We're inching closer and closer to the day that the University of Nebraska becomes an official member of the Big Ten Conference (July 1, 2011, to be exact), and the excitement around the conference is noticeable. Yes, the divisions are still called Legends and Leaders, and the new logo that has drawn criticism is still in use, but the players and coaches of the Big Ten are not letting those spoil the fun of having new blood enter the conference.
Tom Mulhern at Madison.com reports that the big storylines for 2011 Big Ten football are the aforementioned Nebraska expansion and new championship game, new head coaches at three schools, and the Ohio State football fiasco. The Buckeyes probably have too much on their plate to deal with before they can start relishing the addition of the Cornhuskers, and rightfully so. Michigan, Indiana, and Minnesota all have new head coaches so it's understandable that they are focused on the regime changes at hand. But for everyone else, including your Wisconsin Badgers, there has been a chance to sit back and reflect on the new incarnation of the Big Ten.
"I'm really excited for the buildup and the race to the championship game, to be able to have that to look forward to at the end of the year," University of Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.I also want to discuss what impact Nebraska will have on Big Ten basketball for a moment. We all know that the Cornhuskers improve the football brand of the conference, but what will the Cornhuskers bring to the hardwood? They are not a traditional basketball power- Nebraska and Northwestern are two of the three BCS programs who have never won a NCAA Tournament game. But this season showed that they can be competitive and I don't expect them to water down the conference. It could be argued they were playing 'Big Ten style' basketball in the Big 12 so this move could benefit them immensely. Don't pencil them in to win the league next year, though.
Nebraska also creates some new scheduling procedures in basketball. There can now potentially be ties in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (lame). The bye system for the Big Ten Tournament will make more sense, and there's now a distinct benefit for finishing fourth instead of fifth (with our top-four finish pedigree, this will probably benefit Wisconsin). Each team will now play seven teams twice and four teams once; in the past it was eight teams twice and two teams once. Unfortunately for the Badgers, that means less games against big-time conference competition and more games against Nebraska. Finally, the Big Ten won't schedule any idle game dates for its teams the last two weeks of the season; I expect everyone in the conference will like that scheduling rule.
Speaking of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, it was announced today that the Badgers will be playing on the road against a yet-to-be-determined ACC opponent in next year's edition of the Challenge. We will be one of the best Big Ten teams going on the road, and looking at the ACC road teams last year, the most likely opponents are North Carolina or Maryland.
The Badgers are losing two seniors from the O-Line to the NFL this offseason, but an abundance of depth at the position means it will likely be a strength again next season.
Thankfully Jacob Pedersen didn't follow through with his intention to leave the program and become a mortician! With Lance Kendricks moving on to the NFL, he will be a huge part of the Wisconsin offense next season.
New edition of the Varsity online magazine out. This week, the UWBadgers.com publication highlights new women's basketball coach Bobbie Kelsey and UW softball player Mary Massei, a cancer survivor.
Did somebody mention Wisconsin softball? Yesterday, the Badgers recorded two shutouts in a doubleheader sweep of the South Dakota St. Jackrabbits. I highly encourage you to take in a game or two of Wisconsin softball over the next month; first-year head coach Yvette Healy has injected the program with a lot of positive energy.