CHICAGO - For me, Big Ten Media Days signal the start of the college football season. I've been to the event each of the last six years and by now I'm well aware that most of the press conferences on the first day are pretty useless.
Luckily, the Wisconsin reporters get their own private session with Bret Bielema and after a summer of not talking with him, it's usually full of good information regarding the Badgers.
Today's session was no different, so here's a summary of what we talked about:
Bielema said he expects position battles at running back, tight end, right tackle, quarterback, linebacker, defensive end and strong safety.
In my opinion, it's Josh Oglesby's job to lose at right tackle, but Bielema said he will be limited at the start of camp. That's not a good sign for a kid who has been banged up his entire college career. Still, Bielema made it seem like he's expecting big things from Oglesby this season.
"I just think the mental attitude and the approach he's had have been positive and I think it's going to be a great season for him," Bielema said.
Borland's mentality a problem?
No one is going to fault Chris Borland for his attitude on and off the field. He's a hard worker who wants to get his nose in every single play. But with two bad shoulders, Bielema expressed a little concern about keeping Borland safe and protecting him from his own agressiveness.
The Badgers can't afford for their middle linebacker to be hurt this season.
Three players sidelined
Three players will be inactive with injuries when camp opens next week.
True freshman Devin Gaulden suffered a stress fracture during the summer and won't be ready for camp. Bielema made it seem like he would be available at some point during August, however.
And as we already knew, wide receiver Marquis Mason and quarterback Curt Phillips are out with ACL injuries. Phillips spent the summer back home in Tennessee because his father has a doctor he wanted him to work with.
Bielema said he expects four to eight incoming freshman to contribute this season.
He mentioned running back, offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back as positions that could have true freshmen contributing.
The only specific freshman Bielema mentioned as a possible contributor is running back Melvin Gordon, but considering the deep pool of running backs, Gordon would have to leap Jeff Lewis and win the third spot on the depth chart to avoid a red shirt.
One Scholarship Left
Bielema often announces if any players have secretly left the program over the summer at Big Ten Media Days, but when asked about it Thursday, he confirmed that Zach Brown was the only scholarship player who transferred during the offseason.
By my count, that puts Wisconsin exactly at 85 scholarships (which is the limit), but Bielema said he has one more left to give and knows who he is going to give it to. He left us to figure that out.
Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis seems like the obvious candidate to get that scholarship, but after talking to some other media members, we couldn't figure out where the extra scholarship is coming from. One possibility is that senior long snapper Kyle Wojta will not be on scholarship next season. He was given one last season, but they are only guaranteed for one season.
I'll try to clear this up with Bielema tomorrow morning.
Solider Field Turf
The grass at Soldier Field -- where the Badgers will play NIU Sept. 17 -- is widely considered the worst turf in the NFL. It is managed by the Chicago Park District, not the Bears, and it is managed very poorly.
I asked Bielema if he had any concerns about the turf and he made it clear that they are well aware of the problems.
"We actually had our equipment people look into it and we are going to use a special shoe," he said, adding that the shoe will also be used at their only other grass game this season at Michigan State. "The good thing is, it's early in the year. Traditionally, later in the year, it gets to be an issue."
Bielema said he talked to some MAC teams that had played there and also Iowa, which played there in 2007. He said he did not talk to the Green Bay Packers about it.
Speaking of Michigan State
Bret Bielema said the loss at Michigan State was eating at his players more than the Rose Bowl loss. He said because they played so poorly in a conference game and still had a chance to win the game made it sting a lot.
Still, it seems as if the loss played a major part in the Badgers ending up in the Rose Bowl.
"I really felt going into the Michigan State game that we had a championship level team. I knew when we left the locker room that we did," Bielema said.
With that said, he added that Nick Toon has still not gotten over the Rose Bowl loss.
Both losses should provide plenty of motivation this season, especially when the Badgers head to East Lansing for a prime time game Oct. 22.