We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.
Today is Tuesday, Sept. 27, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Underdog status doesn’t bother Wisconsin?
Outside linebacker Vince Biegel said he doesn’t care what the media thinks or writes about him and his teammates. His partner on the other side of Wisconsin’s defense, junior T.J. Watt, said he doesn’t either. But the somewhat noticeable anger simmering just under the surface with the two defenders indicates it does get on their nerves.
“Doesn’t matter,” Watt said forcefully on Monday as Wisconsin starting preparing for a trip to No. 4 Michigan. “Put us against a wall, and we’ll fight to the end.
“We don’t look at any of that stuff, honestly. We take care of the controllables week in and week out, and come out on Saturday and try to execute.”
Wisconsin’s underdog status is once again a topic this week as the Badgers head to Ann Arbor to a place they haven’t been since 2010. The program is just 2-16 all-time against the fourth-ranked team in the AP Top 25, with the last win coming in 1974. This week, the Badgers are 10-point underdogs.
“We’re extremely focused,” Biegel said. “We’re going to let the outside noise take care of itself and in-house, we’re going to take care of our business and win ballgames.”
But there is something to the idea of having to prove yourself time and time again, something Wisconsin will have to do this year if it wants to squash the notion that the program can’t compete on the highest levels of the sport. And, according to Stewart Mandell of Fox Sports, they know it.
“Absolutely [Michigan] will present different challenges for us,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst told Fox Sports on Sunday. “We don’t feel like we’ve arrived. We know the tests are just going to continue.”
Biegel was asked what comments about the program anger him the most, and he declined to answer, simply saying, “I’ll keep those to myself.” For a group that claims not to care about the outside noise, it’s pretty clear it does bother them at least a little bit.
But Wisconsin also knows the only way to change the view of the program is to go out and beat the top dogs like Michigan and Ohio State, something the Badgers will have a chance to do in the next three weeks.
Is Peppers the best in the country?
Chryst dropped the ultimate praise on Michigan’s versatile Jabrill Peppers on Monday, saying the junior’s “got to be the best player in college football right now.”
There’s good reason to believe that he’s not just lavishing Peppers with love because his team faces the triple-threat this Saturday. By all accounts, Peppers is the most complete player to call Ann Arbor home since Charles Woodson did it in 1997 — the last time Michigan won a national title. Woodson would also win the Heisman Trophy that year thanks to his skills on defense, offense and special teams. And that’s a similar impact to what Peppers has brought so far.
He’s racked up 30 tackles, 7.5 for loss and a pair of sacks, while returning one punt for a touchdown. And though he hasn’t had a huge impact on offense — he’s carried the ball just twice for 24 yards — he’s someone Wisconsin will have to find on every play in all three phases of the game.
Back in 1997, when Woodson and the No. 1 Wolverines came to Madison and won 26-16, it was Woodson who had an interception, three catches and a near-touchdown pass to quarterback Brian Griese. To pull the upset, the Badgers can’t let Peppers have a similar impact.
Four more years for Pritzl
The last year of Brevin Pritzl’s athletic life has not been what he pictured.
The highest-rated member of Wisconsin’s 2015 recruiting class, the shooting guard thought he might be able to help right away last season. But then last August he broke his foot, which kept him out of action until November. He saw four minutes of time in the second game of the season, but didn’t get on the floor again, and eventually re-injured the foot in early December. He was shelved for the rest of the year and didn’t start getting back into workouts until the early part of the summer.
But he got good news on Monday, as the NCAA announced he’d been granted a medical hardship waiver and will still have four years of eligibility left at Wisconsin.
4 more years! ✅?
— Brevin Pritzl (@LilB_Pritz1) September 26, 2016
When healthy, Pritzl could be a big-time weapon for coach Greg Gard and the Badgers. Though he certainly will need to work on his defense, the 6-foot-3 Pritzl could be Wisconsin’s best outside shooter. In his limited work in practice last season, observers routinely saw Pritzl hitting 10 to 15 3-pointers in a row. And his scoring outbursts in high school and AAU tournaments were among the most impressive for a recent Wisconsin recruit, going inside for the tough points and hitting from everywhere on the perimeter.
Gard and his staff do have a problem, though. It’s a good one to have, but it’s still a problem. If Pritzl is up to speed defensively, there are potentially 10 players that could argue they deserve playing time this season, and that’s before anyone has seen what the incoming freshmen class brings to the table.
Forwards Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ, along with point guard Bronson Koenig, will get much of the attention heading into a season where the Badgers could start inside the top 10 of the AP Top 25. And while it’s deserving, the battle for playing time throughout the rest of the roster will be among the most intriguing on-court developments in the first full year of the Gard era.
Building confidence was a priority for Granato
It’s rare that you need to resurrect the confidence of players at a program that owns six national titles. But that’s exactly what new Wisconsin hockey coach Tony Granato realized when he was hired to replace longtime coach Mike Eaves last March. After just 12 wins the last two seasons combined, Granato saw his biggest chore would be to get his players to realize how good they can be.
“That’s the first thing we noticed. We saw a fragile bunch of guys that had their heads down, were not sure where the program was going and where their future was,” Granato said Monday. “And that’s kind of been our process since the time we took over is to build them back up. Put them on the ice with each other, let them know how good they are, let them know why they were recruited here, why they are Badgers and that’s what our practices have been designed to do. To get some of that confidence back.”
Getting players to have confidence is a priority. If they play with it, the team will likely play better, win more games and get the program back to where it needs to be. And if that happens, the willingness from fans to spend the time and money of going to games will once again be there.