The 2012 opener at Camp Randall is in the books and Wisconsin football remains undefeated. While it was only a five-point victory over an FCS opponent, the Badgers won nonetheless.
So although many will spend the next few days lamenting what could have, to the naked eye, looked like a team destined for disaster, all we got to see on Saturday was a reality check.
Wisconsin football is back.
Because lets be honest, last season was a fluke. A fluke not in the sense of it being an 11-win campaign and a second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance, but a fluke in the way in which that success was achieved.
From the opening snap of the 2011 campaign, there was a different vibe surrounding UW and its football program. Big Ten titles were always the goal but this team seemed very much capable of taking that a step further and running the table toward a school-first BCS title game.
Perhaps that vibe was too strong, leaving the team just a bit out of character in breaking from its trademark “1-0” mantra to focus on the prizes seemingly within its grasp.
This year is a different story. But while Saturday’s 26-21 win over Northern Iowa may have sounded the warning sirens across Badger nation, it is by no means time to panic.
The lessons every team has to learn are learned through adversity and after having to deal with that adversity in the form of devastating losses last season, the Badgers might have caught a break in being given the chance to go through that same hardship and come out of it unscathed.
“We get a lot more out of this than we do out of a 42-0 blowout,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “You have to touch a hot stove once and once you touch it, you don’t want to touch it again.”
With a new quarterback at the helm, six new assistant coaches on the sidelines and a new group of contributors across the board, the Badgers now get to spend a week analyzing a game full of teaching moments, something last year’s team didn’t really get a chance to get at until it had already been dealt a crushing blow.
“We won but the adversity struck this year a lot earlier than it had in previous years,” UW senior running back Montee Ball said. “Its an eye-opener for us.”
Despite what on the surface looked like a lackluster performance for the two-time defending Big Ten champions, the Badgers are by no means facing the prospect of a down year.
Just think back to 2010. In what ultimately became a Rose Bowl year, the Badgers struggled mightily out of the gates. After earning a tough opening win over San Jose State, UW nearly lost (and by all accounts, deserved to lose) at home against Arizona State. They followed up that effort with a dismal performance as they opened conference play with a loss in East Lansing.
Flash forward just two months and that same team was celebrating a Rose Bowl bid clinched on the Camp Randall turf.
The reality is that Wisconsin football, or Wisconsin athletics for that matter, succeed by gritting it out on the field.
They win not by making plays destined for Sportscenter, but by being fundamentally sound and remaining dead set on the task at hand: getting a win.
Last season was a fluke, a season where the Rose Bowl seemed almost a disappointment given the obvious potential the Badgers had to run the table.
Although it won’t be courtesy of incessant blowout victories, not one thing that transpired on Saturday would suggest that the same potential doesn’t exist for the 2012 campaign.
“From my point of view as a head coach and in my twisted mind, it couldn’t have worked out any better,” Bret Bielema told reporters. “We’ll take these corrections and we’ll move forward.”
Nothing that I or any writer could say would persuade the masses that a 26-21 squeaker over an FCS school is a good start for a team looking to book a third straight trip to Pasadena.
But at a school where success on the field is generally not pretty, an ugly start might be just what the doctor ordered.
Do you think the Badgers ugly start was exactly what they needed? Will they rebound next week, or will they continue to struggle? Let Max know what you think at email@example.com