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A Very Wisconsin Potluck: Weird changes for changes’ sake? // B1G 2023

From the Dairy Raid to brandy in an Old Fashioned, we discuss Wisconsin changing things that already worked and making them...well, weirder.

You’re Going Where Madison Photo by Lauren Justice for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Badger State sure does enjoy marching to the beat of its own weirdly-played drums.

That’s not how any self-respecting band marches, and I think you know that.

Wisconsin has long been at the forefront of...well, things, whether you consider them groundbreaking or positive or merely developments: America's first workmen's compensation laws, longstanding Socialist (real or at least sewer Socialists, not Fox News-invented socialists) mayoral control of a major city, a senator so virulent his name now defines red-baiting character assassination...

...I digress.

Much more quaint and, frankly, stupid, like the load-in-your-pants marching style you saw above, are Wisconsinites' commitments to the finer things: sticking an entire fried chicken atop a bloody mary, making one particular beer and keeping it so scarce that it develops a strange aura about it, offering $250 to cosplay “owning” an NFL team, frying cheese and fish and serving them every Friday in the name of ceremony, being home to ten of the twenty drunkest cities in America, consuming more brandy than any other state in the Union and any other territory besides Washington, D.C... them, hate them, or consider them a blight that ought to be wiped off the face of the earth, the state of Wisconsin does things its own way.

Which makes what’s about to happen to the Wisconsin football team that much more interesting.

Luke Fickell has arrived and completey remade the Badger football program, from bringing in OC Phil Longo and the Air Raid (or, as MC Clap coined, the “Dairy Air Raid”) to DC Mike Tressel and a 3-3-5 defense in a conference where that formation still conjures up memories of Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.

First, writers, I’d like you to grade the Luke Fickell hire, particularly in light of his changes. It’s an interesting course correct for a system that, by all accounts, had worked, Paul Chryst’s resentment of modern recruiting notwithstanding. Was this a change that needed to be made, or is AD Chris McIntosh going way out on a limb here? Feel free to factor in NIL, recruiting, the new Big Ten...

misdreavus79: Who knows whether the overhaul will work at Wisconsin, but Luke Fickell took Cincinnati, of the AAC variety, to the College Football Playoff with it. The most Wisconsin has done with a system that’s been in place for nearly 30 years is win the Big Ten. Let me remind you that even Illinois has a Big Ten title in that 30-year span—sorry for the stray, Illinois, but Rutgers isn’t coming close to a title any time soon.

I also don’t mean to devalue winning the conference. It is a great accomplishment all on its own. But, when the best you can hope for is winning the conference, and this, may I remind you, was in a world where “being the sacrificial lamb to the Big Ten East team” was not even thought of (yes, friends, the last Wisconsin title came when the two teams ahead of the Badgers in the division were unavailable), changes are needed.

The Alvarez Doctrine™ was what Wisconsin needed to get out of the doldrums and into stability. If they want to move beyond “stability,” they needed this type of change.

I will reiterate that I don’t know if this overhaul will work at Wisconsin. But when our lord and savior Nick Saban himself made similar adjustments to his offense in order to stay on top, you know the change was needed.

Buffkomodo: Luke Fickell has been a head coach for 6* seasons. It sure doesn’t feel like it’s only been 6 seasons though. Feels like he was at Cincinnati longer but it really was only 6 years. Those 6 seasons were filled with great success including a CFP berth and gave Alabama a fairly good game. They almost beat Georgia in the Peach Bowl a year earlier. From a grade perspective, I don’t think you can really give Wiscy here anything but an A.

As far as going out on a limb? Yeah. Any time you fire a coach you’re going out on a limb. Worked out fairly well for Georgia firing Mark Richt. It didn’t work out for Nebraska firing Bo Pelini to hire Mike Riley and then firing him to hire Scott Frost. There’s so much going into getting a coach at these upper levels of college football that there really isn’t a guarantee it’ll all work out in the end.

What is notable is that Fickell was able to take moderately decent recruiting classes at UC and turn them into basically a P5 school with a Group of 5 budget and, I assume, a G5 NIL. Wisconsin has more resources and may be just as niche of a program as Cincinnati is, though not in the same way.

TLDR: No clue. I like it, but my Magic 8 Ball said to ask again later.

*Yes, I know it’s technically 7 total. He did serve as interim for Ohio State after that tattoo thing.

WSR: We’re supposed to be impressed with Wisconsin hiring a guy that had a losing record with Ohio State talent?

RockyMtnBlue: I love this hire and frankly I’m shocked Wisconsin could get him. He’s a program builder more than a gimmicky recruiting specialist like a certain high profile guy up the road from me. I’m less convinced of the changes, but that will really be more a question of “How do you get to the system you want?” than “What is the system you want?”

Changing a program this drastically cannot be done on a dime and trying will only bring pain and suffering (see Rodriguez, Rich). As long as they build this year’s system for this year’s players, and move toward their proposed system instead of simply declaring it by fiat, I think it will go well.

I think this hire would have positioned Wisconsin to be the bully of the west division again, if, you know, we were still going to have a west division after this season. /wipes tear

MNW: I’m torn on it. Fickell strikes me as someone who inherited a rough situation and wasn’t ready for prime-time in Columbus, then did a hell of a job building a program at Cincinnati. Seven P5 wins in six years are both impressive and deserving of the context of who they were against (2018 at UCLA, 2018 bowl vs. Virginia Tech, 2019 vs. UCLA, 2020 bowl vs. Boston College, 2021 at Indiana and Notre Dame, 2022 vs. Indiana).

Wisconsin’s decision to tap Fickell feels like the NFL Draft logic that “you take the best player on the board.” This is about as good a hire as was out there among college football coaches.

But whether Fickell gets the keys to the gently-used Oldsmobile Cutlass that’s got 230,000 on it that is the Wisconsin athletic department? I...well...we’ll see. The Gary Andersen Legacy is still ringing in my ears, for some reason, and I don’t know how many used car dealers and DUI lawyers there are to get a strong NIL program rolling in Madison.

BoilerUp89: Wisconsin has not lost to Purdue in football forever. Fickell lost his last game against the Boilers. At UC, Fickell mostly beat who he was supposed to beat. That's a good coach. I don't think he's propelling the Badgers to the CFP though.

Brian: The Fickell hire was a home run. And one that was quite a coup for Wisconsin. There’s been a lot of chatter the past few years about Fickell moving on from Cincinati, for the Badgers to be the team to land him is significant. But perhaps as significant as the hire itself is the message it sends: That Wisconsin wasn’t content with its current program arc. I think the future looks bright (or at least brighter) in Madison.

But MNW: A Cutlass with 230,000 miles on it?

Kind of...: Growing up, my family had a ‘74 Cutlass Supreme, and we put over 200,000 miles on it. @mnw, I welcome your snark! And if the general consensus is “Luke Fickell was a really good hire, I just wonder if Wisconsin is good enough to deserve him,” well, that sounds like a good problem for the Badgers! I’ll take it.

It’s still pretty early in Chris McIntosh’s term as AD, but he’s making his presence felt. Fickell sure seems like a great hire. I love his hire of Mike Hastings away from Minnesota State for the men’s hockey program. And Marisa Moseley had the WBB team showing life late last year. (She was hired a couple of months before McIntosh officially ascended to the role, but he was still involved.). The athletics program is not standing still, and I really like that.

Next, give us your assessment of how the Badgers’ changes will work. Are you a believer in Tanner Mordecai and the Dairy Raid? Will it take a slightly overweight year (no one would ever call Wisconsin “lean”) to restore the Cardinal and White to their glory days? Or should we all start reading up on the Gary Andersen era again?

misdreavus79: Oh I was supposed split my dissertation from question 1 into smaller parts? Ok, well, some more specifics I guess:

For the immediate term, you might see Wisconsin resemble early day Purdue under Jeff Brohm. They’re built for a division where “score three points and hope the other team makes enough mistakes to lose” is the norm. As Fickell turns the roster around, and, more importantly, as USC and UCLA join and we inevitably get rid of divisions, Wisconsin’s changes will start matching up to better compete with the Ohio States of the world.

Buffkomodo: Fickell’s first year at UC was the same record as Tuberville’s last year. Being in the West, I’m sure that it won’t be the most challenging schedule for what Wisconsin usually has, but I’m not researching their roster.

I’ll guess that it’ll be about a 6-6 season, perhaps 5-7 or 4-8 if Fickell decides he just wants to blow it up and start again. It’ll be a slower burn to winning than you think, but I do think you’ll see steady improvement.

WSR: Sure. I’m positive that bringing in a guy who gave away the football like it was halloween candy every time he faced a team with a pulse will thrive against B1G West defenses with an entire team doing the football equivalent of giving a caveman who just learned how to make a spear an AR-15.

RockyMtnBlue: First let me say that WSR is everything that is good and right about OTE. Like misdreavus, I kinda answered this in the first question. I think it will go badly if he blows it up, and that can cause a lack of patience. I don’t think he’ll really do that, though. It takes truly next-level arrogance to consider doing that and say “yeah. That’s definitely the right way!”

MNW: The biggest thing that Kind of... didn’t get to in today’s (admittedly-Wisconsin-focused) look at the Dairy Raid?

How Fickell built what he did at Cincinnati: the same quarterback, four years running. What will he do without Desmond Ridder and with a Big Ten-sized learning curve?

One year might not be enough time to pronounce this a failure or a success—God knows we here and actually-compensated journalists will try, though (and there’s someone you should look more askance at in that equation)—but 2022 could be indicative for the hiccups that come with plugging a transfer quarterback into an up-tempo, spread-it-out offense. Future Northwestern starting QB Ben Bryant was fantastic in the Bearcats’ 2022 offense, but Cincinnati did sputter a bit once they got into AAC play and had to rely on talent to hold off Tulsa, East Carolina, Navy...

...and what helped? The run game. How much will Wisconsin rely on Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi? What will be the run-pass mix?

That roadie at Washington State in Week 2 is a doozy, and Georgia Southern the following week with Clay Helton’s up-tempo attack is no slouch. I think if the going gets tough in those games—and, given Tanner Mordecai’s already-mentioned and Spring Game-tested propensity for sharing the wealth in a way that has Scott Walker pissing his pleated khakis—we’ll see how doctrinaire the badgers intend to be with the Dairy Raid. Don’t be surprised if, struggling to move the ball through the air, the non-conference suddenly turns into a Wisconsin-Purdue game of yore.

BoilerUp89: Wisconsin’s biggest recruiting advantage is their large supply of obese people in the state and ability to put together a great run offense behind them. Running an offense that spits in the face of that strength is a choice. Is it what is needed to compete with the Ohio States of the world? Yes. But if they don't do that they aren't going to be at the top of the rest of the pack either.

Brian: It may take a while for Fickell and the Badgers to really get humming, particularly considering that they’re introducing a new offensive philosophy, but expect to see some changes immediately. Fickell is a pretty intense guy, expect the Badgers to start mirroring their coach’s energy.

Kind of...: I really don’t think there’s a chance Longo forgets about Braelon Allen (and Chez Mellusi). I’m most worried about the line and the wider splits. But I’m placing my trust in Fickell and I think he’s earned it. He understands the B1G, and wouldn’t have brought Longo on board if he thought Longo was going to pretend he’s in the Big 12.

Speaking of fixing things that weren’t broken, I assume we’re all familiar with Wisconsin’s greatest crime against humanity: the Brandy Old Fashioned.

Wisconsin Life

Yes, you’re looking at a cocktail that is, indeed, mostly sugar with some fruit “for health”. That’s the Wisconsin Brandy Old-Fashioned, and it’s a war crime.

Unless, writers, you say it isn’t! Is a Brandy Old-Fashioned brilliant, or is it a fix that no one asked for? Vote, too, on your most iconic (not necessarily best) Wisconsin drink from the following: Brandy Old-Fashioned, New Glarus Spotted Cow, a bloody Mary with a fried chicken on top, or something else.

misdreavus79: I don’t understand why people feel the need to do such things.

Buffkomodo: Much like my Pokemon friend above, I haven’t a clue why anyone would need to do this. But I did bring up former coach and current tool Tommy Tuberville on an article about Wisconsin football, so perhaps I am the problem as well.

WSR: You can’t just make up something new and worse and call it something else. For fuck’s sake, people. A Bloody Mary with 6,000 fried calories on top of it is still a Bloody Mary. A Spotted Cow is still a cream ale that you can get in every other state (sup, Castle Danger). But you can’t take whiskey out of an old fashioned and call it an old fashioned. It’s like calling a puddle you got your 1997 Ram stuck in “a lake.”

RockyMtnBlue: As a non-drinker I generally don’t have opinions about such things. As an old and aging yeller-at-clouds, however, I’m still of the outdated opinion that words have meanings and names of things should be the names of things. So I agree it’s a war crime, and probably grounds for murder, but not as bad as, say, driving slow in the left lane.

MC ClapYoHandz: Now wait one goddamn minute. First of all even if these arguments had merit, I’m looking around here and all I see are skeletons in closets for other war crime abominations. Let he who has no lutefisk or almond boneless chicken or scrapple in their repertoire cast the first curd. We’re getting riled up that things that are different from other things...have different names? As opposed to what? And yes, Spotted Cow is overrated, it’s famously easy to drink but the worst beer New Glarus offers. And that’s not because it’s bad, it’s because everything they make slaps. Get yourself a Moon Man or a Two Women or a Totally Naked or literally any thumbprint series instead and ice your butts. A Bloody Mary with aggressive sides affixed to it is still a Bloody Mary, glad we’ve settled that. Just get one without the family dinner on top if you’re starting to chafe. A Brandy Old-Fashioned literally tells you “hey guy, there’s brandy instead of whiskey in this bad boy, almost as if it’s a different drink entirely.” And we’re not even being asses about them, they were created due to wartime rationing and just stuck afterwards. So if you come to Wisconsin take your brandy old-fashioned and like it, just like your Chicago dog in the Windy City, etc. I think I’ll fix myself a couple brandy old-fashioneds tonight while taking the hotdish name in vain. Fuckin’ amateur hour out here.

Kind of...: The defense rests. My co-counsel just obliterated the rest of your punk asses. @MC ClapYoHandz, it’s an honor to cheer for the same team you do.

Brian: Sounds interesting ... but it’s not an Old Fashioned.


The most iconic Wisconsin drink is...

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    a Brandy Old-Fashioned
    (59 votes)
  • 23%
    a Spotted Cow
    (27 votes)
  • 19%
    a Bloody Mary with a whole fried chicken on top
    (22 votes)
  • 4%
    something else
    (5 votes)
113 votes total Vote Now