Football is a hindsight sport, much more than any other, and it’s all too easy.
The 30 to 40 seconds (and sometimes more) that span between first and second down plug in an open mic for armchair quarterbacks everywhere. When things go wrong, especially things that normally go right — like the Wisconsin football team thumping seemingly inferior Big Ten opponents — hindsight becomes an epidemic.
And when Wisconsin came up short against Penn State Saturday, it was a letdown that — between texts, Tweets and Facebook gripes — witnessed many people digitally shaking their heads.
Maybe redshirt sophomore quarterback Joel Stave should have stepped up in the pocket more often; offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig could have called for more run plays; someone should have been closer to that wide open Penn State receiver, someone other than head coach Gary Andersen; Wisconsin should have beaten Penn State.
It’s naturally confusing when a 6-5 team stuns a 9-2 team on the road and even more frustrating when just one regular season loss can determine so much, but Wisconsin knew this going in. They knew a slip-up at any point would tear at the level of respect they had built throughout six-straight victories. It’s the unfortunate culture of college football, but right now it’s the beauty of the beast.
After all, Goliath wouldn’t be a story without David. The permanent possibility of defeat — regardless of opponent — reigns as one of the inherent features that build the brilliance of sport.
So five days removed from the 31-24 Senior Day defeat at Camp Randall, it’s a good time to use hindsight of a much wider scale. Swift-minded hindsight reared its mean face on Saturday evening, as “BCS” became a thing of memory for UW’s seniors as opposed to something in their future. It prompted a somber media room during post-game interviews.
Players cleaned up, gathered themselves, entering and exiting the room in filing fashion, excuses and humble criticism soon bouncing off the walls and scribbled notebooks.
One of the last players to finish up with the reporters was sixth-year redshirt senior linebacker Brendan Kelly. He had just lost Senior Day for an unusual second-straight time (as a fifth-year senior, Kelly lost to Ohio State in overtime in 2012). So maybe that’s why it was easier for him to move on.
Not even an hour after the disappointing loss, Kelly kept answering questions about the letdown with words about moving forward, reestablishing an identity, and beginning preparation for the impending bowl game.
Maybe it was his six years of experience that provided optimism while his teammates sulked, or maybe it was something else.
Nonetheless, Kelly realized that a Penn State loss wasn’t the end of the world for Wisconsin. He’s right, because (in hindsight) things could be much worse.
The Badgers might not have a hot date with the Sugar Bowl like they held hopes for a week ago, but Wisconsin’s going to get their taste of the BCS, even if it’s less sweet than it once seemed.
The current collective bowl outlook has the Badgers destined for the Capital One Bowl, almost surely facing the loser of the SEC Championship between Auburn and Missouri, a pair of top 5 BCS squads at the moment, a pair of teams that ran through the toughest conference schedule in the nation with just one loss and a pair of teams that will make life very difficult for the Badgers.
So Wisconsin may have lost out on a hint of the BCS, but in the second fiddle bowl game, they’ll find a first-level opponent where a victory will quickly ease the pains of the Senior Day letdown. To be in that position is impressive in itself because things could be much worse.
Now a full year in the rear-view mirror, Bret Bielema’s departure is increasingly less worthy of conversation. And it isn’t fair to compare Wisconsin’s first Bielema-less season at 9-3 to Arkansas’ first Bielema-full season at 3-9 — all karma aside — but a year removed from Bielema as head coach is a year removed from the six-loss debacle in 2012 of assistants-in, assistants-out.
In came a gang of new coaches and the loss number was sliced in half. New faces in a new location took new players and made progress in their new conference. Progress; a key when the reins are passed from hand to hand, like they were between Barry Alvarez and Andersen. That progress is what Wisconsin fans should appreciate when they look back at this season.
It started with a quarterback battle in the fall. One of those quarterbacks ended up starting at safety. The starting kicker was asked to leave the program at season’s end. Progress has definitely been made.
Quick hindsight can be a dangerous tool, one that can drown out the impressive moments of lengthy season. It’s pretty easy to allow one slip-up to mask all that happened during the first 13 weeks of the season; just ask Alabama.
Indeed, things could be much worse.
Sean is a senior majoring in journalism and communication arts. In hindsight, are you pleased with the 2013 Wisconsin season? Let him know your thoughts with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or with a tweet to @sean_zak.