For the Wisconsin football team, the winter break was bittersweet. There was plenty of good to finish the season, but also several key departures, which could become issues in future years.
To begin with the good, Wisconsin began the New Year by winning its first BCS/New Year’s Six bowl game since Jan. 1, 2000. The Badgers made their first-ever appearance in the Cotton Bowl, defeating previously undefeated Western Michigan 24-16 down in Dallas. To add onto it, WMU head coach P.J. Fleck left the Broncos to coach Minnesota, meaning the Badgers have a perfect 1-0 record against the now-rival coach.
But the post-victory high didn’t last long. Linebacker T.J. Watt and offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk both decided to forgo their senior years and head to the NFL. The pair were the talented centerpieces of their respective units, and losing both will be a loss that could haunt Wisconsin fans next year.
The next loss was the departure of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who took the helm in Berkeley, becoming the head coach of the California Golden Bears. The Badgers haven’t yet announced a replacement, but whoever it is will become the third defensive coordinator in as many years on the Wisconsin sidelines, another worrying turn of the coaching carousel that the UW football program has become lately. There was a graceful transition from Dave Aranda to Wilcox, but with less raw talent returning, the transition from Wilcox is not guaranteed to be as smooth.
That is not to say that next season’s Wisconsin team won’t be good. They return Alex Hornibrook, the quarterback that started most of this year’s games, Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli, the team’s two best receiving threats and Bradrick Shaw, an up-and-coming running back. The continued progression of these players, as well as the seven returning defensive starters, in the spring semester will be crucial to the team’s success in the fall.