Welcome to the first edition of Writer's Bloc. Each week during the football season, I'll be asking questions to reporter that covers whatever team Northern Illinois is playing that week.
This week, we have Jim Polzin, the Wisconsin beat reporter for The Capital Times. Jim was kind enough to answer a few of my questions and I think you'll definitely learn more about about the Badgers and even find a good place to eat on Saturday in Madison. I'll be answering questions in his blog in the next day or so. You can read Jim's coverage of Wisconsin here. Enjoy.
John Sahly: Quarterback was certainly a spot up for grabs at the start of camp, what have you seen out of Saturday's projected starter Scott Tolzien?
Jim Polzin: Tolzien is a guy that pretty much everybody -- myself included -- didn't think would be a factor in the quarterback derby. In fact, I'd venture a lot of people probably thought true freshman Jon Budmayr had a better chance to start than Tolzien did. Tolzien is smart, but he's not really flashy. Turns out, that's exactly what the Wisconsin coaching staff loves about him.
He's smart, he's poised, he's dependable. He might not make the great play, but he won't make the stupid one, either. And, quite frankly, Badgers quarterbacks made far too many dumb mistakes (turnovers, bad decisions) last season.
JS: What does Curt Phillips bring to the table and how much playing time do you see him getting?
JP: Phillips is the fastest quarterbacks Wisconsin's had in quite a while. They'll use him out of the shotgun -- which is pretty much unheard of around these parts -- and see how he does as a change of pace to Tolzien.
My guess is we'll see Phillips at some point in the second quarter, and how well he performs will dictate how much playing time he gets the rest of the way. The thing that cost him the starting job all to himself in camp was throwing too many interceptions, so that's something he obviously needs to avoid.
JS: How will the injuries on the offensive line affect the offense as a whole?
JP: I think this is a legitimate concern. Wisconsin's best offensive lineman, left tackle Gabe Carimi, injured his right knee midway through camp, although he should be fine for Saturday. The starting center, John Moffitt, is out and will be replaced by a true freshman, Travis Frederick; it's the first time a true freshman has started at center at UW since 1991.
The right guard who was supposed to start, Bill Nagy, also is injured and likely won't play. But his replacement, sophomore Kevin Zeitler, had a really good camp and isn't much of a drop-off -- if at all -- from Nagy. Which leaves the two guys who really were under the microscope when camp started to improve their play: left guard Jake Bscherer and right tackle Josh Oglesby, who arrived at UW with enormous expectations but has yet to live up to them.
JS: What has the situation been like at safety? How have the players handled it?
JP: I don't think losing Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant to indefinite suspensions was as big of a distraction as it could have been. Then again, I'm not in the locker room. To be certain, the depth took a big hit when those guys were suspended. Instead of two fifth-year seniors as backups, now you have a sophomore and a redshirt freshman.
JS: How much pressure is on Bret Bielema entering this season?
JP: I've been asked a lot of times in the offseason if Bielema's on the hot seat. My answer? No, but the seat is getting warmer. Here's why I say that: I think Bielema will be back in 2010 unless this team goes 4-8 or something worse. And as favorable as UW's schedule is, I just don't see that happening.
Now, if the Badgers do end up with a losing record, I think Barry Alvarez has to take a good, hard look at whether Bielema's the right man for the job. Bielema has talked a lot in the offseason about accountability, and I think he's referring to himself as well as his players when he says that. So, yes, it's a big year and I'm sure he's feeling the heat, whether he chooses to admit it or not.
JS: Finally, where can I (and our readers) get a good meal near Camp Randall?
JP: There's no shortage of options here, and I know I'm going to leave something out. You can get a great burger at any of the bars that line Regent St., which is near the stadium. Mickey's Dairy Bar is very close to Camp Randall and is a great place for breakfast on Saturday or Sunday morning. State St. isn't exactly near Camp Randall, but it's well worth the 10-15 minute walk. State St. Brats is another place that will provide a good mix of meat and beverages.
My personal favorite on State St. is Tutto Pasta, up near the Capitol. Even if you're not hungry or thirsty, State St. is an absolute must on any visit to Madison if for nothing other than people-watching.