Dear Nebraska, Welcome to the Big Ten...From Wisconsin

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Dear Nebraska,

Welcome to the Big Ten! You may now take your seat at the back of the classroom. Given that you boast Mike Rozier and Lawrence Philips among your alumni, it seems like you’re already well acquainted with our conference’s time-honored tradition (of producing running backs that fail at the next level).

 

Now that you’re beyond that strange Bill Callahan era (West Coast? At Nebraska? That makes about as much sense as a RichRod offense and a 3-3-5 defense at Michigan…) you should be ready to fit right into the culture of the conference: defense and smash-mouth football. Setting up an annual Friday battle for Corn Supremacy tells me you’re already getting it.

Some things you should know about those Wisconsin Badgers:

In Barry (and Pat Richter) We Trust

If in 1991 someone told me that over the next twenty years Wisconsin would rack up four conference titles and a 3-1 record in Rose Bowls, I would have laughed and then gone back to my Tiger Handheld Bo Jackson game. Barry Alvarez took over a moribund, bottom-feeding program in 1990. His autobiography (which, like most sports books, isn’t particularly eloquent…) describes the decrepit state of Wisconsin football upon his arrival in 1990. Basically, the DIII schools in Wisconsin benefited the most from his arrival, as it meant they had less competition for recruits. Let that sink in for a minute. Yet within a few years Wisconsin was celebrating its first ever victory in Pasadena.

 

With Pat Richter as the AD, Wisconsin’s entire athletic program picked up. While hockey was already a powerhouse, Wisconsin is a now a perennial Dark Horse contender in football, perpetual thorn in the side of OhioState, NCAA-tourney lock in basketball, and owns the conference in sports that generate neither revenue nor interest.

 

Public Ivy with internationally-recognized faculty? Check. Top party school in the world? Check. First-class athletics? Check. No wonder we’re held in such high regard.

 

Trends

In any given year, you can expect Wisconsin football to play out like this:

-          We don’t lose at home. Except to Iowa. And everyone else in 2008.

-          We own Minnesota. Against Glen Mason. Against Tim Brewster. Most probably against whomever their coach is now. At the Metrodome. At TCF. At CampRandall. Want to mix it up in Saskatchewan with CFL rules? We’re game. Paul Bunyan’s axe simply doesn’t leave Madison.

-          We whip Northwestern and MichiganState at home. And by ‘whip,’ I really mean bludgeon. With a blunt object to the forehead. Then drop squeakers to them at their places.

-          As of 2004 we have no problems with anyone in the state of Indiana. Except for Notre Dame’s refusal to join the conference.

-          Going to PennState isn’t our forte.

-          We’ll play poorly against one really bad team. In weaker seasons, we lose. In better years we prevail, like the game at Purdue this last year.

 

Wisconsin’s pretty much good for a 5-3 conference record and a bowl game in Florida every year. But the maturation of current coach Bret Bielema has us guardedly optimistic. With better recruiting in Florida and the rest of the Midwest (particularly the Chicago area), there’s reason to think BCS trips might come along more than once a decade.

 

Camp Randall, Wisconsin Fans, and the Game Day Experience

People from Wisconsin are generally lauded as some of the nicest, laidback people in the US. Many of us though, particularly those who grew up upwind from that stink a little ways to the south, have a little bit of a chip on our shoulders. Comes from a lifetime of having jackasses with "Land of Lincoln" plates driving like maniacs to get to our outlet malls, and then looking down their noses at us "peasants." As if we didn’t get the Bozo Show on WGN while growing up… Which made this all the much sweeter.

 

For these reasons and others, Wisconsinites are very proud of where they come from. So, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when we take an epithet and turn it into a source of pride. And, understandably, we support our teams unconditionally. Except the Bucks. So, don’t be shocked if you see a whole bunch of cardinal and white or cheeseheads wherever this team travels.

 

Arguably the connection goes a little deeper. As I suspect is the case for other schools in the conference, most of the team comes from in-state. Guys who played in the same conferences we did (Southeast, Classic 8, Metro, etc.) dot the roster. So there’s a feeling they represent not just the university, but our high schools, our communities, and the entire state. As an example, until the day I die I’ll always be able to brag that in high school I did what Auburn couldn’t do: tackle #2 in white. All of which makes me more proud when another guy from my conference wins Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. For the average Wisconsinite, the team is anything but an abstraction. Which is why we want that much more for them to be successful.

Most of the fans are homegrown, as native Sconnies form by far and away the largest number of students at UW. But some of the more passionate fans are actually from Minnesota. Why? The great states of Minnesota and Wisconsin have a tuition reciprocity agreement, which ensures lots of Minnesotans in Wisconsin universities, and loads of Wisconsinites in Minnesota institutes of higher learning. When it comes to the two flagship universities (TwinCities and Madison), though, Minnesota sends more than it receives. And most of the kids who come to Madison are merely following their parents’ footsteps. They grow up supporting Bucky in enemy territory. Not too shocking they cheer with a bit of an edge.

CampRandall has always been one big, raucous, open-air bierhaus. A football team that is actually good, combined with a drunk yet well organized student section imbues the stadium with an intimidating home field advantage. The student section typically files into the stadium a few minutes late, but it’s hard to get to the stadium for an 11am kickoff when you need to get smashed first.

The student section is probably the only group of people in the state who aren’t nice. And it’s only for those three-hour blocks on Saturday. Dumb enough to wear opposition colors in the student section? You’ll be serenaded by a chorus of "a$$hole" chants. One of your players needs medical attention? "Shoot ‘em like a horse" will rain down from the bleachers.

On game day the team sprints out to the fight song, "On Wisconsin!" Right before the opening kick and after touchdowns the band plays "Hot Time." During the game we polka to "Bud" and tear up to "Varsity." And we do it all over again after the game.

And you might be aware that we like to get down between the third and fourth quarters.

 

Why You’re Losing Your Big Ten Opener

As mentioned above, Bucky doesn’t lose at home. While I respect Bo Pelini, let’s see how his defense does against a power running team. Nebraska has played (and played well) against a bunch of passing teams in the Big 12.

Wisconsin returns the entire right side of its offensive line, but must replace two all-Americans on the left (Carimi and Moffit). History tells us we’ll be fine. We’ve also got two tough running backs in Montee Ball and James White. And Zach Brown comes back. The wide receivers are good, and we always seem to produce NFL-quality tight ends. Bielema seems to have the defense playing well.

 

Why You’ve Got a Chance

For some reason we like to play our cornerbacks ten yards off the ball. Even on third-and-four. Our linebackers are built to play downhill, meaning they’re not great in pass coverage, and everyone not named Chris Borland struggles at getting home on the blitz. Our best receiver, Nick Toon (son of former NY Jet Al Toon), will put on a move that shows why NFL scouts like him, and then promptly drop the ball. Like he did on the opening drive of a loss I’m still not over. And sometimes OC Paul Chryst, who has done a good job of introducing the forward pass to Wisconsin’s offensive arsenal, mistakes his quarterback for Aaron Rodgers and calls a pass on what seems like every single play of the third quarter. Even when the other team has been getting gashed by the run all game long. Yeah, still not over that one.

 

More importantly, as noted we’re replacing two all-Americans on the offensive line, a senior quarterback, and a handful of playmakers on defense.

 

(We’ll get into specifics as we get closer to the Spring Game.)

 

Coming to Madison? Your Guide to the Gem of the Midwest

Madison is maybe the best college town in the US. The university is located on an isthmus, and is connected to the Capitol by

State Street
. State Street is a pedestrian-only street that literally links the Capitol to Memorial Library, and is full of shops, restaurants, and bars.

 

Most of the bars on State attract the undergraduate crowd. State Street Brats is where most people gather to watch a game, and where you’re most likely to find an ESPN camera that features Wisconsin fans. If you’re feeling corporate, you can go to the Buffalo Wild Wings up the street. Plaza Burger is a Madison staple, a little bit off State (behind the Parthenon- best gyros in town). Bar time is 2am. Rumor has it some of the players like to hang out at the Kollege Klub (ask for the KK if you don’t want to sound like an out-of-towner), right off State on Lake. This is the place where ex-Badger hockey captain Adam Burish spent his day with Lord Stanley.

 

Ethnic fare is a feature of the restaurant scene on State. Mediterranean Café is top-notch Middle Eastern restaurant with good prices. Kabul has some great Afghan food (solid lunch option), and is not too far from an Ethiopian place that serves up some good stew. Gino’s is the place for Italian.

 

Venturing off State? Amy’s Café on Gilman has a cult following. Ian’s Pizza, closer to the KohlCenter, likes to experiment with toppings. Too old for the undergrad crowd? Don’t like bars where they pump top 40 hits at full blast? Try the area immediately east of the Capitol.

 

If you come to Madison, be sure to go to Memorial Union and have a beer on the Terrace, which overlooks LakeMendota. Yeah, that’s right. Our Union has a liquor license, which means that our university’s bylaws essentially violate the BYU Honor Code. Having a beer in Madison? You can’t go wrong with any of the good Wisconsin micro-brews, which are not only high caliber, but also inexpensive. New Glarus and Leinenkugel are particularly good. While at the Union get some Babcock ice cream. Wisconsin dairy really is that much better.

 

Reading My Ramblings Not Enough?

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: http://jsonline.com/badgers Dave Heller and Jeff Portykus do a bang-up job covering the team.

Wisconsin State Journal and the Capital Times: http://host.madison.com/college/football Good coverage out of Madison.

SB Nation: http://buckys5thquarter.com Adam Hoge does football.

Official page: http://www.uwbadgers.com

 

Again, welcome to the Big Ten. And don’t hold it against anyone when a lineman punches you in the mouth- you’re not in Kansas anymore.

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