My goodness. It's been far too long, my friends. A busier-than-anticipated fall semester has finally drawn to a close and this blog has missed the Badgers thrilling Big Ten Championship Game victory and a baseball off-season I'd rather forget. But one thing this blog hasn't missed is a Packers' loss, which is why I'm almost afraid to post here for the first time in nearly two months. Since nobody was exactly clammering for me to get back on this thing, I'm guessing everyone was able to go on with their everyday lives, but I thought I'd still enlighten you on what has been going on recently in the Wisconsin sports scene.
We'll go from least important to most important, in my mind at least, and start with the Wisconsin Badgers' trip to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year. Yeah. This is the least important of the three. Two weeks ago to the day, the Badgers pulled out one of the most thrilling victories I've seen in college football for quite a while. Well, other than that one game in East Lansing a few months ago. It was a game that featured little defense, a couple of bonehead mistakes from Michigan State and the emergence of a future star at wide receiver. That receiver I speak of is sophomore Jeff Duckworth, who made a couple of crucial plays that the Badgers needed in order to win the Big Ten Championship. His most notable play was hauling in a 36-yard prayer from the game's MVP Russell Wilson on fourth down to essentially keep the Badgers alive. The real crime is that Wilson won the inaugural BTC MVP because I can think of a few players who deserved it more.
The most obvious candidate is soon-to-be most touchdowns in a single season record holder Montee Ball. Not only did Ball have four rushing TDs to bring his season total to 38, but he also completed a beautiful 32-yard pass to Wilson. Heck, if the Badgers don't end up finding an efficient replacement for RusselMania next season, they could just turn to Ball to play quarterback and running back at the same time. That is, if Ball decides to return for his senior year, which I have a feeling he will. I hope. Ball needs just two touchdowns to break the all-time record of 39 TDs in a season held by Barry Sanders. To be fair, Sanders recorded this feat in only 11 games, and the bowl game didn't count toward his total. How many scores did Barry get in the bowl game that season? Five. Oh well. Times have changed and Montee is going to take full advantage of that.
So who's the second MVP candidate? I think you know where I'm going with this one: Badgers' punter Brad Nortman. Nortman showed what the Milwaukee Greater Metro Conference is all about and went down after a Michigan State player who won't be named (I don't want him getting any death threats) plowed into Nortman after punting the ball away late in the fourth quarter with Wisconsin up 42-39. I think it's fair to say that the hit wasn't hard enough to make an 8-year-old girl crumble over, but everyone knows that if Nortman doesn't go with the flow and fall down on that play, the referee doesn't throw his flag. The rule is that if you run into the punter, it's a penalty. That's exactly what the Spartans' player did, and that's why the Badgers were able to seal a trip to the Rose Bowl to play Oregon on Jan. 2. Sucks to suck, Michigan State. Take that hail mary and shove it where the sun don't shine.
Oregon, who is ranked fifth in the country, should very well be playing in the National Championship. Instead, their kicker had other ideas and missed a chip-shot field goal to beat USC last month, leading to them pummeling UCLA in order to get into the Rose Bowl. It's a classic matchup of speed vs. power. On offense, the Badgers arguably hold the edge at both quarterback and running back, but Oregon has faster players at each position, which could pose some trouble for a Badger defense that I continue to lose faith in week after week. Basically, it's going to come down to whether or not the Badgers can outscore the Ducks because with their speed, they'll be able to rack up tons of points on the slow defensive line and the extremely porous secondary of Wisconsin. This is the game where Russell has to prove to Badger fans that he was the right choice. This may sound ridiculous, but Wilson shrunk a little bit in the team's losses to Michigan State and Ohio State earlier in the year. Granted, he put up pretty decent numbers in each game, but it took the Badger offense way too long to get going in each of those games, and in the end it bit them in the rear end because it came down to the defense trying* to get the job done. A slow start isn't going to cut it against Oregon - I can guarantee you that. I predicted the Badgers would get to the Rose Bowl again this year and only lose one game (they lost two), and I'll predict that they come up a bit short for the second year in a row. Sorry. Just going with my gut.
Okay. Spent a little bit more time on Wisconsin than I planned, but now it's time to move on to the second most important on-going story in the state. This was tough for me, especially since I'm a bigger baseball fan than anything, but the Ryan Braun scandal still takes a back seat to the undefeated run of the Green Bay Packers simply because of the timing. As everyone knows by now, Braun tested positive for having synthetic testosterone in his system and the news was leaked a week ago even though Major League Baseball has yet to complete the appeal process. Thanks, ESPN. I was alerted of this news while at the library studying diligently for my brutal finals week and my heart sank to the pit of my stomach. Suffice it to say, but I was no longer in the mood to study and my night at the library was cut short.
Of course, I went on to read anything and everything I could related to this devastating news and began to build hope that the decision to suspend Braun for 50 games next season as the result of using performance enhancing drugs could be reversed, or at least reduced. Braun took a second drug test immediately after hearing of his positive test and tested negative. From what I've heard, between the time he took the two tests, there is no way that amount of testosterone could have left his body, which could mean the first test was a farce and was somehow messed up. That's the most hopeful solution Brewer fans can hope for. I've also heard that Braun's suspension could be reduced from 50 games to 25 games because the substance he tested positive for wasn't a performance enhancing drug. Of course, missing Braun for any sort of extended period would be a killer for this Brewer team, who has gotten better at third base (Aramis Ramirez) and shortshop (Alex Gonzalez) and remained strong at the tail end of the bullpen (K-Rod), but has a huge question mark at first base (Prince Fielder leaving, Mat Gamel arriving).
Here's the final and most preposterous (although not out of the question) rumor I heard regarding Braun. He has herpies. Some dude commented on ign.com that he has a friend who is a trainer on the Brewers' staff. This trainer relayed him the information that Braun has herpies and the medication that he was given by his doctor to treat the condition is what triggered the spike in testosterone. Let me tell you something. If this were somehow true and I was Braun, not only have I been getting a lot of tail, but I'm almost willing to take that suspension rather than face such humiliation. Since the medication was prescribed from a doctor though, this would mean the suspension would go bye-bye and Braun would be able to play without sitting out any time.
So many different scenarios! Of course, what people keep complaining about is the following:
- No one has ever successfully overturned a positive drug test in the MLB (Wrong: yes they have. Normally, the appeals process goes through BEFORE THE POSITIVE TEST BECOMES PUBLIC, so we never know if someone has won an appeal that tested positive before.)
- Players are guilty before proven innocent (Sure, that's fair. But who cares? If Braun gets through this without being suspended, then I don't get what the big deal is. If you have the viewpoint that his reputation is tarnished no matter what, then that's your problem. Let the process play out.)
- Braun should have to hand over his MVP to Matt Kemp (Shut up. SHUT up. SHUT UP. All of a sudden, Dodger fans are coming out of the muck that is their organization and bantering for Braun to give up his MVP because he's a "cheater." Dear lord. The MVP award almost NEVER goes to a player on a team that didn't make the postseason unless it's a transcending player like Albert Pujols. Also, the positive test was in October, AFTER the regular season and AFTER all the baseball writers had voted for the award. Therefore, Braun didn't cheat during the regular season, or in any previous season for that matter, because he has been tested multiple times and it's random. Besides, his numbers this season were just like any other season, maybe slightly better, but since he was on a 96-win ball club, he was rewarded with an MVP. So once again, SHUT UP.)
Unfortunately, the appeals process won't be over until January, so I'm stuck here waiting anxiously for redemption. I've almost never felt more depressed than when I read the text message announcing Braun's positive test and potential suspension. He's one of my few heroes and someone I look up to as a role model, and for this positive test to be upheld would certainly be devastating. That's the only word I can use to describe it. Even if it comes down to Braun accidentally taking something he didn't know had an illegal stimulant in it, there's no excuse. You have to know what you put in your body. Here's hoping this all just goes away.
Let's sandwich this bad news with another bit of good news. Great news, as a matter of fact. Do you remember the last time the Green Bay Packers lost a game? Well, it was literally one year ago. 19 games in a row the Packers have won. How ridiculous is that? What's funny is that coming into the season, people were forgetting about the defending Super Bowl champs. It was all about the Eagles and the Cowboys and the Saints and the Falcons...who would end up going to Super Bowl 46 from the NFC? Well, here's a thought: maybe the team that would be returning 16 players from injured reserve? Okay, so not all 16 players were returning, but the Pack would be getting guys like Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant and Morgan Burnett back on the field in 2011. Low and behold, here we stand: 13-0 with three very winnable games remaining to become the second team ever to complete a 16-0 regular season. I hope the '72 Dolphins are shaking in their old, torn up boots.
Of course, along the way Green Bay has lost Nick Collins for the season and had guys like James Starks, Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk, Frank Zombo, Chad Clifton, Josh Sitton, Andrew Quarless and now Greg Jennings miss extended time due to injury. The defense has had its issues, especially in games against the Saints, Chargers and Giants, but this season has been all about Aaron Rodgers and the Packer offense. Rodgers is having perhaps the best single season a quarterback has ever put together, or at least one of the better ones we've ever seen. There hasn't been much of a run game, and Finley hasn't contributed nearly as much as people expected coming in, but the beautiful thing about it is that Rodgers always makes sure everyone is involved, forcing the defense to be even more on its toes. Jennings and my boy Jordy Nelson have had career years (Jennings was just cut short), James Jones' hands have been sure, and Donald Driver continues to get it done at 107 years of age. Helping out with field position is rookie Randall Cobb, who already has two returns for touchdowns...look out, Devin Hester. More will be expected of Cobb, fifth in catches among receivers, with Jennings out, but with Jennings expected back for the Divisional Round of the playoffs, his injury shouldn't be a long-term problem.
On defense, the numbers tell that it's been a struggle, but things are going to come around with this bunch. One number that shouldn't be overlooked is the number of takeaways this unit has, something that Dom Capers takes a lot of pride in. This defense has players like Chuck Woodson, Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and Tramon Williams, who are going to step their game up now that it's getting colder out and the Green Bay offense simply won't be quite as effective as a result, especially going up against a higher level quality of opponents. The most important part about being 13-0 isn't the chance to become the second team in NFL history to not lose a single game throughout the regular season and the playoffs; it's about having that home field advantage, something the Packers apparently didn't need last season. Unlike last season, having basically nothing to play for at this point of the season could be a little concerning, but I haven't seen a team as mentally strong as this group of guys, and having a week off to start the playoffs while being a one seed is something I think this team would prefer over last year's scenario.
Getting back to people forgetting about the Packers...heard of that Tebow guy lately? Thank God for him. I'll go on the record and say that I love every second of it. Seriously. I love Tim Tebow. Talk about him all you want, ESPN. Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith going at it each morning on First Take is surprisingly one of the most entertaining things on television, although I can't stand it when Skip talks about Rodgers. Sorry he hasn't had any come from behind fourth quarter victories this year like your beloved Tom Brady. He hasn't been in the position to. And the one time he did have to have a late drive to win the game when the Packers were tied with the Giants with 56 second left, he waltzed down the field to set up a walk-off field goal. Anyway, back to Tebow. He's 7-1 as a starter, isn't necessarily good at what he does, and has the whole nation mesmerized, helping to take a huge chunk of attention off the Pack...just as they'd prefer it.
So let's just say January is another huge month for our beloved sports teams. It'll start off with the Rose Bowl game, then the NFL playoffs will get going and eventually the final verdict will come forth on Ryan Braun. Enjoy your break if you just got done with finals like me, good luck if you are yet to take them and have a merry Christmas if I'm not back on here before then. Once the new year arrives, it'll be time to avert your attention back to the greatness that is Wisconsin sports.