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Badgers vs. Huskers rivalry will have new twist with Riley, Chryst hires

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Nebraska and Wisconsin established a trophy game ahead of the 2014 matchup, playing annually for the “Freedom Trophy.” Yet for many it felt a bit forced and a bit early for Badgers vs. Huskers as a true rivalry game.

However, after Wisconsin won for a third time in four games between the two as Big Ten schools there was little doubt that things were taking a turn to a serious rivalry.

Nebraska fans were none too happy losing in embarrassing fashion for a second straight game against the Badgers. Wisconsin fans basked in the glory of another history-making performance against the Huskers.

Little did we know that things were only about to heat up in the rivalry though, and it has little to do with the two schools themselves. Instead it has everything to do with the scenario that led to mentor and protégé ending up on opposite sidelines in this new rivalry.

While most saw Bo Pelini’s firing at Nebraska coming, few saw Gary Andersen leaving the Badgers program so quickly. Yet, what followed just made things a whole lot more interesting to say the least.

That’s because Nebraska went on to hire Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, Andersen would replace Riley as the head man for the Beavers and Paul Chryst would come back home to coach the Wisconsin Badgers.

So, what’s the big deal and why does it make things more interesting? It means that Mike Riley will match wits with the guy who served as an assistant coach with him at Oregon Stat and in the NFL.

The two coaches have a relationship that dates back to their time with the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football back in 1991. At that time Riley was head coach and Chryst an offensive assistant. Since then, the duo get together yearly and speak often via phone.

When the two teams get together on October 10, 2015 it won’t be the first matchup between the two though, as UW met up with the Beavers in 2011.

Back then it was revealed that the two offensive-minded coaches held a meeting every year in San Antonio. Something tells me that meeting is likely to come to an abrupt end with both of them coaching in the same division these days.

Ahead of the 2011 meeting between Oregon State and Wisconsin, Riley admitted coaching against a guy you know so well isn’t easy, via Oregonlive.com.

“Paul and I grew up putting offenses together when we started back in ’91,’’ Riley said, recalling the budding kinship with the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football. “Knowing people is one thing, but defeating them and out-executing them is another. That’s a whole other deal.’’

As for the on-field meeting between the two coaches and teams? It just so happened the Beavers were running in to a buzzsaw of epic proportions and the Badgers won 35-0.

Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson went 17 of 21 passing for 189 yards and three touchdowns, while UW outrushed the Beavers by 185 yards (208 to 23). However, Oregon’s young quarterback, Sean Mannion, had 244 yards on 25 of 38 passing and threw for no interceptions or touchdowns while being under constant pressure (sacked three times).

That was offensive coordinator Paul Chryst vs. head coach Mike Riley though, and it remains to be seen how the two will stack up as head coach vs. head coach. As that matchup will only happen for the first time this upcoming season.

Of course, nothing will help more than the two teams clashing on what could be a near annual basis for the Big Ten West division championship. Having it happen with two coaches who know each other so well is just icing on the cake for everyone not involved in the game.

Sometimes familiarity can breed contempt, and with the Badgers and Huskers very likely to look a lot like each other on offense, it will be interesting to see how this all develops within an already budding rivalry.

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Wisconsin

Former Badger Rose Lavelle scores in World Cup final

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Now the rest of the sporting world knows what Wisconsin Badgers fans already knew — Rose Lavelle is amazing.

After a stellar career as a Badger, Lavelle has become one of the key components to the United States women’s national team. That was on full display in the Women’s World Cup final agains the Netherlands on Sunday.

Following a penalty kick goal from Megan Rapinoe, it was Lavelle that put the final nail in the coffin. She took near midfield in Dutch territory and walked all the way up unbothered and slotted home a powerful and signature left-footed strike to make it 2-0 in the 69th minute.

It was her 10th career national team goal and the third of this tournament after scoring twice in the 13-0 route of Thailand in the opener to this World Cup.

Lavelle would be given the Bronze Ball following the game, as the third-best player in the entire tournament. Teammate Megan Rapinoe would be given the Golden Ball as the best player, to go along with her Golden Boot for the most goals scored in the competition.

The USWNT have joined Germany as the only teams to repeat as Women’s World Cup champions and Lavelle had a major hand from the start to the finish.

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Badgers football

Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019

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We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker |

Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.

What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.

Best Case Scenario

Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.

Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.

No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.

It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.

Worst Case Scenario

What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?

Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.

Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.

The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.

Most Likely to Happen

The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.

I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.

Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.

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Badgers football

Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019

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This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.

But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.

Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.

In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver

Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.

Best Case Scenario:

Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.

Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.

Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.

Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.

In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.

Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.

Worst Case Scenario:

Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.

Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.

If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.

Most Likely to Happen:

Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.

I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.

That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.

So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.

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Badgers football

Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019

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The heat of summer is upon us and the recruiting trail has been even hotter for the Wisconsin Badgers. However, that heat also indicates that the long offseason nightmare is about to be over.

With that in mind, we’re taking a summer-long look at each position group heading in to the 2019 season.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line |

Today, we flip back to the offensive side of the ball and look at a second skill position — wide receiver.

After what was supposed to be a breakout year for the group in 2018, what will this group have in store for 2019? Let’s look at the best and worst case scenarios at play.

Best Case Scenario

If the Badgers want to get going in the pass game, the wide receiver group needs to step up the deep game in a big way. While A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor have proven to be reliable assets, 2018 felt much like they all barely scratched the surface of their potential.

The trio combined for 95 receptions (which was 53 percent of all receptions as a team), 1,212 yards and 11 of 19 touchdown receptions on the year.

For this season, the best case scenario actually involves the quarterback position almost more-so than anything this group can do. The receivers could benefit from a consistently good passer at quarterback and a more open playbook as well.

Whether it is Jack Coan or wonderkid recruit, Graham Mertz, the consistency and trust to open up the playbook needs to be there.

Additionally, an increased role for speedster Aaron Cruickshank would be the best case scenario.

Worst Case Scenario

Danny Davis emerged as the most targeted receiver last season, catching 40 passes to lead all wide receivers on the team. He will enter his junior season with an increase in expectations and no off-field distractions like he had to deal with last season thanks to his stupid decision-making.

That aside, Davis is the most well-rounded receiver in this group and the one that could wind up be the deep threat that has been missing for awhile now. So, any injury to Davis would be bad news.

In fact, any sustained injuries to the likes of Davis, Pryor and Taylor would not be good. UW is very inexperienced behind this trio, and inexperience at QB and WR may not be a fun combination.

Dare I say, it would lead to UW not being back on top of the West division mountain?

Most Likely to Happen

I fully believe that the coaching staff will go in to the season knowing which quarterback they’ll go with and stick with. Confidence is key to helping this wide receiver group and I expect the Badgers offense to be much more balanced in 2019 than it was over the past two seasons.

Look for Davis, Pryor and Taylor to all increase their overall numbers and likely go over the 15 touchdown mark as a group. More importantly, I expect much more play-action and much more from the deep passing game too. That should be music to a talented, but under used group’s ears.

Don’t be surprised to see one of the Badgers wide receivers make a run at All-Big Ten honors as a result of that shift back to balance.

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