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ESPN thinks very highly of Wisconsin junior Ethan Happ — but apparently not highly enough.

Ethan Happ quotes Ricky Bobby, 2017 recruits who could make an impact for Wisconsin and more

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Today is Thursday, June 1, and this is what’s for breakfast.


Ethan Happ channels his inner Ricky Bobby

Ethan Happ was just 10 years old when Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby hit theaters in 2006. But the most memorable line of the film, as delivered by Will Ferrell’s character Ricky Bobby, apparently has stayed with the Wisconsin junior. On Wednesday, five days after ESPN released its list of the Top 25 players in college basketball for 2017 and ranked Happ fourth, he put the quote to good use.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with being ranked the fourth-best player in the country, and Happ’s response is likely a little bit joking and little bit serious. For the latter, it would be right in line with the thinking of most players striving to be the best at what they do. For Happ, it’s basketball, and he wants to be considered the best of the best. Luckily for him, he’ll have that opportunity starting this fall, because Wisconsin is, without question, now his team.

With five seniors, including Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, no longer around, Happ is the face of the program. The leadership responsibilities and the increased attention he’ll receive from other teams will be among the biggest storylines for the relatively inexperienced Badgers.

Keeping the program at the level it has reached in recent seasons won’t be easy with the significant turnover in personnel. Yes, Happ is one of the better players in the Big Ten — and the country — but Wisconsin is not ranked in any of the way-too-early top-25s that have been put out there. That says all you need to know about how everyone perceives the rest of the Badgers’ roster.

The way Happ can move up the list is pretty easy. Improve his game by adding an outside shot, become a better free-throw shooter and continue working on beating double-teams, which he’ll see more than ever this fall. Then, lift a team with low expectations to surprising heights. Nothing overly complicated, yet much easier to talk about than actually accomplish.

Class of 2017: Instant-impact recruits

Wisconsin football had a large number of its 2017 recruiting class enroll early, but the rest of the group will show up in Madison later in June. As the entire class mixes with the returning players, here’s a look at a few of the incoming players either most likely to be able to play or needed to play this season.

1. OLB Andrew Van Ginkel

He’s not a freshman, but the junior-college transfer seems to be the most likely of the 2017 recruiting class to see playing time this fall. An early enrollee, Andrew Van Ginkel ran with the second-team defense for much of the spring. Though more comfortable rushing the quarterback than dropping into coverage, Van Ginkel had a couple of eye-opening interceptions, which proves he has the ability to excel there. He’s also a likely contributor on most of Wisconsin’s special teams units.

2. QB Jack Coan

An early enrollee, the 247Sports 3-star recruit will battle for the backup quarterback job with redshirt freshman Kare’ Lyles. In the spring, Coan played better the more he saw the field, which is to be expected for a young player. The Badgers would love to be able to redshirt Coan, but if forced to go a long stretch without starter Alex Hornibrook, they’ve got to play the quarterback who gives them the best chance to win. That could end up being Coan.

3. LS Adam Bay

Wisconsin lost its only long snapper when Connor Udelhoven exhausted his eligibility after last season. TE Zander Neuville and walk-on freshman LS Josh Bernhagen handled most of the duties in the spring, but Adam Bay, an Under Armour All-American, should compete for the job.

4. RB Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor has the size and speed to see the field in his first year, and the running back position lends itself to playing early. The biggest challenge for Taylor will be the step up in competition. His high school in Salem, N.J., is one of the smallest in the state with an enrollment of just 245 students. It’s not a question of his talent, but he does need to prove he can do it at a higher level.

The status of junior Taiwan Deal could also play a role, as he underwent offseason ankle surgery and did not take part in spring practice. Coach Paul Chryst mentioned him several times in the spring as someone who will join junior Chris James and sophomore Bradrick Shaw in the battle for carries this fall.

5. WR Danny Davis

Turn on the highlights of Danny Davis from high school, and it’s hard for fans not to get excited about the 4-star recruit. Playing running back and wide receiver, Davis was a dynamic playmaker and is one of the better offensive recruits Wisconsin has signed in quite some time.

Though two true freshmen wide receivers played a year ago for the Badgers, that was a rarity. No matter how productive Davis was as a prep, it will be an uphill climb to play early.

Contract signed

Vince Biegel is officially a professional football player. The Green Bay Packers announced Wednesday they have signed the linebacker, a fourth-round pick. According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, the four-year contract is worth nearly $3.1 million and includes a signing bonus of almost $700,000.

When Biegel can start earning that contract on the field is up in the air. The outside linebacker underwent right-foot surgery in May that potentially will keep him out of action until training camp opens in late July. That means he is missing all OTAs and mandatory minicamp. The hope for Biegel and the pass-rush needy Packers is that the time off won’t significantly put him behind and hinder his chances to contribute early in his career.

Catching up

  • Three more Big Ten football TV times announced on Wednesday.
  • From Madison.com: Wisconsin softball has its first All-American.
  • Two players won’t be returning to the Wisconsin women’s basketball team, according to Dennis Punzel of the Wisconsin State Journal.