Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wisconsin hires Gary Andersen

Former (technically interim) Wisconsin Badgers head football coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez found his replacement for Bret Bielema who shockingly left Wisconsin for Arkansas earlier this month by hiring Gary Andersen.  The 48-year old former Utah State head coach is classified as a defensive minded players coach, which gives Wisconsin their third consecutive defensive first head coach in the mold of Alvarez and Bielema.  Andersen used a spread offense at Utah State.  There is no word yet whether Andersen will stick with the spread offense or adopt Wisconsin's ground and pound approach.

Recent history suggests that it makes sense that Wisconsin hired a defensive minded coach but it was a bit of a shock for both Utah State and Wisconsin that it ended up being Andersen.  Alvarez got to see Andersen's work up close and in-person earlier this year when Wisconsin beat Utah State 16-14 on September 15th in Madison thanks to a missed 37-yard field goal attempt by Utah State kicker Josh Thompson in the waning moments of the game.  Earlier this season Andersen signed a contract extension at Utah State worth roughly $750,000 annually through 2018.  Andersen got a nice raise from Wisconsin by signing a five-year, $10 million contract worth $1.8 million in 2013 that contains $100,000 raises each of the next four years.  Despite Andersen having a chance to interview at California and Colorado earlier this year, he said that he wanted to stay at Utah State.  Apparently the chance to coach Wisconsin (along with a hefty raise) was more enticing than Utah State, Colorado, or California.

Alvarez choose Andersen instead of a number of other strong candidates: Chris Ash (current defensive coordinator for the Wisconsin Badgers and future defensive coordinator for the Arkansas Razorbacks), Paul Chryst (current head coach for the Pittsburgh Panthers and former Wisconsin Badgers assistant), Dave Clawson (current head coach for the Bowling Green Falcons), Dave Doeren (current head coach for N.C. State and former Wisconsin Badger assistant), and Mel Tucker (current defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars and a former Wisconsin Badgers defensive back).

Andersen is a native of Utah that started his coaching career in 1988 in Louisiana before coaching out west (Arizona, Idaho, and Utah) at various places from 1989 through 2012.

Andersen served as a defensive assistant at Utah from 1997-2008 (1997-02 defensive line/special teams coach, defensive line coach in 2004, and defensive coordinator from 2005-08) with one unsuccessful season as head coach of Southern Utah in 2003 mixed in where he posted a record of 4–7.  Andersen finished as a Broyles Award finalist in 2008, an annual award given to the top assistant in college football, before becoming the head coach of Utah State in 2009.

When Andersen took over Utah State they were coming off a 3-9 season, which was actually a successful season since Utah State had not won three games since 2005.  Andersen finished 26-24 record overall (1-1 in bowl games) at Utah State: 4-8 in 2009, 4-8 in 2010, 7-6 in 2011 (lost to Ohio University in the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), and 11-2 in 2012 (beat Toledo in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl).

Hiring Andersen is the first step for a Wisconsin Badgers football program that will have put together an entirely new coaching staff twice in less than 18 months.  After last season Wisconsin replaced almost all of their assistant coaches, which is what they will end up doing after this season as well since most assistants agreed to coach the Rose Bowl but accepted similar positions with other programs for next season.

It is way too early to see how all the assistant coach positions will shake out but it looks like it will be a mix of current Wisconsin assistant coaches, former Utah State assistants, and a few select assistants from other programs.  According to various reports, Andersen will bring three coaches with him from Utah State: Dave Aranda (defensive coordinator), Bill Busch (special teams coordinator/safeties coach), and T.J. Woods (offensive line).  Andersen hopes to bring former Utah State assistant coach and current Utah defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a with him as well.

In terms of current Wisconsin assistants, since most already accepted positions with other programs, unless Alvarez and Andersen can lure some of those guys back to Wisconsin the early indications are that only Thomas Hammock (running backs coach), Bart Miller (offensive line coach), and Ben Strickland (assistant secondary coach) will stay at Wisconsin.

Fans might have wanted Alvarez and Wisconsin to make a flashier hire than Andersen but that is just not the Wisconsin way.  The recent success of less flashy coaches like Bo Ryan and Bret Bielema in basketball and football respectively shows that bringing in a guy like Andersen is the right move.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 Week 16 - Packers wallop Titans

I am living quite a charmed life because I got to see my second consecutive Packers game.  Last week I attended the Packers/Bears game in Chicago with Papa Cheese.  This week I attended the Packers/Titans game with Cheesehead Chick, UP, and Sam.  Luckily we all got to enjoy an old fashion butt kicking with the Packers stomping the Titans 55-7, which was the most points they've scored since October 2, 1983 against Tampa Bay and just two points short of the team record for most points scored set in 1945.

I really enjoyed using Peter King's "10 Things I Think I Think" gimmick last week so I am going to use it again this week:

#1) It took some brass balls to bench starting center Jeff Saturday in favor of Evan Dietrich-Smith.  Apparently the Packers wanted to make the move sooner but losing right tackle Bryan Bulaga for the season forced the Packers to move starting left guard T.J. Lang to right tackle and insert Dietrich-Smith at left guard.  Lang looked uncomfortable at right tackle so they moved him back to left guard and inserted undrafted rookie free agent Don Barclay at right tackle.  With Lang and Barclay settled at left guard and right tackle, the Packers felt comfortable inserting Dietrich-Smith in place of Saturday.  It is only one week so take the results with a grain of salt, but Dietrich-Smith looked much better run blocking than Saturday.  Absent an injury, it looks like the starting offensive line left to right for their Super Bowl run will be Marshall Newhouse (LT), Lang (LG), Dietrich-Smith (C), Josh Sitton (RG), and Barclay (RT).

#2) After starting 2-3, the Packers went 9-1 to control their own destiny for the #2 seed.  The Packers jumped the 49ers in the standings so they are in line for a first round bye.  I know the Packers lost last year after a bye but their last month of the season in 2011 they were barely winning shootouts thanks to their porous defense.  This year the defense is much improved thanks to an influx of young talent via the 2012 NFL Draft and some nice rookie free agent pickups.  All that separates the Packers from a #2 seed and a first round bye is a road win in Week 17 against the Vikings, which would most likely eliminate the Vikings from playoff contention too boot.

#3) Let's relax on Ryan Grant's performance against the Titans: 20 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns along with one reception for 34 yards.  On paper that is pretty impressive but Grant only gains the yards that are blocked for him and not a yard more and fumbled last week against the Bears.

#4) The defense put up some pretty impressive stats: only gave up 180 yards (79 rushing and 101 passing), had 2 interceptions (Shields and Walden), and 7 sacks (Hawk 2, Jones 1, Matthews 1, Neal 1, Moses 1 and Shields 1).  You read that correctly, A.J. Hawk actually registered two sacks to go along with 20 times that he ran directly into the offensive line without creating any pressure.  While the state line is impressive, don't forget the Packers did that against a number of 2nd and 3rd string offensive lineman since the Titans are missing 80% of their starting offensive line due to injury.  That and Jake Locker looks like a bust just two years into his NFL career.

#5) Nice to see the Packers finally hand out a start to finish butt kicking.  Call me greedy but once the score got into the 30's I was much more interest in the shutout than pouring on more points.  Don't get me wrong, it was great to see the offense in sync but shutouts are so rare that it would have been cool to see a shutout at Lambeau.

#6) What would Chris Johnson cost to acquire via trade from the Titans?  Despite his measly output against the Packers (11 rushes for 28 yards), I still remember how explosive Johnson was when he first entered the league.  I know there is the "Curse of 30" for running backs but Johnson is only 27 and hasn't come close to 300 carries since 2010 so he has fresh legs.  The real problem is what Johnson would cost the Packers.  In 2011 Johnson signed a six-year, $56 million deal, which probably makes him to expensive to fit under the salary cap unless Johnson would be amenable to restructuring his contract for the chance to join an already potent offense like the Packers.

#7) I am going to take the wildly unpopular stance that the Packers need to keep Randall Cobb as their return guy in the playoffs, assuming he is healthy, despite the fact that he got hurt returning a punt against the Titans.  Jeremy Ross looked good returning punts after Cobb left injured but he only has a handful of returns under his belt and one of them was a dropped ball in Chicago on a ridiculous fake punt.  Is that really enough experience for a guy to be your main return-man in the playoffs? Say what you want about Cobb besting Ahman Green's all-time single-season record for net yards because Cobb got to include special teams yardage while Green only touched the ball on offense but it speaks to how well Cobb has done in the return game.  How quickly people forget that the Packers have had an absolutely putrid return game for the better part of a decade until they drafted Cobb.  Plus Cobb is a sure handed, smart football player.  Take his heads up play at the start of the second half when he stepped out of bounds before he possessed the ball on the kickoff netting the Packers almost 40 more yards.  It is one thing to know the rule, it is quite another to pull it of as seamlessly as Cobb did.  With so many quality wide receivers (Boykin, Cobb, Driver, Jennings, Jones, Nelson, and Ross) and tight ends (Crabtree, Finley, Taylor, and Williams) I hope the Packers keep Cobb as their main return guy for the stretch run to the Super Bowl.

#8) Speaking of special teams, let's relax on the Crosby is back talk.  Crosby converted from 26-yards and needed a favorable bounce off the goal post from 48-yards to have his first game since Week 6 that he did not missed at least one field goal.  Let's see him go a few weeks without any misses before we start talking about him being back.

#9) Finley is finally starting to put it together for the first time in a couple seasons.  Before the Packers/Bears game my favorite sports writer of all-time Bob McGinn wrote an article that said according to sources within the organization, absent a huge improvement in Finley's play for the rest of 2012, the Packers were going to trade or cut Finley in the off-season.  It is unclear whether Finley read McGinn's article but Finley sure has been impressive the last two weeks.  If the Packers continue to use the no huddle, I would love to see a personnel package of Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Finley.  I know that means the Packers would be without a running back but they could occasionally have Finley line-up as a blocker or Cobb line-up in the backfield as a running back.  As long as the new-look offensive line discussed above can block, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the aforementioned quintet of skill players would be essentially unstoppable.

#10) I am sure that everyone has holiday traditions that they look forward to each year.  In my family we are starting to make new traditions because two of my cousins adopted children from Ghana.  It is amazing to see these little kids embrace the cold weather and snow in Wisconsin because the climate where they were born is the exact opposite for 365 days a year.  I am sure the holidays are rough for some people so I am not trying to rub it in but enjoying the simple pleasures of Wisconsin when we went sledding yesterday still has me smiling a million times more than any Packer victory.  Happy Holidays to everyone.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012 Week 15 - Packers beat Bears to Clinch the 2012 NFC North Title

As a Packer fan and resident of Chicago since 2003, every Packers/Bears game feels like a playoff games, especially the ones played in Chicago.  Thanks to having uncles with Bears season tickets, I have been to nearly every Packers/Bears game in Chicago for the last decade.  Usually I've taken Cheesehead Chick or a buddy but this time I really wanted to go with Papa Cheese.  Luckily schedules worked out so Papa Cheese and I could enjoy the 186th installment of the Packers/Bears rivalry together at Soldier Field.

The Packers beat the Bears 21-13 to narrow the Bears' lead in the series to 92–88–6.  Instead of giving a blow-by-blow game recap of the game, which felt like a bigger blowout than the final score indicated, I decided to employ a gimmick of my favorite national football writer Peter King that he calls "10 Things I Think I Think":

#1) Three touchdown receptions by James Jones helped erase some of the horrible memories of him fumbling away a regular season win at Soldier Field in 2010.  I was dead wrong when I said that James Jones was the 4th most overpaid Packer going in the 2012 season.

#2) Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward's 6th interception completely changed the complexion of the game because it gave the Packers good field position in the waning moments of the first half, which they took advantage of by scoring a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has taken some heat over the years for his horrible body language but his reaction to Hayward's interception might have been an all-time low for Cutler.

#3) There is no doubt that Ryan Grant gives the Packers a fresh set of legs at running back but let's not get too excited about Grant.  There is a reason why Grant was a free agent for most of the season.  That doesn't even factor in Grant's fumble as the Packers were about to put the game out of reach.

#4) The Packers notching their 12th straight division win while clinching their 2nd straight NFC North title with two games left to play still does not mean they should get complacent, especially when a first round bye is within reach if the Packers win out and the 49ers lose one of their last two games.

#5) Head coach Mike McCarthy has made some bold special teams calls this season (think fake field goal against Bears and fake field punt against the Saints) that worked out, but dialing up a trick play with the Packers leaning 21-10 midway through the 4th quarter was downright foolish.  For those that don't know what I am talking about, return man extraordinaire Randall Cobb fielded the punt then threw the ball all the way across the field to Jeremy Ross for Ross's first touch in the NFL.  Some speculated that McCarthy called the fake because Rodgers tweaked his ankle but that presumes that McCarthy's high risk play call would definitely result in a touchdown, which is a stretch.  The smart play is to let Cobb return the kick and have back-up quarterback Graham Harrell play for a series while Rodgers received medial attention.  Thankfully the defense held the Bears to a field goal, otherwise the special teams blunder could have cost the Packers the game.

#6) Wow is it nice to have a healthy Clay Matthews.  Not only is Matthews one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, but you would be hard pressed to find a better rush outside linebacker that defends the run so well.  The only chink in Matthews's armor is that he does not drop into coverage very well.  I support Matthews occasionally spying the quarterback in passing situations but having him drop into coverage seems like a waste.

#7) Although Bears fans hate to agree, it was nice to finally see offensive pass interference called in an NFL game.  I get that three offensive pass interference calls against Alshon Jeffrey feels like too much since refs rarely call offensive pass interference but I applaud the referees for making the right calls.  Plus, if anyone deserves to get a few calls in their favor it is Sam Shields.

#8) Another game, another dreadful performance by placekicker Mason Crosby.  The first miss rivaled Crosby's miss as time expired against the Colts for the worst kick of his career.  The second miss struck the upright to make Crosby 0-2.  I hope I am wrong, but it feels like Crosby is going to have at least once kick with the game on the line in the playoffs, which gives me nightmares.

#9) There is no doubt that the Packers/Bears rivalry is the most historic in the NFL but it has been one sided, both ways, for long periods of time.  Take the current streak for the Packers, they just beat the Bears for the 6th straight time and it was their 8th win in their last 9 tries (only loss was the James Jones fumble game discussed above) to push head coach Mike McCarthy's record against the Bears to 10-5.

#10) Usually Peter King talks about non-football things for #10 so if I am going to borrow his column gimmick, I might as well do it properly.  If you've never been to Chicago, please put it on your bucket list for next summer.  The winters are harsh in the Midwest but the summers make up for it.  Do yourself a favor, come to Chicago the weekend of the Old Town Art Fair.  Besides checking out the art fair, try to catch (no pun intended) a Cubs' game from the bleachers at Wrigley Field, check out a concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, tour one of the many museums in and around Grant Park (can't go wrong with the Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, or the Field Museum), grab a bite to eat in Greek Town or Little Italy, attend a show at Second City, grab a night cap at the Hancock Tower, and grab brunch at one of the many tasty breakfast spots (I highly recommend Orange, Wishbone, or Yolk) on your way out of town.  I know some of those things sound touristy, but they are all worth it.

I am going to the Packers/Titans game next week at Lambeau so check back for my review of (hopefully) another Packers' win.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Barry Alvarez "humbly" decides to coach the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl

The last time Barry Alvarez coached the Wisconsin Badgers football team they upset the 7th ranked Auburn Tigers in the 2006 Capital One Bowl winning 24-10.  Everyone, including Alvarez, could not conceive of any way that Alvarez would even coach the Badgers again, let alone coach them in a Rose Bowl.

Part of the reason Alvarez agreed to coach Wisconsin in the 2013 Rose Bowl following the shocking departure of Bret Bielema to Arkansas was that Alvarez said he was "humbled" by the fact that the team captains asked him to coach the 2013 Rose Bowl.  I said "humbled" because if you've ever seen one of Alvarez's press conferences, he is anything but humble.

There is no doubt that Alvarez is the savior of the Wisconsin Badgers football program, which allowed Wisconsin to turn a blind eye to certain indiscretions on Alvarez's watch because of his impressive resume at Wisconsin:
- Head Coach from 1990 to 2005
- Athletic Director from 2004 to present
- Overall record as head coach of 118-73-4 (.615)
- Bowl record of 8-3, including 3-0 in the Rose Bowl (UCLA 21-16 in 1994, UCLA 38-31 in 1999, and Stanford 17-9 in 2000)
- Won 3 Big Ten Titles (1993, 1998, and 1999)
- College Football Hall of Game inductee in 2010

Besides the captains asking Alvarez to coach the team, there were a number of other converging factors that worked in Alvarez's favor to coach the Badgers one last time.  Most notably, Alvarez is the athletic director so he doesn't need to get his boss's permission because he is the boss.  Besides being the main decision maker, almost all of Wisconsin's assistant coaches have their sights set on other jobs.  Juxtapose that with Alvarez who has reportedly had other head coaching offers since stepping down as head coach following the 2005 season.  Instead of bolting Wisconsin for a more lucrative coaching job, Alvarez remained athletic director at Wisconsin.

There is the financial aspects of Alvarez coaching the Rose Bowl as well.  Alvarez earns an annual salary of $1 million for being the Wisconsin athletic director.  It is reported that Alvarez will earn at least $100,000 for coaching the Rose Bowl and is in line for a sizable bonus if the Badgers beat Stanford in the 2013 Rose Bowl.  Doubling or possibly tripling his salary for the month of December is a nice holiday bonus for Alvarez, which I am sure his wife and bank account will appreciate.

The 2013 Rose Bowl is technically Alvarez's 6th Rose Bowl as a coach since he was an assistant coach twice for the Iowa Hawkeyes (1982 and 1986) to go along with the four Rose Bowls as head coach for Wisconsin (1994, 1999, 2000, and 2013).  In terms of his legacy, this might be the most important Rose Bowl for Alvarez because he is putting his undefeated record as a head coach of 3-0 in the Rose Bowl on the line.  If Alvarez leads the Badgers over Stanford he will join Woody Hayes for the most wins by a Big Ten coach in Rose Bowl history.  Plus it would be a nice jab at his hand picked protege Bret Bielema that bolted Wisconsin for Arkansas earlier this month because Bielema has an 0-2 Rose Bowl record losing the 2011 and 2012 Rose Bowl.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bret Bielema leaves Wisconsin for Arkansas

Wisconsin was a perennial doormat of the Big "Ten" in football before Barry Alvarez took over as the head football coach in 1990.  Alvarez lead the Badgers to a 118-74-4 record, 8-3 in bowl games (including 3 Rose Bowl victories), and 3 Big "Ten" Championships (1993, 1998, & 1999).  Bret Bielema served as defensive coordinator under Alvarez at Wisconsin for two seasons (2004-2005) before taking over as the head football coach when Alvarez relinquished those duties to focus solely on being the Wisconsin athletic director (a position he held since 2004 after Pat Richter retired as athletic director).

On Monday I posted a question to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jeff Potrykus's chat about the rumors of Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Tennessee.  Potrykus dismissed the rumor.  As it turns out, Bielema is leaving Wisconsin to coach in the SEC, just not for Tennessee.  Instead, Bielema accepted an offer to become the 32nd head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, which is the team that Bielema beat 17-14 in his first season as head football coach of Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.  The timing of Bielema leaving Wisconsin is surprising because he was set to lead Wisconsin to their 3rd consecutive Rose Bowl appearance in a little less than a month.

Bielema finished his seven year stint as head football coach at Wisconsin with a 68-24 record, 37-19 in the Big "Ten", 2-0 in Big "Ten" Championship Games, and 2-4 bowl games.

Let's look at Bielema's record, by season:
2006: 12-1 and 7-1 in Big "Ten"
2007: 9-4 and 5-3 in Big "Ten"
2008: 7-6 and 3-5 in Big "Ten"
2009: 10-3 and 5-3 in Big "Ten"
2010: 11-2 and 7-1 in Big "Ten"
2011: 11-3 and 6-2 in Big "Ten"
2012: 8-5 and 4-4 in Big "Ten"

Bielema had a lackluster bowl record, which always left a bad taste in Badgers fan's mouths throughout the 9 month off-season.  Here is Bielema's bowl game breakdown:
2006: beat Arkansas 17-14 in the Capital One Bowl on January 1, 2007
2007: lost to Tennessee 21-17 in the Outback Bowl on January 1, 2008
2008: lost to Florida State 42-13 in the Champs Sports Bowl on December 27, 2008
2009: beat Univ. of Miami (FL) 20-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl on December 29, 2009
2010: lost to TCU 21-19 in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2011
2011: lost to Oregon 45-38 in the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2012

Bielema's biggest accomplishment at Wisconsin will undoubtedly be going 2-0 in the only two Big "Ten" Championship games ever played (so far) in conference history:
2011: beat Michigan State 42-39 in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game
2012: beat Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game

Wisconsin won at least a share of the Big Ten Title in each of the last three seasons: 2010 (Co-Champions), 2011 ("Leaders" Division Co-Champions, represented "Leaders" Division in the Big Ten Championship Game & won), and 2012 ("Leaders" Division representative in Big "Ten" Championship Game despite finishing 3rd in the "Leaders" division because Ohio State & Penn State were ineligible for post-season play & won).  The only hole in Bielema's resume is that he never won a Rose Bowl, going 0-2 while his predecessor and former boss Alvarez went 3-0.

There was some speculation after Bielema accepted the job at Arkansas that he still wanted to coach Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl but rumbling are that associate head coach/defensive line coach Charlie Partridge would get the nod in Bielema's place if Partridge doesn't follow Bielema to Arkansas.  I find Bielema wanting to coach Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl unrealistic on two fronts.  First, Arkansas wants Bielema to hit the recruiting trail immediately.  Second, Wisconsin wants to name Bielema's successor as soon as possible for recruiting purposes and might be able to use the chance to coach the upcoming Rose Bowl as a way to entice a slightly bigger name to take the job.

There are a ton of other jobs that you could argue are just as good or maybe even slightly better than Wisconsin (i.e. Clemson, Michigan State, etc) but what collegiate head football coaching jobs are unquestionably better than Wisconsin?  In my mind, here are the unquestionably better, and in most instances more risky, jobs:
- ACC: Florida State, University of Miami (FL), and Virginia Tech
- Big 12: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas
- Big "Ten": Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State
- Independent: Notre Dame
- Pac-12: Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and USC
- SEC: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and LSU

There is no doubt (in my mind at least) that Arkansas is bigger college football program than Wisconsin.  Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992 but has never won a conference championship and has only appeared in the conference championship game three times  Despite not having any SEC Championships, Arkansas fans still expect to win the SEC.

After finishing the 2011 season the 5th ranked team in the country, the Arkansas football program has fallen on hard times over the last eight months.  Bobby Petrino was fired as the head football coach of Arkansas after it was revealed that he was having an affair with a former Arkansas student-athlete that he hired to work him.  Former Michigan State head coach John L. Smith took a 10-month contract to coach Arkansas but could only muster a 4-8 record (2-6 in the SEC) despite having a ton of raw talent on the roster.  That all leaves Bielema with a bit of a mess to clean-up at Arkansas.

Let's not forget Bielema was born in Illinois, played football at Iowa, and coached football in the Big "Ten" for all but two years of his coaching career until now.  Bielema even took some shots at Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer insinuating that the Big "Ten" is classier than the SEC in terms of recruiting practices.  This all begs the question, why would Bielema take the Arkansas job instead of staying at Wisconsin?

As always, follow the money.  Even though Bielema was already one the 20 highest paid college football coaches earning $2.6 million in 2012 he didn't think that was enough I guess.  There are conflicting reports on Bielema's future annual compensation from Arkansas, some claim that Bielema signed a six-year contract worth $3.2 million a year while others report that Bielema is set to earn more than $4 million a year.  I planned on writing a post as the Badgers got closer to the Rose Bowl on whether Bielema was sufficiently compensated since he was the 5th highest paid coach in the Big "Ten" in 2012 but I guess Arkansas showed us that Bielema was underpaid at Wisconsin.

The Big "Ten" is a quality football conference but it is not nearly as deep or demanding as the SEC.  There are currently 14 teams in the SEC broken into the Eastern Division (University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, University of Missouri, University of South Carolina, University of Tennessee, & Vanderbilt University) and Western Division (University of Alabama, University of Arkansas, Auburn University, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, University of Mississippi, & Texas A&M University).

Juxtapose that with the 14 teams that will make up the Big "Ten" in 2014 with this potential breakdown for the Legends Division (Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, & Wisconsin) and Leaders Division (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, & Northwestern).  With Bielema headed to the SEC that leaves Indiana's Kevin Wilson as the longest tenured coach in the Legends Division (hired in 2010) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz as the longest tenured coach (hired in 1999) in the Big "Ten".

Penn State is only a quarter of the way though four years of crippling sanctions so Wisconsin is poised to push Ohio State for the Legends Division Title for the foreseeable future.  That is simply not the case at Arkansas in the Western Division of the SEC.  Over that same time frame Alabama (thanks to Nick Saban), LSU (thanks to Les Miles), and Texas A&M (thanks to Johnny Football) will most likely finish ahead of Arkansas.  The love for college football down south is akin to professional soccer abroad so if Bielema thinks finishing 4th in the Western Division of the SEC is acceptable, he is sorely mistaken.

The pressing issue for Wisconsin now is getting a quality head coach hired as soon as possible.  The first name to surface was former assistant coach Paul Chryst who coached the tight ends at Wisconsin in 2002 before leaving the program to be the offensive coordinator at Oregon State for the next two seasons (2003-2004) before returning to Wisconsin as the offensive coordinator from 2005-2011 before becoming the head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh this past season.  Chryst only went 6-6 at Pittsburgh but that shouldn't matter much since Chryst is credited with landing a number of the offensive superstars that currently play for the Badgers.  Chryst released a statement that said he is committed to Pittsburgh but as Bielema showed, money talks.

Beside Chryst, former Wisconsin assistant coach Dave Doeren is another name that I am sure will surface.  Doeren held various defensive assistant coaching titles at Wisconsin from 2006-2010 before leaving the program to become the head football coach of Northern Illinois in 2011.  Doeren lead Northern Illinois to a 23-4 record including an upcoming BCS Bowl appearance (Orange Bowl) before leaving to become the head football coach at North Carolina State for next season.

For either Chryst or Doeren to become the next head football coach of Wisconsin, they would need very lucrative long-term guarantees.  I am not saying that Wisconsin has to sign either Chryst or Doeren but I am saying that it is time for Wisconsin to actually start paying the going rate for head coaches and more importantly their assistant coaches.  Bielema lost six assistant coaches last off-season and all were hired to similar assistant coaching positions besides Chryst.  Thus Wisconsin has to start paying their assistants because it might have been a big reason why Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas.

Assuming Bielema continued to keep Wisconsin bowl eligible on an annual basis his job was safe.  Now Bielema has to chase national titles with BCS bowl appearances on a near annual basis as a fallback position to keep his job at Arkansas.  Only time will tell if Bielema made the right decision.  As long as Bielema accepted the Arkansas job while fully appreciating the risks, I can't blame him for taking the new gig.  If Bielema is looking for a new employer in the next five years, he should have stayed at Wisconsin instead of going all-in taking the Arkansas job

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wisconsin wallop Nebraska in 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game

Not many people picked the Wisconsin Badgers to win their second consecutive Big "Ten" Championship Game thanks to their 7-5 record including a 4-4 conference record but the Badgers avenged their loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers from earlier this season in a big way to win their second consecutive Big "Ten" Championship Game 70-31 in front of 41,260 fans.  Surprisingly, Wisconsin only tied the record for the most points scored in a championship game because Texas also scored 70 points in the 2005 Big 12 Championship Game.

Here is a quick look at the first half scoring plays in the 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game:

- Melvin Gordon's 56-yard touchdown run gave the Badgers a 7-0 lead

- Marcus Cromartie's 29-yard pick-six gave the Badgers a 14-0 lead

- Taylor Martinez's 76-yard touchdown that Gus Johnson called "legendary" cut the Badgers' lead to 14-7

- Brett Maher's 32-yard field goal cut the Badgers' lead to 14-10

- James White's 9-yard touchdown run gave the Badgers a 21-10 lead

- White's 1-yard touchdown run out the "Barge" formation gave the Badgers a 28-10 lead

- Montee Ball's 16-yard "Superman" touchdown run out of the "Barge" formation gave the Badgers a 35-10 lead

- Sam Arrneson caught a 3-yard pass from James White out of the "Barge" formation to give the Badgers a 42-10 lead

Wisconsin dominated every facet of the first half.  Wisconsin out rushed (290 yards to 128 yards), out gained (391 yards to 223 yards), were more efficient on 3rd down (3 of 5 to 1 of 5), and took care of the ball (0 turnovers to 2 turnovers) better than Nebraska.

Despite leading 42-10 at halftime, Wisconsin did not take their foot off the gas, here is a quick look at the second half scoring plays in the 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game:

- Following a horrible interception by Martinez, Ball's 9-yard touchdown run gave the Badgers a 49-10 lead

- Martinez's 11-yard touchdown run cut the Badgers' lead to 49-17

- Ball prolonged a 57-yard touchdown run with a spin move and punctuated the touchdown run with a stiff arm 10 yards short of the end zone to give the Badgers a 56-17 lead

- White did his best Ball impression ripping off a 68-yard touchdown run to give the Badgers a 63-17 lead

- Braylon Heard's 9-yard touchdown run cut the Badgers' lead to 63-24

- White's 10-yard touchdown run gave the Badgers a 70-24 lead

- Imani Cross's 26-yard touchdown run cut the Badgers' lead to 70-31

After losing 70-31, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini claimed that they practiced "99 percent" of what Wisconsin used on offense.  That is a borderline fire-able quote if I was the Nebraska athletic director.

The Badgers had two 200-yard rushers: Melvin Gordon (9 rushes for 216 yards and one touchdown) and Montee Ball (21 rushes for 202 yards and three touchdowns) for the first time in school history.  James White ran for four touchdowns but only had 108 yards rushing on 15 attempts so he was only the third best running back on the field in the 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game.  All told Wisconsin ran for 539 yards in the 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game, which is the fourth-highest rushing total in school history.

The Badgers are starting to feel comfortable playing in Indianapolis after winning their second ever and consecutive Big "Ten" Championship Game so they are the only Big "Ten" team to win a football game at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Wisconsin continues to dominate the state of Indiana winning their third game in the state in 2012 while outscoring their opponents (Indiana, Nebraska, and Purdue) 170-59 and their 10th straight win in a game played in Indiana.

Wisconsin will plain in their third consecutive Rose Bowl on January 1, 2013.  Hopefully third times a charm because Wisconsin lost their last two appearances in the "Granddaddy of Them All".

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Montee Ball's FBS Recording Setting Day

Some draft pundits questioned why Wisconsin Badgers running back Montee Ball, a Heisman finalist in 2011, returned to college instead of going to the NFL. Those murmurs got louder as Ball struggled through the first half of the season. Fortunately Ball turned it on as the season progressed, starting with a nice performance against Illinois (19 carries for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns).

Following Ball's breakout performance against Illinois, he went on an assault of the FBS touchdown record. Ball eclipsed Brock Forsey (68 touchdowns at Boise State from 1999-2002), Taurean Henderson (69 touchdowns for Texas Tech from 2002-2005), and Ricky Williams (75 touchdowns at University of Texas from 1995-98) for the second most touchdowns in FBS history earlier this season. That left Ball alone in second place behind Travis Prentice (Miami of Ohio from 1996-99) for the most touchdowns in FBS history.

Go back and read the Top 5 list of most touchdowns in FBS, everyone on that list is essentially a no-name guy besides Williams. I say no-name based on NFL production because all the players obviously put up gaudy college touchdown totals but I would bet even the biggest college fans could not name the entire Top 5 list. Taking it one step further, even if you gave the biggest college football fans the Top 5 list, how many could tell you where Forsey and Henderson went to college?

Vastly different indiscretions by the Ohio State (improper benefits scandal) and Penn State (a Catholic church-esque child molestation cover up) football programs rendered both teams ineligible for post season play. That meant the Wisconsin Badgers clinched a berth in the 2012 Big 10 Championship Game as winners of the ridiculously named Leaders Division (Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, and Wisconsin Badgers) before they played the Buckeyes at home or the Nittany Lions on the road despite trailing both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions in the Leaders Division Standings.

The Badgers lost to both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions to finish the 2012 regular season with a disappointing record (7-5, 4-4 in Big "Ten") behind Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 in the Big "Ten") and Penn State (8-4, 5-3 in the Big "Ten"). The long bright spot in those loses were Ball's pursuit on the all-time FBS touchdown record.

A rushing touchdown by Ball against the Buckeyes tied him with Travis Prentice for the most touchdowns in FBS history with 78 touchdowns. Right as Ball was about to score another touchdown against the Buckeyes to simultaneously set the record for most touchdowns in FBS history and send the game into overtime, Ball fumbled to delay the ending to the future cheesy sports movie for another week. Luckily Ball scored a touchdown against the Nittany Lions to make him the sole record holder for the most touchdowns in FBS history.

Ball is now firmly entrenched on the Wisconsin Running Back Mount Rushmore with Ron Dayne, Anthony Davis, and Brent Moss. Sorry to John Clay and P.J. Hill for removing you both as the two-headed, over-sized running back monster that occupied the fourth spot on the Wisconsin Running Back Mount Rushmore until this season. Ball will undoubtedly be the most impressive NFL running back out of the group just mentioned, but that is not saying much because for how well the other members of the Wisconsin Running Back Mount Rushmore were in college, they all had lackluster professional careers.

I say Ball will be the most impressive running back to come out of Wisconsin because although he does not have a flashy running style, he is a patient running back that accelerates once the hole opens and prolongs runs with some impressive spin moves. I see Ball as the perfect running back for the zone blocking scheme in the NFL. Take this with a grain of salt but Ball reminds me of Arian Foster of the Houston Texans, an undrafted running back out of Tennessee that has a legitimate claim to being the best running back in the NFL not named Adrian Peterson. That is a long ways of saying I think Ball is the perfect running back for the Packers, especially if they can get him with a mid-round pick.

Now that Ball is the all-time touchdown leader in FBS history, the real question is whether he deserves a spot on the Wisconsin Football Mount Rushmore before every playing a snap in the NFL? Clearly Ron Dayne, Alan Ameche, and Joe Thomas are set in stone but that leaves one open spot. I am sure I will miss at least a few names but here are a bunch of honorable mention candidates: Darrell Bevell, Chris Chambers, Lee Evans, Jamar Fletcher, Brent Moss, Mark Tauscher, Anthony Thomas, Troy Vincent, Mike Webster, and Russell Wilson.

Leaving all the honorable mention candidates aside, there are two candidates striving for the final spot: Two-Headed Toon (wide receivers Al (father) and Nick (son) are the best father/son combo in program history) or Montee Ball. Even when you add up both Toon's production they still do not equal Ball's impact so congrats to Montee Ball, not only have you scored the most touchdowns in FBS history, but you are officially the fourth member of the Wisconsin Football Mount Rushmore.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Maryland & Rutgers join the Big "Ten"

With the addition of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Maryland Terrapins, the Big "Ten" is set to have at least 14 teams by 2015.  I say at least because although it looks like the Big "Ten" is done adding teams, I thought they were finished adding teams when they added the Nebraska Cornhuskers (12th team) in 2011.  Having 12 teams in the Big "Ten" makes sense because it allows the conference to play a championship game, but 14 teams seems excessive.

I get that adding Maryland and Rutgers expands the Big "Ten" to the east coast, which potentially helps by adding bigger television markets (DC and NYC) and recruiting footholds, but those "potential" markets come with a number of questions.

For starters, is Maryland really a solvent athletic program?  A number of people have covered the fact that Maryland's athletic department is not in the best financial shape.

Besides that, does Rutgers really give you the NYC television market?  Nate Silver, a guy that did pretty well forecasting the most recent elections, debunked some of the claims that adding Rutgers will give the Big "Ten" the New York City television market.

Obviously adding Rutgers and Maryland is a huge money grab by the Big "Ten" that they couch as adding quality institutions to make it a well rounded conference.  Right, because the Big "Ten" is in a heated battle with the Pac 12 to determine the conference with the best mathletes.  Plus, adding Maryland and Rutgers seems like a bit of a leap of faith at the expense of actual rivalries that compromise the average fan's ability to travel to games.

Yes, attendance of live sporting events is down but alumni attending games on-campus has a much bigger impact than the gate revenue alone.  I've never run any studies but my assumption is that there is a direct correlation between wins on the football field and alumni giving.  If you make it more expensive or unappealing to experience that football game on-campus, I guarantee that you will feel that in diminished annual giving down the road.

Since we established this is an unabashed cash grab, even if the Big "Ten" conference is trying to add new markets, what's the rush?  If you factor in the 27-month notification of intention to leave policy for the Big East, the Big "Ten" would still have all 14 teams in place for the 2015 football season.  The Big "Ten" does not renegotiate their television contract until 2017 so again, what's the rush?

I get that the Big "Ten" wants to be able to choose programs sooner rather than later but money talks and no move is set in stone. Take TCU, they backed out on their commitment to join the Big East in favor of the Big 12 before actually joining the Big East.

The Big "Ten" went to the ever so stupidly named Legends and Leaders divisions in 2011.  Wisconsin will most likely stay in the "Legends" division with Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, and Rutgers.  That leaves Illinois (former member of the "Legends" division), Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern as members of the "Leaders" division.  As I look through the "Legends" division, I see no real natural rivalries like Minnesota and Iowa, instead I see a hodgepodge of media markets slapped together for a few extra million dollars.

I wish the Big "Ten" stayed with 12 teams but since conferences forced each other to scoop up programs in the biggest land grab in college sports history over the last few years, I would have done everything in my power to add the University of Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.  That would not have expanded into new television markets like the fallacy of adding Maryland and Rutgers will as I alluded to earlier.  Plus, I am dubious that people actually care about college sports out east even 1/10th as much as people in the Midwest or 1/100th as much as SEC fans.

Since the Big "Ten" will have at least 14 members in 2015, here are three recommendations for making the best of a bungled situation.  First, admit that it was a money grab.  Couch it as a necessary move to save non-revenue sports like soccer and volleyball if you want to try to put a positive spin on the money grab.

Second, in the interest of making more money, add two more teams.  As I said earlier, I still contend the two best candidates are the University of Pittsburgh and Notre Dame but both are probably no longer in play so my order of other actual targets that make sense are taking the leftovers of the Big East: the University of Louisville and the University of Cincinnati.  Some might argue that the University of Connecticut makes sense but that creates some geographical issues while Louisville and Cincinnati make geographical sense.

Third, play nine conference football games: four home games, four away games, and one game at NFL stadiums around the Midwest for the "annual cross-divisional rivalry" game.  Since the changes are all about the money, you might as well maximize your ROI by selling beers at games once a season at least, or is that off limits since only college students over 21 drink?

Keeping all of what I just said in mind, admittedly I am a hypocrite.  I will still watch the Big "Ten" Championship Game to see if Wisconsin can be the most unlikely Rose Bowl representative in Big "Ten" history.  In fact, I would have gone in-person to see the game if work and family commitments did not interfere.  So I guess this post was a long way of saying that adding Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers at the expense of Wisconsin playing Iowa annually along with a bunch of other historic annual Big "Ten" traditions feels dirty.  I am not naive, I understand that colleges need to increase revenue, but at some point the ends do not justify the means.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tweet Beat involving @CheeseheadSN

It has been almost two years since I've had a "Tweet Beat" post but based on what transpired Friday on Twitter, I had to post a combo Sunday Funday/Tweet Beat post.  For those that don't know, I tweet under the handle @CheeseheadSN in relative anonymity thanks to only having a couple dozen followers.  I only selectively tweet, usually about Cheesehead sports, so please bear with me since this post is going to come off as purely gratuitous.

Let me set the stage, @billsimmons was browbeating NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in his weekly article for  The closing paragraph to that portion of his article was: "For that and that alone, Gary Bettman needs to step down. No, we can't impeach him. Yes, we can continue to excoriate him. He's the worst commissioner in sports history, and really, it's going to remain that way unless Roger Goodell extends the NFL's season to 20 games, adds Wednesday- and Friday-night football to the schedule, pays a hitman to murder Jonathan Vilma, and gets outed for having a heated affair with his biographer, Peter King … and even then, I'd probably still give the edge to Bettman."  (source)

For some reason I decided to tweet this:
I was completely floored to see @SI_PeterKing tweet this out to his almost 1 million Twitter followers:

If that wasn't enough excitement for one night, as I was getting ready for bed I saw that Green Bay Packers offensive guards Josh Sitton was interacting with fans on Twitter so buoyed by my excitement of the tweet discussed above, I decided to tweet this:
Less floored than the tweet involving me by @SI_PeterKing but surprised nonetheless, here is what @jsitton71 tweeted:

Trust me, I know it is sad how much excitement I get out of the fact that an NFL writer for Sports Illustrated and an offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers took a few seconds out of their life to re-tweet some of my tweets while adding their thoughts.  I also get that it is downright certifiable that I dedicated an entire "Sunday Funday" post to the tweets above but since I only gained a half dozen followers via the re-tweets, I had to share my stories with the masses just a few second before I tweet out a link to this blog post.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

2012 Green Bay Packers Midseason Player Rankings

I knew this was going to be a lengthy post so yesterday I dealt with the roster turnover from my initial player rankings to the current 53-man roster.  Just to quickly reiterate how I cobble together my list; I factor in contract, age, position, and it runs in reverse order.  For a longer explanation of my methodology check my initial rankings.  Here are my mid-season rankings of the 53-man roster for the 2012 Green Bay Packers (initial rankings are in parenthesis):

#53 (53) Jarrett Boykin (WR) - The Packers could easily add a 6th wide receiver in place of Boykins who has seen little action despite injuries to a number of wide receivers.

#52 (51) Sean Richardson (S) - Injuries have really hampered Richardson's ability to get on the field, which is too bad because his combination of size and speed is very enticing.

#51 (NR) Johnny White (RB) - The former Buffalo Bills castoff, which is usually NOT a compliment, was claimed off waiver by the Packers to replace Brandon Saine as a special teams player.  After being inactive for his first week after joining the Packers, White picked up right where Brandon Saine left off as a special teams player that happens to be classified as a running back.  Trust me, if White is getting significant carries in anything other than the Packers blowing out an opponent, we've got problems.

#50 (NR) Andrew Quarless (TE) - Recovering from gruesome injuries has to be physically and mentally draining.  I hope Quarless can make it through 2012 healthy while catching a few passes along the way to make all the hard work he has put into getting back onto the field worth it.

#49 (42)Terrell Manning (MLB) - I am always reticent to meet players because it clouds my ability to objectively write about them.  When Cheesehead Chick, Mama Cheese, Papa Cheese, and In-Law Cheese stopped in Green Bay to buy gear from the Packer Pro Shop on the way to Door County we met Manning because he stopped to take tons of pictures with fans. Let's just say Manning is a nicer person off the field than a player on the field.

#48 (NR) Greg Van Roten (OL) - With starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga most likely headed to injured reserve, Van Roten is two injuries away from playing in a real NFL game.  Add in that Van Roten really can only play guard and the Packers are in real trouble if Van Roten plays a meaningful snap in 2012.

#47 (41) Graham Harrell (QB) - At some point the Packers might want to consider signing a competent veteran backup to the 53-man roster instead of leaving Harrell one play from taking over if Rodgers gets hurt.

#46 (46) Rob Francois (MLB) -
Some players can carve out a niche as a career special teams guy, which is what Francois has to continue to do if he wants to keep his roster spot.

#45 (39) D.J. Williams (TE) - With all the injuries the Packers suffered at wide receiver and fullback, it looked like Williams might be the beneficiary but shaky hands have prevented him from capitalizing on those opportunities.

#44 (44) James Starks (RB) - Might as well gives Starks his jersey number for two sets of rankings in a row right?  A 17 carry, 61 yard performance against the Arizona Cardinals is hardly something to brag about but the Packers have gotten absolutely no production out of Starks for the first eight games of the season so they will take what they can get on the ground.  I would like to see the Packers make Starks their every down back when they are trying to grind it out with Green as their every down back when they go no huddle.  I know that tips their hand a bit but they might as well cater to each player's strengths.

#43 (50) Don Barclay (T) - I hate cliches but the Packers truly buy into the "next guy up" because there is no talk of them adding a veteran offensive lineman, so they are one injury away from undrafted rookie free agent Don Barclay being one of the five guys that protects Aaron Rodgers.  I try to pick my spots where I am critical of general manager Ted Thompson because he has done a very impressive job managing the roster but Thompson needs to add a quality veteran offensive lineman to the roster sooner rather than later, especially if they put Bryan Bulaga on injured reserve.

#42 (NR) Frank Zombo (OLB) -
There is only so high that I can rank a guy that was recently added to the active roster from PUP but assuming that Zombo is in fact healthy, I see Zombo finishing at least in the low 30's in my final rankings based on what Zombo can potentially do as a rush outside linebacker in the base 3-4 defense.

#41 (43) Ryan Taylor (TE) - The Packers finally identified a special team maven that doesn't even need to play snaps on offense to justify his roster spot.  That is particularly important for Taylor because the Packers are again carrying five tight ends on their 53-man roster, which I've noted many times I think is excessive.

#40 (35) Jamari Lattimore (MLB) - A hybrid inside/outside linebacker is a rare commodity, which makes Lattimore very valuable commodity for the Packers in 2012, especially considering all the linebackers (Bishop, Perry, and Smith) lost for the season.

#39 (33) John Kuhn (FB) - As if playing fullback in a high octane offensive doesn't marginalize Kuhn enough, injuries have further marginalized Kuhn than playing fullback in 2012.

#38 (27) Mason Crosby (K) - When the Milwaukee Brewers were contemplating building Miller Park next to County Stadium or downtown, I got in a number of arguments with my buddy Sug.  I was firmly in the downtown camp while Sug wanted the stadium built next to County Stadium to cater to suburban Brewer fans.  A similar argument started when Crosby signed a five-year, $15 million contract before the 2011 season.  I hated the contract while Sug agreed with paying Crosby.  While the Miller Park argument took a number of years to settle in my favor, less than two years later I've won the Crosby argument as well so whenever I see Crosby I think of Miller Park being built in no man's land.  Sorry Sug, you are 0-2 on those arguments, which ironically is a standard outing for Crosby theses days.

#37 (29) Alex Green (RB) - I thought Green was the perfect back for the Packers' no-huddle offense.  With Benson out of the lineup, Green's play has been sub-par.  Chalk some of that up to Green being less than a year removed from a serious knee injury though, so we might not know till the end of 2013 whether Crosby is the perfect back for the Packers' no huddle offense.

#36 (45) Brett Goode (LS) - The Packers wisely recently extended Goode for a few more years since Goode has been nothing short of great (funny pun right) as their long snapper.

#35 (38) Mike Daniels (DL) - The ideal third down pass rusher needs to add some strength in the off-season if he wants to see the field on 1st or 2nd down.

#34 (37) Tom Crabtree (TE) - The recipient of two of the most notable touchdown passes of the season (fake punt against the Bears on 4th & 26 and 72-yard reception against the Cardinals) deserves to be targeted more than nine times through nine games.

#33 (36) Dezman Moses (OLB) - Looks like a potentially violent situational pass rusher for the Packers in 2012 but let's not forget that Vic So'oto looked poised to fill a similar role in 2011 but flopped.

#32 (NR) Mike Neal - After serving his four game suspension, Neal has shown flashes of the dominate player the Packers thought they were drafting in the 2010 Draft.

#31 (48) Brad Jones (MLB) - I listed Jones as an outside linebacker in my original rankings, which is how the Packers viewed Jones at the start of the season.  After losing both Bishop and Smith, the Packers slide Jones inside where he has preformed as well if not better than Smith so far.

#30 (23) Donald Driver (WR) - Probably the most beloved current Packer is having a disappointing season on two fronts.  Not only has DD not played that much despite all the injuries to their wide receivers but when DD has been on the field, he's struggled.  As much as it would pain me to see DD play for another team, if he truly wants to play for a few more years, I hope he plays for a team that can harness his leadership qualities for the betterment of their organization.

#29 (16) Jerel Worthy (DL) -
After a strong start to the season, an ability to properly time his pass rush combined with a concussion stunted Worthy's impressive start to the season.  Hopefully a few weeks off allowed Worthy to not only heal but watch some tape that will help him cut down on the offsides penalties.

#28 (21) Jeff Saturday (C) - So far Saturday as been a substantial downgrade from former starting center Scott Wells.  At the very least the Packers need Saturday to stay healthy because they have razor thin depth along the offensive line.

#27 (34) Evan Dietrich-Smith (C) - As I said in my initial rankings: "If any of the starting five offensive lineman are hurt, EDS is the first off the bench that could have a chain reaction of moving a few players around on the offensive line since EDS could really only fill in at guard or center."  Please don't blame me for Bulaga's injury, which forced the Packers to move T.J. Lang from left guard to right tackle and insert EDS is Lang's place.  Let's hope that is the end of the offensive line shuffle because although EDS is a borderline NFL starter, the rest of the offensive line backups (Barclay and Van Roten) are currently below average NFL offensive lineman at best.

#26 (32) Jerron McMillian (S) - After a few games it looked like McMillian was going to be the Packers rookie of the year but a few games does not make a season since McMillian's play has leveled off as the season progresses.  Usually the bye week helps players get healthy but for rookies like McMillian from small college programs, the bye week gives them a chance to relax outside the limelight of the NFL to get ready for a playoff push.

#25 (30) C.J. Wilson (DL) - There is only so many times that I can reiterate how valuable base 3-4 defensive ends are in the NFL, which Wilson continues to excel so although 24 feels high, may be it is not high enough.

#24 (40) M.D. Jennings (S) - Just when I started to forget about the Packers "losing" to the Seahawks, I ran some playoff scenarios and my disdain for that game came roaring back.  The Packers better win the NFC North because if it comes down to tie-breakers, you might see all Cheesehead football fans go Postal on the NFL.

#23 (25) Tim Masthay (P) - For how horrible Crosby has been place kicking, Masthay has been the bizarro Crosby with a 44.5 yard gross punting average and 40.7 yard net punting average in 2012.

#22 (24) Sam Shields (CB) - Shields had a great 2010 and lackluster 2011, which has been a microcosm for his 2012 season because he got off to a good start but then an injury left hm inactive for the last three games.  The Packers need the healthy 2010 version not the unhealthy 2011 version of Shields.

#21 (22) Jarrett Bush (CB) - As always, Bush continues to thrive on special teams and struggle when he plays defensively.

#20 (26) Davon House (CB) - Shoulder injury aside, House has shown flashes of being a poor man's Al Harris, which is great for the Packers since they most likely envision House as their 4th cornerback if everyone is healthy.

#19 (4) Jermichael Finley (TE) - Oh how the mighty have fallen.  Finley has essentially turned into an expensive decoy.  I still don't believe that will lead to the Packers declining what amounts to a team option for 2013 but Finley better pick-up his play if he wants to get in line behind Rodgers, Matthews, and Raji for a mega contract extension.

#18 (NR) Erik Walden (OLB) - With Perry out for the rest of 2012 look for Walden to put up big numbers for the rest of the season since it looks like he will get all the snaps opposite Claymaker instead of sharing them with Perry.

#17 (10) Bryan Bulaga (T)  - I would bet Bulaga is put on injured reserve before December but with the lack of depth on the offensive line around the NFL, even a hurt Bulaga is a valuable commodity.

#16 (9) Greg Jennings (WR) - Injuries are the worst thing that can happen for both a player and their club in a contract year because it muddies their market value.  With Jennings set to be a free agent this off-season, the Packers should still give the franchise tag to Jennings, despite him struggling with injuries throughout 2012 because of otherwise Jennings will leave for nothing ala Aaron Kampman.

#15 (14) Marshall Newhouse (T) - I mentioned that if Newhouse struggled in 2012: "Chad Clifton's agent might be getting a phone call" but it looks like even though Newhouse has played relatively well this season, Clifton's agent might still get a call to give the Packers an actual backup offensive tackle with some NFL experience under his belt.

#14 (28) A.J. Hawk (MLB) - Trust me, I am the last guy that wants to praise Hawk, but he has played very well in 2012.  In the preseason I was calling for the Packers to cut Hawk but luckily they held onto him because without Hawk the Packers would not have even one healthy, NFL tested middle linebacker on the roster despite needing at least two.

#13 (12) Morgan Burnett (S) - With Woodson shuffling between cornerback and safety when healthy combined with McMillian and Jennings sharing snaps at safety, Burnett has been the only constant at safety for the Packers in 2012.  Usually it is not a good sign when your safety is leading the team in tackles but in Burnett's case I take it as a positive because the Packers have been using Burnett like they used to use Nick Collins in the past.

#12 (18) Casey Hayward (CB) -
Hands down the most pleasant surprise on the roster in 2012 is actually a candidate for defensive rookie of the year thanks to his impressive coverage that has resulted in a team leading four interceptions.  Some might chalk up Hayward's play to rookie luck but I see Hayward as a long term starter at cornerback opposite Tramon Williams.

#11 (7) Charles Woodson (CB) - Lack of big plays, injuries, and the highest salary on the team means Woodson is going to have to take less money in 2013 if he wants to play for the Packers.

#10 (6) Jordy Nelson (WR) - Despite struggling with hamstring and ankle injuries, Nelson is still leading the team in receiving yardage

#9 (8) Josh Sitton (G) - A healthy Sitton in 2012 helped erase memories of his struggles in 2011 to help justify his expensive contract extension.

#8 (17) Ryan Pickett (DL) - When people talk about freak athletes in professional sports they usually talk about chiseled, muscle bound players like Jermichael Finley.  Guys like Ryan Pickett are equally freakish athletes, they are just not as impressive to look at with their shirt off, but impressive nonetheless.

#7 (11) T.J. Lang (G/T) - I had to change Lang's position from G to G/T since he is filling in at right tackle for the injured Bulaga for the rest of the season unless Bulaga makes a miraculous recovery.  Good for Lang that he got paid in the off-season because I see Lang struggling at right tackle, which is too bad because Lang was thriving at left guard this season.

#6 (5) Tramon Williams (CB) - Although Williams only has two interceptions so far in 2012, it has been a much better season than 2011 because Williams has almost full function of his injured shoulder, which makes him a bump-and-run corner for the first time since 2010.

#5 (19) James Jones (WR) - I.A.R.W.T. stands for In Aaron Rodgers We Trust.  Some franchise quarterbacks routinely give the front office suggestions but Rodgers has been selective in making suggestions. Rodgers publicly pleaded with management to resign Jones, which looks downright prophetic now.

#4 (3) B.J. Raji (DL) - The Packers have managed Raji's snap count much better this year, thanks to the emergence of some young blood (Daniels, Neal, and Worthy) along the defensive line.  Now the Packers need to focus on getting Raji signed to a long-term contract before the end of the season.

#3 (13) Randall Cobb (WR) - I compared Cobb to New Orleans Saint Darren Sproles at the start of the season.  I don't want to overreact but just a few months later, every NFL team besides the New Orleans Saints would rather have Cobb than Sproles.

#2 (2) Clay Matthews (OLB) -
Another pesky hamstring injury will most likely keep Mathews out at least a game or two.  Although Matthews is the most valuable defensive player, rushing him back is not advisable because hamstring injuries are particularly finicky.  Plus reducing stats thanks to sitting out games is the only way outside of Matthews testing positive for PED's that the Packers can gain leverage in the upcoming contract negotiations.

#1 (1) Aaron Rodgers (QB) -
It looked like Rodgers started 2012 slow but it had more to do with the opposition as opposed to Rodgers because the Packers opened against three of the best defenses in football: 49ers, Bears, and Seahawks.  Starting with Week 4, Rodgers caught fire and has been on a roll ever since.  While it is encouraging that Rodgers has been playing better as of late, he better figure out how to beat the defenses he faced Week #1-3 because those look like three of their potential playoff opponents this January.

As always, thanks for reading and please feel free to comment if you disagree with any of my rankings.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ranking "In Memoriam" Packers midway through 2012

There has been a fair amount of roster turnover for the 2012 Green Bay Packers.  In just nine weeks, six players that started the season on the initial 53-man roster were either cut or put on injured reserve.  To get a feel for how much the Packers are missing each of the six players no longer on the initial 53-man roster, here is a quick look at where I ranked the six of them in my initial player rankings:

#52) Brandian Ross (CB) - the biggest surprise to me on the initial 53-man roster was cut and signed to the practice squad to make way for Erik Walden once he served his one game suspension for off the field transgressions.  Ross was signed to the Oakland Raiders 53-man roster by former Green Bay Packers director of player personal Reggie McKenzie, who is now the general manger for the Oakland Raiders.  Look for a number of players that are cut by the Packers over the next few years to land with the Raiders thanks to McKenzie's connection to the Packers.

#49) Phillip Merling (DL) - I questioned the decision to keep Merling instead of Daniel Muir but either one was going to be cut once Mike Neal returned from suspension a quarter of the way through the season anyhow since Neal clearly has incriminating information on one of the higher ups in the Packers organization.

#47) Brandon Saine (RB) - A quality special teams player that never got a real chance to play offensively is lost for the season with a knee injury.  Fellow running back Alex Green went through the same thing between last year so Green will be a good resource for Saine since next year will be a make-or-break year for Saine's NFL career.

#31) Cedric Benson (RB) - I have always been skeptical that the Packers actually need a three-down running back.  After seeing how well Benson performed in limited action early in the season running with a real purpose, he suffered a lis franc injury.  The Packers put Benson on the "modified injured reserve" so they have the option to add him back to the active roster eight weeks from October 10th.  Hopefully Benson can return healthy because the Packers have gotten below average results from their other running back (Green, Kuhn, and Starks).

#20) D.J. Smith (MLB) - According to NFL advanced stats nerds, middle linebacker and safety are two easiest positions to replace on defense.  Since the Packers play a 3-4 defense they need at least two middle linebackers.  The Packers lost their best middle linebacker (Desmond Bishop) before the season started so it looked like they could ill afford to lose their second best middle linebacker as well.  A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones have been pretty good filling in for Bishop and Smith so may be the stat hears are right.

#15) Nick Perry (OLB) - When news reports surfaced that Perry was "going for a second opinion on his knee" he was actually having season ending hand surgery.  Perry being lost for the season coincided with Claymaker getting hurt as well so the Packers might be forced to start two new outside linebackers when they return from their bye.  Obviously Claymaker is irreplaceable but I feel confident that Erik Walden is better than Perry now (may be not in 2013 though) so that might actually be an upgrade.  Leaving Walden aside though, I question whether Dezman Moses or Frank Zombo can even be 50% of Claymaker.

Thompson replaced the six players discussed above with Andrew Quarless (TE), Mike Neal (DE), Greg Van Roten (OG), Erik Walden (OLB), Johnny White (RB), and Frank Zombo (OLB).  Check back tomorrow for where I rank the new roster additions along with their 47 teammates in my mid-season player rankings for the current 53-man Green Bay Packers roster.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Initial Rankings of Top 10 2012-13 Collegiate Cheeshead Basketball Players

For the first time I thought I would rank the best collegiate Cheesehead basketball players. With all deference to the non-Division One collegiate Cheesehead basketball programs like Cardinal Stritch's (shout out to Mama Cheese), I decided to limit myself to the "Big 4" collegiate men's basketball programs: Green Bay Phoenix, Marquette Warriors, Milwaukee Panthers, and Wisconsin Badgers.

Some guys from those four programs that would be ranked very high on the list are not included for various reasons such as: injury (Josh Gasser and Paris Gulley) and academic issues (Todd Mayo). Instead of ranking players 1 through 25 I decided to rank the Top 10, identify who I think are the 11th through 25th best players but not rank them in any particular order because we haven't seen them play enough, and assign the rest of the guys as "honorable mention" just in case one of the guys I do not include in the initial 25 has a breakout year.

Honorable Mention (alphabetically, by program):
- Green Bay: Nick Arenz (#30, FR, F, 6'8"), Ryan Bross (#55, FR, C, 7'1"), Josh Humphrey (#10, SO, G/F, 6'5"), Carrington Love (#12, FR, G, 6'1"), Greg Mays (#15, SO, F, 6'9"), Alfonzo McKinnie (#34, JR, F, 6'8"), Sultan Mohammad (#1, JR, G, 6'1"), Cole Stefan (#2, SO, G, 6'4"), and Daniel Turner (#22, JR, F, 6'6").

- Marquette: Jamal Ferguson (#1, FR, G, 6'4"), Dylan Flood (#30, SO, G, 6'4"), Todd Mayo (#4, SO, G, 6'3"), Garrett Swanson (#33, SO, F, 6'7"), Steve Taylor Jr (#25, FR, F, 6'7"), Jake Thomas (#23, JR, G, 6'3"), and Derrick Wilson (#12, SO, G, 6'1").

- Milwaukee: Austin Arians (#34, FR, 6'6"), Paris Gulley (#14, SR, G, 6'2"),  Quinton Gustavson (#33, JR, F, 6'9"), Ryan Haggerty (#44, SR, F, 6'8"), Steve McWhorter (#25, JR, G, 6'2"),  J.J. Panoske (#23, FR, F, 6'10"),  Evan Richard (#22, SO, G, 6'2"), Mitch Roelke (#20, JR, G, 6'0"), and Joe Tagarelli (#5, FR, F, 6'6").

- Wisconsin: Evan Anderson (#32, SO, C, 6'10"), Zach Bohannon (#34, JR, F, 6'6"), Dan Fahey (#10, JR, G, 6'3"), Zak Showalter (#33, FR, G, 6'2"), Jordan Smith (#2, SO, G, 6'1"), and J.D. Wise (#22, SR, G, 6'0").

#11 through #25 (alphabetically):
Jordan Aaron (Panthers, #1, JR, G, 5'10"), Juan Anderson (Warriors, #10, SO, F, 6'6"), Mike Bruesewitz (Badgers, #31, SR, F, 6'6"), Kam Cerroni (Phoenix, #13, JR, G, 6'2"), Brennan Cougill (Phoenix, #44, SR, F/C, 6'9"), Sam Dekker (Badgers, #15, FR, FR, 6'7"), Jordan Fouse (Phoenix, #4, FR, G/F, 6'7"), Davante Gardner (Warriors, #54, JR, F, 6'8"), Demetrius Harris (Panthers, #15, SR, F, 6'7"), Traevon Jackson (Badgers, #12, SO, G, 6'2"), George Marshall (Badgers, #3, FR, G, 5'11), Thierno "Bobo" Niang (Panthers, #10, JR, G, 6'1"), Keifer Sykes (Phoenix, #24, SO, G, 5'11"), Jamil Wilson (Warriors, #0, JR, F, 6'7"), and Christian Wolf (Panthers, #45, SR, F, 6'9").

Top 10:
#10) Frank Kaminksky (Badgers, #44, SO, F, 6'11") - Shed the baby fat in the off-season moving from 18% body fat to 12% body fat in hopes of becoming the newest Vanilla Gorilla (ala multiple Ultimate Warriors in the WWE). 

#9) Chris Otule (Warriors, #42, SR, C, 6'11") - Would be a lock for the Top 5 based on his body alone but Otule has been a injured way too much throughout his college career. 

#8) James Haarsma (Panthers, #42, SR, F, 6'7") - Leading scorer and rebounder from last season is the only real known commodity on the roster for the Panthers. 

#7) Ben Burst (Badgers, #1, JR, G, 6'1") - Only shot 38.9% from three-point range last season so be needs to improve this season, especially with the lost of Gasser for the season.

#6) Junior Cadougan (Warriors, #5, SR, PG, 6'1") - Needs to improve on 2-1 assist to turnover ratio.

#5) Jared Berggren (Badgers, #40, SR, C, 6'10") - Looks like Jon Leuer reincarnated so yes, I am a fan.

#4) Vander Blue (Warriors, #13, JR, G, 6'4") - Created one of the biggest in-state recruiting wars between Wisconsin and Marquette.  Obviously Marquette landed Blue but his ranking of 4th overall is still more based on potential upside than actual production.

#3) Ryan Evans (Badgers, #5, SR, F, 6'6") - A legitimate scoring threat that "made the jump" from his sophomore to junior season.  Loo for Evans to play in the NBA if he continues to impress this season.

#2) Trent Lockett (Warriors, #22, SR, G, 6'5") - Leading scorer and rebounder for ASU last season is trying to pull a Russell Wilson for the Warriors.

#1) Alec Brown (Phoenix, #21, JR, C, 7'1") - Jeff Nordgaard and Tony Bennett better watch out because Brown is on pace to be the best player in program history.  Brown was very productive last year scoring 13.8 points, pulling down 8.2 rebounds, and blocking 3.0 shots to become a legitimate NBA talent.  If you think I am overstating how impressive Brown might be, he was one of only two players in the country to average 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The other guy was the first pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Anthony Davis (14.2 pts, 10.4 rbs, and 4.6 blocks).

I hope you enjoyed my initial 2012-13 Cheesehead Collegiate Basketball Player Rankings.  I don't know when, but check back for more of my extended thoughts on collegiate Cheesehead basketball soon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Art of 51 in the NFL

There is a very simple NFL equation for winning that is often attributed to Bill Parcells named "The Art of 51".  The equation is completed passes + positive rushing attempts > 51 = win.

Obviously if both teams have above or below 51, the team with the higher number usually wins the game.  Another way to look at "The Art of 51" is that it is a two team, head-to-head race to 51.

I know the equation seems elementary, but since we have no Packer game to look forward to because this is their bye week, let's see how "The Art of 51" played out so far for the 2012 Green Bay Packers:
- Week #1: Packers (44) lost to the 49ers (52)
- Week #2: Packers (51) beat the Bears (34)
- Week #3: Packers (47)  "lost" to the Seahawks (39)
- Week #4: Packers (56) beat the Saints (54)
- Week #5: Packers (54) lost to the Colts (61)
- Week #6: Packers (55) beat the Texans (50)
- Week #7: Packers (56) beat the Rams (43)
- Week #8: Packers (48) beat the Jaguars (47)
- Week #9: Packers (53) beat the Cardinals (41)

As you can see, "The Art of 51" has held for the 2012 Green Bay Packers so far this year.  The equation went 8 for 9 if you believe the Packers actually lost to the Seahawks and 9 for 9 if you are a rationale non-Seahawks sports fan.

Consider this is amuse-bouche to the main course this weekend.  Check back this weekend for my mid-season rankings of the 2012 Green Bay Packers 53-man roster.

2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks - Most Overpaid and Most Underpaid

Although I already gave my extended thoughts on the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks last week when I ranked the initial roster, much like I did for the Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers, I am going to rank the best and worst contracts for the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks.

Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond rid the team of some horrible contracts over the last few seasons, some of the contracts were his own doing though, thus the franchise is in good financial shape for the first time in a long time.

Let's start with the three worst contracts because that was harder to determine than the three best contracts:

#3) Ekpe Udoh (PF, $3.5 million): Normally rookie contracts are good deals but Udoh is set to earn $8 million over the next two seasons ($3.5 this season and $4.5 million next season) and that doesn't even factor in the $6 million qualifying offer the Bucks hold for the 2014-15 NBA season.  Udoh was a big factor in the Bogut & Jackson for Ellis trade, but so far Udoh has been disappointing. Udoh has been so disappointing that he bumped Beno Udrih (PG/SG) out of the "worst" contract list despite the fact that Udrih is set to earn $7.8 million this season on an expiring contract.  The Bucks might be able to get more for Udoh right now but as the season progresses, Udrih's contract becomes a much more valuable asset because it would allow the Bucks to take on the right long-term contract for Udrih's bloated expiring contract.

#2) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (SF/PF, $4.8 million): The defensive stopper for the Milwaukee Bucks starts the season injured, which is the main reason that he made the "worst" contract list. In what is becoming a trend in the NBA, teams are starting to offer contracts that decelerate in yearly value.  The Prince earns $4.6 million next season and $4.4 million the following season.  You know the Bucks are in good shape when one of the best defensive stoppers in the NBA makes the list of worst contracts solely because some off-season injury issues spilled into the season.

Drew Gooden
(PF/C, $6.7 million): The Milwaukee Bucks still owe Gooden roughly $20 million dollars through the 2014-15 NBA season so this is the only truly horrible contract on the books.  Their drafting (Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris, and John Henson) and trading (Ekpe Udoh and Samuel Dalembert) strategy shows that absent injury, Gooden's minutes will be limited this season so I would be shocked if the Bucks did not use the amnesty clause on Gooden before next season to clear $6.7 million off their salary cap for both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.

I decided to exclude all rookie contracts from the "best" contracts list, so that meant I could not include a number of viable candidates (Tobias Harris, John Henson, Doron Lamb, and Larry Sanders).  Here are the three best contracts:

#3) Ersan Ilyasova (SF/PF, $7.9 million): This off-season Ilyasova signed a four-year, $32 million contract with a $8.5 million team option for 2016-17. I always worry about how professional athletes react to signing long-term, guaranteed contracts because players can go one of two ways: rest on their laurels/piles of cash or feel indebted to prove they are worth the money they are getting paid.  I like to think Ilyasova is the latter not the former but this season will give us a nice preview of coming attractions.

#2) Monta Ellis (PG, $11 million): Much like the Ilyasova household, things are looking pretty good in the Ellis household as well.  Ellis is set to earn $11 million this season and holds a $11 million player option for the 2013-14 NBA season.  Pun intended, the ball is literally in Monta's court.  If things go well this season, Ellis could opt-out of the final season to sign an extension with the Bucks.  If things do not go well this season, the Bucks could trade Ellis at the trade deadline.  There is no question that Ellis likes to shot but there are tons of questions surrounding whether he wants to play defense.  I've said a number of times, Ellis is the perfect 6th man, a rich man's Jason Terry if you will.  Unfortunately you can't pay a 6th man $11 million a year so the Bucks need to figure out whether Ellis is a starting NBA shooting guard that can defend enough to justify a hefty paycheck or an overpaid 6th man.

#1) Mike Dunleavy Jr. (SG/SF, $3.75 million): As the late, great Jerry Orbach said in Dirty Dancing: "When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong".  Dunleavy is in the second year of a two-year, $7 million contract that I originally thought was a horrible contract.  I was so wrong that even if Dunleavy did not play another minute for the Bucks, he would have already earned the $7 million.  If Dunleavy continues to play well this season he might even rope a team into a Mike Miller-esque mid-level exception overpay this off-season.

I am hoping to attend the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics game this weekend with Papa Cheese, Gaber, and UP if my work schedule permits.  If so, look for my "Quick Thoughts" following the game.  Either way check back Sunday for my 2012 Green Bay Packers Mid-Season Player Rankings.

Friday, November 2, 2012

2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks Initial Player Rankings

As usual, the Milwaukee Bucks are not getting much positive national publicity, which makes sense because they are a borderline playoff team.  That said, with a dynamic back court and a flexible front court, the Bucks have a good chance to surprise the NBA to sneak into the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed.

As I like to do annually, I gave Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond my thoughts on how he should approach the 2012-13 off-season.  I am 99.99% positive that Hammond never read the post, but I like that we were on the same page for at least some of the decisions.

In what is becoming a pre-NBA Draft tradition, Hammond made a trade on the eve of the 2012 NBA Draft much like he did on the eve of the 2011 NBA Draft.  I like the pre-2012 NBA Draft trade more than the pre-2011 NBA Draft trade, but neither were a big haul for the franchise.

The biggest part of the off-season for the Bucks is the NBA Draft because they have a hard time getting big-time free agents to even visit Milwaukee, let alone sign with the Bucks.  As I said right after the 2012 NBA Draft, I think Hammond landed two future NBA starters in John Henson (PF) and Doron Lamb (SG).  That sets the table for what I think will be a promising season, which is exactly what Hammond and head coach Scott Skiles need because they are both in the final year of their respective contracts.

Before we get too excited though, there has been almost a 50% roster turnover since the start of last season.  With only 8 of the 15 players that were on the roster at the start of the lockout shorten 2011-12 NBA season returning to start the season with the Bucks, it is undeniable that the Bucks will experience some growing pains.  Much like I did last year, here is my initial rankings of the 15-man roster of the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks taking into account contract, age, position, and runs in reverse order:

#15) Joel Przybilla (#10, C, 7'1", 245 lbs, Minnesota, 13th NBA Season):
Welcome home Vanilla Gorilla, I always felt like you were the one that got away.  Vanilla Gorilla appeared in 141 games from 2000 through 2003 for the Bucks before being trade to the Atlanta Hawks.  Although the Vanilla Gorilla returns as a shell of the player he was when he left Milwaukee roughly a decade ago, he seems like the perfect backup center option to protect the rim and run the floor for the Bucks.  Add in that the Bucks only signed the Vanilla Gorilla to a one-year, $1.3 million contract and this seems like a low-risk contract even if he is buried on the bench.

#14) Marquis Daniels (#6, SG, 6'6", 200 lbs, Auburn, 10th NBA Season):
The Bucks desperately need a backup guard with some size since they start two guards (Jennings and Ellis) that are barely 6'0" tall so a one-year, $1.2 million contract seems like a fair price to pay for a tall situational defensive stopper.

#13) Drew Gooden (#0, PF/C, 6'10", 236 lbs, Kansas, 11th NBA Season):
The Bucks drafting Henson puts Gooden on amnesty watch.  Although Gooden will probably not be amnestied because that would mean Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl would have to write a sizable one-time check for $20 million to Gooden instead of spreading those payments out over the remaining three years of his contract, the Bucks seem to have a number of younger and cheaper front court options.  There is no denying that Gooden is a quality role player but he should be earning 33% of what the Bucks are currently paying him.

#12) Doron Lamb
(20, SG, 6'4", 210, Kentucky, Rookie):
This feels woefully low for Michael Redd 2.0, especially when you consider that Lamb is earning just $650,000 in the first year of a three-year, $2.4 million rookie contract.  I say just like I pull in a couple million dollars a year.  I am pretty sure that I will never earn $650,000 in one year but I am also not an NBA player so I should have prefaced this by saying in terms of NBA player compensation, Lamb is one of the lowest paid players in the league.  The reason I see Lamb being Michael Redd 2.0 is because Lamb, just like Redd, is a deadly long distance sharp shooter from a major college program.

#11) Ekpe Udoh
(#13, PF, 6'10", 245 lbs, Baylor, 3rd NBA Season):
The Bucks are essentially hoarding athletic power forwards in their unending pursuit for Vin Baker 2.0, which made Udoh more than a throw-in as a part of the Bogut & Jackson for Ellis trade.  So far Udoh has been a little more hype than production but look for him to get more consistent minutes in 2012-13 as the primary backup power forward for the Bucks.

#10) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (#12, SF/PF, 6'8", 230 lbs, UCLA, 5th NBA Season):
For some reason The Prince is entering the season injured, which is something that has always perplexed me.  Does that mean The Prince could have done more rehab in the off-season or is he just really suffering through a long-term injury?  Either way, The Prince cracked the Top 10 because he excels at defending three positions (SG, SF, and PF) in the NBA, which is a rare commodity in the NBA.

#9) Larry Sanders (#8, PF/C, 6'11", 235 lbs, Virginia Commonwealth, 3rd NBA Season):
NBA players usually make "the jump" from their rookie year to their second season, which Sanders unfortunately did not do.  Instead, Sanders will need to make "the jump" from his second to third NBA season because the Bucks have a glut of big-men on the roster.  Add in that Sanders has some rage issues and was left off a recent pre-season road trip for an undisclosed personal issue so we reaching put up or shut up time for Sanders because Hammond might actually decline their option on Sanders like he did with Joe Alexander if Sanders struggles this season.

#8) Beno Udrih (#19, PG/SG, 6'3", 203 lbs, Slovenia, 8th NBA Season):
Although a $7.8 million expiring contract feels a little rich for a backup combo guard, it could be just the bargaining chip the Bucks need to be competitive at the trade deadline.  The Bucks only have $40 million on the books for the 2013-14 NBA season so they are in a position to take on some long-term contracts.  One piece of advice for Hammond though, if you are going to make a Richard Jefferson or Stephen Jackson-esque trade, just keep Udrih.

#7) Tobias Harris (#15, SF/PF, 6'8", 226 lbs, Tennessee, 2nd NBA Season):
Every time I think of Harris I keep stewing over the fact that the Bucks should have drafted Kenneth Faried instead of Harris, give me another decade and I will get over it.  Leaving aside my man crush for Faried, despite no longer being a rookie, Harris is still one of the youngest players in the NBA so at times his game reflects his age.  Apparently Harris put on 10 to 15 pounds of muscle in the off-season, so I am interested to see if the now muscle bound Harris is more assertive this season than he was last season as a rookie.

#6) Samuel Dalembert (#21, C, 6'11", 250 lbs, Seton Hall, 11th NBA Season):
The Bucks traded Jon Brockman (PF), Jon Leuer (PF), Shaun Livingston (G), and the 12th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to the Houston Rockets for Dalembert, the 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, a future second round pick, and cash considerations.  As I said right after the trade was announced, I wish the Bucks could have held onto Leuer but now that seems like a small price to pay for the Bucks to protect the rim with their first legitimate shot blocker not named Andrew Bogut since Dan Gadzuric's back-to-back 100-plus block seasons (2003-04 and 2004-05).

#5) John Henson
(#31, PF, 6'11", 220 lbs, North Carolina, Rookie):
If I had to buy one Bucks jersey, it would be a #31 Henson jersey.  Yes, I could be overrating Henson much like I did with Leuer last season but being a two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year is a pretty nice thing to have on your resume.  Trust me, those defensive skills will translate from college to the NBA but the question is whether that will happens this year or take a few seasons.  I am thinking the former is much more likely than the latter, but again I am an unabashed Henson fan so let's see him get healthy and play some regular season minutes before I get too excited.

#4) Mike Dunleavy Jr. (#17, SG/SF, 6'9", 230 lbs, Duke, 11th NBA Season):
When the Bucks signed Dunleavy, I thought it was a horrible signing.  Just a  year later, I am not too big of a person to admit I was completely wrong.  This season Dunleavy is earning $3.75 million in the final year of a two-year, $7 million contract that will go down as one of the most cost-effective free agent signing of Hammond's tenure.

#3) Ersan Ilyasova (#7, SF/PF, 6'10", 235 lbs, Turkey, 5th NBA Season):
This off-season the Bucks signed Ilyasova to a five-year, $40 million contract that is really a four-year, $32 million contract since the final year of the deal is a team option.  If I had to bet, I would bet big money on the fact that the Bucks actually pick up that option for the 2016-17 NBA season because as I've said many times, Ilyasova is a Poor Man's Dirk.

#2) Mona Ellis (#11, PG, 6'3", 185 lbs, 8th NBA Season):
Ellis is set to earn $11 million this season and holds a $11 million player option for the 2013-14 season so much like his current general manager (Hammond) and coach (Skiles), Ellis is essentially in a contract year.  I see this season either going really well or really bad for Ellis but not anywhere in between.  Thus I can see Ellis flaming out and getting traded before the trade deadline for thirty cents on the dollar or finally meshing with his teammates so well that he actually picks up his option for next season or declines his player option just to re-sign with the Bucks.  I know that is not a very specific prediction but I am just trying to illustrate how much of a spread there is between his ceiling (commits to the Bucks long-term) and floor (doesn't finish the season with the Bucks), which will have a huge impact on the franchise for the next five years.

#1) Brandon Jennings (#3, PG, 6'1", 169 lbs, Oak Hill Academy, 4th NBA Season):
Speaking of having an impact on the franchise for the next five years, the Bucks and Brandon Jennings could not agree on a contract extension before the Halloween deadline.  That means Jennings is now set to become a restricted free agent after this season so the Bucks can match any offer Jennings receives.  Basically that means the Bucks kicked the can down the road instead of locking down Jennings, which makes sense.  If Jennings has a huge season then the Bucks will give him a max-deal but if Jennings struggles then the Bucks will let another NBA team set the market value for Jennings to determine whether that fits within their budget.

I hope that you enjoyed my initial player rankings as an appetizer to the Bucks opening their 2012-13 season.  In one of the oddest professional sports scheduling oddities of my lifetime, this marks the 28th straight year the Bucks open the season on the road.  This year the Bucks travel to Boston to face the Celtic.  Although a number of my comments above touch on my contractual thoughts on most of the Bucks, check back Wednesday for my thoughts on the most overpaid and underpaid 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks.