Everyone knows the Wisconsin football traditions by this point: Jump Around after the 3rd quarter, the 5th Quarter show by the band after games, cheers that are mostly swearing, playing in the Conference Championship Game, running the ball over and over and over, and refusing to change a 20+ year-old logo that absolutely looks that old. Rather than rehash these topics—especially given that I haven’t been to a Wisconsin game or even been in Madison for 10 years and thus don’t really know what it’s like now—let’s talk about something else.
It’s been twenty-five years since Barry Alvarez took over as Wisconsin’s head coach. In that time, Wisconsin has been a good-to-very-good football team most years and has cemented itself as a team that most people assume will be pretty good regardless of the personnel. Wisconsin has finished the year in the AP Top 25 eleven out of the past thirteen years (and I’m sure the numbers stay that impressive, I just got lazy and stopped looking), has played in a bunch of Rose Bowls since 1993, and has developed a reputation as a respected team and a tough opponent.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin still carries with it a lot of “traditions” that don’t at all fit with a sustained run of success (obvs not at the highest levels), a solid national reputation, and a good program for future NFL players. I love the team and I am extremely happy with the sustained run they’ve been on, but I have some grievances and you people are going to hear about them. Here are a few things, as much a part of Wisconsin football as Jump Around, that need to die and have no place in and around a program with Wisconsin’s recent history.
“Doing More With Less”
Think of this as the 538-article “tradition”; namely, that Wisconsin, a perennially medicore recruiter, routinely wins more games and has more success on the field than their recruiting would suggest they should. Spun positively, Wisconsin has excellent traditions of finding undervalued high school talent, coaching up the talent, and designing offenses and defenses that allow that relatively low-ranked talent to succeed. Or as the 538 article put it, Wisconsin is a perennial overachiever.
Spun more realistically, Wisconsin is a garbage recruiter, and I’d love to see this talking point/brag/yearly feelgood article die, at least as far as Wisconsin is concerned. As it stands, it feels very “Northwestern is Millennial U” to beat your chest about “doing more with less” and “overachieving,” despite the fact Wisconsin struggles against elite competition, rarely wins the conference, and hasn’t gotten anywhere close to a national title.
I made this handy table. For those of you who didn’t get a 34 on the science section of your ACT (#highschoolbrag), It shows Wisconsin’s final AP ranking for each of the past 13 years and Wisconsin’s final 247 Composite recruiting ranking following each season (i.e. Wisconsin finished 9th in the AP in 2016, and their first recruiting class following that finish—the 2018 recruiting class—ranked 44th)
AP Rank v. 247 Rank
|Year||Final AP Ranking||Final 247 Composite Ranking|
|Year||Final AP Ranking||Final 247 Composite Ranking|
|2008||Like 45 maybe?||46|
Over the past thirteen years, Wisconsin finished with an AP rank just under 18th. If you take out the only truly bad year, 2008, the average rank is 15.5. Both of those numbers show a lot of consistency and, in my opinion, mean “good-to-very-good.”
Over those same thirteen years, Wisconsin finished with an average 247 composite ranking of 40th. That’s not good at all. I didn’t look at where Wisconsin finished in the B1G those years, but my gut tells me it’s frequently at or below the halfway mark.
Of course this chart doesn’t tell the whole story, but it tells enough of a story. I’m sure one of our enterprising young commentors will include a graph or link showing the recruiting level necessary to win a national championship, make the final, or make the playoff, and Wisconsin is nowhere close to that level. Most of the season it doesn’t seem to matter, but you can really see the talent disparity when Wisconsin goes up against Ohio State and, when not getting blown out, gets burned multiple times for huge plays.
Blah blah excuses excuses recruiting starz hurr durr. It matters. It’s not the be-all, end-all for success (lol 7-M), but it matters, and Wisconsin is recruiting at a level of a team that makes and misses the final AP 25 equally, not a team that almost always finishes in the top 25 and regularly finishes top 20 or top 15.
It’s time for the Wisconsin “tradition” of doing more with less to go away. If 538 releases a similar article in the next few years, I sincerely hope Wisconsin is closer to the “meets expectations” category as a result of bringing in recruiting class that better matches the recent success of the program.
Penn State Soft Scheduling
Everyone knows about this “tradition” at Wisconsin. Last year, Wisconsin tried to Washington their way into the playoff, and it almost worked! Bring up the crappy scheduling and someone, probably me, will say “Hey! LSU-Bama-LSU in consecutive years!” We’ll also likely bring up future games against Notre Dame, Virginia Tech (if it ever stops getting pushed back), and UCLA (scheduled to start in the Don, Jr. administration). Our timely and well-intentioned misdirection can only do so much to hide the embarrassing truth: Wisconsin generally plays absolutely no one in the non-conference schedule.
Here’s what I’m talking about (“best” opponent in bold):
2018 - Western Kentucky, New Mexico, BYU (are any of these teams going to be non-garbage?)
2017 - Utah State, Florida Atlantic (actually good, but that was dumb luck), BYU
2016 - LSU, Akron, Georgia State
2015 - Alabama, Miami (OH), Troy, Hawaii
2014 - LSU, Western Illinois, Bowling Green, USF
2013 - UMass, Tennessee Tech, at Arizona State, BYU
2012 - Northern Iowa, at Oregon State, Utah State, UTEP
2011 - UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, South Dakota (this year gets no “best” team)
2010 - at UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State, Austin Peay
2009 - Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, at Hawaii (again, no best team)
2008 - Akron, Marshall, at Fresno State, Cal f’ing Poly (lol what a year!)
There you have it. 11 years on non-conference scheduling by a top 20 football program. After Washington’s successful run to the playoff with the worst P5 non-con by a mile, there’s not a playoff-related reason to schedule anyone with a pulse (also Bama last year, but at least they scheduled FSU), but damn this is embarrassing.
It goes beyond strength of schedule concerns as well. The first few weeks of the season are BORING for Wisconsin fans. The home slate is not worth the price of admission more often than not (byproduct of a crappy division too, of course, but that’s not an excuse). Plus, the non-con leaves absolutely zero margin for error.
I just want to see my favorite college football team play other college football teams I’ve heard of before the conference season starts. How does Wisconsin make that happen, short of agreeing to play single games at USC, Oklahoma, FSU, or Georgia? No idea, but if Oklahoma and Ohio State can figure it out, Wisconsin should be able to as well.
Showing Up Midway Through The Second Quarter
This is an obvious one that doesn’t require much explanation. Lazy ass students at Wisconsin have been that way since I was in undergrad. Some of the reasoning is semi-legit, I guess—the stadium is a pretty long hike for a lot of the students who live on, or just off, campus, games often start at 11, the home games usually suck (see above), they don’t serve beer in the stadium, there’s nowhere to tailgate around the stadium so you have to hang out in a friend’s apartment, there’s some crazy system for letting students into the game that I don’t understand but seems to be a “one at a time” system, etc...
But a lot of it is sports-spoiled college students being lazy. I haven’t done any research on this, but I’d bet there are 7+ programs in the B1G whose students would kill for the chance to show up on time to watch a top-20 team year after year. It’s as if Wisconsin’s fans are stuck in the pre-Alvarez era, delaying the pain of watching a terrible team for as long as possible.
It’s embarrassing. More often than not, Wisconsin is on a national broadcast (NOTE: No research done in this claim). It’s obvious on t.v. that the student section is half full until midway through the second quarter, and it looks terrible. I’m not a huge believer in hyper-competitive adults needing adulation and noise to get them to perform well, but home field advantage in college football is a BIG DEAL for a reason. Get your asses to the game on time. It’s not hard, and you’re squandering the chance to watch one of the best teams in the conference and country.
Losing Big Games
This is, admittedly, a much more recent development for Wisconsin, and it’s true of pretty much every team not named Alabama, Clemson, or OSU. This “tradition” gets on this Festivus-like list because Wisconsin really only gets one, maybe two, shots per year to play a BIG game (see above), and because my spirit, soul, and frozen Tangy Taffy can’t get any more shattered than they are.
Wisconsin lost the last two Conference Championship Games. Before that, they won two CCGs and then lost heartbreakers in the Rose Bowl. Before that, they got Alvarez’d into the Rose Bowl and lost it, against TCU. They choked/benched the best RB in the game against LSU a couple years ago. They lost on hail marys to Michigan State and Ohio State in a year where Wisconsin had by FAR the best offense in the country. All brutal, all soul crushing, and all reluctantly and cynically expected.
One of the biggest criticisms of Wisconsin, even by those who admit it’s a good team, is that Wisconsin doesn’t beat anyone great...ever. I always frame it as “Wisconsin beats everyone they should and nobody they shouldn’t.” Either way, it’s disappointing that this happens year after year to a team that, otherwise, is really good. Is it bad luck? Bad coaching? Recruiting/athletic disparities? I’m not sure, but it’s been going on for long enough, and it’s time for this tradition to die.
This “tradition” apparently died this offseason, with Wisconsin backing the truck up and dumping cash all over its assistants and coordinators.
Third or Fourth in the B1G is exactly where Wisconsin should be with its assistant coach pay, given the number of very strong programs in the B1G. I’m not sure how far behind OSU and Michigan Wisconsin is, but unless it’s some great yawning chasm, I’m very happy with this development. And even if it is a great yawning chasm with Michigan, lol.
Favorite Wisconsin Tradition?
This poll is closed
Beating your favorite team
The Axe streak