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Today is Thursday, Oct. 20, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Rivalries go hand in hand with sports, especially in college athletics. You almost can’t have one without the other, though some are higher profile and intense than others. If you ask an Ohio State fan who their biggest rival is, the answer will be Michigan. Same goes for Duke-North Carolina, California-Stanford, Texas-Oklahoma and on and on it goes.
But this weekend, when Wisconsin travels to Iowa City for the 90th meeting between the two schools, the idea that this is the biggest rivalry game for either side is up for debate, apparently.
As part of his article here on Land of 10 about the history of the series, my colleague Scott Dochterman took a poll that asked who the Hawkeyes biggest rival was. As of this writing, Wisconsin was the overwhelming choice.
When Wisconsin fans were presented with the same type of question, though, they didn’t agree with their counterparts to the southwest, instead choosing Minnesota.
A @landof10 poll asked who Iowa's biggest rival is, and Wisconsin was the overwhelming choice. Who is Wisconsin's biggest rival?
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) October 20, 2016
Wisconsin-Minnesota gets the press because it’s the most-played series in college football, but its outcome has meant little for those that aren’t fans of either team. Outside of 2014, when the game in Madison served as a de facto Big Ten West title game, the two teams have met when both are ranked just three times since 1964.
The results of the second poll aren’t overly surprising, but the margin between Minnesota and Iowa is. The distaste for the Gophers is strong, no doubt, in the state, but the program has been irrelevant — save for a few seasons here and there — to what Wisconsin has accomplished in the last 25 years. So you figured the Hawkeyes, who cost the Badgers a Big Ten title in 2004, ruined former coach Barry Alvarez’s final home game in 2005 and have generally been a nuisance on a regular basis would have gotten a larger share of the vote.
We’ll see if it changes at all if coach Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are able to end Wisconsin’s division title hopes on Saturday.
With six games in the books and at least six more for Wisconsin, it’s time to hand out some midseason grades for the offense, defense and special teams.
Statistically, Wisconsin’s offense is right in line with what they put out last year — a product that was among the worst in the last 15 years in Madison. But when you factor in the opponents the Badgers have faced this year compared to who was on the schedule last year, coach Paul Chryst’s group this season is ahead of the curve.
Though lacking the consistency of an elite unit, Wisconsin showed last Saturday against Ohio State it has the ability to move the ball, especially on the ground, against top-ranked defenses, which should help redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook continue to progress and spread the ball around. The Badgers are on pace to have three players with at least 40 receptions, which would be the first time since 2005 that happened.
Wisconsin has proven through the first half of the season that it’s not all about the coordinator when it comes to defensive success in Madison. Despite losing the very highly thought of Dave Aranda to LSU after last season, new coordinator Justin Wilcox and the Badgers have barely missed a beat.
That side of the ball is largely responsible for wins over then-No. 5 LSU and then-No. 8 Michigan State, while keeping the Badgers in matchups against then-No. 4 Michigan and, until the end, No. 2 Ohio State.
Wisconsin’s defense was legit last year, but no one really believed it because of the opponents the success came against. With a schedule as difficult as any in the country, that’s not the case this time around.
Special Teams: B-plus
The kicking game has largely been fantastic between the now injured Rafael Gaglianone and his replacement, Andrew Endicott. The two are a combined 13 of 14 on the year on field goals, as well as only one missed extra point. Add in P.J. Rosowski on kickoffs (20 touchbacks), and it’s been almost completely positive on the kicking front.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 19, 2016
Where the grade takes a hit is from a punting aspect, where Wisconsin ranks 13th in the Big Ten in punting average, while also allowing one to be returned for a score.
The Badgers return game has also not been noteworthy, perhaps a least somewhat related to main kick returner Natrell Jamerson being out since the second game of the season.
Gard a hit on the recruiting trail
When Bo Ryan said in June of 2015 that he was planning for the upcoming season to be his last as the head of the Wisconsin basketball program, and he wanted long-time assistant Greg Gard to be his replacement, there were many that questioned the choice.
Sure, Gard could coach, but there is so much more to running a program than that aspect, including the ability to court 16- and 17-year-old kids to come to your school. In his first six months since officially being named the head coach at Wisconsin, Gard has blown away any notion the job was too big for him.
— Brad Davison (@braddavi34) October 16, 2016
As Evan Flood of 247Sports.com details, Gard has positioned the Badgers for a very strong future with highly-ranked 2017 and 2018 classes, along with early good feelings in the 2019 and 2020 classes.
“He’s a tireless worker,” Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft said. “He’s constantly on top of his stuff. He never misses a beat. Nothing slips through the cracks with coach Gard. Not to say that it wasn’t that way with coach Ryan, but nothing does with coach Gard. I know nothing does.
“Coach Gard knows what it takes. He’s studied this for a long time. He’s had this in the back of his mind for a long time — what he can do to keep improving this program. He showed he was the right man for the job.
“Not just keep things rolling, but raise the bar, which is hard to do with where this program has been.”
With a roster stocked full of talent this season, and the foreseeable future, Gard has a chance to build, and perhaps exceed, what his predecessor — the all-time winningest coach in program history — was able to.
A different threat
Wisconsin opened up basketball practice to the media for the first time this fall on Wednesday, and one of the things reporters were focused on was the shot of sophomore Ethan Happ.
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) October 19, 2016
The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Happ’s accomplishments in his first season on the floor were made even more impressive by the fact he didn’t take more than 10 jump shots all year. But his offseason was designed to add that aspect to an already diverse inside game.
Got a look at the new Ethan Happ jumper. Sort of a funky shot put release, but it's going in. Looked comfortable from three. #Badgers
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) October 19, 2016
Happ with an outside shot makes everything so much easier for the other players on the court. A year ago, with him not being a threat from beyond the arc, opponents guarding him could back off and clog up passing lanes. He knows it won’t happen right away, but he feels teams won’t be able to play him the same way this season.
“If I was a team defending me the first game or the first couple games, I would play off me, too,” Happ said this week. “If they give me an open shot, I’m just going to keep taking them. They’re eventually going to have to (come out on me).”
The shooting form is unlikely to ever be pretty for Happ, but the Badgers won’t care one bit if the ball finds the bottom of the net more often than not.