Change of seasons amid unchanging sports weirdness
Seasons are changing around here, and not just on the calendar.
Does anyone else find it bizarre that the Brewers are still playing meaningful baseball with 12 games to go (as of this writing), while Wisconsin's presumed place in the realm of college football powerhouses is in doubt as UW gets ready to take on UTEP in a few hours?
Isn't it weird that the potent Packers offense has yet to hit stride two games into the slate, and that the team is having to rally around Aaron Rodgers, whose leadership skills are under question?
What's next? Autumn leaves turning purple?
Making the Brewers' late-season particularly notable is the cast of characters they're doing it with: Travis Ishikawa at first for the injured Corey Hart who started the year in right field which is now manned by Nori Aoki who should get serious consideration as rookie of the year even though he started 2012 as a roster after-thought. Rickie Weeks was the man most Brewers fans loved to hate at the All-Star break but is now a one-man wrecking crew. Jean Segura is the last man standing at short after injury ended Alex Gonzalez' season and the Cody Ransom era never caught on. Only 40% of the starting rotation remains after Chris Narveson blew out, Zack Greinke got traded and Randy Wolf wore out his welcome. It was closer-by-committee for a while as John Axford suffered through a midsummer funk but now he seems to be back to his old self, minus a few ounces of facial hair.
Wisconsin started the season in SI's top ten and 12th in the coach's poll. The slide began with a narrow week one win against Northern Iowa and disturbing trends on both sides of the ball would doom UW in a loss at--gulp--Oregon State which cost the newly hired o-line coach his job. A week 3 win over juggernaut Utah State birthed a change at QB--Danny O'Brien out, Whitnall's Joel Stave in--and even more questions about just how good Bucky truly is. Wisconsin, in this fan's eyes, has a way of playing beyond expectations when hopes are low and disappointing when rankings are high. Considering all of the changes in Madison since the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, the Badger faithful had no right to expect the team to live up to its preseason billing. Offensive line defections, a new QB, unproven wideouts, a different fullback, tight ends still on the learning curve--and I haven't even gotten to the defense which still has the tendency to puke up the occasional soul-crushing big play. Fans are let down, for sure, but they can't honestly say they're surprised.
The Pack is at Seattle Monday night having made it through a turbulent ten days since the win over the Bears--a victory that proved Dom Capers may be on to something with this defense of his but that fostered new questions about Green Bay's offensive potency. Has the league figured out Mike McCarthy's pass-first attack? Why does Rodgers seem out of sync? And what's up with this yelling at James Jones stuff? Toss in Jermichael Finley's agent questioning the QB's leadership and--well, is it Monday night yet?
The offensive questions are legit: teams are finding ways to contain the Pack attack but a lot of those could be undone with a vigorous running game. Cedric Benson could be the man, but time will tell. When Sports 32's Dennis Krause asked me on-air what concerned me the most about the Packers before the season began, I said "the running game", even when the sexy, conventional answer would've been "defense" or "secondary". You can't be one-dimensional in the NFL. Not every team has a Ray Rice, but you have to at least show a semblance of a ground game.
The Rodgers-leadership questions are bogus: I didn't like seeing him yell at James Jones the other night but does anyone seriously doubt how much #12's teammates look up to him? The way he carried himself after ascending to the top of the depth chart, the way he performed as he got used to being "the man"? That this is even a question hits this guy in the mancave as truly strange, something out of the Simpson's Halloween episode.
As seasons change around here there is a lingering constant for state sports fans: the general weirdness that hangs over our teams. Can the Brewers seal the deal on this unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable late season run? Will Wisconsin salvage its season with a strong Big Ten run? Will the Packers become multi-dimensional on offense and remain stalwart on defense? These are questions a lot of us didn't think we'd be asking this late September, but weird seems to be the norm as we reach for the first apple cider of autumn.
What's next? Time Warner ending its nine-year standoff with the NFL Network? Yeah. Right. Like THAT'S gonna happen.
Oh, wait..what's this I see here on channel 1346?.