Jan 1, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Gary Andersen during the second half of the Capital One Bowl against the South Carolina Gamecocks held at the Florida Citrus Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
Enrollment: 42,595 undergrad
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI
When They Play Terps: October 25 at Madison, 11:25 CT
Beer. Brats. Cheese. Before you even begin to dive into the history of
Wisconsin, you have to cede those three things: beer, brats, and cheese. Wisconsin does all three of those things better than you do, and these are facts of life. Even if you hate them for creating Leinie’s Summer Shandy, Milwaukee’s Best, or Schlitz, they still pump out better beer (craft or otherwise) than any place in America. And for that they’re to be commended.
But onto football, where it’s hard to hate them because the Badgers aren’t so great that they’re arrogant (as if anything in Wisconsin could be) but not so bad that they’re laughable. One of the original members of the Big Ten, Wisconsin sits right alongside every other school in the Big Ten; that is to say, behind Ohio State and Michigan. With 652 wins all-time, they’re 31st in all of college football.
But rather than bore you with ancient history when Wisconsin was good for a little while (they won the first ever Big Ten championship in 1896, and conference titles in 1897 and 1901), we’ll skip to the good stuff: the Barry Alvarez era.
Alvarez started at Wisconsin in 1990 (aka the same year Bobby Ross took Georgia Tech to their fourth national championship) after the Badgers had gone through a 2-9 season the year prior and 27 straight seasons of four or more losses. You have to understand, that 27-year span was a disaster. They finished in the top three only one time during that time frame, and ended up eighth or worse 11 times. They weren’t good, and after Alvarez first season, they were even worse; he guided them to a 1-10 season where they lost every B1G game and went on a fancy little nine game losing streak.
But Alvarez was a coach on Lou Holtz famed Notre Dame teams back in the late 80’s, and in just his fourth year at the helm after coaching three straight losing seasons, Wisconsin blew up. 10-1-1 with a loss only to a lowly Minnesota Gophers squad in a rivalry game. And Alvarez wasn’t coaching up supremely talented guys, either; the ’93 Badgers produced a total of two NFL draft picks. But Wisconsin emerged as a perennial contender under Alvarez. He finished his career there 118-74-4 overall with 3 Big Ten championships and two Big Ten Coach of the Year awards.
Alvarez won another two Rose Bowls in 1998 and 1999, but he ushered in what has become the patented Wisky offense: three yards and a cloud of dust. Fatso Ron Dayne ran the ball for them back then, Cecil Martin blocked upfield for him, and Casey Rabach created holes. The Wisconsin O created by Alvarez is, more or less, the same Wisconsin you see today where they put walruses on the frontline and run, run, run.
Even when Bret Bielema took over, it was simply much of the same. Bielema was hand picked by Alvarez to run the same offense. Everyone knows what Bielema did: three straight Rose Bowl championships from 2010 to 2012. That’s something no one expected, ever. It’s something no one had even done before. Sure, he had to borrow an ACC QB in Russell Wilson to accomplish it and sure, Ohio State had to be put on a bowl ban for it to happen. But there’s no denying that Bielema and his run heavy offense every year was damn effective. He was going to be the next great coach at Wisky…until he left for a better job.
That’s probably good anyway, because Wisky lost every single one of those Rose Bowls, and five of their seven bowl games under Bielema. And now they’re in the Gary Andersen era, where he went 9-4 in his first season and ran…well, he ran the ball because that’s what they do at Wisconsin.
Beer, brats, Barry Alvarez, Badgers, and cheese. That’s Wisconsin for ya.
Why they could be good:
Andersen inherited a monster of a team last season that was assembled by his predecessor entirely. A backfield comprised of two Heisman candidate runners can make any coach look decent, and they did exactly that. But Wisconsin barely missed a beat under new management, and that’s impressive in its own right.
But why could they be good? Melvin Gordon is back, and that’s really all you need to be competitive. Gordon was a top rusher in the nation last year, and he’ll allow Wisconsin to hold onto the ball to play their ground-and-pound style of football. More importantly, he’ll keep the ball on the field, meaning Wisconsin’s likely terrible D can stay off it.
And if you do have to return only five starters on offense from last year’s team, you should thank the stars that four of them are on the offensive line. The Badgers are going to have one of the best lines in the country again next year, and with that should get some better play at both wideout and quarterback this year. Throw in the fact that they play in the Big Ten – West which is basically the NBA’s East, and their flaws are simply more understated than other programs.
Why they could be bad:
They lose 26 starters and Andersen was using Bret Bielema’s players last year. Look, everyone’s thinking it I’m just saying it: I’m skeptical about Andersen on his own with what still aren’t his players, but this time they’re not even tested. We’ve seen this story historically play itself out so many times. A great coach leaves a program in good shape and it only takes a couple years for the new staff to screw it up. Or adjust.
Some programs don’t miss a beat, some do. Wisconsin feels like it’s due for a hit here, and while no other team in the West is particularly daunting, neither are the Badgers. Nebraska returns a few more players, and if they can get better play at quarterback then they should surprise people and win the West. But again, the West is…not great.
Still, Wisconsin is going to need to really, really come together fast and have players emerge (which is business as usual for them) quickly to compete.
Prediction: 9 wins
Their schedule is kind of a joke, but they’re going to slip up somewhere. LSU, Nebraska, and at Iowa could all be losses.