Imagine you’re America’s next great entrepreneur. You have this kickass product, this powerhouse new idea that’s going to change everything. You’re Mark Zuckerberg before “The Social Network” butchered your reputation, when facebook was still The Facebook.
Imagine all that, except imagine that nobody knows it. Imagine all that, except you happen to be located in an area of the country that doesn’t get all the attention it deserves, especially in the sporting world. When you break through, though, all those exceptions will be moot – people will know you and your product, and they will know exactly where you are and what you’re all about.
Keeping with the movie theme, Wisconsin’s currently buzzing about “Vindication: Barry, Bret and the Badgers.” Saturday’s 48-28 defeat of the Michigan Wolverines in the Big House has put Wisconsin a game away from its first Big Ten title since 1999, but it’s also given the product known as “Wisconsin Football” some vindication.
Really, it’s not just about the Michigan game. It’s about this whole season. This year’s Badgers began with a 41-21 win in the desert at UNLV that was anything but a complete effort. Then, they stunningly laid an egg in East Lansing against Michigan State in what has been their only loss of the season. Since then, Wisconsin has toppled then-No. 1 Ohio State on that magical night in Camp Randall and went on the road the very next week and endured the gut-check of all gut-checks at Iowa.
After that win over the Hawkeyes, the Badgers hit the beast mode button and won their next three games by a combined 165-61. Yes, Purdue, Indiana and Michigan aren’t exactly stout competition. But make no mistake, Wisconsin’s found some vindication since that Oct. 2 stunner against Michigan State.
In these past three games, the Badgers have faced a variety of spread offenses, college football’s biggest trend of the past few years. You’ve heard all the analogies before, with the spread being the Ferraris and Lamborghinis and power running teams being some old Volkswagen bus or something.
The past year or so especially has seen a significant number of offenses move to a spread, as well as some of the best spread offenses college football has ever seen. Michigan, for instance, has scored at least 65 points twice this season and is college football’s fifth-ranked offense.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, has stuck to its guns and continued to sell its own brand of football, Wisconsin Football. The Badgers three running backs – John Clay, Montee Ball and James White – each have at least an outside shot at 1,000 yards, and the offensive line has endured quite a few injuries to live up to every bit of its preseason hype.
Wisconsin Football is working, and if you needed any more proof than the seventh-best 40.9 points per game and 12th-best 239.91 rushing yards per game, consider this: on the day he was moved to third on UW’s RB depth chart because of his recent injury and inactivity, Clay was named one of the three finalist for the Doak Walker Award. Yes, the NCAA’s 39th-leading rusher is a finalist for the award given to the nation’s best running back.
That’s respect, and it’s Wisconsin Football. No doubt, Clay’s a tremendous back. 6-foot-1, 255 lbs. with a rare blend of power and agility, there’s not a team in the nation that wouldn’t like to have No. 32 on their team. Everyone knows Wisconsin has always run the football well and that it’s their defining characteristic.
Yet, this year, Wisconsin Football is making people really open their eyes. People noticed when the Badgers dropped 70 on FCS squad Austin Peay in Week Four, but their jaws dropped when it rang up 83 on Indiana. Many are still on the floor after Saturday’s 357-yard, six-touchdown rushing effort.
What’s vindicating Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema and the Badgers and their faith in Wisconsin Football is the identity that’s being forged. For the past decade, Wisconsin was consistently good, but not great. The country always knew the Badgers’ identity was their running game, but now, in 2010, Wisconsin’s identity is something more powerful.
Power running teams typically look to their quarterback to be a game manager, throw the ball 15-20 times a game and not mess anything up. Make no mistake; Scott Tolzien is nothing close to a gunslinger. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, and he’s averaged just over 21 attempts per game in 26 career games. He’s never even passed for 300 yards.
But this year, Tolzien has shown something that simple game manager types just don’t. Call it a certain kind of mettle, if you will, or maybe just a winning tendency, but the Badgers’ fifth-year signal caller has made some big throws that would test any of the nation’s top quarterbacks.
So while people have always known the kind of football Wisconsin plays, they’re learning what Wisconsin Football really is this season. Yes, it’s power running, time and time again, behind the nation’s biggest and most talented offensive line. But it’s also efficient and smart.
As head coach, Bielema has been getting the attention and a lot of the credit lately for changing his own attitude and transforming the team’s, but don’t forget the vindication that Alvarez and the rest of UW must be feeling as well. First as a head coach and then as athletic director, Alvarez has always known better than anyone what he wants Wisconsin Football to be. Finally, everyone else now knows as well.
Mike is a junior majoring in journalism and communication. Should Barry, Bret and the Badgers feel vindicated? Let him know at [email protected] and follow him on twitter @mikefiammetta.