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 Friday, Jan. 6, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Wisconsin doesn’t report to fall camp for another eight months, but it’s never too early to look at what 2017 could hold for the Badgers. On Wednesday, we tackled the defensive side of the ball, and on Thursday it was the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Now, it’s time to look at the tight ends and offensive line.
Key losses: Eric Steffes
Key returnees: Troy Fumagalli, Kyle Penniston, Zander Neuville
Young players to watch: Jake Fergusson, Jake Hescock, Beau Benzschawel
Eric Steffes played through injuries much of his time at Wisconsin, and his blocking will be missed, but the Badgers have to like their 1-2 punch of Troy Fumagalli and Kyle Penniston.
According to Pro Football Focus, no player in the country graded out higher in their bowl game than Fumagalli did for his effort against Western Michigan. He grabbed six passes, many of the highlight variety, and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. But he’s not just strictly a receiver. He’s become one heck of a blocker, too, and has nearly become the complete package.
In his first year of action, Penniston caught six passes for 102 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Expect that production to continue to rise for the redshirt sophomore as he sees the field more on first and second down.
There are questions regarding the remaining tight ends. Neuville, after moving over from the defensive line, saw a lot of action in short yardage situations, and it will be interesting to see how his development as a pass catcher evolves.
Three young players to watch would be redshirt freshmen Jake Hescock and Luke Benzschawel, along with true freshman Jake Ferguson. The latter is the grandson of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, is a freak athletically and is rated as the No. 12 tight end in the class of 2017, according to 247Sports.
Key losses: Ryan Ramczyk (likely)
Key returnees: C Michael Deiter, G Beau Benzschawel, G Jon Dietzen, T David Edwards, G Micah Kapoi, T Jake Maxwell
Young guys to watch: T Cole Van Lanen, C Tyler Biadasz, T Patrick Kasl, G Kayden Lyles
Ryan Ramczyk had one of the best seasons ever for a Wisconsin offensive lineman, and that’s saying something considering the Badgers’ pedigree at the position. But he’s likely to forego his senior year and enter the NFL draft. Still, even in his absence the line should be the strength of next year’s offense.
Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel – both juniors – have started every game of their careers, and will likely be joined in the starting lineup by redshirt sophomore Jon Dietzen (eight starts) at left guard and redshirt sophomore David Edwards (seven starts) at right tackle, though juniors Jake Maxwell (10 starts) and Micah Kapoi (12 starts) could challenge them.
The biggest question: Who fills Ramczyk’s spot? Right now, there’s no clear answer. In bowl practices, redshirt freshman Cole Van Lanen took reps at left tackle, though redshirt sophomores Brett Connors and David Moorman also saw time there. If Wisconsin finds a good replacement, the offensive line could get closer to being the dominant group fans expect them to be.
P.J. Fleck in Minnesota?
Reports out of the Twin Cities indicate that P.J. Fleck could be introduced as early as Friday as the new football coach at Minnesota, replacing the recently fired Tracy Claeys.
The move itself seems like a well-reasoned one. In four years, Fleck took Western Michigan from a 1-11 bottom feeder to the Cotton Bowl where they came up just short against Wisconsin on Monday. His energy and clichés will play well in Minnesota, where they are desperate for some semblance of stability.
FOX 9 has learned through multiple sources that PJ Fleck has a tentative agreement with #Gophers to be the next head coach. 6-yr, $21M range
— FOX 9 Sports (@Fox9Sports) January 6, 2017
But the more interesting part, at least from a Wisconsin perspective, is how much Fleck will earn. According to Joe Schmit of KSTP-TV, the Gophers will have to give Fleck a six-year deal worth around $21 million. That’s $3.5 million per year, a 150-percent increase from what Claeys made this year and $1 million more than Jerry Kill made during his final season. It’s also more than the $2.7 million that Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst made in leading the Badgers to an 11-3 record and Big Ten West title. It means a guy who has yet to coach a game at a Power 5 school is making more than the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
No one should expect athletic director Barry Alvarez to throw millions more on top of Chryst’s base salary, but it’s a bad look for the Badgers to have a successful head coach making that much less than an unproven up-and-coming coach like Fleck. Wisconsin needs to close the gap, and it’s our guess here that Alvarez and his staff have already made an effort to address the situation even before this latest news.
Hand down, man down
College basketball coaches normally find their way onto the court at times during the game, normally when the ball is on the other end of the court. But every once in a while, they make their presence felt when the ball is right in front of them. That’s what Indiana coach Tom Crean did on Tuesday night when the Badgers were in town.
Watching UW-Indiana again: OK defense by Tom Crean here on Zak Showalter, but he absolutely has to get a hand up. pic.twitter.com/pFw2PDsmDY
— Jim Polzin (@JimPolzinWSJ) January 5, 2017
Showalter made the shot, perhaps because it wasn’t the first time he’s dealt with opposing coaches while attempting a shot. Back in March, Xavier coach Chris Mack was almost right under the senior when he put up a 3-pointer in the NCAA tournament.
In Crean’s case, there is so very little room between the bench area and the floor, but he’s got to do a better job of knowing where he is. Mack doesn’t have an excuse, considering there is plenty of room behind him. Is it a big deal? Probably not. But it seems at times that the coach acts like a sixth defender, something officials can’t continue to allow.
For the first time since 2013 and just the fourth time in the existence of the World Junior Championships, the United States took home the gold medal, defeating Canada 5-4 in a game decided in a shootout.
USA! USA! USA!
Troy Terry scores lone goal of five-round shootout.
— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) January 6, 2017
The team was captained by Wisconsin sophomore Luke Kunin, who had a goal in the semifinal win against Russia on Wednesday.
— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) January 6, 2017
The last three times a Wisconsin player has captained the U.S. team they’ve won gold.
- Cotton Bowl officials were impressed with Wisconsin’s fans and players.
- Wisconsin has won nine games in a row, but still fell in ESPN’s latest bracketology.
- After more than a month off, the Wisconsin hockey team returns to the ice Friday night to take on Michigan State. Here’s the Wisconsin State Journal’s preview.