That is Brett Bielema’s record as head football coach for the Wisconsin Badgers since he took over the program in 2006. Sounds impressive doesn’t it? Looking at those numbers alone it would be hard to argue with the state of the current Badger football program. But a closer look begs this question to be asked, “Is being good, good enough?”
Maybe we have been spoiled the past decade and a half. It’s hard to fathom but Wisconsin was once what Minnesota currently is, bottom feeders in the Big Ten. Badger fans have been accustomed to 9 and 10 win seasons as the norm but the badgers won 9 games, total, in four years (1986-1990).
Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin’s current Athletic Director, took the program over in 1990 and slowly built back the program to respectability. Wisconsin arrived on the national scene with a 1994 Rose Bowl victory. This launched Wisconsin football to become a contender season in and out in the Big Ten and a mainstay in the Top 25.
Alvarez would win 2 more Rose Bowl (1998, 1999) games during his tenure as head coach before handing the program over to current coach, Brett Bielema, in 2006.
Bielema has done a good job of keeping Wisconsin football at the level Alvarez set. But that is exactly the problem. It seems that there is no ambition to take this program to the next and final step, a national title contender. While Alvarez never won a national title, he continuously improved the standard of Wisconsin football. He handed over a gem of a football program to Bielema, primed to make the push of becoming a BCS mainstay along with the Alabama’s, Ohio St.’s Florida’s and Oklahoma’s of the world. But Bielema has not been able to take Wisconsin to that place.
Each year it seems like this is the year Wisconsin will contend for a national championship. But each year, the Bielema led squad, falls short. In 2006, it was with a loss to Michigan. 2010 saw the Badger’s title hopes die at Michigan St., and this year again, Sparty would crush the hearts of Badger fans everywhere with one of the most improbable plays you will ever see. I still get sick watching this.
But the pressure never mounts on Bielema at Wisconsin, and it appears that Badger fans are perfectly satisfied with the occasional Big Ten title and a trip to Pasadena once every decade. I, however, am not content. Wisconsin has all the same advantages as other big time programs, and with the scandals at Penn St., Ohio St., and Michigan, now is the perfect time for Wisconsin to take a strangle hold on becoming the one and only Big Ten superpower, which in turn would make them BCS regulars and national title contenders. Bielema needs to find a way to get his team through that one slip up they seem to encounter every year.
One other glaring problem has been the scheduling at Wisconsin. I know this is not all on Bielema but something has to be done to address this. Even in the instance that the Badgers went undefeated this year there was many saying they would be left out of the title game due to there soft schedule. Yes, it is nice to schedule cupcakes like The Citadel and Northern Illinois every year and guarantee 9 and 10 win seasons but you can’t expect the BCS system to reward you for that. It’s time to start playing for keeps and scheduling teams from power conferences even if it means going on the road to do it. You might risk losing a game or 2 before the Big Ten season even starts but the reward of winning games against quality opponents far outweighs the downside. Not only will these games better prepare the Badgers for the Big Ten season but will also help them with recruiting and greatly increase their strength of schedule for BCS purposes. And if the goal at Wisconsin is only a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl berth, then why not try to schedule a USC, LSU, or Texas every once in a while? Last time I checked, nonconference games don’t have a barring on who wins the Big Ten and gets the conference’s automatic berth in the Rose Bowl. As long as Wisconsin would take care of their business in the Big Ten, all you complacent Badger fans out there could still dream of watching Wisconsin on New Years Day in the Rose Bowl, even if they would lose a nonconference game to a Top 10 team.
I cannot remember one instance were Bielema has come out and said that a national championship was a realistic goal at Wisconsin. Want a perfect example of the expectations at Wisconsin? Guess what the sign reads at Camp Randall before the players run out on the field? It doesn’t say “The Road to the National Championship Starts Here” but instead reads “The Road to the Rose Bowl Starts Here.” Ten years ago that may have been acceptable but not anymore. Wisconsin football has been there, done that. It’s time to dream big.