This is the second in a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
As that countdown clock on your right continues to tick down to the release of NCAA Football 11, we take some time today to remember our all-time favorite Badger football teams. I have a feeling my team is going to surprise you.
I mentioned yesterday that I didn't become a Badger fan until 2004, so my selection pool is pretty small. But I have also witnessed three bowl wins, including the 2006 Capital One Bowl victory that concluded a 12-1 season. Surprisingly, that is not my favorite team. That honor goes to the very first Badger team I cheered for in '04.
In someways, that selection surprises even myself because UW's loss at Iowa to end the regular season that year remains as the most heartbreaking loss I have witnessed. Watching Anthony Davis stand on the sidelines fully dressed and refusing to play is an image that remains etched in my mind as UW failed to clinch a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Still, UW got off to a 9-0 start that season (my first nine games as a Badger) and it was the way in which they won that made that team -- specifically the defense -- so special. I've still never seen a better front four in college football than the one UW fielded in '04. Erasmus James, Anttaj Hawthorne, Jonathan Welsh and Jason Jefferson were a force that no one could stop until the injury bug struck. After the first five games, the UW defense was only allowing a crazy 5.2 points per game. And in their first five Big Ten games, UW never allowed more than 17 points per game and when they did, it was to No. 5 Purdue, which brings me to another reason why that team was so entertaining.
That game at Purdue Oct. 16, 2004 will forever be one of my favorite games and one of my biggest regrets. I could have gone to that game but for some reason I chose to stay in Madison that weekend. When Kyle Orton fumbled the ball late in the fourth quarter and Scott Starks ran it back for the winning touchdown, my first reaction was to go nuts and run in circles around Ogg Hall (this really happened). Of course five minutes later I was pretty upset that I wasn't running circles around Ross-Ade Stadium.
(Side note: As a Chicago Bears fan, I'm pretty sure that play ruined Orton's football career and cost my Bears a number of wins in the coming years. Of course, he was still good enough to use as trade bait for Jay Cutler so thank you Scott Starks.)
Unfortunately, as great as a game as that was for Wisconsin, it was also a turning point in the season -- and not in a good way. In the midst of all the excitement, a crucial injury to Erasmus James was nearly forgotten about. James suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter when Purdue tight end Charles Davis went low on him with a dirty block. He missed the next game against Northwestern and did not start against Minnesota. And while he did play in all three games UW lost at the end of the season, he, and the front four that even Orton called "the best I've probably ever seen in the Big Ten", were not the same.
After not giving up more than 17 points in a game all season, UW allowed Michigan State to put up 49 points in a 49-14 beatdown that shocked the entire Big Ten. Then Iowa put up 30 and even after a 40-day rest before the Outback Bowl, Georgia scored 24 in their victory over Wisconsin.
It was a sour end to the season for the best UW team I have seen since I've been around the program, but the excitement that front four provided still makes the 2004 Badgers my favorite UW football team. Oh, and Jimmy Leonhard wasn't a bad player to watch either.
Now it's your time to contribute. What is your all-time favorite Badger team?