Wisconsin fans are in a weird situation. For the first time since Allan Evridge was handing off snaps to P.J. Hill, things just don’t feel right about University of Wisconsin football.
For some reason (actually many reasons, as pointed out by my fellow Herald columnists this week) the 2012 football team just cannot quite match the lofty expectations we all thought was their destiny.
Two consecutive trips to Pasadena, praise from around the country, a Heisman candidate and a Leaders Division that seemed all but won proved to be the perfect recipe for deception.
We had all been tricked. Tricked into thinking Wisconsin was among the nation’s elite; tricked into thinking a slightly successful program could replace six assistant coaches without skipping a beat; tricked into thinking this Rose Bowl thing was just an annual trip that Badger athletes, coaches, students and fans made to southern California. How silly.
It has only been five weeks of college football, and the Badgers have fallen from Big Ten Championship Game shoe-in to a state of desperate hopes for a rally to top the “mighty” Purdue Boilermakers.
For a Wisconsinite like myself who has grown up through the tribulations of the aforementioned Everidge and Dustin Sherer and defenses that couldn’t hope to keep Ohio State out of the end zone, the current condition of Wisconsin football isn’t crushing. It was inevitable the Badgers would at some point return to their former state of mediocrity. Russell Wilson delayed the process for one season.
The remainder of the 2012 season looks bleak, and it isn’t even halfway over. Although a trip to Indianapolis and a pending trip to Pasadena are not out of reach, the continued struggles of the football team lead me to think the Wisconsin basketball season could not get here any quicker.
Even though the initial outlook may not be the absolute brightest or rival the high ranking seen at the start of 2011, there is plenty of excitement surrounding the potential of this year’s squad.
The Badgers return five of their six best players from a season ago and provide a much more balanced lineup than last season. Wisconsin doesn’t have a go-to player like it did in 2011 with Mr. Do-it-all Jordan Taylor, but this team likely won’t need a player like Taylor in order to be successful.
Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Mike Brusewitz will take a majority of the minutes for the Badgers, but all of them will be happy to share a majority of the shots. In Bo Ryan’s methodical, sometimes painfully systematic Swing offense, a balance of players on the floor is always better than one amazing talent and four role players.
At times last year, that one-and-four arrangement found Taylor dribbling and dribbling and dribbling before electing for a long three-point try. It is exactly how Wisconsin eventually ended its season in a Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse. I’ll be optimistic in saying that situation will not arise this season.
There will be plenty of viable threats within the Badgers’ offense and no single player defenses will be able to key on. Neither Brust nor Gasser will be expected to carry the tremendous load Taylor had as a facilitator, but also Evans and Berggren won’t be expected to command the ball while in the post.
In addition to the core of returning players, the Badgers are welcoming Ryan’s most impressive recruit in recent memory, forward Sam Dekker. Dekker — ranked as the No. 15 recruit on Scout.com and No. 13 by Rivals.com — is Ryan’s biggest recruit since Brian Butch in 2003.
Even though freshmen rarely see the floor with consistency under Ryan, Dekker is probably the exception to that rule. Dekker has already ignited the Kohl Center once before even donning a Badger jersey. Dekker’s 40-point performance and game-winning shot in the WIAA Division 5 Boys Basketball State Championship game have paved the way for an illustrious career for the Sheboygan native.
If Badger fans can’t get excited about Dekker’s arrival, then go ahead, keep holding out hope for Pasadena.
When the hallowed quarterback Wilson was on campus last year, enthusiasm was directed toward Camp Randall instead of the Kohl Center, and Wisconsin basketball generated very little buzz until the December matchup with No. 5 North Carolina. I know it is only the beginning of October, but I can’t wait to see the Badgers take the floor and run over the lowly Titans of UW-Oshkosh.
We are just over one month away from that matchup, and yet the football team still garners all the attention on campus. While new questions ascend each week following debatable decisions from head coach Bret Bielema each weekend, anticipation for the basketball team should rise as well.
Right now, the football team is stuck in the shadows of past seasons and showing few signs of releasing itself from that agonizing association. Wisconsin basketball consistently makes up for lack of expectations each year. The Badgers will likely do it again this year. It might seem early, but it’s already time to hop on board with Wisconsin basketball.
Sean is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. Still holding out hope for the football team, or is it time to turn to basketball? Email him your comments at [email protected] or tweet at him @sean_zak.