Some of the faces have changed but the goal remains the same. The 2012 Wisconsin Badgers will try to earn an invitation to a third straight Rose Bowl. If they do earn that invite, they will try to do what they were oh-so-close to doing the first two times: win the game. The iconic sign in the Badgers' practice facility reads "The Road to the Rose Bowl Begins Here." They certainly haven't had many problems with the road to Pasadena, but they've seemed unsure of what to do when they get there. That's not to say that they played terribly against TCU and Oregon, but Badger fans are now conditioned to expect victory even on the biggest of stages.
Plenty of things occurred in the offseason that affected Wisconsin. Some good, some bad, some unknown. Heisman candidate running back Montee Ball announced he'd return for his senior season because he was unhappy with the value of his draft stock. There was the slight embarrassment of the Mifflin Street Block Party detainment. Then late in the summer, he suffered a concussion when he was assaulted by five men in the street. Can he continue to perform at an extremely high level after what was best described as a taxing offseason?
Ball's success also depends on how well new quarterback Danny O'Brien does in his first year at quarterback in Madison. Russell Wilson he is not, but perhaps he only needs to be Scott Tolzien. Also, new offensive coordinator Matt Canada is no Paul Chryst, who left to take the head job at Pittsburgh and took a bunch of Wisconsin's assistants with him. Will the infusion of new coaches help to keep the players on their toes? It's difficult to say. But one thing remains clear: the Rose Bowl invite is still Wisconsin's for the taking unless/until they prove otherwise. And if they do go back to Pasadena a third time, it's not greedy for Badger fans to expect and demand a win this time around.
'Final day of Wisconsin's offseason!' links:
Congratulations to Mr. Ball on finishing first in the preseason Big Ten player rankings published by the ESPN Big Ten blog.
Joe Walljasper isn't sold on the Badgers yet, as he was the only AP Poll voter to rank Wisconsin lower than 20.
An argument from Tom Oates that the addition of six new assistant coaches will benefit the Wisconsin program.
If Northern Iowa does somehow do the unthinkable tomorrow, it would be the biggest win in their program's history.
The best case scenario for Wisconsin this season: "The FDA announces that cheese curds, bratwurst and Spotted Cow are actually good for you and recommends 3-to-5 servings per day." Also, the Badgers beat USC in the Rose Bowl.
Okay, I'm done. This is what awaits us tomorrow: