They’ve made it look easy.
With tremendous pressure to win out and keep BCS hopes alive, the Wisconsin Badgers have steamrolled their final four opponents and scored at will. They’ve looked unstoppable and unflappable.
The 70-23 victory over Northwestern Saturday clinched a share of the Big Ten title and put the Badgers in prime position for a Rose Bowl berth.
UW has now surpassed the 70-point mark three times this year.
In the last four weeks, UW has scored 235 points. That’s astounding. That’s also a sign of how dominant the Badgers have been after a mid-season bye week.
So these past four weeks have been a breeze for Wisconsin and they’ve cruised to a 4-0 record in November. Badger fans have gotten used to seeing the reserves close out the game. The only real nervous moment for Badger nation was waiting for the BCS rankings to come out yesterday, where Wisconsin maintained its lead over Ohio State.
But the Badgers didn’t just roll through their entire schedule like this en route to this potential Rose Bowl berth all season long. No championship-caliber team has ever had an effortless road to glory. But in the Badgers’ case, it’s easy to forget how close this season was to being well, average.
This late-season surge is fresh in our minds, but the memory of the 2010 Badgers was strong in the months prior, when things weren’t this easy.
It’s the gut-wrenching, stress-inducing victories that we witnessed in September and October that has made this season what it is.
And as a sports fan, I had always felt that luck and intangibles play an undeniable role in the outcome of those tight games. A bounce here, a play there, a flag that wasn’t thrown; all these things can prove to be the difference.
But what I’ve come to accept is that great teams make their own luck. They put themselves in positions to have success. They make the plays when they need to.
That’s what the Badgers have done this season, absorbing that loss to Michigan State and claiming their first Big Ten title since 1999.
Sure, the blowout victories have been wildly entertaining, but the nailbiters where UW had to dig deep and find a way showed the character of this group. Those critical moments made a good season great.
It started against Arizona State in week three, when the Badgers needed a blocked extra point from Jay Valai to come away with a one-point victory.
Somehow the senior safety found a way to get his hand on the football to keep the game from going to overtime.
(A loss to the Sun Devils would have knocked UW out of this three-way tie atop the conference had everything else remained the same).
It happened again when the Buckeyes came to town and mounted a second-half comeback. The Badgers had controlled the first half, but OSU cut the lead to three in the fourth quarter. Then the Badgers reeled off an epic drive that culminated with a James White touchdown run to give UW a comfortable 10-point lead that would later be extended to 13.
And the final true test came in Iowa City, when the Badgers utilized a blocked field goal, a blocked extra point, a fake punt and a fourth down conversion on the final offensive drive to beat the Hawkeyes 31-30.
And if any one of those plays went differently, the Badgers could be heading back to Florida for a bowl game.
In hindsight, it’s clear the Badgers are a supremely talented team. They’ve earned a top-five BCS ranking.
But a made extra point could have potentially changed all of that, and that’s what makes these rare seasons so special. For one year, everything fell into place. The dream season happened.
Yet, we know talent doesn’t always equal Big Ten titles. The 2010 Iowa Hawkeyes can tell you all about that. More often than not, championships require a little something extra.
Bret Bielema’s recruiting classes have gotten progressively better, and there is reason to believe UW can consistently remain in contention for Big Ten titles. But nothing is guaranteed for a program that went 11 years without the conference crown.
In 2010, UW found that special ingredient, and you just never know when we’ll see that again.
“When you have a chance to win a Big Ten championship, that doesn’t come every year, that doesn’t necessarily come every decade,” junior defensive end J.J. Watt said after the game Saturday. “It’s a special moment, and a moment I’ll remember the rest of my life. It’s a moment my family will remember the rest of their lives, and I want to cherish every single second of it.”
Badger fans everywhere should cherish every single second.
Along with the image of fireworks and roses after a 47-point win, the image of Nate Tice rumbling into the endzone, and the image of the Badgers running the ball exclusively in the second half against Michigan, cherish the 4th-and-four against Iowa.
Cherish Shelton Johnson’s touchdown-saving tackle at the end of the first half against ASU.
Cherish J.J. Watt’s shoestring sack on Ricky Stanzi with time winding down against the Hawkeyes.
Enjoy the laughable score lines we’ve seen in November, but cherish all those details in those big games that have propelled UW to No. 5 in the BCS standings.
And prepare to enjoy the final stage of one of the greatest seasons in Wisconsin football history.
Max is a senior majoring in journalism. Think the Badgers’ dream season will continue with a win in the Rose Bowl? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org