Gary Andersen, Urban Meyer reunite at Big Ten media days
CHICAGO -- For those Wisconsin football fans that enjoy a good coaching feud, Wednesday's Big Ten media session likely provided a small level of disappointment.
While former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema once questioned Ohio State coach Urban Meyer's perceived "illegal" recruiting tactics, new Badgers coach Gary Andersen and Meyer represented a veritable kumbaya-fest. Andersen and Meyer coached together at Utah in 2004 when the Utes finished 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl, and both men expressed admiration for the other on Wednesday.
"You know, coach has been very good to me," Andersen said. "I have a lot of respect for him, the way he carries himself. We had a great run.
"I tell people all the time when they ask me about Urban Meyer, my first thing is it was great for me. We were 12-0 and won a BCS bowl, so there wasn't a lot of confrontational times in that situation for us."
Meyer, meanwhile, said that of all the hires he had ever made as a head coach, he would put Andersen in one of the top two or three hires.
"He made a direct impact on our program, and I could not be more proud of who he is as a person," Meyer said. "And I think he's at the right place, a great school with a great athletic director, and really proud of Gary Andersen."
The relationship between the two serves as a stark contrast to the icy relationship that seemed to develop between Bielema and Meyer. In February 2012, Bielema accused Meyer of "illegal" recruiting practices, presumably for trying to lure committed recruits away from schools -- a tactic that is perfectly legal.
Bielema, of course, is no stranger to finding the spotlight for his words. Just last week at the SEC media days, the now-Arkansas coach caused a stir by verbally sparring with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn about the speed of hurry-up offenses.
Andersen offered no such criticism, nor much of anything else that would cause a stir.
Ohio State is the team most likely standing in Wisconsin's way of making a third straight Big Ten championship appearance. In a poll of 26 Big Ten football beat reporters earlier in the week, Ohio State received 26 votes to be the Leaders Division champion. Wisconsin, which tied for Ohio State on one ballot, received the only other vote.
Wisconsin travels to face Ohio State on Sept. 28 in a game that very well could decide which team represents the Leaders Division in the Big Ten title game.
"That's going to be a big game," Andersen said. "It's way down the road at this point, and we're excited about the opportunity to compete."
McEvoy update: Andersen said quarterback Tanner McEvoy, who was the victim of a strong-armed robbery early Sunday morning, was "absolutely fine" but that he hoped his players could learn a lesson from the incident.
According to the police report, McEvoy was struck in the head near downtown around 1:45 a.m. McEvoy suffered minor injuries and had his wallet, watch and iPhone stolen.
"You gotta understand your surroundings," Andersen said. "Doesn't matter if you grow up in a town of 40 or grow up in a town of 4 million. There's issues that can pop up and you have to be careful.
"And still there's problems that pop up that you can't prevent. So it happened. We're going to do our best to learn from it as a football program. I know we'll do our best to reach out to as many of the student-athletes as we can to talk about it, and not just football players, to be able to be prepared to understand your surroundings.
"But Tanner will be fine. He's back with us now. Expect him to walk into camp full steam ahead and be prepared to compete for that quarterback role."
Last fall, Badgers running back Montee Ball was the victim of an assault while walking back to his apartment in the early morning hours just a few days before fall camp began. Ball suffered a concussion and missed the first part of fall practices.
“You have a little bit of a flashback,” Badgers running back James White said of the McEvoy incident. “It’s an unfortunate situation, but he’ll bounce back. He is doing fine now.”
Andersen added: "We always try to continually educate our young men on putting themselves in positions to be successful in life, understand your surroundings, whether that's the social world, the academic world or the athletic world. We'll learn from this as a team as best as we possibly can.
"Madison is an unbelievably safe town. Our kids are in great hands with great support as we know and great people in Madison. It happened. We can't deny it happened or look away from that."
Quarterback race: Andersen described Wisconsin's quarterback race as "a three-man battle" and said McEvoy, a junior college transfer, would be given the opportunity to compete for the starting job alongside Joel Stave and Curt Phillips.
"I have no timeline on it," Andersen said. "And we may jog out there the first play of the game with two quarterbacks on the field and see what happens from there. So who knows? It will be interesting."
Questions at safety: When spring practices ended in April, Wisconsin appeared to be in fine shape at the safety positions. Senior Dezmen Southward would start at one safety spot, and Reggie Mitchell or Donnell Vercher were the top two candidates to start alongside him.
But Mitchell transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, and Vercher was denied admission to the school, creating another open competition for the starting spot.
The list of candidates would appear to include Michael Trotter, who started three games last season, as well as freshmen cornerbacks T.J. Reynard and Jakarrie Washington, redshirt freshman Leo Musso and Jeff Lewis, who played running back his entire career until the spring.
Despite the uncertainty, Andersen sounded upbeat.
"We'll be OK," he said. "It's going to be interesting to see. There's four or five kids back there that are going to battle like crazy. I'm sure they've had great summers. We're about to find out how great of summers they had. That'll be the key. If Jeff really wants to come in and be a big-time safety and fight for that spot, how well did he prepare himself in June and July? I don’t know that. But we're all about to find out."
Andersen said it was important to find the right combination to allow Southward to thrive. Last season, Southward recorded 69 tackles, which ranked fourth on the team.
Broken nose: Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis sported dark marks under both eyes during Wednesday's media session and admitted it was the result of a broken nose.
Abbrederis said he broke the nose during voluntary workouts with teammates on Monday.
"I caught a pass," he said. "The DB tried to knock it away. Instead he missed the ball and hit my nose."
Who was the defensive back?
"I don’t want to tell," he said. "Everybody will get mad at him. I still caught the ball and all that. Checked, I saw blood on my arm, I just threw the ball down and walked right off. That’s football. It happens. No hard feelings."
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