Ready for Kickoff
season outlook is pretty strong for the Packers, while Vikings, Blugolds are expected to struggle
Regardless of any given team’s realistic chances for success in a given season, all teams have a degree of hope as training camp begins. Some are picked to go all the way, some to make the playoffs, some to be “on the clock” for next year’s draft before this season is done ... but all fans have a moment to think that this year might be the year. To lose that hope before the first game is played is cruel. Then again, fate has always been cruel for Minnesota Vikings fans.
Less than 24 hours before finalizing the Fifth Annual Athletic Aesthetic Football Preview to assess the 2016 football scene, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered his season-ending knee injury with no one hitting him in a practice session. A pu pu platter of backup QB options await the Vikes in what could have been a breakout season featuring one of the prime up-and-coming teams in the NFL, with their fabulous new U.S. Bank Stadium to show off. Now, instead of being a dark horse Super Bowl team riding the legs of Adrian Peterson in likely his final go-around in purple, the Vikes may, at some point, put their hopes on ... Joel Stave. The winningest and possibly most-frustrating quarterback in Badger history may take real, meaningful snaps, and if you remember the past few years at Camp Randall, well ... let’s just say if you’re a Packers and Badgers fan, the player who made you annoyed at your college football team may lead to an easing of the path for your fave pro team.
The Athletic Aesthetic Football Preview, as always, takes into account the opinions of members of the Chippewa Valley sports media, and the opinion of the Packers is a high one after enduring a Bridgewater-esque preseason blow last year with Jordy Nelson’s ACL injury. With Nelson’s return, an NFC North title, a record around 12-4, and a run somewhere in the NFC playoffs are in order – the only question being how far they will go. Aaron Rodgers should be sublime … and do keep an eye on Blake Martinez, their fourth-round draft pick from this past spring, to be a breakout Packer.
Maybe Stave’s graduation to the pros is taking the wins away as well – or, perhaps, maybe the team is not as good this year. The consensus points to a 7-5 record for Bucky and a finish around third place in the B1G West Division. The season may feature a solid campaign from Vince Biegel and a trip to one of the lower-tier bowls like the Pinstripe or the Quick Lane. Feel the bowl excitement, with a late-December vacay to warm and sunny New York or Detroit! The main game to watch may be the regular season closer at Minnesota, with the Gophers trying to claim Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time since 2003, and a U of M team that might legitimately be better than the Badgers. Will that be enough? Watch Nov. 26.
UW-Eau Claire has a new coach this year in Dan Larson, but when you are in a rebuilding process, that means you have to do the building, and that means starting from the bottom to get there. The prediction is a last-place WIAC finish – UW-Stout being a bit ahead – though the Blugolds should score a win or two overall. Stout will maybe do a bit better, while Whitewater – shocker, I know – or Oshkosh will be your WIAC champion.
After 2015’s surprise Chi-Hi run to the Big Rivers Conference title, look for a reversion to form with Menomonie and Hudson battling for the lead in the BRC. River Falls and North will be at the bottom, with Memorial and Chippewa Falls somewhere in the middle. Hudson and perhaps Rice Lake – and speedster Kenny Bednarek – might find their way to state.
As for the rest of the prep landscape, Regis, Stanley-Boyd, and Spencer/Columbus might do a three-way tie atop the Cloverbelt, with all three contenders for a Madison trip. Other area conference champs should include Eleva-Strum in the Dairyland, Elk Mound topping the Dunn-St. Croix, and Bloomer capping the Heart O’ North.
Yet, all of these are merely predictions. Some team may – probably will – pull a shocking run to a championship. Perhaps even my Vikings. One can always hope.