I have a friend who used to pull the same trick whenever he was entertaining select groups of girls we’ll just call the “varsity squads.”

It wasn’t exactly that creative or ingenious, but it was effective and always worked without fail.

He took an empty Level Vodka bottle he splurged on months — maybe even years — before and just re-filled it with Siberian Ice, Fleischmann’s or whatever our normal, crappy vodka of choice was that week.

He passed it off as Level to the girls, and they just drank it up. They loved the stuff.

They’d come in wearing heels and too much makeup and always — always — say something along the lines of, “Oh my god! I love Level. I just can’t stand that piss water people usually have, like Fleischman’s. … My place or yours?”

So, what exactly does this have to do with the 2006 University of Wisconsin football team?

Well, the Wisconsin schedule-makers have been filling their Level stadium and pitting their Level football teams against the college football equivalent of Siberian Ice and Fleischmann’s for years.

And, just like the frat boy vodka swap, the end result always appears to be much better than it actually is.

Now before I delve any deeper, let me just emphasize that I in no way intend to take away from what this 2006 Badger squad accomplished.

A 12-1 record is no joke. Following the examples of Joe Thomas, Mark Zalewski and the rest of the veteran leadership, this young team that nobody expected anything from stepped up. They played hard week in and week out, earning each and every victory.

The season’s culminating win against Arkansas in the bowl-formerly-known-as-the Citrus Bowl was a fitting end for this team: An ugly game won on pure grit and determination.

I just wish the UW Athletic Department gave them a better opportunity to show off what they were capable of during the regular season.

This is a team that flew under the radar for most of the year, if only because while Ohio State was playing Texas, and Michigan was duking it out with Touchdown Jesus (Notre Dame), Wisconsin faced the dregs of college football.

The Badgers’ non-conference opponents went a combined 14-33 this season, and not one — not even the I-AA powerhouse that is Western Illinois — finished with a winning record.

Bowling Green? San Diego State? Buffalo?

When you’re fighting for respect, you don’t do it by playing the J.V. and freshman squads — you go after the varsity.

Now, to be fair, it would not have actually made a lick of difference if Wisconsin played Western Illinois or USC or even Florida Sept. 9.

Whether they won or lost, the Badgers still would have ended up in third place in the Big Ten and playing the Razorbacks in the Capital One bowl for half the $9.5 million payout. The Badgers had no shot at a BCS game because they lost to Michigan and finished behind both them and Ohio State in the BCS standings. The six major conferences can only send a maximum of two representatives to those bowls.

But what UW would have earned by playing a higher profile team that weekend is the national spotlight and a shot at the respect they were searching for all season.

I honestly don’t see a downside to scheduling one tough out-of-conference opponent every year.

It gets the fans excited, the recruits watching and the respect from poll voters.

If they lose? So what. With most of the Big Ten stuck in a down cycle, Wisconsin beats up on Illinois and Indiana and plays in either the Capital One or Outback Bowl.

And if they win? The senile ex-coaches and meathead ex-jocks on Disney’s stepchild station will blow a gasket hyping up our team, and you can bet your varsity squads they’re on the path to the BCS and a piece of the $17 million payouts.

I just don’t understand what Wisconsin’s schedule makers are so afraid of. Why not do like Frank the Tank and do one every year?

Ultimately, the people who lose the most are the players. They deserve a shot to go against the best and showcase their skills on the national stage.

If the last two bowl games proved anything, it’s that the Badgers can play with the big dogs. So, schedule a real game instead of putting your tail between your legs and running away to Bowling Green.

Between now and this time in 2009, Ohio State will have gone up against USC, Michigan State against Cal, and Penn State and Michigan will have continued their rivalry series with Notre Dame.

The best teams UW is scheduled to play during that time are Washington State and Fresno State.

But there are still some open dates left.

I’m tired of people treating Wisconsin like the Fleischmann’s in the Level bottle. If the Badgers are better than that, UW should go ahead and prove it.

Andriy is the news editor of The Badger Herald and is a senior majoring in journalism and mass communications. Any questions or comments can be sent to [email protected]