The Badgers are on the brink of something great.
After two consecutive trips to Pasadena and two consecutive Rose Bowl losses, there’s a feeling surrounding this football program that it’s on the brink.
The brink of what you ask?
It’s not just a win in a BCS bowl. True, the Badgers have been on the brink of program-building Rose Bowl wins the past two years. A failed two-point conversion against the Horned Frogs of TCU in 2011 and a late spike in 2012 against Oregon have left Badger fans still wondering what could have been.
The ledge this program currently trots on is one of greatness. Wisconsin has, over the past two years, burst onto the scene as one of the best programs in college football. But regular season losses against other top teams in the conference and misery in Pasadena have served as obstacles to Bucky cementing his reputation as an undeniable force.
Winning in football — and the Big Ten conference — is never an easy task. However, it looks like it could be getting monumentally harder in the coming years. While programs like Ohio State and Michigan have been “rebuilding”, the Big Ten’s historical powers have been taking steps to restore their former glory.
Urban Meyer’s hire at Ohio State echoed throughout college football, but it rang with the greatest thunder through the Big Ten. As recruits flip-flopped on commitments after the announcement of the hire, it became clear that Meyer has the track record, offensive strategy and talent to bring Ohio State back to the glory days of Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel.
As far as Michigan goes, the end of the Rich Rodriguez era and its sour aftertaste was officially declared dead when Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke led the team to a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech in January. Returning one of the country’s top players in Denard Robinson, Michigan’s dynamic offense will be a tough task for any team in the country to contain.
But still, the Badgers have been the class of the Big Ten for two years. Beating Ohio State when they were ranked No. 1 in the country in 2010 sent shockwaves throughout the nation and even surprised some Badger fans. Perhaps that was the first step in landing then N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson. Landing Wilson had far deeper meaning than just landing an incredibly talented and successful athlete and one season of records, it also meant that something special was happening at UW.
Wilson was obviously talented. Now a starting quarterback in the NFL, Wilson had his fair share of options when he transferred colleges just a season ago. His finalists were the former national champion Auburn Tigers and Wisconsin, but he chose Wisconsin. Why? There were many reasons, but Wilson also cited that there was something special going on at Wisconsin. And when Wilson succeeded the way he did for the Badgers, especially in multiple primetime games, it showed the nation that elite players have their chance to shine in the Big Ten and in Madison.
Wilson’s performance in 2011 opened eyes and a pair of those undoubtedly belonged to new Badger starter Danny O’Brien. The fact that the Badgers were able to land another highly-touted transfer quarterback shows that the Wisconsin name is reaching further into the national collegiate football landscape than ever before.
Bielema ends every national interview he partakes in with “On Wisconsin” as his closing words, a promoting of Wisconsin as a brand. That’s something Bielema should be praised for. The head coach has obviously done a fantastic job of selling Wisconsin to players like Wilson and O’Brien, leading to the belief that someday Wisconsin will become an annual top 10 landing zone for blue-chip recruits.
But before that can happen, the Badgers must win now. With the competitiveness of Michigan and Ohio State nationally in the recruiting landscape from a conference standpoint, the Badgers must prove this season that they’re still the best. Beating Ohio State soundly at Camp Randall will do wonders for the program, but if Wisconsin truly wishes to take the next step they will have to accomplish something special in 2012.
This season’s schedule seems favorable in which to do it. Although a tough road game at Nebraska and home games against archenemies Michigan State and Ohio State will be sizable obstacles, UW should understand that they have a legitimate shot at finishing their regular season slate undefeated. The last time UW came close to doing so was in 1998 under Barry Alvarez, when the team fell to Michigan in the third-to-last game of the season.
Although dominating the regular season is a must, this season will not be labeled a success unless the Badgers come home with hardware from a BCS bowl. It’s no longer enough for Wisconsin to merely reach a big-time destination.
There was almost a sense of surprise in 2010 when the Badgers reached the Rose Bowl for the first time under Bielema. However, in 2011, the expectations rose to a potential national championship birth with the team’s failed appearance in the Rose Bowl feeling like a disappointment.
If the Badgers and Bielema hope to keep climbing the ranks of the NCAA’s elite and cement Wisconsin as the class of the Big Ten, the motto is once again BCS or bust in 2012. Only this year it’s stronger than ever before.
Nick is a fifth-year senior majoring in history and English. Agree or disagree with the column? Email him at [email protected] or shoot him a tweet @nickkorger