The Badgers are heading back to Orlando for the Champs Sports Bowl, and that’s just fine with me, because, in all honesty, it’s the best destination UW could have hoped for.
That’s right, Wisconsin fans should be pleased with a return trip to Orlando, even though many believed a trip to Tampa Bay for the Outback Bowl (a higher-ranked game) was a lock.
For alumni and fans that plan on going to the bowl game, I realize that a new vacation destination to watch the Badgers would be nice, but you’re not going to get much sympathy from me. If you want to take a vacation, go to a nice resort, head out to California or travel to a tropical island.
But if you’re a true Badger fan, these bowl games are still about football. If you forget about the locale and look at the teams, you’ll find that this is a great opportunity for UW.
Frankly, with the way the Big Ten season played out, I don’t understand why anyone would prefer to see the Badgers play anywhere else.
The Champs Sports Bowl against No. 14 Miami gives this team and head coach Bret Bielema a chance to validate their 2009 season, a chance the Outback Bowl or Alamo Bowl (both featuring unranked teams) would fail to provide.
I’m extremely happy with the season the Badgers have put together, and this team is clearly improved — there is no denying that. But at this point, we just don’t know how good this Wisconsin team really is.
The Badgers’ most notable win came on the road against a floundering Minnesota team who finished the year with a 6-6 record (not exactly a win for the ages, although they are a different team with Decker healthy). And each time UW faced off against a stronger opponent — Ohio Sate, Iowa or even Northwestern — it came out on the losing end.
Bielema’s team has fallen flat against good teams, and that’s putting it nicely.
So, the Badgers really don’t deserve to play in a “better bowl” if they can’t point to a single standout win. Northwestern, on the other hand, beat the Badgers on the field and it rightfully moved up. It’s that simple.
But thanks to the bowl representatives actually choosing their respective teams fairly (at least on the Big Ten side), Bucky has lucked out. The Badgers get to play the better opponent despite being chosen to play in the bowl positioned lower in the pecking order.
You see, Auburn (Northwestern’s Outback Bowl opponent) isn’t ranked, and it finished the season with a lackluster 7-5 record. Its performance against Alabama was impressive, but those in-state rivalry games are always unpredictable (see the basketball team’s most recent outing up in Green Bay).
Let’s say the Badgers were invited to the Outback Bowl and they found a way to beat Auburn. You think a win over a 7-5 Auburn team would silence UW’s doubters? I sure don’t.
A win over the 9-3 Hurricanes down in Florida? Well, that’s a completely different story.
Miami is a very strong team, a team that looked like a national title contender in the first month of the season. Yes, Jacory Harris and Co. have cooled off since, and Harris isn’t exactly a model of consistency, but the Hurricanes have produced solid victories and most importantly, they have a top-15 ranking next to their name.
That’s all anyone will care about when they sit back and analyze this game.
The Badgers will have the odds stacked against them with a talented Miami team essentially playing a home game, but for UW, this is a test they should be eager to take.
For a team that has tried to right the wrongs of last year over the course of the 2009 season, why wouldn’t the Badgers and their fans want a chance for a better performance against an ACC team down in Orlando?
Let them revisit that stadium where the 42-13 shellacking took place.
This year’s Champs Sports Bowl gives them the opportunity to redeem themselves, something they’ve admittedly tried to do all yearlong.
And as a fan, why wouldn’t you want to see your team go up against the very best opponent possible? No team cares for these pointless non-BCS trophies; they want the experience against a solid opponent, they want the best challenge possible — and that’s exactly what the Badgers are going to get.
I think UW will be ranked in the preseason top 20 next year regardless of the bowl’s outcome. And the Badgers have a chance to be an outstanding football team next year that could potentially be a Big Ten title contender, but I have a tough time getting behind that notion knowing the 2009 version still hasn’t beaten anyone.
So for the Badgers, this bowl game gives them one more chance to win a game against a ranked opponent. A victory over Miami would let everyone know the Badgers can do more than beat average football teams.
At this point, we’re all still questioning how good the 2009 Wisconsin Badgers really are, but thanks to the surprising Champs Sports Bowl berth and the challenge it presents, we’ll finally have our answer.
Max is a junior majoring in journalism. Still wish the Badgers received an invitation to the Outback Bowl or Alamo Bowl instead? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.