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Big Expectations

annual survey of Valley sports media finds optimism for Packers, Badgers, and beyond

Luc Anthony

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers

How big is football nowadays? Big enough that NBC moved the Primetime Emmys from their traditional Sunday evening timeslot to a Monday, to make room for a preseason Sunday Night Football telecast. In other words, a game that does not count in the standings was a better ratings bet than one of the main TV awards shows – and awards shows have won good ratings in recent years.

How big is the NFL nowadays? Big enough that, according to reports, the league has inquired with prospective Super Bowl halftime performers to see if they would pay the NFL for the right to get that gig. Almost nowhere in the entertainment industry, at any level, does a performer pay a host or venue. When you are the behemoth professional sports organization in America, you can attempt to reverse the model and have a reasonable chance at success.

As you guessed by the subject of this edition of Volume One, football is so big that it is the one sport to warrant its own feature section in this publication – and the one sport to warrant a full-season, multi-performance-level prediction column from me. Welcome to the Third Annual Athletic Aesthetic Football Preview, where I asked members of the Chippewa Valley sports media for their take on the professional/college/high-school season to come. The sport is infused in our culture, and while the issue of concussions could lead to a longer-term decline in popularity, that decline is past the horizon, if the decline is ever to be found.

“Decline” is not a term one would associate with the Green Bay Packers, what with a new contract for General Manager Ted Thompson and the expectation that Aaron Rodgers may be in for a standout year – which, for Rodgers, is exceptional to ponder, and our respondents think he could challenge for MVP honors. The media expects a first-place finish in the NFC North and around 11 wins, making either the second or third round of the playoffs, but coming up short of a Super Bowl trip. As is always the case with the Pack of late, health will play a large factor in the ultimate record for 2014.

We live in good times to be a football fan in Wisconsin, as not only do the Packers regularly contend for the playoffs, but the Badgers are right around the top of their division. That would be a new division this year, as the Big Ten – or B1G, as they stylize themselves – has dumped the oddity of the “Legends” and “Leaders” with the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers, and re-sorted geographically to the West and East. The West Division should be topped by Bucky, according to the Chippewa Valley media, with an easy schedule helping out. A B1G Championship Game win will not be in the cards, what with a powerful Michigan State team likely to take the conference from the East Division, so you can already book your New Year’s trip to Florida for a likely Outback or Capital One Bowl berth. And while Melvin Gordon could get some Heisman talk, keep your eye out for fellow running back Corey Clement.

‘Decline’ is not a term one would associate with the Green Bay Packers, with the expectation that Aaron Rodgers may be in for a standout year.

That statewide football success hiccups some as you descend to local college football. The media does not expect much from either UW-Eau Claire or UW-Stout, with WIAC finishes on-average around fifth or sixth place, each team getting around three or four wins. Not helping the Blugolds’ situation is a tough schedule to start the season, with six of their first seven opponents either in the D3football.com Top 25 Poll or receiving votes.  If you guessed UW-Whitewater as the WIAC favorite – again – you would be in agreement with the media members.

We have football prowess on the prep level here in the Valley, though the long wait for a state title from one of the big city schools – North and Memorial – will continue, in the media respondents’ opinions. As is often the case, Menomonie and Hudson should finish at the top of the Big Rivers Conference, while this year, look for the Old Abes in the middle of the pack and the Huskies a little behind – though both might be better than you would think. If a BRC team is going to state, it will be one of the top two finishers, and matchups will be a factor in how far they advance.

Beyond the big boys, the smaller divisions will send their share of squads to state. Stanley-Boyd is the pick to not only take the Cloverbelt Conference, but repeat as Division 5 champions; expect some success from Somerset, as well. Remember the names Ronny Ponick and Zach Turner from Stanley-Boyd, and Jaxon Brown at Regis, as being among the standout players in the area. And, as respondent Jimmie Kaska noted, the coming season is already a win in his hometown of Cadott, as they now have their football team back on the gridiron.

Your resident Vikings fan needs to chime in here: The biggest excitement for my team is the first of two seasons of possibly cold, wintry outdoor football while their new clear-roofed stadium is built on the Metrodome site. There is enough talent there to get the team perhaps a little below .500, especially once new coach Mike Zimmer starts to gel with the team and the Vikes get past a rough start to their schedule.

Whether another title for Titletown USA, an MVP or Heisman Trophy for a Wisconsin-based player, a long-awaited trip to state or the rare opportunity to watch a game while experiencing snow and windchill, there is always a big reason to follow this season of football. Clear your schedule, pay your money for tickets or TV services, and join the crowd. The big, big crowd.