Ah new years eve... the time when we celebrate the fact that the past year is finally, mercifully over. Oh sure, plenty of good things always occur during years, but, be honest, you're secretly glad that tomorrow will not just be a new day but also a new year. A fresh start. Sort of. As the year comes to the close, so do the college football seasons of many schools. A few lucky teams will play tomorrow and in the coming days, but many seasons will have ended by the time the ball drops in Times Square. Some of them were over many weeks ago - maybe even before they started (I'm looking at you, Illinois...). My own Wisconsin Badgers ended their season on a high note with a victory in the Champs Sports Bowl against Miami. Sure, the Champs Sports Bowl wasn't exactly the ideal destination for Wisconsin, but a bowl victory is a bowl victory, and if you can have it occur over a ranked "name" opponent, then that's just gravy.
I spent the last few days celebrating and gearing up for the Northwestern game on Friday, and now that I've finished, it's time to look back on the season that was and to the days ahead. Over the next few weeks I'll be writing posts in a series called "Nine Plus One Thoughts on the 2009 Badgers." The first five parts of the series will be a look back at the 2009 team: the recent bowl victory, other memorable games, and final grades on the various units and coaching staffs. Parts six through nine will be a look ahead at what's in store for the Badgers in 2010: how the team itself will look, the upcoming schedule, and brief looks at the other conference members. I'll conclude it all with a wrap-up piece that will pull what we've seen in 2009 and what's coming in 2010 together and offer a prediction on what I think the Badgers fortunes for 2010 will be.
I'll post a new part of the series every few days, so tune in periodically to catch all the updates. You can find the first part of my series, a look at the Champs Sports Bowl victory and what it means, after the jump...
Nine Plus One Thoughts on the 2009 Badgers: A bowl win! Wait... what does this mean?
Law Buck offers his final thoughts on the Rose Bowl...
Jerdogg makes a plea to the Minnesota Gophers and their coaching staff...
So the Badgers have a bowl victory and a ten win season. Excellent! The victory is made all the sweeter by the fact that almost every single football authority counted the Badgers out of this one before they even took the field. Miami was too fast, they said. The "U" was in a resurgent year and the plodding boys from the midwest would find themselves dizzied by the dazzling speed off the Hurricanes they wrote. Besides, everybody knew the Big 10 is a bad conference and how a trip by Wisconsin to a Florida bowl turned out last year.
Well, we here at The Rivalry, Esq. thought different. So much so that Rivalry contributors were the only people, outside of one other brave soul, to pick Wisconsin in the SBN Blogger college bowl pick'em group on Yahoo. We knew that the Badgers possesed surprising speed on the edges and that the pure speed of Miami wasn't going to help if your lines are getting flattened like pancakes by a pass rush or running back.
Of course, all of this knowledge didn't quell the lump that entered my stomach shortly after settling into my seat at the local sports bar where I decided to watch the game. On the big screen I saw Miami pull a trick kickoff return (who does that?? really!) that, even though ultimately not a TD, still resulted with points on the wrong side of the board. Special teams was the major Badger achilles heel all season, and I briefly wondered if I was in for a long night. Fortunately, the boys from Wisconsin would dominate the next 57 minutes and I experienced the joy of watching John Clay pile drive his way to first down after first down.
I was a bit disappointed by the fact that the Badgers failed to put the game away time and again. Garret Graham fumbled on the way to the end zone - had he not, he would have been down at about the 6 yard line. And at the end of the game, of course, the defense somehow let the 'Canes run virtually the exact same play five or six times in a row for 1st downs, with the last time resulting in a TD. The slippery field conditions then resulted in another failure of special teams to secure the inevitable on-side kick attempt. Were it not for the battered nature of Jacory Harris' arm, and a timely sack by J.J. Watt, the Badgers could have been looking at one of the most ridiculous comebacks in college bowl history.
Aside from those small quibbles, though, I thought the Badgers played a beautiful game and it was one of my highlights of this season.
Okay, so, a bowl victory over a favored "name" team. An upset that really wasn't. And a 10 win season - that's all fine and dandy, but what does it all mean?
Well, the last time Wisconsin won at least 10 games was in 2006, when they capped off a 12-1 season with a victory over Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl. They entered that bowl ranked #6 in the AP poll and came out of the season one place lower, at number 7. In the pre-season polls for the 2007 campaign, they were slotted in the same place, at number 7. Their is another season that more closely resembles this year, though - Barry Alvarez's final season in 2005.
In that season, the Badgers charged out to a 5-0 record before dropping a game to Northwestern. End of season losses to PSU and Iowa bought them a ticket to the Capital One Bowl against a 9-3 Auburn team ranked number 7 in the country. The Badgers were 10.5 underdogs going into the Capital One Bowl and were ranked at #21. Sound familiar? With a 24-10 win the Badgers ended the season at 10-3 and moved up six spots to #15. Strangely, despite this rise, the pre-season 2006 rankings were Badgerless. Perhaps due to the coaching change, the Badgers came in at about #33 in the AP powl prior to the start of that season.
So, what, if anything does this suggest for the end of the 2009 season and the 2010 season? Well, rankings wise, it looks like the Badgers victory over Miami will bump them up a bit in the final rankings, but probably not as high as #15. I would expect to see them inside #20... but 15 or higher would be a surprise. Judging by the pre-season 2006 and 2007 rankings, Wisconsin could end up all over the place. However, depending on the performances of the other bowl teams, it would not be shocking if they ended up inside the top 15 in the pre-season.
The teams from 2005 and 2006 also indicate that Wisconsin may be looking towards a bright future. Despite losing key players like tight end Owen Daniels and running back Brian Calhoun to the 2006 NFL Draft, the Badgers managed to have an even better followup season the year after their bowl win.
I don't know if the Badger win will do much to rehabilitate the reputation of the Big 10 as a conference, as that largely depends on what the rest of the bowl bound schools do. Minnesota lost its bowl game to Iowa State 14-13, but we have five more schools ready to tee-off. I do know that the bowl victory won't hurt the Badgers in terms of national reputation, but it remains to be seen if they can gain significantly from it. I expect, though, to hear a lot more about them next fall and I highly doubt that Mark May will make the mistake of pegging them for only 3 or 4 wins again. Don't make the Badger angry, or he'll steal your bowl game. And maybe your cheese too.
With that thought, I'll conclude this part of the series. Check back in a few days for Part 2, as I take a look back to the memorable games and moments of the 2009 season that was...
On to part two, On to the season retrospective, and ON WISCONSIN!!!