you had the strong arm and could make athletic plays and now you have to be a professional at the college level and make the right throws on every single play?
Houston: It is more that I actually have to go through progression and in high school I did a little bit but I had one receiver each of my three years. Anthony Williams who is at UNLV and I would key off him and everyone knew that I would key off him and nobody could stop it. Now I don’t get reps with (Abbrederis) so obviously I would want to be throwing it to him, he is the best guy we got. Put the ball into the best guys hands. Obviously I got to distribute the ball out, not evenly it is just whatever is open.
Q: There are a lot of quarterbacks in the spring, right now how many reps are you getting? Do you think you get an opportunity to get a good workout in as far as reps and progressions?
Houston: I take a lot of mental reps and splitting the two’s reps with Danny right now and that’s probably how it is going to be for the rest of spring. That’s just age wise I am the youngest and Curt and Joel have the most experience. They take the ones and Danny and I split the two’s.
Q: What are the mental reps for you?
Houston: Just sitting back there, you are not actually throwing the ball but going through the re-progressions and staying focused on the practice not drifting off into space or anything. You go through the progressions and everything.
Q: How has the coaching transition from Paul Chryst to now gone for you, have you ever thought how many more coaches will I have to go through in my young college career?
Houston: It has been quick, I got to meet Chryst but I never got to be coached by him so everything is moving fast and I never expected three different coaches coming in here. But I’m not going anywhere I love this place.
MADISON – Dan Voltz is a redshirt freshmen battling to take the reins as starting center following the departure of Travis Frederick. It’s only seven days into spring practice but Voltz already possesses the confidence and abilities to be next on the list of dominant Wisconsin centers.
Jim Rutledge talked to Voltz one-on-one to get his take on spring practice, the learning process and his expectations for the upcoming season.
Q: Was it difficult to get all that time off (Spring break) and then come back to practice today?
Voltz: You’re always a bit rusty when you have a week off and you haven’t played football in that week but I think we all worked hard over spring break so we were all fresh for practice and we had good energy. Obviously everybody is a little rusty but we knocked that off with the good practice today.
Q: Did you get away to relax over break or did you stay on campus and focus on football?
Voltz: I just went home, I live in Chicago. I didn’t go anywhere special I kind of just wanted to go home and hang out there. It was good to get some time away.
Q: Getting back into the swing of things with the offensive line coach, how important is this time, having another new coach in here after having all the transition last year, to get to know him personally and immerse yourself with?
Voltz: It is huge, we try to get around him as much as we can and we meet a lot. Obviously we also have practice three times a week so just having him here and having that solidity in the coaching staff is really helpful.
Q: He seems to be the kind of guy that stays on you at all times, to make sure you are not slacking off, is that the kind of style you like?
Voltz: You need that, especially at the offensive line. Every play it is you against somebody it is not like other positions where you have a couple plays where you don’t do anything. Offensive line you do something every play so you can’t lose focus on one play or else you could blow up the entire play. Coach Wood stays on us and if you have a great play one play and you do bad the next play he will be on you. You can have a great practice and one bad play and he will be on you. That helps a lot just to have that constant pressure and constant expectation from coach to be able to execute.
Q: What is the biggest thing he has gotten on you for, or that the coaches told you last year that you needed to get better to get more playing time?
Voltz: Consistency. Last year I would have a couple good practices and then I would have a bad one. What I have been working on most this spring is just being consistent and just showing them day in and day out that I can be the starting center. I feel like I have improved greatly in that.
Q: Is it more mental or physical trying to match the intensity you need on every play?
Voltz: I would say mental, at least in my position. In this offense the center really makes a lot of the calls, the center and the quarterback really run the entire offense so every play you have to be thinking. There are a lot of checks there is a lot of new terminology so that’s been the biggest challenge for me and that’s what I have been focusing on the most.
Q: Quarterbacks implement the offense slowly, is that what they do with centers as well? Where you learn some checks and then gradually learn as it evolves into more?
Voltz: They don’t throw everything at us at once, we have an install meeting every other day and we learn kind of a chunk day by day. They don’t throw everything at us at once and it is kind of good to learn the offense that way.
Q: There are a nice run of centers that have come before you, have you been able to talk to Peter (Konz) or Travis (Frederick) and have they been able to help you learn and build on the nice line of centers the university has had?
Voltz: (Konz) was here before I came in but I talked to him one time and he gave me some advice. Last year I played with (Frederick) so that was valuable to me. Just knowing the history of centers that have been here it is a big expectation to live up to but I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. It is exciting to be in this position.
Q: The fans haven’t seen you a ton and there is a difference between you and Travis and Peter, are you a guy that can use athleticism to get outside and pull or are you a guy that plays more physical inside?
Voltz: I cant say I am either one of those guys but I try to be well rounded in my game, and we’ll see this fall what I am best at and I think I’m pretty well-rounded I would say. I’ve taken a lot of stuff from Travis and I’ve watched a lot of tape on Peter, they both do good things in all areas of the game. I’m just trying to take pieces and become my own player.
Q: Is watching their tape inspiring or intimidating?
Voltz: More inspiring. Its not intimidating because I am confident enough I think I can be as good as them. Obviously I am not there yet and I have a lot to work on, those are two of the best centers to ever play at this college. It is a lot to live up to but it’s an exciting challenge for me.
Q: Was it important for you to stay here and remain at the center position?
Voltz: When I was recruited they never mentioned center, I was recruited as a guard. When I got here they kind of stuck me at center right away and I kind of had to just accept it. I’ve been there ever since, it’s kind of just become my home now.
Q: What was your first reaction your first day at center when you hadn’t done it much before?
Voltz: I was lost. I had never snapped a ball in my life or been in that spot in my life. It was a huge transition phase and I still think I am going through some of the transition phase but I think I am much to the point now where I am past that and I can start really focusing on becoming a leader and mastering my skills.
Q: Coach Andersen ever pull you aside and help, I know he was a center as well?
Voltz: Not so much, he is kind of focused on the big picture things but I’ve talked to him. He played center and takes great pride in the offensive line. Knowing that he played center is another thing that I have to live up to.
Q: What is the single most important trait for a center to lead a successful offensive line?
Voltz: Leadership. I have been trying to develop that slowly, being a freshman its not the easiest task to be the leader of the offensive line but I think everybody kind of looks at the center. When somebody doesn’t know what to do the center has to know what that guy is doing. I think leadership and knowledge and the two most important things to be able to have.
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