The Wake-Up Call: Corey Clement & Dare Ogunbowale on the field together, Under Armour money boost and 24 NFL Badgers
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This is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call for Sept. 9.
Let’s get started.
Two is better than one
Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale may not be the best running back duo Wisconsin has ever had, but they certainly complement each other well. And, as Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel illustrates, that was evident last week in the upset win over then-No. 5 LSU, when the pair combined for 130 yards on 30 carries. Not huge numbers by any means, but it was enough to help the Badgers control the clock.
The game was just the start of what the two seniors hope can be a productive pairing that can imitate the days when Montee Ball and James White shared the backfield, or when it was White and Melvin Gordon. And the best way for that to happen is to get them on the field at the same time, something previous tandems did regularly.
“I just think if we’re on the field together (that) we can do a lot of great things,” Clement told reporters earlier this week. “That’s what we did when me and Melvin were here. And that really sprung us forward. Hopefully, coach goes back into that old playbook and says, ‘We really need to put Dare and Corey on the same field.’ Whether Dare’s lined up in the slot, or I’m lined up in the slot and somebody else is in the backfield. Just to throw off the defense a little more.”
Clement and Ogunbowale are among the Badgers’ best playmakers. The offense could use big-play potential, something that’s been nearly non-existent in the 14 games since Gordon left. Neither Clement or Ogunbowale are on Gordon’s level, but forcing defenses to account for the pair would benefit the other nine players on the field.
Putting players in the league
The NFL season kicked off Thursday night, and the rest of Week 1 will play out Sunday and Monday. When it does, plenty of Wisconsin players will be featured: 24 to be exact, with another four on practice squads and two on injured reserve.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) September 9, 2016
Wisconsin may have more top-line talent in the NFL than they’ve ever had before. You can realistically say they can claim the best offensive tackle (Joe Thomas), best center (Travis Frederick) and best defensive player (J.J. Watt) in the league. A few more are in the top five at their position, including quarterback Russell Wilson.
“I’ve been fortunate. I think (about) every one of those young men I’ve been around. Either coached them or was recruiting them,” coach Paul Chryst said Thursday. “We’ve had the whole gamut, from (Thomas as the) third overall pick to Alex (Erickson) as a free agent. It’s really cool.”
As outlined by Rich Exner of Cleveland.com, the 24 players on opening day rosters is the third-most among Big Ten teams, trailing only Ohio State and Penn State. And while there is certainly pride in the number, Chryst and company know it yields a more important tangible effect in recruiting.
Every player whom Power 5 schools go after think they’re going to play in the NFL. And when they see how successful Wisconsin has been at putting players into the league, they see the program as being much more attractive. Add that Wisconsin’s last two wins have come against schools that have combined to win 1,583 games and nine national titles, and the Wisconsin program has rarely looked better.
Bringing in the $$$
Wisconsin has been among the biggest winners in the apparel wars that Nike, Under Armour and Adidas have waged in recent years. In a report from the Portland Business Journal, the Badgers are getting the second-most money ($11M per year) as part of their new apparel deal with Under Armour that took effect July 1. It’s an increase of $7.45M from the final year of their deal with Adidas.
— Portland Biz Journal (@PDXBIZJournal) September 7, 2016
The money is badly needed in Madison. With significant cuts in the state budget, the athletic department, which is almost fully funded by the money they bring in off ticket sales, endorsement deals and their affiliation with the Big Ten, has been forced to give more back to the university. And that’s expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
But the money is also needed to keep up with skyrocketing salaries of coaches in football and basketball. The Badgers have been accused of being cheap, unwilling to pay to keep coaches, a fallacy brought up by Bret Bielema when he left for Arkansas in 2012. The proof is in the salaries for coordinators, which have jumped from $250,000 in 2012 to this year where offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph is making $570,000 and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is at $500,000.
Those numbers are expected to continue to increase, which makes the significance of the new apparel deal even more paramount.
Good start, much more to do
Since Wisconsin’s win over LSU, it seems like we’ve seen a steady stream of stories where different aspects of the team have been praised as elite or on the rise. That continued with Jesse Temple of ESPN.com looking at the offensive line, which, against the Tigers, consisted of four redshirt sophomores and a Division III transfer.
The article suggests that the difficult season the group went through last year, when injuries and youth led to the fewest rushing yards by the Badgers since 1995, has them playing older than they really are. And while the first returns could be categorized as encouraging, the team still only averaged 3.2 yards per carry against the Tigers.
The idea that this group could turn into a great unit at some point this year or over the next two years is possible. But to say they, or, really, any position group on the team, has proven themselves this year is hyperbole. Yes, a win over a team like LSU is impressive, but let’s wait until we get out of September before trying to define how good or how suspect the different aspects of this team are.