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Badgers ready for rivalry-like game with Northwestern

Wisconsin-Northwestern may not be the most talked-about game in the Big Ten, but the players certainly get up for it.

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There are a few big pillars to the Big Ten’s foundation, and one of them is the strength of some of college football’s longest-standing and biggest rivalry games. Some may even call it the conference of trophy games.

Seemingly every game in the league has something on the line. Wisconsin has such games with Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska already.

But, one team that may be budding as a new rival is that of the Northwestern Wildcats.

It seems silly on the surface, given Wisconsin’s national stature and Northwestern’s inability to win division, let alone Big Ten championships since it last did in 1994. But, there is something more to this series than the perceived national stature of the programs.

Northwestern endured a 13-game losing streak, but broke that in 1985. Ever since then, the two teams have been on even footing on the field, splitting the next 26 matchups to the tune of an even 13-13 record.

But, just being even in the record books doesn’t answer the question of rivalry or not.

This is more of a question of how rivalries get started and how they are maintained. For Northwestern and Wisconsin, the game has become about two physical, tough-minded and academically like-minded schools going toe-to-toe on the gridiron.

According to Badger247, players on the UW side of things know exactly what they are in store for when the two sides meet.

“They’re tough and they’re physical,” senior tight end Troy Fumagalli said. “They try and match our intensity. They come out and hit you.

“They’re not afraid.”

Northwestern’s Justin Jackson echoed the same comments when asked about the series with the Badgers going in to the 2016 season, telling me that this game means more because they know and respect what the Badgers are about.

“I think it’s just the culture of our two teams,” Jackson said. “Tough, hard-nosed, scrappy. You know, not always looked at how we should be. So, every single time we come to play against each other we already know what type of game it is going to be. We already know we are going to have to fight to the last second.”

Both programs respect one another, but they also know that there is something more than just another game when they get together too.

“There is always a little extra in Northwestern week,” junior left tackle Michael Deiter said to Badger247. “It sort of does fell like a rivalry. It’s a Big Ten West game and every game there is super important.

Sometimes familiarity breeds rivalries. That certainly seems to be the case here.

But, before we go there for sure, we also need to remember that just a few years of like-minded football programs going at it doesn’t a rivalry really make.

We’ve asked this question in the past when the Badgers and Michigan State had their slugfests in the earlier part of this decade.

Now look at the state of the two programs? Wisconsin continues to battle for Big Ten championships and Michigan State is seemingly battling to maintain mediocrity just two seasons removed from a College Football Playoff berth.

As for the Badgers and Wildcats? Wisconsin is the Big Ten’s perennial West division leader, while Northwestern has hopes of contending and never has reached Indianapolis. So, why would the two even be considered rivals?

Well, when games are competitive, both teams win ones they shouldn’t and the wins define seasons, you can start to see why the players see these games on a heightened level.

Perhaps it will take Northwestern upending Wisconsin at the top of the West division heap to solidify this as a rivalry. But, for now, it is hard to argue that this isn’t the most competitive and challenging West division foe for the Badgers.

Will that once again be the case in Madison this weekend? After all, Northwestern snapped a 4-game losing streak in Madison during its last trip and strange things have happened in this series as of late.

It’s that stuff that makes competitive matchups in to true rivalries and the Big Ten would be better off with rivalries growing organically thanks to divisional play.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Badgers win big battle for 2019 LB Spencer Lytle

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The 2019 Wisconsin Badgers football recruiting class already has hit new heights. But, there was one key piece to the puzzle the coaching staff was waiting on — its top of the board linebacker. 

On Saturday, UW got the answer it was looking for as three-star linebacker Spencer Lytle committed to the Badgers over his other finalist, Clemson. 

Lytle was the No. 1 outside linebacker on the Badgers board and the biggest missing piece to the puzzle for this recruiting class. While the three-star rating may not blow you away, make no mistake, Lytle was one of the most sought-after players at his position in the country. 

It is easy to see why when you put on the tape, and equally so when you see his numbers on paper. Lytle had 77 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and nine additional hurries for Servite High School in Anaheim last season. 

He held offers from 40-plus programs, most of which reads like a who’s who of national contenders on an annual basis. In the end, it came down to Wisconsin and Clemson, with few really knowing where Lytle was leaning. 

The Badgers got their biggest target at outside linebacker and alongside in-state product Leo Chenal, appear done with recruiting the overall linebacker position for the 2019 class. 

UW’s class now has 13 verbal commits and Lytle’s pledge pushed the Badgers near the top 25 in the national team rankings. Currently, Wisconsin sits No. 26 in the 247Sports composite rankings. The Badgers jumped seven spots with this announcement on Saturday. 

Lytle was able to keep his recruitment tight-lipped and same with his commitment choice. Few knew what was really going to happen when he announced earlier on Saturday, but it went the Badgers way. 

Wisconsin also continues to make small inroads in recruiting one of the biggest states for talent in the country — California. Lytle’s commitment means back-to-back seasons with a prospect from the state, as Alexander Smith signed in the 2018 class and will likely redshirt this upcoming season. 

Equally important, Lytle is attending one of the top high school programs in the country this year in St. John Bosco. They are the preseason No. 1 team in the country and consistently put out high-level FBS players. 

While Lytle will only be there for one season, he could be a good foot in the door for UW at the school. 

It will be interesting to see how quickly Lytle fits in at Wisconsin, because after this season things will be wide open on one side of the outside linebacker spot as Andrew Van Ginkel will graduate. 

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Badgers get commitment No. 9 for 2019 class

UW gets commitment No. 9 for 2019 recruiting class, as North Carolina athlete becomes second from the state to pledge to the Badgers

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This isn’t your average Wisconsin Badgers football recruiting cycle to say the least. While the class usually takes shape over the summer prior to the senior year, UW has had some really early success in the 2019 recruiting cycle.

It’s a pattern that continued on Friday afternoon as 3-star athlete Marcus Graham committed to the Badgers. He gave his verbal pledge after a two-day visit to the UW campus.

He is rated as the No. 34 ranked dual threat quarterback in the country and the No. 54 overall prospect in the state of North Carolina per the 247Sports composite rankings.

The Badgers were the first Power 5 school to offer Graham and following the visit he jumped on the offer he received. Other offers came from the likes of East Carolina, Air Force, Old Dominion and a few others.

Graham played quarterback this past season, and according to Badger247 he put up some huge numbers. He completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,270 yards and 16 touchdowns to just one interception. He also rushed for 858 yards and 15 scores, averaging better than eight yards per carry. Graham added 13 receptions for 265 yards and four touchdowns at wide receiver.

Wisconsin’s ability to scout and be confident in its offers paid dividends here, as other schools like North Carolina, Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Wake Forest all were showing interest but none had given out an offer yet.

So, what is Wisconsin getting?

First off, Graham is a versatile athlete and at 6-0, 175 pounds could wind up at wide receiver or in the secondary. It will take some transition due to his play of quarterback in high school, but that will not be his position in college to say the least.

Graham also fits the mold of what the Badgers are looking for out of their skill position players on the outside. He’s got plenty of speed to burn and he’s got a lot of natural movement to his game. Things come naturally to him, and instinct is hard to teach.

It appears Graham will also be someone who could be an early enrollee for the Badgers, which may be to his ultimate benefit given his position isn’t totally set in stone just yet.

Overall, this is the type of below-the-radar prospect that Paul Chryst and his staff have been really good at evaluating and prioritizing. They have also seemed to work out well once in the Cardinal and White.

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Van Vliet announces choice to transfer from Badgers

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The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program will have one less senior on its roster for the 2018-19 season than it did entering the offseason.

On Tuesday night, reserve forward Andy Van Vliet announced his decision to transfer for his final season of eligibility via his Twitter account.

Van Vliet’s new destination wasn’t made clear, but it appears he will seek out opportunities within D1 basketball going forward.

The Badgers will not restrict where he moves and appear ready to assist in whatever is needed with this move according to a statement from head coach Greg Gard.

“We thank Andy for what he did for our program over the last three seasons and we wish him the best moving forward,” Gard said. “We will help him in any way we can as he looks for a new school to continue his career.”

The 6-11 forward came to the Badgers as a three-point sharp shooter and the hope was his height and shooting ability would give UW an advantage in stretching other forwards beyond the three-point line.

Van Vliet appeared in 31 games over two seasons at Wisconsin. The Antwerp, Belgium, native averaged 3.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 17 games in 2017-18, notching career highs of 18 points and eight rebounds vs. South Carolina State.

He entered this season as a starter and that South Carolina State opener gave plenty of hope for him to be a big contributor for the team. Instead, Van Vliet’s defense became a liability that his inconsistent shooting couldn’t overcome.

Ultimately, his playing time began to dwindle and he was seated deep on the bench for most of the 2017-18 season.

His departure leaves another open scholarship for the Badgers, which will be interesting to see how they fill.

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Badgers blow past Riverhawks in final non-conference contest

Wisconsin gets over .500 with easy win over UMass-Lowell to end non-conference play.

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The Wisconsin Badgers looked like they were sleepwalking through what should’ve been an easy non-conference win over Chicago State a few days ago. A repeat was not on the cards on Saturday afternoon in the Kohl Center though, as the Badgers blew out visiting UMass-Lowell 82-53.

With the win, the Badgers improved to 8-7 on the season (1-1 in Big Ten play) and ended non-conference play on a four-game win streak.

Three players were in double figures for the Badgers, as Ethan Happ and Brevin Pritzl each put up a team-high 18 points to go with Aleem Ford’s 10 points on the day. Happ also had 4 rebounds and 2 assists in the win. Freshman point guard gutted it out again with a sore shoulder, adding 7 points but also a huge day dishing the ball for 6 assists.

Lowell was led by Josh Gantz, who had 16 points in the losing effort. The Riverhawks dropped to 6-7 on the season as they look forward to America East play in the coming months.

Pritzl Coming in to His Own

Wisconsin desperately needed a third scoring option with injuries to D’Mitrick Trice and Kobe King. Pritzl was inserted in to the starting lineup, but wasn’t an immediate answer. The good news is that as the rotation has gotten figured out, Pritzl is becoming that needed third scoring option. He was actually the Badgers best player not named Ethan Happ on Saturday afternoon, hitting his 15 points on 5 of 10 shooting from the field (3 of 5 from 3-point range).

It was good to see his efficient scoring continue, as Pritzl has now scored in double digits in four of the last five games. All of that came after he was held scoreless and played just 10 minutes against Temple early on in December. Responding back to that bad night with 10 points in the loss to Marquette may have gone under the radar, but he’s been fairly consistent on the offensive end of the floor since then.

Perhaps things are finally starting to click, as Pritzl is also a combined 10 of 22 from beyond the arc in those five games since getting goose-egged at Temple. Seeing it happen in game action, even if the competition level isn’t up to Big Ten standards can go a long way towards giving Pritzl the confidence needed to do it against better competition too.

Wisconsin has to love the version of Pritzl it has gotten in the past few weeks.

McGrory Showing Value on Defense

The plan was to redshirt preferred walk-on Walt McGrory this season, but duty called with injuries in the backcourt. All that meant was sink or swim for a player few outside of the diehard even knew was on the team. So far it’s hard not to say McGrory isn’t swimming.

On Saturday he played 21 minutes, and while he didn’t score any points he had value to the Badgers in other ways. That was especially the case on the defensive end, as McGrory put up a team-best three steals (5 total as a team) and had a rebound too.

That may not jump off the stat sheet as a vital stat given Wisconsin blew UMass-Lowell out and all, but it is important because McGrory is going to be called on to provide big minutes early on in Big Ten play. It isn’t likely that McGrory is going to be counted on to be a scorer, but he does need to give UW something off the bench. He did it on Saturday, now can he do it against much better competition?

Up Next for Wisconsin:

Wisconsin faces Indiana to re-open Big Ten play. Tip is scheduled for 6pm CT on ESPN.

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