Monday, August 29, 2011

2 for 1 Special: We're in Beer Haven

81-54. That's the current record of the Milwaukee Brewers after sweeping the rival Chicago Cubs once again at Miller Park.

50-16. That's the current home record of the Milwaukee Brewers, the best in baseball by a long shot.

10-0. That's starting pitcher Zack Greinke's record at Miller Park, where he also sports an ERA under 3.00.

.334. That's the batting average of MVP candidate Ryan Braun, who is only two points behind Jose Reyes for the NL lead and fourth in all of baseball.

102. That's the number of RBIs that MVP candidate Prince Fielder has, which is good enough for 1st in the National League.

37. That's the number of consecutive saves for closer John Axford, who has 40 overall and is tied for the league lead in converted saves.

10.5. That's the number of games the St. Louis Cardinals are behind the Beermakers, who will square off in the three game series at Miller Park starting Tuesday.

18. That's the magic number for the Milwaukee Brewers to clinch the Central Division, their first division title in almost 30 years.

5. The number of games the Brewers trail the Philadelphia Phillies by for home field advantage in the playoffs. The two teams meet in Milwaukee for a four game series September 8-11.

What in blazes is going on in Milwaukee? I'm hoping my last post previewing the Packers got you psyched up for football, but those numbers I just threw at you regarding the Brew Crew has me even more jacked up - and it should have the same effect on you. All of those statistics are incredible and some of them were completely unexpected, but even though the personal achievements Braun and King are on their way to earning and Greinke and Axford have achieved, the most important figure to me is "5." The Brewers are only five games behind the Phillies for the National League crown. It's almost impossible to stress just how important this would be for the Crew to obtain. I think everyone is with me when I say that I have more confidence in the Crew's performance at home compared to on the road, although the play away from Miller Park has been MUCH improved post-All-Star break. I know we are still about a week and a half away from the Phillies series (I'll be attending the Friday night game fyi), but imagine if the Brewers could manage to shave another game or two off of Philly's league lead...exciting.

Now I was away from the computer for about three days which is why I was a little late on the Packers' season preview and missed a lot of the Brewers' sweep, so I don't have all that much to mention regarding the Cubs series. However, there was a rather significant roster move made this weekend. Relief pitcher Tim Dillard, who hasn't been receiving much work with the Brewers rarely finding themselves in cleanup mode, was optioned to Triple-A and guess who was recalled? That's right...Taylor mother effing Green. It only took the Brewers about two and a half months to heed my advice, but better late than never is what I say. If you haven't heard of Green, consider the numbers he put up in the minors this season - .336 AVG, 22 HR, 88 RBI in 120 games. Holy smokes. So why did the Brewers decide to make the move just before rosters expand in September? Manager Ron Roenicke denied that it was so Green could be eligible for the postseason roster, but let's get real...that's why this move was made. It's mindboggling that Green wasn't called up earlier than this in the first place, so it seems strange that the Brewers would wait until now to do it. My guess is because Milwaukee wants to make sure the bench, and the starting lineup for that matter, is as solid as possible heading into the playoffs, and Green could be a guy that shores it up.

Of course, we'll see guys like Mat Gamel, Wily Peralta and Dillard on the squad once rosters expand along with possibly a few others, but calling up Green now HAD to happen. His numbers are just too good, and it has to be seen if he can translate that success to the big league level and contribute to the Brewers. Some might wonder why Gamel wasn't given the same opportunity, but I think it's apparent that Gamel doesn't succeed in a part time roll and his real moment will come next season at first base should King be lost in free agency. It could be argued that reliever Frankie De La Cruz could be sent down for Gamel since he's rarely used as well, but I guess Milwaukee decided Gamel had already gotten a legitimate chance this season. Both Gamel and Green have absolutely torn up the Pacific League and hopefully in the near future they will both tear up Major League Baseball. So who else might warrant a call-up to the Bigs?

OF - Logan Schaefer (.331 average at Nashville)
OF - Caleb Gindl (.311 average, 15 HR, 58 RBI)
RHP - Mike McCledon (5-4, 2.80 ERA in relief)
RHP - Mike DeFelice (2-1, 2.17 ERA in relief)
LHP - Danny Herrera (well...maybe not)

Isn't it fun to talk about these things instead of complaining about sucking on the road or Casey McGehee being awful? Well, McGehee is still doing his best impersonation of an incompetent third baseman in the field, but now that Green is up, I'll be able to whine about how he isn't playing enough. If that's my biggest worry at this point of the season, I guess I'll take it. As long as the Brewers can take care of business in this three game set against that idiot Tony LaRussa, all that will be left to do is evaluate the team and decide who makes the 25-man playoff roster. Excuse me if I sound giddy...these are uncharted waters for a lifelong Brewer fan.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

OFFICIAL 2011 Green Bay Packers' Preview

2011 Green Bay Packers: 10-6, 2nd in North Division, Won Super Bowl XLV

Last August, I dedicated the third blog post of my life to preview the 2010 season for the Green Bay Packers. Having come off a year where the Packers were arguably the third best team in the NFC and yet suffered such a demoralizing loss in the first round of the playoffs, I was cautiously optimistic going into Aaron Rodgers' third season as the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. I felt that the pieces were nearly in place and that a deep run in the post-season would be another step in the right direction for the league's smallest franchise, so that's what I predicted: the Packers would finish 11-5 and fall in the game leading up to the Super Bowl. It seemed to make sense...Green Bay hadn't lost any key contributors in between '09 and '10 and therefore it made sense that they would make a jump, but deep down I knew that perhaps if the chips fell right, the Pack could find themselves in Dallas for Super Bowl 45. After a 3-3 start and names like Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley and Nick Barnett on the shelf, this feeling had left and didn't plan on making a return. Or so I thought.

Fast forward about three months and the Packers are celebrating on a podium in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys' brand new stadium with the Lombardi Trophy while Clay Matthews gives Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers an actual championship belt. Finally, Rodgers' celebration was justified and Green Bay had won a Super Bowl that I could truly call my own...first grade Dave could only appreciate winning Super Bowl XXXI so much. As fun as winning the Super Bowl was, it's time to put it in the rear view mirror and focus on the new task at hand. Because of all the injuries the Packers sustained through last season, it didn't seem necessary to make any splashes in free agency since the players returning from injury were essentially additions to a team that just won a championship. As a result, other teams around the league like the Eagles, Jets and Patriots garnered a lot of attention...and that's just the way Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy want it. With that, let's take a look at some of the players the Packers saw walk away as well some key players making a return.

Key losses: DT Cullen Jenkins, SS Atari Bigby, LB Nick Barnett, LB Brady Poppinga, LB Brandon Chillar, RB Brandon Jackson, OT Mark Tauscher

Key returnees/additions: TE Jermichael Finley, SS Morgan Burnett, RB Ryan Grant, FB John Kuhn, WR James Jones, K Mason Crosby, OG/OT Derek Sherrod, WR/KR Randall Cobb, RB/KR Alex Green

The Packers will hardly lose anything on offense and in fact will probably get better thanks to using their first three picks on offensive players (offensive tackle, wide receiver, running back) along with starting running back Ryan Grant and starting tight end Jermichael Finley returning from season ending injuries. With the departure of o-linemen Jason Spitz, Mark Tauscher and Daryn Colledge, Green Bay finds themselves a little depleted up front, so they used their first round pick on Derek Sherrod, an offensive tackle. He has been moved back and forth between tackle and guard during the course of the preseason since there is still uncertainty at left guard, but it's beginning to appear that he will back up both tackle Chad Clifton and guard T.J. Lang. The next two players drafted, wide receiver Randall Cobb and running back Alex Green, should both also be utilized in the return game, an area that the Packers could definitely use some improvement. Cobb has looked solid thus far in the preseason at both receiver and returner and Green had his moments in the second week of the exhibition season. The Packers probably like Green for third down situations and he could develop into even more than that should the Pack eventually part ways with Grant. By bringing back wide-out James Jones at a cheaper price than they expected, there isn't much room for Cobb in the receiving corps, but it now means that the Packers are LOADED on the outside with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver all returning.

Oh, and I heard that the Packers had a pretty good guy under center. Aaron Rodgers is obviously a stud, but so is his backup - and maybe even his backups' backup. Matt Flynn has looked as solid as ever during the preseason and we all saw what he can do in real games last season against the Pats. And then there's Graham Harrell, who has probably done enough to earn a roster spot each and every week. I don't think the Packers can afford to place Harrell on the practice squad again for a couple reasons...for one, Flynn has become a valuable trade commodity, so he could be gone sometime in the next year or two. I mean, look what the Eagles got in return for Kevin Kolb - a 2nd rounder and a starting corner? Imagine if Green Bay could get something similar for Flynn. This leads me to my next reason...if Harrell is on the practice squad, he could be claimed by another team and then Flynn isn't quite as expendable. I love Flynn and I think he's great to have, especially if Rodgers goes down like he did last year, but what we could get in return for him might be better for the Packers in the long run...and then Harrell could step in to the number two spot. This is all just speculation, but probably an issue that needs to be addressed.

The old saying goes, "defense wins championships," and that's one saying that I have always found to be rather stupid. You know what else wins championship? Offense. Special teams. Good play calling. Good execution. Limiting mistakes. Making big plays. You get it by now, but the Packers did come up with some big plays on defense in Super Bowl XLV and they return many players from the unit that "won" the championship. Barnett and Jenkins are gone and the loss of Jenkins still stings (especially since he went to the Eagles), but safety Morgan Burnett is back and the Packers arguably are better at middle linebacker with Desmond Bishop. Up front, there are still questions and I was surprised that Green Bay didn't use any early draft picks on the defensive line, but there are still guys like B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett fence to help plug the middle. Several others will be in the mix, but that is definitely an area to keep an eye on, especially since the guys up front are the ones who allow the Packers to blitz and stuff the run game up the middle. Speaking of questions, now that Frank Zombo has gone down with an injury and could possibly be placed on IR (hope to God not), it's between Erik Walden and Brad Jones for the spot opposite of Clay Matthews. My feeling is that it will be a bit of a platoon, with Walden providing more of a blitzing option and Jones being much better dropping back into coverage. Moving on to the secondary, not much has changed, but Burnett is back and appears to have regained his starting role at strong safety with Charlie Peprah providing an excellent security blanket. Burnett will be surrounded by pro bowlers in the secondary, so their shouldn't be much cause for concern. Nick Collins and Tramon Williams are only getting better as they are still early in their careers and we'll see if old Father Time starts catching up with Chuck Woodson. If there are problems at the corners, which I don't expect, there is plenty of depth with Sam Shields, Jarrett Bush...I suppose...and newcomer Davon House. House was the first defensive player drafted by Green Bay and I'm holding out hope that House won't turn out to be like fellow Packer corner Pat Lee, who frankly doesn't deserve a roster spot.

A quick blurb on special teams...kicker Mason Crosby apparently earned a new, luxurious contract and is back with the Pack. There's no denying that Cros has a big time leg, but he needs to start making the big kicks. Fortunately, there weren't any tough situations presented for Crosby late in the 2010 season, but the Packers probably won't be so lucky this season. For once, there isn't any preseason competition at punter and the job belongs to Tim Masthay, who was huge last year in the playoffs - man, it's good to finally have a punter who lasts longer than one season in Green Bay. Like I mentioned previously, rookies Alex Green and Randall Cobb should be involved in the return game. However, Cobb is battling an injury that no one knows the extent of, so we could see Jordy Nelson back in the return game equation or even Chastin West, whose strong preseason performance could land him as a return option or number five receiver.

Prediction time. The Packers finished second once again and therefore face about as tough of a schedule as they did last season, when they went 10-6. Of course, injuries contributed to this record (which should have been better) and it's hard to imagine the Packers seeing that many injuries two years in a row (knock on wood). With many players back from injury and the additions outweighing the subtractions, I'm expecting big things in 2011.

Regular Season Record: 11-5
Playoffs: Lose in NFC Championship game

Yes, I said the exact same thing last season. Yes, my prediction partially stems from the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles got way, way better and the NFC is getting tougher and tougher each year. Yes, I'm a superstitious idiot.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Road is the New Home

I believe I've wasted several hours of my blogging career complaining about how pathetic the Brewers' play was on the road. It was hard to ignore. My hope was that the All-Star break would be a time for players and coaches to not only get some rest and forget about their road woes, but to also look forward and figure out what exactly they needed to do to improve away from Miller Park. They didn't have a choice. If the Brewers wanted to reach the post-season, they would have to start winning on the road - it's what good teams do. Oh, and it just so happened that the Crew had to play 11 games on the road to start off the second half of the season. It was make or break time, no question, and after Milwaukee was able to get by with a 5-6 record against the top three teams in the West Division, they were still right near the top of the standings and began a stretch loaded with beatable teams. Let's just say the Beermakers took that opportunity and flew to the moon with it...the Brewers are now 76-52, nine games ahead of the second place Cardinals and 13-7 on the road post-All-Star break. Huzzah.

Believe it or not, that nine game lead is the largest division lead in baseball and the largest division lead in franchise history. I knew that this team was something special and continued to reiterate during the Brewers' early struggles, but their performance recently is absolutely ridiculous...there's no other way to describe it. I believe it is now 22 of the last 25 games Milwaukee has pulled off, and it's due in part to an entire team effort. King Fielder and The Hebrew Hammer continue to battle amongst each other for MVP honors (Braun for a batting title, Prince for a HR & RBI title...combined Triple Crown, anyone?), the starting pitching has been superb and the bullpen keeps on keeping on, with Marco Estrada filling in nicely in a couple spot starts and the Ax Factor refusing to let one get away. In Saturday's afternoon melee against the New York Mets, it felt like the Brewers of old had returned...I was upset with how hard our pitchers were getting hit, but I was also disappointed in Ron Roenicke's decision to leave Jerry Hairston in center field late in a close ball game with Tony Plush readily available. It cost the Brewers and spoiled K-Rod's return to Citi Field and completed the Brewers blowing a six-run lead...and then some. It was 9-7 Mets heading into the top of the ninth; that's when the Brewers of new returned and did what it took to win the game. Those who have come up clutch all season long...Nyjer Morgan, Mark Kotsay, Prince Fielder and even Casey McGehee...put up incredible at-bats and then it was just up to Axford to close it down. The comeback victory seemed like gravy at this point. The Crew could probably afford a loss like this thanks to the division lead they've stretched out, but their resiliency wouldn't allow it, and that as a fan is incredibly comforting.

I try not to do this too often, but I want to look ahead into my Milwaukee Brewers' crystal ball and figure out what the Crew will do once they are faced with a few difficult decisions. One of them was just made today as Felipe Lopez was designated for assignment (a.k.a. released) to make room for Chris Narveson, who will start the front end of the doubleheader today against the...yes...Pittsburgh Pirates. Rosters expanding once September rolls around will make bringing Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez back a lot easier since the Brewers won't have to send anyone down. I'm still pretty excited to see who Milwaukee decides to bring up in September and who will begin to see their playing time diminish. But back to the real issue here...who would we see not make the 25-man playoff roster should, hypothetically speaking, of course, the Milwaukee Brewers make the post-season? We just saw a position player (Lopez) take the hit when Narveson was added back to the active roster. I suspect that bullpen member Frankie De La Cruz would not make the cut when Weeks gets back, who I think will return before Gomez. When Go-Go is ready to come back, this is where things get a little more difficult. The Brewers will have 12 pitchers and 13 position players on the team and I doubt Roenicke will want to drop down to 11 arms for the playoffs. So which position player walks? Hmmm...I can't even figure that one out. I know everyone is screaming "Craig Counsell" right now, but I just don't see that happening. Perhaps Josh Wilson falls out of favor by then. Perhaps Gomez doesn't become healthy enough to make the playoff roster. Or maybe Counsell really does get left off. Kotsay isn't an option because of his ability to play the outfield, and the Brewers only have four true outfielders on the current roster. I guess we'll see what happens...remember, this whole playoff thing is only hypothetical.

Way back on Friday night, the Green Bay Packers played their second pre-season game and their first game at Lambeau Field since I was in attendance to watch the Pack down the Bears to make the playoffs. Again, this is the pre-season, so I don't really feel like getting all hyped up about things or go into great detail. The one guy who really stood out was practice squad member Chastin West, who caught five passes for 134 yards, including a 97-yard connection between West and Matt Flynn. Flynn looked quite solid as well, which makes me believe the Packers will eventually part with him to not only give Flynn a chance to start in this league, but to also get a valuable commodity in return. Third stringer Graham Harrell isn't to shabby himself and could probably be a viable backup to Rodgers as well, but for now let's enjoy the incredible depth the Packers sport at quarterback. Speaking of incredible depth, the Green and Gold has a few players at wide receiver that might contribute this season. And even though Jermichael Finley isn't a wide-out, he might as well be. It was good to see Sir Michael back in action for the first time this season and it doesn't look like Finley missed a beat, catching four passes for 33 yards. Rodgers and Greg Jennings hooked up for a touchdown for the second straight game...the league might want to look out for that tandem. We also saw rookie Alex Green for the first time in a Packer uniform and he managed to run for a score and have a significant reception. Otherwise, the first team defense looked stellar, but it was all downhill from there. Last season, I wasn't really happy with the defense in general when the Packers were in their early stages last season, so I'll consider this an improvement.

Today, look to see how the Narve-Dog does in his return, if the offense can continue to stay hot and if Greinke can continue his dominant second half performance.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

OFFICIAL 2011 Badgers' Football Preview

Badgers in a bit, but first let's get to the toast of the town.

I'm starting to wonder if DJ Khalid plays for the Milwaukee Brewers. After every game the Crew wins at Miller Park, "All I Do Is Win" blares through the speakers. Hold on...let me rephrase that. After every game the Crew plays at Miller Park, "All I Do Is Win" blares through the speakers. I mean, c'mon, folks. This is getting flat out ridiculous. I understand that the Brewers have hit a rather smooth portion of the schedule, with the only team in the past three weeks or so giving the Beermakers any sort of trouble being the Cardinals. I'm also aware that you could argue the road woes aren't gone for good (although I think those days are behind us). And of course, 15 of the last 21 games have been at home against rather easy opponents, a stretch where the Brewers have gone an astounding 19-2. But I look like I care? Milwaukee is 73-51 (wow), seven games ahead of St. Louis in the Central (wow) and Zack Greinke has been making me say "wow" a lot over his last eight starts, basically all the starts he's made post-All-Star break. Just how much (and how quickly) has the man who has now earned back the nickname "Zack Attack" turned his performance around?

July 3: 7-3, 5.66 ERA
August 17: 12-4, 3.92 ERA

Holy Toledo. What changed for Greinke? You could look into various statistics to find out...or you could just use your own two eyes. Greinke just flat out isn't messing around anymore. He's keeping hitters off-balance a lot better than he did earlier in the season while nailing his spots. When he wants to make batters chase with two strikes, he buries his nasty curveball in the dirt. When he needs an out pitch, he doesn't just rifle a gopherball right down the kitchen sink...he still pinpoints it, and it isn't necessary always a fastball. Notice how Greinke has been giving up more walks lately? Early on, he had a ridiculous K/BB ratio, but he was too predictable...guys knew that he was always going to throw strikes, and even though Greinke has such great stuff, hitters were able to zero in every once in awhile and hit it out of the park. Now, he's willing to accept giving up bases on balls so that he doesn't have to watch as many balls fly over the wall. That, combined with his improved command, is why Greinke is in the state he is...just took a little longer than we would've preferred.

Aside from that, the offensive production seems to be down in part to not having Rickie Weeks in the lineup and facing some good pitching as of late, but when your pitching is this good, it don't matter. Everyone is getting it done...even Marco Estrada, even without a lefty in the 'pen. It's an incredible luxury to be able to burn either LaTroy Hawkins or Takashi Saito in the sixth and seventh inning. Lately, the Brewers haven't even had to do that because of how stellar the starting five has been. Even when the games are close in the later innings, you just have that feeling, especially at Miller Park, that someone will come up with a big hit. When the pitching can always be counted on to keep it close, it takes so much pressure off the offense. And that's about all I have to say about the stifling hot Milwaukee Brewers, but damn has it been fun.

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2010 Wisconsin Badgers: 11-2, Lost in Rose Bowl vs. TCU

We weren't left with a very good taste in our mouths the night of January 1, 2011, also known as the day that the Badgers fell to Texas Christian University in the Rose Bowl. To be fair, the Badgers lost to a quarterback who will be starting in the National Football League this season and a tank disguised as a football player went completely off (Tank Carder for those of you keeping track at home). In my opinion, the respect that the Badgers' defense gave Dalton and diverting from the run game cost the Badgers a Rose Bowl trophy. But that was seven and a half months ago and it's time to turn a new page.

The 2011 Wiscon - holy crap, a bat! That startled me a bit. That thing flew in here like a bat out of hell (sorry) - sin Badgers have lost a few key pieces from last season, but they've gained a few as well.

Key losses: DE J.J. Watt, RB John Clay, TE Lance Kendricks, QB Scott Tolzien, OT Gabe Carimi, OG John Moffitt, SS Jay Valai, LB Culmer St. Jean, WR/KR David Gilreath, Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren.

Key gains: QB Russell Wilson, LB Chris Borland (injury)

It might not look good on paper as the Badgers lost a ton of talent from a year ago. In fact, they only return 11 starters total, although a few others have starting experience. Still, there are several players ready to step up this season and there simply isn't another team in the Big Ten that's in as good of shape as Wisconsin. Of course, the move that everyone has been talking about is the arrival of North Carolina State transfer Russell Wilson, a man who would've set numerous ACC passing records had he not tried to chase his dream to play baseball. Since Wilson realized baseball wasn't going to least for now...he turned his attention to football and made the move to Madtown, much to the delight of the Grateful Red. So we know who will replace Scotty T, who is now in the San Diego Chargers' camp, but what about at the other positions that took a hit? On the offensive line, there is always another massive body ready to step in, and surprisingly enough, the Badgers return players with lots of experience - even at tackle and guard. Ricky Wagner will take over at left tackle for Gabe Carimi and even though Wagner can't be expected to have the same impact as Carimi, he had a helluva 2010 season in place of Josh Oglesby, who will try to hold on at right tackle yet again this year. Travis Fredrick will fill in for Moffitt, a 6'4" 330 lb sophomore who has seen some time and should fit in nicely between Wagner and center Peter Konz.

The O-line continuing their success shouldn't come as a surprise, and neither should it at tailback. John Clay's loss doesn't even hurt the Badger offense. In fact, it might even help it. It will give junior Montee Ball and sophomore James White a lot more carries and even allow highly touted freshman Jeffrey Lewis to see the field a bit. I'm normally excited each and every season to see what the Badgers' backfield can do, but this season has me more excited than I can ever remember. And with the addition of Wilson at quarterback, teams will have to respect the pass, and Wilson's dual-threat ability, giving the backs even more of an advantage to go along with the beastly offensive line. But wait...there's more. The Badgers' receiving situation is in good hands with the return of a hopefully healthy Nick Toon and breakout freshman turned sophomore Jared Abberderis. Behind these two, there aren't any proven commodities, but once again, this is where Wilson should prove to be so valuable. Finally, the loss of Kendricks will be impossible to replace, but with tight end Jake Bryne as more of a blocking specialist, look for sophomore Jacob Pedersen to step up and make his mark - he could have some impressive numbers at year's end with only two proven targets at wide out.

That's the for the D. The Badgers' borderline prolific offense overshadowed what was a pretty good defensive unit...a unit that is hugely responsible for the Badgers' Rose Bowl appearance. For Wisconsin to once again to return to Pasadena (at least), they will need to find a way to continue rushing the passer without current Houston Texan J.J. Watt and scheme for opponents without Doeren, who left to coach Northern Illinois. Sure, the Badgers defense also lost guys like Blake Sorenson and Niles Brinkley, but these losses can be overcome...Watt simply cannot. Nor can Culmer St. Jean. But who's gonna try? Former track star Louis Nzegwu is certainly the guy most will look at, and there is also the man who will line up at the other end spot in place of Watt, David Gilbert. There will be a lot of pressure on these guys to live up to Watt's legacy and only time will tell if they are up to the task. Moving back the linebackers, Mike Taylor and a returning Borland should be absolute beasts for's just a matter of health. According to depth charts, the vacant spot left by St. Jean will be filled by senior Kevin Claxton, who at least has tenure on his side. In the secondary, I expect to see safety Aaron Henry have a big year and I'm intrigued to see who wins out in the battle for the strong safety position - Dezmen Southward or Shelton Johnson. Apparently, Johnson has the edge but I'm holding out hope that Southward gets the job...he has a sweet name. Devin Smith and Antonio Fenelus will hold down the cornerback slots and both have experience - Smith can be shaky at times, but I like what he brings to the table. I think for the Badger defense, it all comes down to what they can do upfront and where the pressure will come from. It could make-or-break Wisconsin's 2011 campaign (hey...I think I said the same exact thing last year. Defense wins championships, right?)

Special teams? Brad Nortman will punt yet again, and in no way is that depressing. There has been speculation that kicker Phillip Welch would lose his starting job to red-shirt freshman Kyle French, but I think a lot of that had to do with Welch's leg injury, so I expect to see Welch remain the starter and continue his successful career as a Badger. Losing return-man David Gilreath is definitely tough - everyone remember how that Ohio State game started out? - but I think Abbrederis and White, who saw time at kickoff and punt returning, can step into that full-time position and perform well, especially White. Head coach Bret Beilema coaches the special teams unit, so hopefully he knows what he's doing.

Prediction time!

Chalk it up in the win column games:
vs UNLV, vs Northern Illinois (Soldier Field), vs South Dakota, vs Indiana, vs Purdue, @ Minnesota

Last year, I had seven games in this category - now we're down to six. This is probably more of a product of me becoming more realistic than a product of the Badgers not being as good as last year. It's always hard to put road games in this category, but Minnesota was a no-brainer. They are without question in rebuilding mode with a new coach and even though it's a rivalry game, Bucky should take care of business.

Should be a win but could present a problem games:
vs Oregon State, @ Ohio State, @ Illinois, vs Penn State

I recall placing a game versus a different Pac 10 (now 12) team in the chalk it up category last season, and the Badgers narrowly escaped with a victory. Thus, Oregon State is here (wink). Ohio State as a should be win? Well, they are in quite a bit of turmoil with all the NCAA infractions and the loss of star quarterback Terrell Pryor, so yes, I think Wisconsin should win. Illinois is a threat because they have a solid QB themselves and Penn State coming in on senior night should be a W, but you never know with JoePa at the helm.

This could be a tough one games:
vs Nebraska, @ Michigan State

The big showdown with Nebraska is marked on everyone's calendar. They are in this category for a few reasons. 1. The Cornhuskers are an unfamiliar opponent, not to mention dangerous. 2. This is the first true test of the season for the Badgers, a spot they faltered in last year (Michigan State). Speaking of Sparty, Michigan State handed Wisconsin their first loss last year, and this year they could do it again. It's the Badgers' first true road game - although they will have already been tested by Nebraska at this point in the schedule. If you're wondering why we have to travel to East Lansing two years in a row, it's because Nebraska messed everything up. Gee, thanks a lot.

Legends Division Winner: Nebraska
Leaders Division Winner: Wisconsin
Big 10 Conference Champion: Wisconsin
Regular Season Record: 11-1
Bowl: Rose

I want to say National Title so bad...I really do. But I can't. A little voice in my head won't let me do it. There are still plenty of questions in Madison, especially at quarterback (can Wilson succeed like he did at NC State?) and in the front seven (replacing Watt, rushing the passer). This is why I fluctuated between nine wins and even twelve, but I think with the level of talent in the Big 10 right now and the determination and drive these players have after coming so close to a Rose Bowl trophy last season, they will get back to Pasadena...and then some. Feel free to blame the 8-4 season on this blog post.

Phew...longest post in history? Very possible. With the Crew playing so well, forcing me to talk about them...a lot...combined with a much better Badgers' preview compared to last year (my second blog post ever), this is what you get. And now I get some sleep.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Walking the Plank

Oh, the life of a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. About three weeks ago, it was probably one of the more exciting things to be. Unfortunately for the Buccos, everything came crashing down to Earth...very, very quickly. And then they had to travel to Milwaukee for a three game series with the Brewers, a team that they hadn't beat all season and a team they have little to no success against in Miller Park. The beat goes on as the Crew took care of business, albeit not in the most efficient way possible. But they got the job done and that's what I always look for. After a sweep of the Bucs, the Brewers now stand at an impressive 70-51 with a five game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, a team led by a man who thinks a fan base that just filled Miller Park with 45,000 fans is composed of "idiots."

Fair enough, Tony LaRussa. We idiots have our own Tony around these parts who we can't get enough of, and his name is Nyjer "Tony Plush" Morgan. The player who hasn't received enough discussion for the Comeback Player of the Year Award did it again today, and I'm not talking about the interview department. Plush came up in the bottom of the 10th with runners on second and third and one down and crushed the ball to deep right center. It turned out to be a long sacrifice fly as George Kottaras trotted across home plate and the Brewers celebrated a 2-1 extra inning victory - and a sweep of the Pirates. Pittsburgh proved it can play with the Brewers, especially because of their stellar starting pitching, but they didn't have the killer instinct that the Crew displayed in all three games this weekend. The game I attended on Friday wasn't really in question for the most part, but once the Pirates closed to within two in the eighth, the always reliable Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder combo hit back-to-back jacks two sections from where I was sitting to put a nail in the coffin. If that wasn't enough, Casey McGehee tripled and K-Rod legged out an infield single for his first career hit to make the fans go absolutely nuts. When Saturday afternoon rolled around, Yuni B. popped one out, Marco Estrada pitched admirably for five innings and the bullpen (Tsunami Saito, Hawk, K-Rod, Axe) shut it down. Most notably, the Ax Factor gave up a lead-off triple in the ninth only to weasel his way out of the mega-jam and nab his 31st consecutive save. Ridiculous. And then their was Sunday, where the Brewers trailed nearly the whole game 1-0. Brauny stepped up in the eighth and rifled a run scoring base hit to center off Pirates' closer Joel Hanrahan to tie the game. Tony Plush finished the Bucs off, and that was that.

Not only are the Brewers an astounding 70-51, but they are a league best 44-15 at Miller Park thanks in part to thousands and thousands of idiots packing the house night in and night out. It doesn't get more fun than this. So what did we learn from the weekend? The Brewers are taking advantage of the weaker teams in the Central Division and taking care of business - just like they should. What else? Marco Estrada has a future as a starting pitcher in this league. He just has a different demeanor on the mound as a starter and if the Brewers can't find a spot for him in the starting rotation next season, I fear that somebody else will. Anything more? The Brewers have some major ice water in their veins. I'm not willing to put the effort in looking this up, but the Brewers have won many more one-run games than their opponents and they also have some of the more clutch hitters in the league. We know the obvious candidates, but how about guys like Casey McGehee or Mark Kotsay or George Kottaras? These guys might not be putting up the best overall numbers, but man do they come through when it matters. A lot. In my mind, this is one of the most important ways a player's performance should be measured. Maybe I'll start up my own statistic...

As fun as it is to talk about the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers, who start a four game series at home against the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, the Green Bay Packers played an exhibition game Saturday night out in the greatest city in America...Cleveland! Am I right or am I right? Naturally in the opening preseason game, the starters will only play a series or two, so I won't spend too much time discussing a rather meaningless game. The usual suspects were in attendance; A-Rodg hooked up with Greg Jennings for a touch and other guys like Ryan Grant and Clay Matthews saw the field (sadly no sign of Jermichael). However, I really liked what I saw from a few players - most notably newcomer Randall Cobb and safety Morgan Burnett. Both of these players will be battling for significant playing time this upcoming season...and both of them deserve some. Burnett suffered a season ending injury last season in week five and was replaced by Charlie Peprah, so those two will be going at it in practice, but I thought Burnett really had a nose for the ball Saturday night and made a few plays that stood out to me. As for Cobb, he made all the catches he was supposed to make and was pretty stellar in the return game. With rookie running back Alex Green out with an injury, Cobb got more looks at kick returner. As the game went on, there were the players that surfaced who were trying too hard to earn a roster spot and I began to lose interest in the game...a game the Packers would lose 27-17. Darn.

My next post will more than likely include my Wisconsin Badgers football season preview while, of course, continuing to touch on the play of the Brewers. With the Crew playing out of their damn minds lately, I really can't scrap together all that much to talk about...I'm so used to being negative about everything. Now in the last year, the Packers win the Super Bowl, the Badgers go to the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin and Marquette basketball reach the Sweet 16 and now the Brewers, who have won like 100 of their last 101 games. Something like that. So you're starting to see a new "me," like it or not. Let the good times roll.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

To BE the Best, You Have to BEAT the Best

The St. Louis Cardinals aren't the best team in the MLB by any stretch of the imagination, but they are the best in the National League at a few things. They score the most runs. They have the highest team batting average. They have the biggest d-----bag manager in the history of baseball. So going into their mid-week series against the Cards, the Milwaukee Brewers were not only looking to hold on to first place...they were looking to continue their dominance of St. Louis and eliminate any hope the Cardinals had of winning the division. Maybe the latter isn't possible just yet as the Crew and the Cards still have to tangle six more times and play 44 more times apiece. But to once again prove me wrong in my prediction that the Brewers would only take one game home from Busch Stadium (which I'm perfectly fine with, by the way), Milwaukee won the series 2-1 and extended their division lead to four games. Behold the power of beer.

To make my prediction even more wrong, I thought the one game we would squeeze out would be in game three when Yovani Gallardo went up against Chris Carpenter. AAAAYYNNN! Wrong. Gallardo (pronounced gah-lard-oh here in America) just didn't have it and left plenty of pitches over the plate, especially for Albert Pujols, who had four hits and a dinger. Yovani has definitely had his ups and downs, but at the beginning of the series with the Cardinals, he had the best ERA and most wins among Brewers' starting pitchers. He's now third in ERA behind Shaun Marcum and...get this...Randy Wolf. Wolf's dominant outing on Wednesday came in the one game I thought we would for sure lose, and the one man Wolf pack jumped on the prove Dave wrong bandwagon and now leads the team's starters in ERA. But going back to Gallardo; I'm trying to figure out why this guy can't put it all together...all the time. Obviously, Yovani is a great talent and still only in his mid-20s, but he has plenty of experience at The Show by now and just when you think he's figured it out, tonight happens. Granted, Yo didn't have the best effort from the defense tonight, but usually our pitchers don't because our D is border line atrocious.

One of the theories I read and agreed with was how it looks like Gallardo struggles when he works slowly. I've always been a believer in working quickly, but not rushing. I do it in many aspects of back in my heyday when I pitched and nowadays when I disc golf and golf among other things. Get your mind out of the gutter. Anyway, getting back to Yo...he was a bit deliberate out on the mound tonight against the Cards and he wasn't even close to hitting his spots. To be honest, he's lucky to have only given up five runs, but it didn't matter in the end as the Brewers would fall because of a lack of clutch hitting and poor defense to go along with a bad outing for Gallardo. These are things Brewer fans have probably seen enough of and also things that the Brewers haven't been doing lately, but I guess every now and then there's a slip-up. Besides, without Ryan Braun in the lineup to keep everything cool with his laid-back Jewish attitude, we had to expect a semi-meltdown. But a 5-1 road trip is exceptional, especially when going up against the second place Cardinals and considering the Crew's ridiculous home-and-away split. Along with Gallardo speeding up his process on the mound and being unable to make adjustments, I'd like to see more of Jerry Hairston Jr. at second base. For what we gave up for him, there's no excuse to have him sitting on the bench as much as he has been. Hairston should be receiving more playing time at second than Lopez in my mind and will continue relieving Tony Plush in center whenever a lefty is on the hill. Otherwise...keep pushing on, Brewers. I'll have a front row seat in the Beerpen tomorrow night (thanks, Kyle) to undoubtedly heckle the Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder and beg Corey Hart to toss me a baseball. Speaking of Corey, don't be an idiot and give up a triple to Pujols again. Thanks.

Not sure what else to blab about, really. I'll definitely have more after the Packers break the seal on their preseason schedule Saturday and will be sure to preview the Wisconsin Badgers upcoming football season sometime next week as well along with the normal Brewer chatter. Out of the Badgers camp, I've been hearing a few different things...Russell Wilson is getting comfortable in the Badgers' offensive system and finding Nick Toon to be one of his favorite targets. Hopefully he begins to take a liking to tight end Jacob Pedersen as well; that would bode well for my fantasy team. Also, there was a no-name backup receiver who will miss some time because of a hernia (ouch) and there have also been some talks about the Badgers' kicking situation, which is interesting. Because returning starter Phillip Welch is nursing a leg injury, red-shirt freshman Kyle French has been getting some looks. I have a bone to pick with Mr. French because back when he was attending my rival's high school, he beat us with a 48-yard field goal as time expired. Brutal. Ruined my night. Better not do it again.

In Packerland, there are a few noteworthy items to touch on now that I think about it. Today, former Packer running back Ahman Green officially retired. Green had some solid years earlier in the decade for the Green and Gold and also signed on with the Pack in '09 when Green Bay was hurting at RB depth. He's Green Bay's all-time leading rusher which speaks for itself. We'll see if that and his five 1,000+ yard seasons running the ball in a Packer uniform will be enough to get him enshrined in the Packer Hall of Fame...I have little doubt that it will. And did you hear about this, folks? Clay Matthews, who saw his production fall off quite a bit in the second half of the season last year, has a pretty good excuse as to why: HE HAD A BROKEN LEG! Umm...what? This guy is nuts. Although the golden haired linebacker did say that it was feeling fine by the Super Bowl in which he made one of the biggest plays in Green Bay Packer history, this shows Matthews' incredible perseverance and makes me proud to be a fan of the Pack.

Looking forward to tomorrow. Looking forward to Saturday. And hopefully, looking forward to the fall for more reasons than football.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Trust Issues

Happy one year Balls, Brats and Beer anniversary! It's been a fun ride.

You know what's insane? The Green Bay Packers play on August 13. Yeah...that's Saturday. I'm more than excited to see actual football again, but there's another team in Wisconsin that deserves just as much if not more attention for the next few months or so. Lately, this team has been winning, winning and...winning. They have created a lot of buzz around the state of Wisconsin with their play at home and their play in general, winning 11 of their last 12 games and stretching out a three game division lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Did I mention that all 12 of those games were against division opponents? Granted, six of them were against the lowly Houston Astros, but three were against the Chicago Cubs (just had an eight game winning streak) and the other three were against the hated Cardinals. The Brewers are 65-50 and about to face off against the Cards again in what has become a two team division race; this time in St. Louis. It's just as big as if not bigger than last week's series at Miller Park because we are that much closer to playoff time and it will be a tougher task for the Brewers to go into a hostile environment and succeed. When it's all said and done, I expect the Crew to take one game of the three game set to retain the division lead, but of course the fan in me would like to see the Brewers win AT LEAST one game.

A two game lead would be nice to have heading into the weekend series against the struggling (to put it lightly) Pittsburgh Pirates. The ongoing season series with St. Louis will only continue to get bigger as we get later into the season - the Brewers have nine more to go against the Cardinals. Before this series begins on Tuesday, there's something I'd like to address: trust. As the season has progressed, I've found myself gaining more and more trust with the Milwaukee Brewers - in the first month of games or so, I trusted:

Ryan Braun
Prince Fielder
Rickie Weeks*
Shaun Marcum

These were all players that in mind deserved to be All-Stars, and three of them were. Notice how the low number of players correlates with how poorly the Brewers were playing early on in the season. However, as more games were played and more players came back from injury, I began to trust more players like:

Jonathan Lucroy
Yovani Gallardo
Randy Wolf
John Axford
Nyjer Morgan

The Brewers were performing better and barely managed to be in first place once we got to the All-Star break (which seems so long ago now), and then they had to survive a brutal road trip. By going 5-6 in Colorado, Arizona and San Francisco, the Brewers somehow managed to remain in first and that's when they went on their recent tear. In the first part of the second half of the season, many more players started to become reliable which helped the Brewers get over the losses of Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez to injury:

Corey Hart
Yuniesky Betancourt
Zack Greinke
Kameron Loe
Takashi Saito
LaTroy Hawkins

Current trust count: 15 (Hitters: 7, Pitchers: 8)

Other players on the roster, like Casey McGehee and Francisco Rodriguez, are on their way to earning my trust, which would make a total 17 players on the trust list. McGehee's three home run outburst showed he might be getting his stroke back (finally) and although K-Rod has had some sketchy moments in his time in a Brewer uniform, the Brewers have yet to lose a game as a result of K-Rod. Some guys simply don't play enough to earn my trust (Josh Wilson, Mark Kotsay, George Kottaras, Carlos Gomez*, Tim Dillard), some haven't been in a Brewer uniform long enough to earn my trust (Felipe Lopez, Jerry Hairston Jr.) and some haven't quite performed well enough to earn my trust (Craig Counsell, Marco Estrada, Chris Narveson). Agree with my reasoning or not, the point is that we feel better about this team each and every day. When the offense was struggling, the pitching was superb; as of late, with the pitching not performing quite as well, the offense has been pounding the baseball. This helps explain how close the number of players I trust is between pitchers and hitters. And just because I don't trust a player doesn't mean I don't think they are performing well for their role. This season, I began to take a liking to Go-Go because I could accept that he was only good for world class defense in center and good base running. With the Narve-Dog, he is probably one of the most reliable number five starters in baseball. Other players provide good depth and fill in nicely when needed.

Not much to complain about these days, and that's saying something, because I almost always have something to b---- about. Playing poorly on the road? The Brewers are 8-6 on the road post All-Star break. Replacing McGehee? He is beginning to provide stability in the five hole. Lack of production from guys not named Braun and Fielder? Almost everyone has stepped their game up on offense over the past week. Kameron Loe? Totally shutting down hitters in any situation he's called on to enter. So on that note, be sure to check out the Cards/Brewers series this week. It's a biggie and who knows what fireworks we'll be treated to with that nut case Tony LaRussa sitting in the opposing team's dugout.

Like I said at the beginning of the post, the Packers' opening preseason game is right around the corner. There have been a few minor injuries that some players are dealing with (most notably Greg Jennings (hip flexor), Tramon Williams (hip flexor) and Mason Crosby (ankle)), but for the most part we should be seeing everyone participate in the game Saturday against the Cleveland Browns. Earlier talks around the Packer practices have revolved around how the offense has looked sloppy, but this has to be expected considering how much time players missed during the lockout. I didn't get a chance to watch the Family Night intrasquad scrimmage since I was up north, so I'm excited to see the 2011 Packers in action for the first time and give my feedback on the game.

Along with a season preview for the Packers, a look ahead for the much-hyped Wisconsin Badgers will be coming soon. I know I said that I would be previewing Bucky on August 10, but I feel like that's too far away from the start of the season (September 3), so I'll plan on waiting another ten days before I do my write-up on the Badgers. And since Green Bay begins their season on a Thursday night on September 8, I'll give my Packers' preview about five days after my Badgers' preview. Last year I was a rookie blogger and didn't know what to write about right off the bat, so I was a tad early on my football season previews. Sorry to let you all down, but we've got a good Brewers team to distract us from that disappointment you're feeling.

Thanks for staying with me over the past year. Let's hope there are many more to come.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Flipping the Bird

Forgive me if I sound dumb in this entry. The following thoughts are only those of an idiot fan. Not only that, but I just got done watching the season premier of Jersey Shore and I can't say I've ever been more ashamed than today to be an American. But it's entertaining stuff. Moving from people undeserving of attention to those who warrant some recognition, the Milwaukee Brewers just completed an 8-1 home stand and finished it off with an anything-but-boring series victory over the Tony LaRussa-led St. Louis Cardinals. Anybody else lose a little bit of respect for that franchise? Over the last couple years, it's safe to say that LaRussa has managed to turn one of the most proud franchises in baseball into complete thuggery. LaRussa managed to steal the attention away from what was really important, and that was two teams fighting for a pennant in August. Maybe I'm just an idiot fan, but what I saw from the Cardinals in that series - the complaints about the lighting in the stadium from LaRussa - pitcher Chris Carpenter claiming that the Brewers were stealing signs - LaRussa ordering pitcher Jason Motte to throw at Ryan Braun...TWICE - Yadier Molina bumping and spitting in an umpire's face while arguing a strike three called...and only getting suspended for FIVE GAMES - I'd be embarrassed to be a Cardinals fan.

Trust me. I was a lot more infuriated on Tuesday night than I am tonight, a night that featured a game in which the bush league moves of Tony LaRussa took place and the Brewers eventually lost in extra innings. Now that I've calmed down (for the most part), I would like to turn my attention back to baseball. The Brewers are now 62-50, 12 games above .500 (the most they have been above .500 all season) and three games above the Cardinals in the Central. If there's one thing that the series with the Cards proved for Milwaukee, it's that a lot of guys are beginning to tickle the ball pretty well. I mean, who's NOT feeling it at the plate right now? Corey Hart has raised his average over 20 points in the last week, we've seen the turnaround of Yuni B in the second half, Braun and Fielder have both recovered from mini-slumps, Tony Plush continues to do his thing at the plate, in center and in the interview department, Jonathan Lucroy is still hanging around .280, and then there's Casey McGehee...I know I've been calling for McGehee's head for the better part of the season, but the complaints were warranted. McGehee hadn't found it at the plate all year, but with the loss of Rickie Weeks to injury and the troubles in the five hole, manager Ron Roenicke went back to what he started with - McGehee was hitting fifth again.

Low and behold, McGehee went OFF on the newly acquired Edwin Jackson and hit three dingers off of Jackson before Wednesday's game came to a close. McGehee had five home runs before Wednesday; he now has eight. In fact, he was 2-5 in Tuesday's game, so I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that this was McGehee's best two-game stretch of the season. And that's the was only two games. But McGehee has shown signs of snapping out of it. He's been staying inside the ball better and using all fields (his first, second and third home runs went to right, left and center field respectively) while hitting the ball hard. I'm not going to get ahead of myself and jump back on the Casey McGehee bandwagon just yet, but nobody's happier than me to see him succeed. All in all, the Brewers' offense exploded against the Cardinals...and to think I predicted the three game series wouldn't see any high scoring games. The Crew put up 23 runs on Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jackson, and the later was left out to dry because of how many relievers were burned in Tuesday night's marathon. Hopefully the bats can stay hot as they move forward into another series with the Astros. Oh yeah, and then the Brewers travel to St. Louis to play another series with the Cards - three of the nine remaining against the fighting LaRussa's. If my math is correct, Molina won't be playing in one of the games as a result of serving his suspension, but with the way he played on Wednesday I wouldn't mind seeing him in there.

There's the red-hot Brewer offense, and then there's the suddenly not so solid pitching. After having some ridiculous number of straight quality starts, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf struggled over the past two games and luckily, the offense was able to step it up to keep the Brewers in the game. But I'm still not concerned one bit about our starting pitching because this is just one instance for Marcum and Wolf, two guys with sub 3.50 ERAs who have been reliable all season long. That and the emergence of Zack Greinke (finally) has me sleeping well at night. The bullpen? Ehhhh...yeah they're alright for the most part. K-Rod hasn't exactly prevented heart attacks in the eighth inning, but so far he hasn't cost us any wins. Takashi Saito is reliable for the most part, but he's a big reason why the Brewers didn't sweep the entire home stand. Axe has been has has Loe...wait a minute - so has Kameron Loe? Yes, you heard correctly. The man has 41 scoreless appearances on the year, and that's nothing to joke around about. Loe is a shut-down pitcher against righties and as long as RR continues to use him in the right situations, he will continue to provide a huge boost late in games. So while the pitching has been a little suspect lately, there's no reason to get up in arms. If anything, the Astros should help us all feel better.

Now for a short segment on football. One more signing was made by the Packers since my last post, and that was fullback John KUUUUUUUUUUHNN much to the delight of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the entire Packers' fan base. That should basically be it for Green Bay as far as signings and cuts until we get a few games into the preseason and the roster has to be slimmed down. A few things to note thus far: first round draft pick Derek Sherrod is seeing time at left guard, the only position on the offensive line that is in question right now. With Chad Clifton protecting Rodgers' blind side and last year's first rounder Bryan Bulaga holding down right tackle, Sherrod wouldn't have a chance to see much playing time at his natural position, thus the move to guard. I'm in full support of this move because quite frankly, we don't really have anyone else to fill the void that Daryn Colledge left (in my opinion, we didn't lose much - with the money the Packers offered College, they didn't think so either). There is also a three-man rotation going on at the outside linebacker position opposite of the Claymaker between Brad Jones, Erik Walden and Frank Zombo, so we'll see how that shapes out over the course of training camp. Defensive line is also a question with Cullen Jenkins gone, but Ted Thompson must like what he has up front with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Mike Neal among other guys like Howard Green and C.J. Wilson. More battles? How about at strong safety (Morgan Burnett v. Charlie Peprah) and running back (Ryan Grant v. James Starks v. Alex Green). It's difficult to say what will end up happening with the safety situation, but I can't see Burnett overtaking least not right away. Peprah performed nicely for Green Bay last season after Burnett went down, so I think it's his job to lose right now. Meanwhile, the Packers seem to have the perfect dilemma at the running back position. Starks is going to push Ryan Grant and there will probably be somewhat of a platoon between the two, and then there's Alex Green, who can come in for third down situations because of his pass catching ability. Personally, I've seen enough of Ryan Grant and James Starks proved that he could step in and do some things Grant could, you know, not run straight forward all the time. Should be fun to see how all of the aforementioned position battles shape out.

The Wisconsin Badgers football team has just begun hitting the practice field, so I'll have more on them pretty soon. In fact, August 10 is the set date for my Badgers' season preview, so get ready for that. I know I'm ready for a little college football and if I could attend a game in Madison that was even half as awesome as the Ohio State game last year and watch Russell Wilson play, I'd be satisfied. Despite my love for the Big Ten (12), I was assigned to cover the Big 12 (10) for a college fantasy football site. I must admit that I'm a little out of my element covering this conference, which might be obsolete in the next few years, but it's a pretty cool gig and it led to me taking part in my first college fantasy football league...yes, those exist. I'll let you know how it goes, especially since I'm forking up $20 for it. Speaking of fantasy football, I should probably get going on starting up my annual league...