Wisconsin’s prime-time spring game, more Super thoughts and how high of a seed could the Badgers be
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Today is Tuesday, Feb. 7, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Friday Night Lights
A year ago, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez admitted he had given up hope that fans would ever fill Camp Randall Stadium for the annual spring game, but that doesn’t mean the Hall of Fame coach has stopped thinking of ways to increase attendance. It’s why on Monday the school announced that the game this year would be played on Friday, April 21, at 6:30 p.m. — the first time it’s ever been held on a day other than Saturday..
Alvarez: We've averaged 8,000-15,000 for the spring game. I’ve kind of given up on a vision of a full stadium, unfortunately.
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) February 1, 2016
The goal, obviously, is to draw a bigger crowd than Wisconsin has seen in recent years. There were 9,630 fans there in 2015 and 8,204 in 2014. When you compare those figures to other schools in the country, and even the Big Ten, it’s not pretty. Heck, you could take 10 years worth of spring game crowds at Wisconsin and still not equal the number that have shown up at Ohio State lately.
So this is what the Badgers have turned to, making it a prime-time event under the lights. What can it hurt? Is the attendance going to get worse? Unlikely. In fact, a very unscientific sampling — a Twitter poll — of Wisconsin fans suggests the Badgers hope of drawing more is a possibility.
Are you more or less likely to go to Wisconsin's Spring Game with it being on a Friday night?
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) February 6, 2017
It’s unlikely that we’re ever going to see 25,000 or 30,000 people attend the annual event. It’s just not that great of a draw, especially for a program that isn’t run by a big-personality, look-at-me type of coach. But the effort to tweak the event and try different things to bring more people in is admirable. Now we’ll see if the latest incarnation is attractive to fans.
Next Super Bowl champion?
Former Wisconsin running back James White earned his second Super Bowl ring on Sunday, playing a huge role in New England’s 25-point comeback win against Atlanta. With the dynasty the Patriots have built, it’s possible, and maybe even likely, that White will add another ring in the near future. But outside of him, there are a lot of other former Badgers in position to win their own.
Here’s our look at the most likely to do so in 2017.
It took a couple big-time kicks from Green Bay’s Mason Crosby to keep Frederick and the Cowboys out of the NFC title game this year. But with the All-Pro center surrounded by the best offensive line in football, and a pair of standout rookies this season in the backfield, Frederick and the Cowboys have a legitimate chance to win their first title since 1995 next season.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
The quarterback already has a Super Bowl ring but should be in a good spot to challenge for another. Blessed with an outstanding defense and quite a few really nice weapons on offense, anything other than a spot in the big game would be a disappointment.
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Watt missed almost the entire 2016 season after undergoing back surgery, but even without him, the Texans made it to the divisional round of the playoffs and led the NFL in total defense. With the defensive end back in the fold, Houston has the makings of a championship-level unit. Now they just have to find a quarterback.
How high can they go?
Selection Sunday is a little more than five weeks away and things are starting to come into focus, at least a little bit, when it comes to what seed Wisconsin can earn.
In his latest bracketology, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Badgers as a No. 4 seed and playing in Milwaukee for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
But that’s right now. What if they run the table in the regular season to take the Big Ten title and add a tournament title to their resume? How high of a seed could they earn?
Or higher… https://t.co/8ntwGUCJ5x
— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) February 6, 2017
It’s unlikely, with several tough road and home games left, that Wisconsin will win out, and the conference tournament will be a crapshoot, especially with it taking place in Washington D.C., and Maryland getting a strong home-court advantage.
The key, though, is to do enough to get to Milwaukee. Winning the regular season Big Ten title should get them there and anything more is gravy.
Up in the polls
Wisconsin moved up to No. 7 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, its highest ranking this season, and its highest overall since the final poll of the 2014-15 season. The Badgers are one of three Big Ten teams in the poll, joined by Purdue at No. 16 and Maryland at No. 21.
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) February 6, 2017
The Badgers have been ranked in every poll this season, starting out at No. 9 and getting as low as No. 18 after falling to the Boilermakers in early January — still their only Big Ten loss. And it appears that they have a good chance of being in every poll this season, which would be just the fifth time in school history the program has accomplished that.
That number seems small considering all the success former coach Bo Ryan had, but only three times in his 14 full seasons were the Badgers in the poll all year long, the most recent coming in 2014-15.
Rankings in college basketball are rather useless and not something the NCAA Tournament selection committee pays attention to. But it would still be a nice little feather in the team’s cap to doing something that’s happened so rarely in Madison.
- ESPN’s Jay Bilas had high praise for the defensive work of Wisconsin sophomore Ethan Happ.
- From Ben Volin at the Boston Globe: Why Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady compared former Badgers star James White to his son.
- Speaking of White, he got a warm reception at Disney World after his historic performance in Super Bowl LI.
- Over at Madison.com, Todd Milewski looks at Wisconsin forward Trent Fredric, a “remarkable hockey player” still hungry to improve.