Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Stakes as high as ever for UW

The Wisconsin Badgers have played in some pretty big games over the last decade. Any dope with a TV and an IQ higher than a Packer fan can tell you that.

They’ve played in three Rose Bowls, one Outback Bowl, one Hall of Fame Bowl, one Copper Bowl, one Sun Bowl, three games for the Big Ten championship and a boatload of stomach turning affairs with the Big Ten’s perennial powerhouses.

They’ve been ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation and competed under the play by play of Keith Jackson or Brent Musberger as many times as any other team in the conference.


On several occasions they’ve been the marked team on such schedules as Michigan and Ohio State and the football success at this school has been so superfluous that Czar Alvarez has become more powerful in this city than the governor himself.

But perhaps the most crucial moment of the last 10 years, the defining moment for a program that has prided itself on its pigskin domination lies in Saturday’s border battle with the cross-river rivals from Minnesota. Just a thought, though.

The program could essentially taper off in two completely different directions hinging on the outcome of Saturday’s pivotal game.

If the Badgers win they secure, once again, another winning season and earn an invite to one of three different bowls remaining Big Ten teams. And although this bowl would be nothing more than a corporate promotion and charitable way of rewarding Wisconsin for losing six of their final eight games, it would still be a bowl.

It wouldn’t fool anyone in Madison as to the direction that this year’s football team has headed, but it would still mean something.

It would be an extra month of practice, it would be a chance for the university to once again express enthusiasm for the football team and it would be an opportunity for a young team with little bowl experience to bask in the comforts of New Year’s away from their respective residences.

The inexperienced 1997 Badger squad rallied to win eight games at the culmination of their schedule and earned a trip to the Outback Bowl, a trip which eventually paved the way for consecutive trips to Pasadena.

A bowl appearance would catapult Wisconsin back onto the platform of blue-chip recruiting and a confident, more experienced Wisconsin squad would come storming back into the 2003 season. Possibly even with Lee Evans now.

The bowl would lay a foundation for the young returning team to build on and simply echo to the national spectrum that last year’s absence was simply an aberration.

A Badger loss, however, would all but terminate the football team Wisconsin fans have come to grasp since the early 1990’s. A loss would deliver the knockout punch to back-to-back losing seasons and consecutive bowless years.

The way the bowl system is set up today, only teams like Indiana and Northwestern fail to qualify for a holiday vacation in back to back seasons.

Wisconsin would have to accept its new placement in the Big Ten and would be forced with the daunting task of reestablishing their sense of worth in one of the country’s most competitive conferences.

Three years removed from consecutive Rose Bowls and a preseason No. 5 ranking, and already the Badgers would be down to their last straw of retaining legitimacy in the once prevalent cardinal and white.

Not that the program would completely fall off the face of the earth if they lose Saturday but a lot would have to be answered for if Wisconsin fails to qualify for one of the seven bowl games allotted to the Big Ten conference.

Given that Wisconsin is just 4-11 in their last 15 Big Ten games, they are teetering on the verge of becoming a below average team and rapidly approaching the ranks and file of the conference’s athletically incompetent.

And as insignificant as a 2-6 conference record and charitable bowl appearance may be, it would at the very least to provide the team and university with a visual, tangible memento for the program to grasp.

Falling from the pedestal of the elite can happen so quickly in college football that the overwhelming shock of it can haunt a team for years. And the window for climbing back into the upper class of the NCAA is so tight that it often takes a complete overhaul of the program to fit back in.

Alvarez himself has admitted that he’s never viewed Wisconsin as one of the constant elites, a team that “starts the season with nine wins and goes from there,” but over the last decade that mindset has certainly been branded into the Badger faithful.

Winning and bowl games have become a staple to the Madison community and back to back seasons without either could completely altar the complexion of how this often prolific program is perceived.

Saturday’s outcome will be the difference in a disappointing year with a mediocre bowl and consecutive losing seasons and a program just a few steps shy of losing legitimacy.

It’s a game of character, tradition and for something much greater than the Paul Bunyon Ax.

Saturday’s game will send the Badgers in one of two directions. And it’s entirely in their control.

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