November 30, 2010

Okay, maybe the Bears are good after all

I was quick to dismiss the Bears early in the season due to their Swiss Cheese offensive line, but they've really turned it around lately. They really remind me of the 2009 Packers - Rodgers was sacked eleventy billion times in the first half of the season before the offensive line shored up/gelled and managed to protect him pretty well as the season went on. It looks like we're starting to see the same with the Bears this season - now that Cutler has some time he's started to catch fire despite his weak crop of receivers. Their defense is proving how much they missed Urlacher last year on every play, and their special teams look pretty good.

Given the number of wild card contenders in the NFC, the Packers-Bears game at Lambeau on Jan. 2 has a decent chance of being a win or go home game for both teams. The 8-3 Bears should beat Detroit and Minnesota and lose to NE and NYJ, while the injury-decimated 7-4 Packers should handle the Niners, Lions, and Giants, resulting in a matchup of 10-5 teams for the NFC North title. It should be a good one.

November 28, 2010

Going bowling

It's still not *technically* official, but with the release of this week's BCS standings Wisconsin is headed to the Rose Bowl for the first time in ten years (most likely to play TCU). Their last visit was just before I arrived in Madison, in Ron Dayne's Heisman season. I thought I would just share some random highlights of each year of my decade as a Badgers fan.

  • 8/25/2001 Wisconsin 26, Virginia 17
    This was my first game, and by some coincidence it was against one of the schools that I could have chosen to go to. My dad and I were up that weekend and I might not have even moved in to my dorm room yet. I had student season tickets and he scalped one from somewhere. Little did I know at the time how easy it would have been to buy a student ticket for him too but these were the days before craigslist I guess. The start to this game was delayed for quite some time due to a big thunderstorm rolling through just before game time. Later I would also learn that I didn't need to get there so damn early.

  • 11/23/2002 Wisconsin 49, Minnesota 41
    I don't have a lot of specific memories of this season, but the big story was Jim Leonhard's record-setting number of interceptions. He's done quite well for himself in the NFL for a former undersized walkon. He's now the captain of the Jets defense, and I still have a worn-out old #18 jersey that my wife bought me a year later. This year also marked the end of the Brooks Bollinger era, also known as "Bollinger on the keeper......tackled for a gain of one yard". Every. Freaking. Play.

  • 10/11/2003 Wisconsin 17, Ohio State 10
    Still easily the greatest game I've attended in person. OSU was ranked number one and College Gameday came to town. The Badgers hung in there and had a lead going into the 4th quarter before Ohio State tied it up. At some point in the half one of the OSU defenders choked Wisconsin QB Jim Sorgi which caused him to have difficulty breathing for the rest of the half. Backup QB Matt Schaub responded to the OSU score with a 79 yard bomb to Leeeeee Evans that turned out to be the game winner. It turned a generally shitty night (slow game, lousy weather) into bedlam, and the fans rushed the field.

  • 11/15/2003 Wisconsin 56, MSU 21
    My then-future-in-laws came to town for the first time to come to this game. They were freezing and bundled up as if on an arctic expedition, while we were merely wearing a sweatshirt or two. Things are so much more active in the student section that it was easy to stay warm. This was the Lee Evans 5 TD game, and looking up the recap of this game, Sorgi shattered the all-time UW QB rating record by posting a ridiculous 268.38 rating. The in-laws left after the 4th TD or so to go get warm.

  • 12/31/2003 Wisconsin 14, Auburn 28 (Music City Bowl)
    This was our first trip to a bowl game. My wife's best friend went to Auburn for a year, and since it was within driving distance of VA we decided to score some tickets and drive down to Nashville for New Year's. Wisconsin lost to future Redskins QB Jason Campbell, and we ended up sitting on the Auburn side of the field due to some confusion about/literal reading of our tickets. The Auburn fans around us were *quite* annoying. Our Auburn friend had been talking up SEC football and what a Big Deal it was, but she was blown away by the energy of the Wisconsin crowd at the day before the game parade and at the game itself. Also - note to Southern schools. Dressing up for football games does not make it a Big Deal. It just makes you look like assholes. Just saying. The other big highlights of the night were eating an incredible Shephard's Pie at some downtown restaurant and watching the Central Time New Year's on Conan.

  • 10/16/2004 Wisconsin 20 at Purdue 17
    We didn't have cable this year so we had to focus on broadcast TV for the Badger games. This was pre-BTN so if one of the national carriers didn't pick up the game, the local CBS channel paid for the rights for the ESPN Plus coverage. This game however, was on ESPN2. We headed down to the Campus Nitty Gritty bar and were lucky enough to stake out a table where we could see the TV. Purdue was riding high that year on the strength of Heisman frontrunner Kyle Orton. Purdue held the lead late in the 4th quarter before Badgers CB James Starks laid a hit on Orton, flipping him completely over and forcing a fumble that he ran in for the game-winning TD. Purdue and Orton went on to disappoint the rest of the season.

  • 11/18/2006 Wisconsin 35, Buffalo 3
    We were living in the shadow of Camp Randall stadium at this point and had long ago given up our tickets. Some friends of ours managed to get some tickets from work however and we had our first experience of watching a Badger game away from the student section. It was a cold day made even colder by being in the shadow of the field house and not standing for most of the game. Despite the fact that we were out of the student section they were still not great seats - they were just in the opposite end zone. But it was still Wisconsin football (and a shellacking at that). That team went 11-1 and defeated Darren McFadden's juggernaught of an Arkansas team in the Capitol One bowl.

As you can see the memories tailed off a bit after we let our season tickets lapse. But it's been a great ride.

November 20, 2010

Everything's coming up roses

Wisconsin is back in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title after today's events. Things would be even rosier if Purdue hadn't managed to blow a lead and give up 22 4th quarter points to Michigan State. All three top big 10 teams are favored this week:

Michigan State @ Penn State
Denard Robinson @ Ohio State
Northwestern @ Wisconsin

The NW-UW game is (hopefully) the safest bet of these three, as Northwestern lost its best player in QB Dan Persa in their defeat of Iowa. MSU has the toughest route against a PSU team that has looked better the past few weeks.

Most likely result: UW, OSU, MSU win. In this case, the tie goes down to the BCS standings, which Wisconsin currently leads. Ohio State should get a boost from their win over Iowa but it shouldn't be enough to overcome UW's lead in the polls.

Next most likely: MSU loses to Penn State, OSU wins. In this case UW would go to the Rose Bowl over the Buckeyes based on their head to head win.

Next most likely: Ohio State somehow loses to a Denard Robinson Offensive Explosion, MSU wins in Happy Valley. In this case Sparty heads to Pasadena based on head-to-head over Bucky.

Next most likely: Wisconsin loses to Northwestern - they're pretty much screwed if this happens. And this is what NW excels at. Luckily Wisconsin will be riding high on their chance for the Rose Bowl, Senior Day, and the 2010 coaching staff that has been able to make the team show up.

November 10, 2010

Nagging Badger worries

I'm missing this week's home game against Indiana (as I'll be watching my brother get married), but I'm starting to have some nagging worries. It's starting to look like Wisconsin might be without both John Clay and James White this week. That said, they were without both of those players in the second half of last week's Purdue game and the Badgers took care of business, so who knows what will happen. My big worry is that the team will write off this game much as I have been doing for the past few weeks and will be surprised by a team that came within a dropped pass of beating Iowa last week. Here's hoping the home-field advantage shows up for the team this week, and the coaches continue to show the preparation, motivation skills, and general adjustability we've seen in the past three games.

November 06, 2010

Wisconsin 34 - 13 Purdue: Badgers take care of business (eventually)

Wisconsin turned what was a close game in the first half into a blowout.

The team looked flat on both sides of the ball coming off their bye week, especially the defense. Purdue was moving the ball easily in small chunks of yardage and Wisconsin was having a tough time stopping them, despite the fact that the Boilermakers were starting their third string, true freshman QB due to a rash of injuries. John Clay and the running game had a tough time getting going early, and the offense clearly missed the different look of James White. I was shaking my head on several plays, most notably a sweep to the left where Clay seemed to dance back and forth for about 5 seconds before being tackled behind the line of scrimmage instead of trusting his blockers. Clay is a great between-the-tackles back but it seems like we've been seeing a little too much of this hesitation from him in general this season.

Clay and Watt were both knocked out of the game for a good spell - Clay with a knee problem and Watt with some sort of shoulder injury and the team just looked lost heading into the locker room at halftime. I wouldn't have believed I was saying this a month ago, but big props to the coaching staff for making adjustments at halftime and absolutely crushing Purdue 28-3 in the second half. Wisconsin's defense stiffened and managed to pick off the Purdue QB three times, including a blowout-sealing Pick Six from Antonio Fenelus.

Game ball: Montee Ball and the offensive line for producing the best executed play I've seen all season, by any team. Midway through the third quarter, with Wisconsin clinging to a 13-10 lead, Ball rushed to the left for a 31 yard touchdown and had five or six blockers ahead of him on the way to the end zone. Wisconsin went up 20-10 but you knew the game was over at that point.

Next week UW takes on Indiana at Camp Randall, but I'll miss the game. My brother was smart enough to schedule his wedding for a weekend when UW takes on IU at home and there's no Packers game (laughing).

Election Post-mortem Rant

Much frustration all around this week, though the writing has been on the wall for months. This stuff has been stewing in my head all week and while some of it is probably irrational, and just wanted to dump these thoughts...

One of the biggest thing that's pissed me off in the election postmortems this week is that I feel no one is hitting on the uncomfortable truth behind one of the common ad subjects used by the Republicans (and a few Democrats) this year: Nancy Pelosi. Has anyone really tried to see what about her gets conservatives' hackles up? I *can* buy the argument that she is emblematic of the Democrats now unpopular (more on that in a minute) health care and progressive agendas and I can see running against them. But what do voters really know about Pelosi, other than that she is liberal? I listened to a long NPR postmortem this week and they chalked it up to Pelosi being a classic 'limousine liberal', due to the fact that she's from a coast, was born into money, and her husband is supposedly very wealthy. But how many people know this? Maybe it's well known withing the Republican echo chamber, but my impression is that those who aren't rabid Rush/Hannity/etc. listeners know three things about Pelosi: she's fairly liberal, she's a woman, and she's from San Francisco. Given those last two things, is there no surprise that so many Republicans ran on a "Let's defeat Pelosi" agenda and featured her prominently in their ads? It was a perfect campaign for them, as they could run against the Democratic accomplishments while simultaneously dog-whistling sexists against women and the strongly-correlated homophobes with those unspoken 'San Francisco values' that she represents. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised that no one is going to that well - it was clear in the 2008 primary that racism >>> sexism as a thing to get outraged about and even then there will be a whole lot of bloviating when the card is played.

I've also been a (little) upset at a lot of the treatment of the Tea Party, from the media and the parties. I strongly disagree with them and they fielded some pretty terrible candidates in several races, most notably Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell. But I don't think it's enough to write off the movement as a whole bunch of nutjobs that may be trouble for the Republicans. I think that the parties aren't taking the right message from them. To the GOP the message taken is "you're not conservative enough", and elements of it could drag them to the right in governmental process (though I don't really see it). But the overriding message, which Democrats also failed to seize on, was "anyone but you", and it surprises me that the Tea Party didn't come up with better candidates all around. Maybe I'm just sad that the seeds for a yet another possibly viable third party in this system are going to be crushed yet again by the heel of corporate, hyperpartisan government.

The last but of this is the Democrats. It absolutely disgusts me that what we can hang our hats on is the fact that Harry Reid, who has been completely spineless, ineffective, and useless as the Senate majority leader, hung on while a far more principled guy like Russ Feingold lost big in his race. All in all, the Onion summed it up best with "Democrats: If We're Gonna Lose, Let's Go Down Running Away From Every Legislative Accomplishment We've Made". Seriously, if the Democrats showed some spine and actually mounted a reasonable defense of their programs and policies, especially on health care, stimulus, and the bank/GM bailouts, they would have gotten some respect from voters. Instead, by running away from their agenda they allowed the Republicans to reframe the debate away from the "We were elected in a landslide in 2006/2008 on these things" instead of signaling that everything they did somehow wrong and and deceptive. If you're going to go through the trouble to spend all this political capital you earned in your last two elections you should fucking stand by it and explain why you did it. One of the things that drove me craziest in this cycle was the Democrats not harping on the fact that all the bailout money was or will soon be repaid (with interest), the stimulus was nearly half tax cuts, and health care will keep the debt from spiraling up even more (and health care in general is still polling positively). Oddly enough, the legislation that seemed to completely disappear from the conversation was the banking and credit card reform that was passed by the government. I don't really see how anyone who thinks the Democrats didn't go far enough in regulating Wall Street would vote for the deregulatory Republicans who got us into this mess in the first place. It's not like the Tea Party was running on that platform either.

I'll end on this, posted by James to one of my facebook venting threads.

It has nothing to do with left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, or any other idiotic label that Americans throw around without thinking. We just had another election in this country that had absolutely zero substance. Not one candidate discussed the two wars that are draining our economy. Not one candidate addressed the issue of torture that has and is continuing in various parts of the world. Not one candidate addressed any of the structural problems that caused our manufacturing base to erode. Not one candidate described how he or she would prosecute corporate criminals (i.e., the Enrons, banksters, and BPs of this world), or what specific legislation they would pursue to prevent these crimes from happening in the future.
Not one candidate described in any substantial way how they would fix health care, education, lack of public transportation, pollution, mounting income inequalities, or any other issue that actually matters to real human beings. All we get from political candidates from all parties is ignorant quotes that are devoid of all meaning; real gems like "I believe in small government", "I am not a witch", and (now I'm paraphrasing) "I am not qualified for this job, but hey ya'll, at least I'm an account, and not a lawyer like my opponent."

America. Fuck Yeah. :(