On this week’s episode of The Camp, Zach Heilprin and Jesse Temple talk about Reggie Pearson’s absence, Jon Dietzen’s reappearance, position changes, the updated Big Ten schedule and answer your Twitter questions.
1:12 — UW found “something” this offseason that led to Reggie Pearson not being cleared to play
8:00 — After a year away, Jon Dietzen is back
15:00 — Jaylan Franklin on the move
27:20 — The new Big Ten schedule and poor Nebraska’s whining
The practice will mark the first time the Badgers have been on the field since the Big Ten reversed course and announced last Tuesday that it would play football this fall, with games beginning Oct. 24.
“It means everything,” quarterback Jack Coan said of getting to play a season. “Football is one of the most important things in my life. That’s like a lot of guys on the team. If we didn’t have it this fall, I don’t really know what I’d be doing.”
Coan and the Badgers were forced to suspend activities earlier in September after 29 players or staff reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the month. That came after tackle Cole Van Lanen said in August the team went “weeks, if not months” without a positive test. With the new Big Ten protocols mandating that any player that tests positive must sit out for at least 21 days, the pressure of staying safe has increased even more.
“You’d miss three games and it’s not a very long season anymore,” defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk said. “It’s a huge incentive for us to stay as safe as possible.”
Wednesday’s practice will come 31 days before the Badgers are set to take on Illinois in the season opener. With no spring practice, and the new experience of trying to navigate a fall camp amidst a pandemic, is it possible for the team to be ready when the Illini come to town?
“Honestly, I’m not too worried about it,” Coan said. “Every team is in the same situation as us. I think this team has done a great job of staying together and working out on our own.”
Wisconsin will get a chance for some revenge in its first game of the 2020 season.
The full Big Ten schedule was revealed for the eight-game season Saturday morning. It has the Badgers facing Illinois on Oct. 24 at Camp Randall Stadium. The Illini pulled a major upset last season in Champaign, hitting a field goal as time expired to get the win.
Coach Paul Chryst’s team will hit the road for the first time in Week 2 as it travels to Lincoln to face Nebraska on Oct. 31. The Badgers have won seven straight over the Huskers, including last year’s 37-21 win at Memorial Stadium.
Week 3 will see Wisconsin host Purdue for a second straight year. The Badgers have owned the series between the two schools as the Boilermakers have not won since 2003.
The difficulty picks up in the middle of November as Wisconsin goes to Michigan. The Badgers haven’t won in Ann Arbor since 2010.
Another road game follows that with Wisconsin heading to Evanston to take on Northwestern. Pre-pandemic, the game was scheduled to be held at Wrigley Field. This one will be on campus at Ryan Field.
The Big Ten West figures to be on the line in Week 6 as Minnesota comes to Madison. The two teams have played the defacto division title game three times in the last six year, including last year in Minneapolis.
Wisconsin will close out the season by hosting Indiana on Dec. 5 and a trip to Iowa on Dec. 12.
Week 1: Illinois (Oct. 24)
Week 2: at Nebraska (Oct. 31)
Week 3: Purdue (Nov. 7)
Week 4: at Michigan (Nov. 14)
Week 5: at Northwestern (Nov. 21)
Week 6: vs Minnesota (Nov. 28)
Week 7: vs Indiana (Dec. 5)
Week 8: at Iowa (Dec. 12)
Wisconsin has added another 4-star commitment to its 2021 class, but it is coming at the expense of its 2022 class.
Safety/linebacker Braelon Allen (Fond du Lac, Wis.) verb led to the Badgers in July as the first commitment in the class of 2022. But he tweeted Thursday that he was reclassifying to the 2021 class and will enroll in Madison next June.
In the 2021 class, Allen (.9478) would be the top-ranked player in the state of Wisconsin, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He would also be the sixth-best inside linebacker in the country and the 122nd-best player overall.
When the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Allen originally chose the Badgers, he did so over offers from Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame.
Allen joins what was already the best recruiting class in school history. His addition gives the Badgers seven players that are 4- or 5-star players according to the composite rankings.
Some have asked, and Braelon Allen will “for sure” play this spring for Fond du Lac despite his reclassification today.
On this week’s episode of The Camp, Zach Heilprin and Jesse Temple talk about the Big Ten’s decision to return, whether all nine games will be played and dive into some position battles that will need to be decided before Week 1.
1:37 — BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS BACK!!!
6:33 — How much of an impact did the protesting and pushing for a season by outside forces have on the decision to play?
12:28 — Over/under six games for Wisconsin?
18:45 — Paul Chryst a prominent voice behind the scenes
25:00 — Position battles on offense
28:35 — Position battles on defense
36:45 — Jesse’s story on Nolan Rucci’s recruitment
After six weeks of uncertainty, Big Ten football is coming back Oct. 23/24. While the focus is on how to do that safely, a lot of people will now turn their attention to the kind of product Wisconsin will be putting on the field after a 2019 season that saw the Badgers win the Big Ten West and go to the Rose Bowl. Here is our quick position-by-position look at what we can expect from coach Paul Chryst’s team:
Despite playing through several injuries in 2019, Jack Coan produced at a high level, throwing for 2,727 yards, 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Still, three of his four lowest-rated games came in losses. With Jonathan Taylor gone, Coan is the face of the offense and will be counted on to step his game up in the biggest games.
If Wisconsin had spring practice, it’s possible that Graham Mertz would have made a push during fall camp for the starting job. But with little 11-on-11 work this offseason, Coan should be under center when the Badgers kick the season off.
Replacing a guy that ran for more than 6,000 yards in three seasons won’t be easy, but the Badgers do have a number of options that will try to fill the shoes of Jonathan Taylor now that he’s in the NFL.
Sophomore Nakia Watson figures to get the first crack at it after gaining 331 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns last season. Running backs coach John Settle is also very high on sophomore Isaac Guerendo, while redshirt freshman Julius Davis and true freshman Jalen Berger could also figure into Wisconsin’s plans.
With his strong pass catching and blocking skills, senior Garrett Groshek likely remains as the third-down back.
The Badgers are set at fullback with the return of senior Mason Stokke and junior John Chenal.
Though they lost one of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten — Quintez Cephus — the Badgers have a lot of experience returning in seniors Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor. Both have an opportunity to show that they can be the dynamic playmakers they have played like at times in their careers.
Two other seniors, Jack Dunn and Adam Krumholz, will also see time, but a lot of eyes will be on the younger players at the position. That includes redshirt freshman Stephen Bracey, and sophomores Taj Mustapha and AJ Abbott. If there is one newcomer to watch it’s Waukesha product Chimere Dike.
Wisconsin’s leading returning receiver is Jake Ferguson. The junior grabbed 33 passes for 407 yards and two scores last season, slightly down from the year before. But with Cephus gone, there are a bunch of targets available and Chryst loves his tight ends.
The question at this position is who fills in behind. With Cormac Sampson back with the offensive line, a pair of redshirt freshman — Hayden Rucci and Clay Cundiff — figure to be the answer.
The Badgers have to replace three starters on the interior of the line, including the top center in the country, but they have to feel good about the line as a whole.
Assuming he’s healthy, junior Kayden Lyles figures to slide into Tyler Biadasz’s spot at center. Another junior, Josh Seltzner, will likely be the guy at left guard after starting four games last season. Wisconsin plans to move starting right tackle Logan Bruss to right guard — a spot the junior started at in one game last season — while inserting junior Tyler Beach in Bruss’ old spot. Senior Cole Van Lanen returns for a third season as the left tackle, looking to bounce back after injuries caused his play to dip in 2019.
Offensive line coach Joe Rudolph always wants eight or nine guys ready to play, so the likes of Joe Tippmann (guard, center), Michael Furtney (guard), Logan Brown (tackle) and Sampson (tackle) will probably see time this season. Wisconsin also brought in a talented 5-man recruiting class headlined by Trey Wedig and Jack Nelson.
This unit returns largely intact from last year and will be anchored by senior defensive ends Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand. Junior Matt Henningsen provides valuable depth and there’s hope that redshirt sophomore Isaiah Mullens and redshirt freshman Rodas Johnson can provide even more.
At nose guard, sophomore Keanu Benton is a star in the making, while junior Bryson Williams is looking to bounce back from an injury-shortened season.
While the defense returns a ton of starters, the linebacker position was hit hard as the two biggest playmakers — Zack Baun and Chris Orr — are now in the NFL.
We’ll start on the outside where Wisconsin has to replace Baun’s 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Senior Noah Burks figures to be the guy on one side after a solid 2019 in which he finished sixth on the team in tackles and fourth in tackles for loss.
Who will line up on the other side is the big unknown. Junior Izayah Green-May started opposite Baun in the opener last year but a hand injury derailed his season and he never truly recovered. Sophomore Jaylan Franklin has the athleticism to cause problems, while highly regarded redshirt freshman Spencer Lytle now seems physically poised to make a push for playing time. Also worth keeping an eye on 2020 four-star recruits Nick Herbig and Kayden Johnson.
The answers are little more clear at inside linebacker where Orr’s intensity, leadership and production will be missed. Junior Jack Sanborn is now the face of the defense and is coming off a season in which he led the Badgers in tackles and was third in both tackles for loss and sacks.
Next to him will either be sophomore Leo Chenal or senior Mike Maskalunas, while redshirt freshman Maema Njongmeta is an intriguing name to watch.
The Badgers return everyone from a year ago when they finished 12th in the country in pass defense. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard used a number of different starters at the position but senior Caesar Williams and junior Faion Hicks were the most consistent. Redshirt freshman Semar Melvin, sophomore Donte Burton, junior Deron Harrell and sophomore Alex Smith provide Leonhard a ton of options if the top guys don’t play well.
Junior Rachad Wildgoose is Wisconsin’s best nickel corner, though you could, and likely will, see others shuffle through there. That includes senior Madison Cone.
Safety is intriguing with three guys that have a ton of experience returning. Senior Eric Burrell is one of the leaders on the defense after tying for the lead in interceptions and second in pass breakups. Sophomore Reggie Pearson was the fourth-leading tackler last season and was active around the line of scrimmage.
Their play leaves Scott Nelson’s role a little uncertain. He started every game as a redshirt freshman before a knee injury wiped out his sophomore year in Game 1. He’s now back and fully healthy and it’s likely that Leonhard will figure out a way to get all three safeties on the field at the same time as he did in the opener against South Florida last year.
Senior Collin Wilder offers Wisconsin great depth at the position.
Four of the six punters/kickers on the 2019 team are gone, leaving some uncertainty at the positions.
At kicker, Colin Larsh figures to be the man, at least to start. He went 12-for-18 during his sophomore season, but was just 5-for-11 outside of 30 yards. They need more consistency out of him.
At punter, no one outside of the team knows who will line up here. If eligible, junior Andy Vujnovich would figure to have a shot to grab the job. He transferred in from Division III and the Badgers filed a waiver to the NCAA for him to be eligible.
Redshirt sophomore Conor Schlichting is the only returner at the position.
Senior Jack Dunn figures to be the punt returner again, but Wisconsin must find a replacement for Aron Cruickshank at kick return after he transferred this offseason.
Thirty-five days after the Big Ten Council of President and Chancellors (COP/C) voted to postpone the season due to concerns around COVID-19, those same presidents and chancellors decided to bring football back.
“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes. Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “We are incredibly grateful for the collaborative work that our Return to Competition Task Force have accomplished to ensure the health, safety and wellness of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”
The season will begin the weekend of Oct. 23/24 and each team will play eight games and then a unique championship week that will feature all 14 teams. UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said the teams from the East and West divisions will matchup and play each other based on the final standings, with the champions of each facing off in the title game Dec. 19. The College Football Playoff pairing will be announced the following day.
The decision to play the season comes after the return-to-play committee presented a plan to the COP/C that addressed their issues in postponing the season to begin with — ability for rapid virus testing, overcoming contact tracing efforts and how myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, was impacted by the virus.
The conference announced Wednesday it had adopted significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice and competition.
Players, coaches, trainers and others that are on the field for practice and games will undergo daily testing and they must be completed before every activity.
One of the key members in putting the protocols together was Ohio State team physician Dr. Jim Borchers.
“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” Borchers said in a statement.
“The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”
Players that test positive will have to go through a battery of tests to get back on the field and the earliest they can return is 21 days after a positive diagnosis. Also,
Northwestern president Morton Schapiro is the chair of the COP/C.
“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students. The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference,” Schapiro said in statement. “We appreciate the conference’s dedication to developing the necessary safety procedures for our students and the communities that embrace them.”
As outbreaks of COVID-19 among students has brought the University of Wisconsin to a standstill, the athletic department is also feeling the impact.
Wisconsin announced Wednesday night it was pausing workouts for football and men’s hockey for two weeks. Though the school does not report test results on a sport-by-sport basis, a UW official confirmed the break for those two teams was the result of their testing. The rest of the team on campus will continue with their workouts as planned.
“Our department has, all along, aligned with Chancellor Blank on messaging to our student-athletes the importance of safe behaviors and practices designed to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said in a statement. “I will continue to make sure our student-athletes and staff hear that message.
“We have been conducting our own COVID-19 testing of student-athletes and staff on a regular basis since early June and will continue to do so. Since we began testing in Athletics, our decision-making has been guided by our own test results. That continues to be our plan going forward.”
Wisconsin is not alone in pausing workouts, as more than half the Big Ten has had to do so at some point over the last two months, including Iowa last week.
The decision to do so comes as chancellor Rebecca Blank announced Wednesday the school would go to all virtual learning for at least two weeks and that two residence halls on campus were being put under quarantine. That’s a result of more than 1,000 students testing positive for the virus as of Aug. 6.
All of these moves happened as a number of schools within the Big Ten are pushing for the football season to start in early October after the league postponed the season last month. While that seems unlikely, Nebraska president Ted Carter said Wednesday that the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force is putting together plans that will be voted on “very soon.”
Wisconsin’s remarkable 2021 recruiting class got even better Tuesday night.
Five-star offensive tackle Nolan Rucci (Lititz, Penn.) announced his decision to commit to the Badgers during an appearance on CBS Sports HQ. The 6-foot-8, 295-pound Rucci is the brother of current Wisconsin tight end Hayden Rucci.
Ranked as the 14th-best player in nation, and the No. 5 offensive tackle, Rucci would be the third-highest rated player to come to Wisconsin since the beginning of the online recruiting era, which dates back to 2000. Only tackles Josh Ogelsby (2007) and Logan Brown (2019) were ranked higher than Rucci, according to the 247Sports Composite.
“I love how (offensive line) coach (Joe Rudolph) coaches his guys,” Rucci said. “The development is obvious as you can see with the guys they are putting in the NFL in recent years and the guys they are going to be putting in the NFL. I’m excited to be a part of that process and make my mark.”
At the beginning of his recruitment, many thought Rucci would end up at Penn State. He grew up just two hours from State College, and his father, Todd, and his mother, Stacy, were athletes at the university. But the Badgers history of putting offensive linemen into the NFL, his comfort level with the program having been around it the last few years and the presence of his brother helped Wisconsin overcome the Nittany Lions and grab the No. 1 player in the state of Pennsylvania.
Wisconsin also beat out Clemson, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma and many more for Rucci’s services.
Rucci’s commitment leaves the Badgers with three of the top 17 tackles in the country, as he joins 4-star recruits JP Benzschawel (Grafton, Wis.) and Riley Mahlman (Lakeville, Minn.). Overall, Wisconsin has six players that are at least 4-star commits, the most the program has ever gotten in a single recruiting cycle.
The Badgers now have 17 commits in the 2021 class, which was ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten and No. 17 in the country prior to Rucci’s commitment. Wisconsin has never finished higher than No. 26 in the final rankings.
“Had a very productive conversation with Kevin Warren, Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, about immediately starting up Big Ten football,” the tweet said. “Would be good (great!) for everyone | Players, Fans, Country. On the one yard line!”
The Big Ten, in a statement, said a White House representative reached out to Warren to set up a phone call with Trump. The statement said Warren and Trump had a “productive conversation.”
“The Big Ten Conference and its Return To Competition Task Force, on behald of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C), are exhausting every resource to help student-athletes get back to playing the sports they love, at the appropriate time, in the safest and healthiest way possible,” the statement said.
The conference is filled with teams from battleground states that will prove critical in the upcoming election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
The Big Ten announced Aug. 11 it would move its football season to the spring semester because of health risks associated with the pandemic. The Pac-12 followed suit, joining the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West. Other leagues are playing shortened seasons.
Warren has been under pressure for three weeks as the outcry against the decision has grown louder. Last week, a group of Nebraska players filed a lawsuit seeking a reversal of the decision, and Gov. Pete Ricketts has been a vocal proponent of the Cornhuskers playing fall football.
“Before the Big Ten’s decision, we were already working with the university and public health officials on plans to play football this fall,” said Ricketts, a Republican. “We would love for the Big Ten to give schools the flexibility to make decisions that are right for them.”
The Associated Press and other outlets reported last week that Big Ten officials are working on multiple plans for staging a football season — including one that would have the league kicking off during the Thanksgiving weekend. Soon after, Trump brought up the state of college football.
“No, I want Big Ten, and all other football, back | NOW,” Trump tweeted then. “The Dems don’t want football back, for political reasons, but are trying to blame me and the Republicans. Another LIE, but this is what we are up against! “
Trump downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 for college-aged football players.
“These are big, strong guys. They’ll be just fine,” Trump said Friday. “Big Ten. Get with it. Open up your season, Big Ten.”
Trump, before boarding Air Force One on Tuesday, again framed the debate over player and fan safety as a political one. He said “the biggest headwind we have is that you have Democrats who don’t want to see it happen.”
Trump said he spoke with Warren and “we had a very good conversation, very productive, and maybe we’ll be very nicely surprised.”
AP Writer Kevin Freking in Washington and College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.