For 23 Wisconsin seniors, their final season as Badgers starts Aug. 31 versus UMass. Their collegiate resumes are impressive, both individually and collectively. Seven earned All-Big Ten honors in 2013. Senior Jacob Pedersen won the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award last season, and the Big Ten honored James White as Freshman of the Year way back in 2010. As a team, they won three straight Big Ten championships and went to three straight Rose Bowls, albeit with less-than-desired results in the latter.
But even with all the individual honors and the proud team accomplishments, this class of Badgers remains hungry to leave an impact on the Wisconsin program in many fashions, including working to participate in and finally win that elusive Rose Bowl.
Curt Phillips, competing for the starting quarterback job, has witnessed the program grow since his arrival on campus in 2008.
"Fortunately, we've had the opportunities to go to Big Ten championships and go to Rose Bowls, and I think there are very high expectations and we just want to make sure we take it one game at a time," Phillips said.
"That's the biggest thing we really keep emphasizing, is that there's such a fine line. Since I've been here, some of the guys coming in have only seen, been to Rose Bowls, been to Big Ten championships. I've been to the Champs [Sports] Bowl, where we got beat by Florida State [in 2008] and then beating Miami [in 2009], so I think that's big to see the small things between a 7-6 season and then having a chance to go play in the bigger games."
White, coming back to Madison as the second-leading rusher among FBS running backs with 2,571 rushing yards, believes the Badgers' legacy revolves around similar principles as Phillips stated.
"Our goal is to try to win each and every game that we play, and that's what we're going to go out there and try and do," White said. "If we go out here and if everyone just tries to improve as a player and go ahead and work hard, try to plan for each and every game, who knows what we could do at the end of the season."
"I want to be known as a walk-on on a group of seniors that have really left a mark on this university and on this place, on this campus," added defensive end Ethan Hemer. A former walk-on who started 34 of the 41 games he's played in, Hemer gave high praise for his fellow seniors and recognized the impression he and the other 22 seniors can make on future classes.
"Athletically, academically, spiritually; this is a group of guys that's so so gifted and talented, full of great people. They get it. We all understand what it takes to be successful on and off the field. I know that memories fade, legacies fade, but if we can make an impact on people, and the freshmen coming in, that's something that'll last."
B-side linebacker Brendan Kelly, like Phillips in his sixth year of eligibility, echoed the mentality of having the program sustaining success, referencing the theme of the 2013 seniors photo, "Tradition Never Graduates."
"No matter if it's a new scoreboard, no matter if it's new coaches, we're always going to be a good team, and we're going to build this team to a level of success that's acceptable by our standards," Kelly said.
The Eden Prairie, Minn., native, who recorded five sacks and six tackles for loss in 2013, also knows the seniors' legacy hinges on achieving victory in Pasadena.
"Getting to a Rose Bowl and losing it, that's not acceptable. We're going to go beyond that point, and I think we have a great coaching staff to do that."
Monday, the last chance to accomplish all that begins. These players, even though they could be satisfied with their accomplishments, still yearn to write the final chapter of their Wisconsin football days.
Including Phillips and Kelly's tenure at Wisconsin starting in 2008, the program's achieved 47 victories and been to bowl games in each season. Individually, the honors have rolled in. The media awarded 10 seniors preseason honors, including linebacker Chris Borland, nose tackle Beau Allen and left tackle Ryan Groy.
F-side linebacker Ethan Armstrong, himself a former walk-on like Hemer and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who has recorded 136 career tackles (93 in 2012) confirms the class' reputation is tied to its upcoming performance in their last bowl game.
"We just want to make sure that our legacy isn't the class that lost three Rose Bowls but the class that went to four and won one," Armstrong said.
"We want to make sure that we end on a positive note and we want to accomplish something that we feel like we failed to do the previous three years. We've had some success, but it hasn't quite ended the way we wanted it to, and so I think we definitely want to put that final stamp on it and show that we are capable of winning that game."