Game Week Mailbag

Where does UW basketball stand with its 2013 recruiting class? Does UW football need a quarterback this recruiting cycle? Who is going to step in to the void left by Josh Gasser? There are a lot of good questions to be answered in this week's Badger Nation mailbag.

Are all the current Basketball recruits going to sign their letter of intent in the early signing period?

As of right now, Bronson Koenig, Jordan Hill, Vitto Brown and Riley Dearring are all 100 percent committed to Wisconsin – meaning they aren't taking any more visits or entertaining any more college coaches. The early signing period begins November 14 and runs through the 21st. Wisconsin is still actively pursuing Nigel Hayes out of Toledo (Ohio) Whitmer and there is a chance he could be the fifth player in this group.

Hayes is supposed to decide any day now, and Wisconsin has been making a big push for the three-star forward. Speaking to Koenig, he said him and Brown have been calling, texting and tweeting Hayes, who took his official visit to Wisconsin September 1, to come play with them.

Head coach Bo Ryan and assistant coach Lamont Paris have made visits to see him and, according to him, have been recruiting him the hardest. Hayes has a lot of competition for his services, but UW has certainly put in the effort.

With the loss of stave and the potential loss of both Jon Budmayr and Danny O'Brien is the coaching staff re thinking on getting a QB in this class? The depth chart will really show next year if we get an injury to our starting QB.

This is a tricky topic, because I still see Wisconsin having more pressing priorities than taking a quarterback in this class (defensive back, defensive tackle and offensive line to name three). Looking at the quarterbacks, I would be surprised if Budmayr returns next season, which would free up a scholarship. However, Curt Phillips has told me recently that he is going to apply for a sixth year of eligibility. If he gets it, Wisconsin will have O'Brien, Phillips, Stave, Chase Knox and Bart Houston as options. Since UW typically likes to go into a season with three healthy quarterbacks, that would be the crew.

Furthermore, even if UW got a quarterback in this recruiting cycle, he wouldn't be ready for at least two seasons. By that time, Bart Houston will be a redshirt sophomore and Stave a redshirt junior.

With John Franklin committing to Florida State (possibly being a quarterback or defensive back for the Seminoles), I think it's only a matter of time before Franklin and Alex Collins play in Tallahassee together. I know Bret Bielema is going down to watch South Plantation play this weekend, but I don't think much will come from it. Wisconsin has also been looking at Conor Rhoda, Connor Senger, Mason Sarosi, Joe Ferguson and Boeing Brown, but I don't see a scholarship quarterback out of the group to be honest.

One quarterback I would imagine Wisconsin would keep pursuing is Damon Mitchell, who took an official visit to UW October 6. Mitchell committed to Georgia Tech July 14, and still plans to enroll early with the Yellow Jackets. Still, Mitchell coming to Wisconsin means his relationship with running back coach Thomas Hammock is still strong, and UW will likely continue to pursue him. As of right now, he appears UW's best chance at taking a scholarship QB.

What would the feeling be in they went to the Rose Bowl with this team? Is the B1G that bad?

Honestly, Wisconsin should feel lucky they are even getting a chance at playing for a conference championship, as Ohio State has run through everybody on its schedule thus far and avoiding the road bumps, something UW hasn't been fortunate enough to do. With the loss to Michigan State last week, Wisconsin is two games behind Ohio State. Obviously the two teams play in three weeks, but consider the schedules.

Wisconsin: Bye, at Indiana, Ohio State, at Penn State.

Ohio State: Illinois, BYE, at Wisconsin, Michigan.

The Badgers are also a game behind Penn State, who closes at Purdue, at Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin. Of the three teams involved, Wisconsin has the toughest schedule. If UW beats Indiana, the Badgers punch their ticket to Indianapolis, meaning they could lose their last two games, go 4-4 in conference and still make the title game. I'd certainly call that fortunate.

The conference is horrible this year and I don't think there's any way to debate that point. Two of the conference's best teams are ineligible for this season and the league has one team ranked in the coaches poll and non in the top 25. With all the issues and transitions Wisconsin has had to deal with on the field this season, the Badgers should feel fortunate it occurred this season with the rest of the conference struggling to keep up, as well.

Who is most likely to fill the "vocal" leadership void after the Josh Gasser injury? Any insight into the projected starting lineup?

I don't think Wisconsin is going to have a set starting lineup through the first few weeks of conference play. We know three of the starters – Jared Berggren, Ben Brust and Ryan Evans – as long as they stay healthy. I would guess Frank Kaminsky or Zach Bohannon would likely get an opportunity to contribute with Mike Bruesewitz on the shelf for another couple weeks.

I've been told that Wisconsin will look at Brust, Traevon Jackson, George Marshall and even Zak Showalter at point guard. I would imagine you will see the middle two during the exhibition game next week, and Gasser said as much Tuesday that he'll need to be a mentor to Jackson and Marshall.

"George and Trae can play," said Gasser. "The thing they may lack is the voice. They don't like to speak up as much. They haven't played as much. Defensively that's one thing we need to find. Ben has got to be more willing. George is obviously kind of small, so I am definitely going to talk to Trae in particular and try to get him to step up into that role. Somebody has got to do it. Whoever is going to be the first to step up is going to get a lot of playing time.

"We're not going to skip a beat with me not out there. The big thing I think we're going to miss is a vocal guy at the guard position, a leader who has been there and played a little bit. That's something I can still contribute to even if I am not out there."

In terms of the vocal leader, that's going to have to come from the seniors, because Gasser isn't going to be able to do it from the bench.

Is this team capable of getting through the tough non-conference slate with no fewer than 3-losses?

I believe so, although the road schedule is brutally hard. The game at Florida is going to be extremely hard without UW's two main weapons, but the game is early enough in the season where both teams will still be working through things. UW could steal the game. The Opening game in Las Vegas against Creighton will be tough, especially if Doug McDermott and his 23.2 points per game are on fire.

The game at Marquette is winnable, as the Golden Eagles appear susceptible to low post play. I think Wisconsin will sweep at home through nonconference play with its toughest game being against the defensive-minded Virginia and former UW assistant Tony Bennett.

If Wisconsin drops the last two games on the regular season schedule and continues to look lost on offense, does Bret Bielema make a change with the OC position?

Great question and it's a good debate: does Wisconsin fire Matt Canada if the Badgers go 7-6 or 7-7 because of the shortcomings of its offense? It certainly would be a tough pill to swallow, and Bielema has already made rash coaching moves this season with the firing of Mike Markuson. In terms of Canada, I would say that he stays based on this difference: his philosophy is more in line with Bielema's coaching philosophy than Markuson's.

The problem with Markuson is that he tried to reinvent the wheel at Wisconsin with its offensive linemen. Canada is trying to put his imprint on the offense while sticking with the formula of using the run to set up the offense. He also has not had the type of personnel Paul Chryst had the last two seasons.

Talking to one player, he said Canada was very passive the first two games of the season, worrying about too many things, until finally deciding to put his inhabitations aside.

"After those first two games, he basically said, ‘(Screw) it. Let's just roll,'" said the player. "We have a lot of respect for him."

After those first two games, we saw the capabilities of Wisconsin's offense with the way the offense took off, averaging 34.2 points over a five game stretch. Obviously with the clunker against Michigan State, everybody is questioning everybody on UW's offense.

With Wisconsin returning a lot of personnel next season on offense, I imagine Canada gets another run of the offense. If next year is a disaster, I would hope a change would be made.

Is Derek Watt's move to the fullback position permanent, or is there a chance he could switch to defense after the season?

Yes, because Watt has taken tremendous strides in his first season at the position. Taking the job in the second week of fall camp, Watt has surpassed expectations with knowledge of the offense, ability in the pass catching game and ability to take on blockers.

"He has come a long way," said running back coach Thomas Hammock. "He's learning on a trial by fire and he's growing week by week."

Wisconsin typically doesn't recruit fullbacks, instead choosing to develop them in-house. Watt has surpassed Sherard Cadogan to the level that I wouldn't be surprised if Cadogan leaves the program after this season. As a redshirt freshman, Watt is only going to grow into the position like Bradie Ewing did.

If he switched back to linebacker, Watt wouldn't see the field until 2014 with the depth UW has coming back next season. I can't see that happening with the talent UW has brought in over the last few recruiting classes at that position.

What advantage does Wisconsin having scheduling the Maryland game, especially since they aren't a top ACC school?

Many people said Oregon State wasn't one of the top Pac 12 schools entering the season and look where the Beavers are – a top 10 team before last weekend's road loss at Washington. Another reason I made that comparison is that Byrd Stadium, I've been told, is a lot like Reser Stadium out in Corvallis, one of those intimate venues that people don't expect to be as hard as it is.

But since I have never been to Byrd Stadium and know very little about the Maryland campus, I asked the team's Maryland expert.

"I loved my time there in terms of the school and the great campus," said O'Brien. "College Park is a pretty unique city. It's really tucked in behind Washington D.C. Fans have a lot of things to do there with D.C. and having a real college campus feel. I think Byrd Stadium, when it's full, is a really tough place to play. Terp fans always get up for big games."

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