Did you find yourself waiting for the BCS standings to come out Sunday night?

Are you scavenging through the interwebs trying to find every scenario that ends with you drinking in sunny California on New Years Day? Are you already weighing which other BCS bowl would be most appealing if the Badgers get an at-large bid?

Don’t be shy; I bet you have done at least one of those things.

And why not? Fingers crossed, the Badgers should finish the regular season 11-1, with a possible share of the Big Ten title. Those big wins over Ohio State and Iowa have the pundits guessing UW will be heading south or west come January 1.

A lot was expected of this Wisconsin team and so far, a lot has been delivered. I never imagined realistically UW would dominate Ohio State and then win in Iowa City. But it happened, and Wisconsin is No. 9 in the BCS standings, the highest of any Big Ten team.

So what’s wrong with the picture?

Nothing – and that’s what’s weird.

When’s the last time you remember actually caring when the BCS standings were revealed each week? For me, it was… well, before I was a student here.

Let’s go back the last four or five years and see where Wisconsin sat after playing four conference games.

In 2009, the Badgers were just 2-2 to begin Big Ten play, with losses to OSU and UI eliminating any hopes of a championship. The year before, Wisconsin dropped consecutive games to Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa to start 0-4 in the conference, almost eliminating any chance the Badgers would make it to a bowl game, let alone the Grandaddy of Them All. 2007, another 2-2 start, another non-BCS bowl. Even going 3-1 to begin the 2006 Big Ten schedule wasn’t enough, as the Wolverines and Buckeyes were locked in a battle atop the polls that the Badgers couldn’t overcome.

So realistically, nobody who cares about Wisconsin football has cared about the BCS standings since the 2006 season. Recently, by the time the standings were released, UW had already dug a grave for its BCS hopes.
There have been so many seasons beginning with big expectations, and in three out of the last five years, the Badgers crapped the bed before they even got to see where they stood in comparison to the nation’s other teams.

Even the 2006 season is kind of moot, because UW lost its only marquee matchup to Michigan and had too much ground to try to make up in the polls after starting unranked. Going 11-1 and ending up in the Capital One Bowl is disappointing, unless you’re 11-1 and playing a Boise State-like schedule.

So really, this is the only season since the Badgers’ last trip to the Rose Bowl that they’ve managed to balance expectations with execution on the field. It’s great. It’s exciting.

It’s different.

When was the last time Badger fans got to meaningfully watch the scoreboard in November? Bret Bielema could get his chance to sit at the grown ups table this bowl season.

And this should just be the beginning.

The stage is set for UW to get to a BCS bowl for the first time in Bielema’s tenure. Anything less would be a disappointment, a setback in a program that looks like it’s ready to “get over the hump,” so to speak, to go from wannabe contender to actual contender on a yearly basis.

UW got a signature, earth-shaking win at home last month, with some of its top potential recruits in attendance. Then it got an even better win on the road the following week. Then the assistants got to go recruiting.

Wisconsin likely won’t be challenging OSU and PSU for the top recruiting classes in the conference. But seasons like this only help recruiting, which only helps your eventual on-field product.

In the coming years, there’s no reason UW shouldn’t challenge OSU for the divisional crown every single season. The Badgers have played the Buckeyes tough for the last decade, and there’s no reason that should change.

As for Penn State, who knows how the situation in Happy Valley plays out? When will JoePa retire? How does the transition after he retires go? Consider that program in a state of flux for a year or two.

This truly seems to be the year Wisconsin finally becomes a perennial Big Ten power. The Badgers should be on (as much as they ever will be) even ground with the other heavyweights in the conference.

A few weeks ago, I said to savor the experience when Ohio State came to town. This excitement, this anticipation of each release of the latest BCS standings? Don’t savor it; from now on, you should be able to expect it, year in and year out.

Adam is a senior majoring in journalism. Is he too early to proclaim UW made the jump to the big time? Email him at [email protected] or tweet at him @adamjsholt

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