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Wisconsin Badgers news, 6/2: 2011-12 football team still the model for UW

For all the success UW's football and basketball teams have enjoyed recently, the model for producing pro prospects still came in 2011-12.

Bradie Ewing and Russell Wilson back in 2011.
Bradie Ewing and Russell Wilson back in 2011.
John Gress

Whether it be at the high school, collegiate or professional level, there are small windows of opportunity in which teams have to take advantage of the talent on their rosters. Former head coach and current Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez certainly did that, winning back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1999 and 2000, with both of those teams led by Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. When you look at a coach who has been equally successful, men's basketball coach Bo Ryan, he hasn't been able to do quite the same in postseason play.

Save this year's Final Four run, arguably Ryan's best team was the 2006-07 squad, led by the program's all-time leading scorer, Alando Tucker, and the trustworthy floor general in Kammron Taylor. The team also boasted then-freshmen Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes, then-sophomores Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft, and then-juniors Michael Flowers, Greg Stiemsma and Brian Butch. All enjoyed illustrious careers in red and white.

But the reason why this team didn't live up to the hype, being bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament against UNLV, was not because of a lack of effort or will -- Butch's dislocated elbow suffered against Ohio State paints the picture loud and clear.

Video of the Day

Whether you deem it bad luck or simply a lack of execution does not take away from the fact that the 2006 team had the potential to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2000. You know who also had enough potential to make the biggest splash UW has ever seen? The 2011-12 football team led by quarterback Russell Wilson.

Wilson was a once-in-a-generation player, let alone quarterback. His poise was off the charts. His arm strength was undeniable. His dual-threat game gave opposing defenses more headaches than they might have ever thought from a guy who was just shy of 6-foot. He commanded the huddle, whether it was against Nebraska, UNLV or any of the formidable opponents on the Badgers' schedule that year. He was the game manager that Scott Tolzien was the year prior, but he was simply better. A lot better.

But Wilson was not the only superstar on Bret Bielema's squad. Of the 24 starters from the Rose Bowl squad who fell to Oregon, six were drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft (Kevin Zietler, Pete Konz, Russell Wilson, Nick Toon, Bradie Ewing and Brad Nortman) and an additional six were signed as undrafted free agents that same year. Two more starters were drafted the following year (Montee Ball and Rick Wagner) and one was up as an undrafted free agent (Marcus Cromartie). Lastly, two more were drafted (Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland) and the same amount signed as undrafted free agents in this year's draft. All together, linebacker Kevin Claxton and kicker Phil Welch was the only one who never saw the inside of an NFL locker room. In addition to long snapper Kyle Wojta (who attended the Chicago Bears' rookie mini-camp), 23 of the 25 starters at the very least competed at the pro level.

And this team lost three games, mind you. You can blame it on the two Hail Mary's against Michigan State and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks. You can blame it on Devin Smith breaking his foot early in the season against Oregon State, or you can blame it on the defensive performance from the first play of the year to the final play. Regardless, Bielema and co. didn't take advantage of the rare opportunity that only comes by once in a blue moon. In fact, you could say the season was a failure of sorts, based on the lofty expectations that was set aside for the team. Even the New York Times thought UW was on the heels of the program's first-ever national championship, having a feature story on Wilson back in August 2011 with the headline reading, "The addition of quarterback Russell Wilson strays from Wisconsin roots and puts it on target for a title run." Still, the Badgers won the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game in dramatic fashion, which shouldn't go unnoticed nor forgotten.

When it's all said and done, it wouldn't be unfair to think Wilson may be the best gunslinger to ever run through the Camp Randall Stadium tunnel. But is it unfair to think UW may never see a team like this again? Time will tell under Gary Andersen.

Badger Bits

The great debate on whether college athletes should be paid could be argued on either side of the spectrum for years, but you cannot deny the money these athletes rake in for their respective athletic departments. Just how much did Wilson pull in for UW during his one year on campus? $3.4 million, according to FiveThirtyEight.

I don't think you can put a price tag on the electrifying moves that running back Melvin Gordon brings to the table, as he was tabbed the most explosive player in college football by USA Today's Sports on Earth.

Cool, calm and collected. That's Montee Ball's mantra as he heads into his second season with the Denver Broncos.

Dominican High School product Diamond Stone has attracted the attention of almost every major collegiate program throughout the United States, including Wisconsin. He and his buddy, Malik Newman, have made it known they will be a package deal, and The Clarion-Ledger's Courtney Cronin has the story on their friendship.

Alvarez will have to act quickly if the Big Ten and the other four power conferences are given complete control by the NCAA in deciding issues related to student athletes' welfare, according to Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot.

Former UW skaters Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonaugh will be heading to the Stanley Cup Finals with the New York Rangers. Stepan, who broke his jaw in Game 4 against the Montreal Canadiens, had no ill feelings toward Brandon Prust, who delivered the crushing blow. Prust and Stepan were also former teammates.

"I'm not going to hold that against him. He finished his check. He feels bad about it. He knows it was late. We move on from there."

Staying within the hockey realm: Assistant head coach Gary Shuchuk's son, Alex, will join Mike Eaves' squad next year as a walk-on.

Quick Hitters

Scott and Jake talk some Brewers, Bucks and Badgers. It's the melting pot of the state's sports on this week's episode of Kielbasa Kings.

Men's track runners Mohammed Ahmed and Danny Block qualified for the NCAA outdoor championships. Likewise for women's track runner Molly Hanson, who qualified after finishing second in the 1,500 meters.

Video of the Day No. 2

With Frank Kaminsky graduating after next season, there's going to be a huge void left at the center position. I think Stone could fill that role nicely, but that's just me. The big fella is listed as the fifth-best prospect under ESPN's top-60 list for the class of 2015.