Column: Scheduling the Crimson Tide a step in the right direction for UW footballBy Rex Sheild | Mar. 21, 2013
As the Wisconsin Football Twitter and Facebook accounts hyped a “big” announcement Wednesday, endless possibilities roamed through my head. Would the program unveil a new alternative Adidas jersey to be worn next year? Would it officially be announcing the new realignment of the divisions, distinctly playing to UW’s advantage? While my estimations were not even close in stature, the announcement to fans should be much more monumental in value than the football program initially alluded to. Per a UWBadgers.com press release—the “big” announcement—Wisconsin will kick off the 2015 college football season against the powerful Alabama Crimson Tide in the state-of-the-art Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas. What was my first impression of the announcement? It’s about time. Badgers fans have been accustomed to seeing the red and white take the field—either at Camp Randall Stadium or an away stadium—against the cupcakes of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) or marginal Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams year-in and year-out. Dating back to former head coach Bret Bielema’s arrival in 2006, Wisconsin has been anything but challenged in its non-conference schedule. The program has a combined record of 27-1 in such games over the last seven seasons, with the lone loss coming on the road against Oregon State this past season. Moreover, the Badgers outscored their lackluster opponents by an average of three touchdowns (35.8 to 14.6) and scored over 35 points 17 times, including against all of their non-conference opponents during the 2011 season. I really never understood the essence of scheduling opponents well below a team’s caliber of play, except for the fact teams can pat themselves on the back after bullying up on a less-than-superior opponent. Sure, they walk off the field feeling high and mighty after dismantling teams like Marshall, Cal Poly, San Jose State or UTEP, but does it really prepare them for the rigors of the conference schedule? This past year, Minnesota took the route of scheduling its fair share of lowly non-conference teams, and it paid off for the Gophers in the short-term, as they owned a 4-0 record heading into the Big Ten season. Want to know how that turned out? They went 2-7 the rest of the way, including a 34-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Meineke Care Bowl. On the contrary, I completely understand the notion of Southeastern Conference teams scheduling “cupcakes” mixed-in throughout the season, especially toward the end of the season, because of the depth of their grueling conference schedule. However, they still challenged themselves to a certain extent throughout their non-conference slate. Alabama played preseason Big Ten favorite Michigan this past year in Cowboy Stadium. LSU kicked off their 2011-’12 season with Oregon and Georgia played Boise State in the Georgia Dome in the same season. While I’m sure Wisconsin fans are giddy about making travel arrangements to Arlington and finally seeing UW challenged on the field during its non-conference slate, they should be more giddy about the explicit meaning behind the Alabama-Wisconsin announcement: Things are changing for the better under head coach Gary Andersen’s regime, specifically in terms of scheduling. Planning games against superior BCS-level programs like Alabama in 2015 and Virginia Tech in 2016 will provide a respectable body of work for the playoff selection committee to refer to, should the Badgers be in contention for college football’s playoff in the coming years. Moreover, the message Andersen and athletic director Barry Alvarez are sending aligns with the common sports saying, “In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.” By in large, Alabama is currently the face of college football, having won three of the last four national titles, and it is the closest thing fans have witnessed to a football dynasty since the days of Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart at Southern California. Yet with the announcement, the Crimson Tide’s prestige did not phase Andersen and Alvarez. Both of them have made it known they want to compete at the highest level, and this 2015 matchup will serve as a golden opportunity to do just that. Finally. What do you think of UW scheduling a non-conference game against Alabama? Send Rex your thoughts in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.