Preview 2017: Is Wisconsin Finally National Title Good?
After more than two decades of greatness, can Wisconsin finally get into the national title hunt?
Welcome to the best college football program that – at least in recent history – hasn’t been able to do something really, really, really big.
Stanford is close in the discussion, and Boise State has enjoyed crazy success at a smaller level, but for more than two decades, no one has been a run like Wisconsin has, but with nothing massive to show for it at the highest of high levels.
Ever since Barry Alvarez took one of the nation’s worst college football teams and turned it into a 1993 Big Ten champ and Rose Bowl winner, it’s been a remarkable era of consistent success, now going into the 25th season since turning the corner.
In that time, UW has been won six Big Ten titles, with six Rose Bowls in the 22 bowl appearances for a program that went bowling just six times before Alvarez.
Without a slew of big-star recruits, Wisconsin has created a dominant, unrelenting system and style that can’t seem to be duplicated anywhere else, with a machine that’s taken on a life of its own.
Get big offensive linemen, run the ball, control the clock, make superstars out of the running backs, own special teams, don’t get penalized, dominate defensively, repeat.
And do it all – with a few ticky-tack exceptions – scandal-free with a bunch of smart guys.
Through Alvarez, through Bret Bielema, through Gary Andersen, and now through Paul Chryst, few programs that have been as consistently amazing or as successful over the last 25 years, but a whole slew of them have at least been close to winning it all.
But there haven’t been any national titles for the Badgers, or BCS Championship appearances, or any spots so far in the College Football Playoff.
Of course, there are at least 100 other teams that would kill for Wisconsin’s resume, but over the last 25 years, all the other big boys have had a least one moment of fun.
Texas A&M, Stanford, Michigan State, UCLA, Oklahoma State and Kansas State haven’t played for a title over the last 25 years, either, but none of them have been consistently knocking on the door like Wisconsin has.
Penn State didn’t win the 1994 national title, but it went 12-0 and was in the discussion. Notre Dame played in a BCS Championship. Michigan, Tennessee, Nebraska, Texas, USC, Auburn, Miami, LSU all have had their issues and down moments, but all of them won a national championship during the time when Wisconsin has come to prominence.
Fortunately, there’s a bright side for the Badgers. If they can keep this all going, and if they can be as consistently great as they’ve been for so long, eventually they’ll get past the bouncer and into the College Football Playoff.
Had there been a CFP in 1993, Wisconsin probably would’ve been in it. It would’ve been in at some point after great 1998, 2006 and 2010 seasons. And last year, had it beaten Penn State for the Big Ten title, it would’ve had the theoretical argument that it deserved to be in, even if it would’ve had to settle for the Rose Bowl.
Win the Big Ten Championship, go 12-1 doing it, get into the College Football Playoff. This year’s team might be able to do just that.
The Badgers lose Ryan Ramczyk to New Orleans, but four starters return to a young, deep and versatile offensive line. The top running backs are gone, but they’ll be replaced by even more dynamic and dangerous options, the top receivers are back – led by, maybe, the best tight end in the country in Troy Fumagalli – and QB Alex Hornibrook has a year under his belt.
The star outside linebacker pass rushers are gone to the NFL, and yet the linebacking corps should be among the best in college football behind a dominant front three that gets everyone back.
The secondary has some holes, but there aren’t a slew of top passing teams on the slate, and new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard – the former Badger All-America safety – should be able to fix this in a hurry.
And then there’s the schedule. Unlike last year’s killer – with LSU to start, and road games at Michigan and Michigan State, and a home game against Ohio State – the Badgers should be favored in every game except for, maybe, the home date against the Wolverines.
Eventually, Wisconsin will get the right year with the right record and the right team to finally get over the one big hump and be in the national title equation.
Being really, really, really good isn’t all that bad.
Now get into the College Football Playoff.