Seeing as its Rose Bowl week, it seemed fitting that the guest for this week’s Thursday Q & A should be someone with in-depth knowledge of the Badgers so we turned to Dave Heller, Badger beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  Dave gets us ready for this Saturday’s game with his thoughts on the match-up against TCU as well providing answers on this past season and looking forward to 2011.

Before we get into the Badgers and Rose Bowl talk, share with our readers how you got to the position you currently hold with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Hopefully your readers won’t have their eyes glaze over going over this answer. Kind of a long story, so I apologize in advance.

I graduated from American University in 1990 and needless to say a career in online journalism wasn’t even on the radar. I was actually a broadcast major, hoping to do play-by-play – and in fact I did call men’s and women’s basketball games for a few years at AU. My senior year I wrote for the school paper. I did manage to work in the broadcast field for a short period – my first job out of school was as a production assistant for the short-lived Mizzlou Sports News Network (kind of like a 24-hour SportsCenter) and followed that up as a producer for the AU hoops coaches show on Home Team Sports, but that was hardly a steady gig (and I think I didn’t even get paid, I don’t recall).

I got out of the business, as they say for a couple of years, before ending up in Cincinnati and eventually landed as a stringer for the Cincinnati Post, basically taking high school scores over the phone. But I managed to get myself more work by freelancing college basketball games – I’d call out-of-town papers, and if they weren’t sending a beat reporter, they’d hire me to cover it for them. Between Cincinnati (U. of Cincinnati, Xavier), Dayton (U. of Dayton, Wright State), Columbus (Ohio State) and Louisville, there was plenty of work. Anyway, I got the Post’s attention with that work and they allowed me to cover Miami (Ohio) basketball and football. I also did a little minor league hockey, and in 1998 moved over to the Cincinnati Enquirer to cover hockey – but again, still only as a part-time. I also was the executive editor of Bengal Report magazine (covering the Cincinnati Bengals).

I realize I’m kind of rambling here, but trying to make the point that I had a lot of sports experience – and I didn’t even talk about the time I spent with the Syracuse Chiefs baseball club – but really not a steady income. So in early 1999, it was becoming aware to me the power of the internet. I sent my resume off to – now known as – and they hired me in September 1999 (they wanted me earlier, but our first child was due, so it was best to wait).

I worked there from 1999-2004 as the lead editor and in charge of college football and basketball, working mainly on America Online (we had a contract with them to produce their site), before moving back to Cincinnati to become the online content manager for Long story short, I wasn’t happy there for a variety of reasons, although I did start up the first baseball blog which was active in the regular season (well, true credit to Marc Lancaster, who did the actual blog and was quite receptive to it all). At that point, there were few blogs around and the only one around at the time was one for the Washington Post, but they only did it during spring training. We were the first one in the regular season.

Like I said, I wasn’t happy there and suddenly I saw a job opening in Milwaukee as a sports producer, with part of the duties being going to Badgers games. The rest, as they say, is history. Since I’ve written way too much here already, I’ll just move on to the next question. And for those of you who actually read all of that: Wow, thanks.

It’s been an incredible year for the Badgers football team.  Their only blemish on the season is the loss to Michigan State in October. If that game would have been played again at the end of the season, would the outcome have been the same with a MSU win or would the Badgers have prevailed?

Let me start off by saying I hate “if” questions. This season, usually it has been “if Wisconsin beat Michigan State …” Anyway, I guess part of it would depend on where they played the game, but for this exercise I’m thinking Big Ten championship, so neutral field. It’s hard to gauge what one team would have learned from playing that first time, what they’d do differently (or the same), etc.  But here is what I do know: After that loss to the Spartans, Wisconsin took on a higher focus – not saying they weren’t focused, prepared, etc. vs. Michigan State. That loss really sparked them. I saw it on the first offensive drive of the next game, against Ohio State. UW’s offensive line was just pushing back the Buckeyes’ defensive line. It was unreal. I don’t cover Michigan State, so I don’t really if the Spartans reached a higher level after that game or not, but I know UW did. The Badgers play – other than the first half against Purdue – was continually on a high level. So short answer – I think Wisconsin would win a rematch.  

One key injury for the Badgers this past year was the one to Chris Borland. How is Borland coming along and is he expected to return at full strength next year?

Borland is going to miss spring ball, but he should be back and ready to go for the 2011 season. There’s been some talk that he might move inside, but with a new defensive coordinator coming in, who knows what will happen. If he does, I’d be interested to see if he still lines up on the outside in their 3-4 package (if they keep that package), as he was quite proficient in that role.

Looking to the future, who do you see under center for the Badgers next year, Jon Budmayr or someone else?

There are basically three choices: Budmayr, Joe Brennan and Jacoby Brissett. Right now, Budmayr might have the edge since he’s the only one with any collegiate playing experience. Brennan will be a redshirt freshman, but I think he’ll have a good chance to compete for the starting job. The wild card is Brissett, a recruit out of Palm Beach who, as I write this, has not decided what school he’ll attend. If it is the Badgers, I think he has a good a shot as any to be the starter in 2011.

Next year the Badgers will be losing their Defensive Coordinator Dan Doeren.  Who is the leader in your mind to replace him and do you think Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst will be next?

The leader in my mind would be Charlie Partridge. There’s also some talk of the possibility of co-coordinators with Partridge and Chris Ash. I’m not a fan of co-coordinators, but I also know no one is going to consult me about this decision anyway. Regardless, it appears as though Bret Bielema will stay in-house.

As far as Paul Chryst, in our post-game chats during the live gameday blogs I do, I think every week I was asked if Chryst will leave for another job. Here’s the situation: He is very well paid (second-highest paid assistant coach in the Big Ten) and he’s mentioned in the past that he likes Madison and would like to stay there as long as his kids are in school. And he’s from Madison and went to Wisconsin. However, his name did come up often the past month and he apparently talked with Minnesota about its head coaching job. So I think a head coaching job would get him to leave UW. Another factor is the Dallas Cowboys. They came after him a few years ago and if Jason Garrett remains the head coach in Dallas, they could come calling again. And I could see Chryst leaving for the NFL. He has coached in the NFL in the past, so it’s not like it would be a big jump for him to move to the pros. 

Moving on the Rose Bowl now, the TCU defense is very highly regarded, but can they really compete with a potent and balanced offensive attack from the Big Ten?

I guess we’re going to find out. I know a lot of Wisconsin fans aren’t believers in TCU, and cite the Horned Frogs’ schedule, but I know TCU fans look at some of the defenses Wisconsin went up against the last few weeks and aren’t overly impressed.

It’s going to be interesting to see TCU with its 4-2-5 defense try to stop the Badgers’ running attack – one reason why I see John Clay getting playing time, perhaps significant. If he gets into the second level, I think UW likes the idea of him vs. a DB.

Anyway, I don’t know how good a job TCU can do stopping UW’s offense. But I do know this – they have a number of players who scouts see playing in the NFL and I don’t care the competition, if you allow just 11.4 points per game, you’re doing something right.

One weak area for the Badgers this year has been the secondary, can the Badgers generate enough pass rush to keep the secondary from being exposed?

Well, they haven’t done it all year, so hard to think it will start now, especially against a team which has allowed only 9 sacks all season. I think Wisconsin will do what it did against Ohio State and Michigan – not blitz (or at least not very often), looking to contain Andy Dalton and forcing him to pass. The Badgers will count on J.J. Watt doing what he does and then hope that someone, Louis Nzegwu comes to mind, gets pressure from the other end. The secondary will try to keep plays in front of it and not get burned on deep plays over their heads. It has been that kind of bend-but-don’t-break defense (to use a cliché) all season.  

Where else might Badgers have an advantage/weakness against Horned Frogs?

Advantage, for sure, is in the kicking game. Obviously both teams would prefer touchdowns over field goals, but Wisconsin at least has Philip Welch, who can bang in kicks from 40+ yards. Speaking to that bend-don’t-break defense I mentioned above, if the Badgers can buckle down within the TCU 30-yard line, they might be in good shape as Horned Frogs kicker Ross Evans attempted only two kicks from beyond 37 yards (made a 43, missed a 47; whereas Welch was 8-of-11 from 40-49).

The weakness is that TCU has a very good kick/punt returner in Jeremy Kerley and Wisconsin’s special teams play this year has been, shall we say inconsistent? The Badgers can’t let TCU change the game with special teams.

Are you surprised that UW is considered the underdog by many going into this game?

 No. I guess Wisconsin fans can’t see how a Big Ten team isn’t favored over a Mountain West team, but hey, one team is unbeaten and ranked No. 3 in both polls and the BCS. That’s the team which should be favored.

At the end of the Rose Bowl, will Badgers fans be celebrating a win or just have to settle being happy about getting to Pasadena once again.

Boy, I hate making predictions – mostly because I’m probably lousy at it. I wish I was writing this after I talked to some of the TCU people in Pasadena, but since I’m not … I’ll say Wisconsin wins a squeaker.  

…and now for the lightning round.

Your all-time favorite professional athlete is:

Tough one. It really comes down to who I liked as a kid, since as an adult that sort of thing faded away – maybe because of my profession. At the heart, I’m a baseball guy, so I’ll go with Brooks Robinson.

Your favorite Badgers blog/site to read that is not the JSonline Badgers blog is:

I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but I don’t really read blogs – at least Badgers blogs. I’m an information guy, and not just about sports. I love learning new things. In fact, I’d say maybe 97% of the books I’ve read are non-fiction. Anyway, that being the case, I look at Adam Rittenberg’s Big Ten blog quite often. I’ll check out the three Badgers recruiting sites. Bucky’s 5 th Quarter does some nice stuff. So there you go. 

If there were no sports to report, you would be doing:

I’d be driving my wife and kids crazy most likely. To be honest, I have no idea. My theory in life has always been to have a job which I like doing. Seems simple enough, but not always easy to do. I was not happy when my job did not involve sports (and there have been a few). So I’m hoping it never comes to this (not there being no sports, but me being out of work looking for a new job outside of sports). I guess I might try writing books (I’ve written one – As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis ). Maybe something to do with research or information. Like I said, I like that kind of thing.

If you were a professional athlete, your sport & position would be:

Easy – left-handed relief pitcher. Hopefully I could stick around for years thanks to just being a lefty. Plus, I’d supply plenty of good quotes for the beat writers and do enough to be considered a flake.

Should I ever run into you at a bar, I should buy you a _____________ for taking the time to answer these questions.

If I’m not working, a non-dark beer – preferably an import or micro (yes, I’m a beer snob), but I wouldn’t turn down something else. If I have work to do that night or am driving, a Diet Dr Pepper.

Thank you to Dave for answering our questions in what is one of his busiest weeks this year.  You can catch all of Dave’s material on the Badgers blog and you can also follow him on Twitter to get access to his more at the moment thoughts and commentary.

Would you like to be the guest for a Thursday Q & A? Let us know!


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