During my time in Madison, I've had the discussion numerous times with friends and others in student media about how the Badgers got hot at the right time. Not in this particular season, but during the span of the last four years.
As Ohio State and Michigan began to falter, at least by their standards, the Badgers jumped at the opportunity to be the next great Big Ten team. In 2010, UW seized the chance with an 11-1 record and the school's first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 2000.
However, after both the Rose Bowl matchups with TCU and Oregon the question remained: were these seasons merely aberrations for Wisconsin or would they continue to be perennial contenders in the Big Ten? UW answered the call in each of the next two seasons. Despite a disappointing regular season in 2012, the Badgers still managed to win the conference championship game and appear in a third-consecutive Rose Bowl. And this year Wisconsin has overcome some early season adversity to position itself for a legitimate chance at a fourth-straight BCS Bowl.
So how has Wisconsin been able to maintain this high level of success and consistency? There's been several coaching overhauls and the losses of NFL stars like Russell Wilson and JJ Watt, however, through the past four seasons one class of players has remained the same. This year's senior class has been that constant.
This senior class is special. How many schools could say that about their senior classes at the end of every season, though? Most probably say the same, but this class has evidence to back it up as it has the opportunity to be the winningest in Wisconsin history. As our own Jason Galloway pointed out in his piece on this graduating class, wins against Penn State and the bowl opponent would put this group at 41 wins over four seasons — a new school record for any one class.
That statistic seems to epitomize the craziness of these four seasons of UW football. In some ways, it's the end of an era.
Even former head coach Bret Bielema always spoke highly of this class the past few seasons, stating how it was probably his best he'd ever had. Things may have ended sourly with Bielema but nobody can deny how much he loved this class of players.
Current head coach Gary Andersen has echoed Bielema's sentiments with plenty of praise of his own. When asked at his weekly press conference this Monday about how he'll remember this senior class, Andersen just wanted to thank them for being open-minded and welcoming the new coaching staff.
"Just their ability to let us in," Andersen said. "I'll forever be indebted to those kids for believing in us."
"And these kids, you know, they seemed to buy into us and believe in us and know that what we do say we mean. And because of that, that's why they've had the success they've had. There is no magic offense, defense. There is no magic coach. It's the kids that put them in a position to win football games. They've hung together through a lot of adversity and a lot of good times in their careers."
A lot of good times would be an understatement for these past four seasons. I believe the same could be said for both players and fans. Although Andersen will have a season at UW under his belt, trying to replace the leadership and play of this senior class may be his most challenging task yet. He's proven he can handle the challenge, but there's no denying next year's team won't be the same. Not hearing the names of Chris Borland, Jared Abbrederis, James White and Jacob Pedersen echoing through the PA system at Camp Randall just won't feel right for quite some time. But to reminisce about the accomplishments, great games and memories this class has accumulated in four seasons, is enough to crack a smile about the legacy left by 26 seniors.
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