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Roundtable: Wisconsin's 10-win season a success amidst injuries, redefining Badgers football

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

How would you rate Paul Chryst's first season as head coach at Wisconsin, both from a coaching perspective and from a team perspective?

Drew Hamm: Look, everyone down below me is pretty positive about Chryst's first season and honestly 10 wins and a Holiday Bowl victory over USC are nice to talk about when looking back on a season in a few years, but think about how mad you were when Wisconsin lost to Iowa. And then Northwestern. Both at home. With the Badgers scoring 13 combined points. They also barely beat Illinois, Maryland and Nebraska and got the doors blown off them by Alabama (in a measuring stick game that showed Wisconsin isn't even within a full measuring stick of competing for a College Football Playoff berth).

I think Chryst is a fine coach who will continue to allow Wisconsin to occasionally play for B1G title and probably always play in a bowl game. His coaching style brought stability to a Wisconsin team that desperately needed it, and for that reason his first season was a success (by the skin of his teeth), but I don't know how the rest of his career will go in Madison (because next year's schedule is brutal). I hope Wisconsin didn't settle and I hope I'm wrong.

Kyle Vos: I give Chryst a positive rating in his first season. I am ecstatic that he was able to retain Dave Aranda (for one season) and leave the established defense alone. I think he did about as well as he could have with the offense given the instability up front and injury to Corey Clement. Most importantly, he has appeared to stabilize a program that was in desperate need of just that. Being the third head coach in a handful of years is not an enviable task. The schedule was easy and a couple of the losses were tough to swallow, but in the end Chryst led this team to a 10-win season that included important wins over rival Minnesota and in the bowl game against Southern California.

Jon Arens: Chryst's first season cannot be characterized as anything but a success, all things considered. I was a big proponent of hiring Chryst after Bret Bielema left, but understood why Barry Alvarez did not want to pull the rug out from under Pitt after the school endured a rough patch with coaches in the post Dave Wannstedt era. This Wisconsin team provided Chryst with both the challenge of working with players who didn't fit his system, as well as players who he had recruited to fit his system, and were then subsequently ruined while he was away at Pitt (cough, Joel Stave). You are seeing some attrition, especially at the quarterback and running back positions, but those things are to be expected. Give Chryst another year, and the stable will once again be stocked with large, corn-fed humans that get drafted in the first round, which is pretty much all that matters, as was seen this year. Chryst is not going anywhere, anytime soon, and that represents arguably the most desirable trait in a coach you can find in 2015.

From a team perspective, I would give the group a solid "B". They beat teams they should beat, lost two games they should've won, and put up points on a team that was in the national championship. The victory against USC shocked just about everyone I watched the game with (I watched the game alone on a Pottery Barn couch drinking tea). Had the Badgers beaten Northwestern and Iowa, they would've likely stolen Iowa's season and lost as a top five team to Michigan State in the conference championship game and then again in the Rose Bowl, which would have made UW like the Buffalo Bills of college football, which nobody wants. Anyone who isn't looking forward to next year is delusional.

Neal Olson: The biggest impact Chryst had in his first season was re-establishing the identity of the program. As Kyle notes, he stabilized a program that lost two head coaches in three years and attempted a major offensive philosophy change. Wisconsin football had been in flux since Bielema's abrupt departure. Chryst, the Madison native and prodigal son, returned the Badgers to it's no-nonsense, smash-mouth brand of football first established under Barry Alvarez. Perhaps nothing epitomizes Chryst more than the sweatshirt he rocked on the sidelines of the Holiday Bowl. Never flashy or trendy, but wildly effective. I imagine numerous times USC players looked at Chryst on the opposite sideline and wondered "How are we losing to these guys?".

Chryst had an extremely manageable schedule in his inaugural season and if you were into picking nits, you could argue the losses at home to Iowa and Northwestern were borderline inexcusable. However, left with an inexperienced offensive line and forced to deal with injuries to Clement, Robert Wheelwright and others, Chryst did the best in a difficult situation. Without question the Badgers were a better football team in the last game of the season than the first. Progress of that magnitude is a great indicator of future success.

Play or Moment of the Year?

Drew: Any time Derrick Henry ran the ball for Alabama against Wisconsin was pretty great, but if we are limiting this to play/moments done by Wisconsin players I guess I'll say Alex Erickson's touchdown catch to tie Alabama at seven in the second quarter of the opening game. It gave me hope. Hope that the Badgers could hang with the Crimson Tide. Hope that Stave had benefitted from Chryst coming back. It was all quickly dashed, but for those brief minutes, Wisconsin was near the top of the world. Beating Minnesota for the jillionth time was also sweet.

Kyle: My favorite moment was watching Stave complete a couple big passes to set Wisconsin up for the game winning field goal against USC. It was not the most impressive drive or most exciting plays, but it was incredibly memorable and symbolic. With Stave's nose heavily bandaged, as if to provide an image of the verbal punching bag he had become for many Badgers fans, he stepped up and hit a pair of tight ends to put his team inside the Trojan 20-yard line. Stave had his struggles, but he finished his career by doing what he had done more often than not during it: enough to win the game.

Jon: My wife's response to this question was, "This season sucked, why do you ask?" (I'm convinced she moonlights as a blog commenter who specializes in napalming clock management decisions and dropped passes). After some thought, I will go with the Nebraska win, which stands as one of the only good true road victories of the post-Alvarez Era. I have consistently said over the years that I prefer watching blowouts to good games, mainly because I did not believe Wisconsin was able to win good games. That narrative was somewhat shattered in Lincoln, as Wisconsin fought back furiously to win a game that I have been beaten down into thinking was not possible. Yes, Wisconsin still lost two games in brutal fashion, but that win against Nebraska just felt different. If Chryst can make winning on the road a regular occurrence, he will quickly step out from Bielema's shadow.

Neal: At the risk of getting caught up in recent events, those three straight sacks by Jack Cichy were one of the most amazing sequences I have ever seen in the countless hours I have spent watching football. Even better, Cichy was a walk on player getting those sacks against a college football blue blood program in USC and it's perennial top 10 recruiting class.

Jake Kocorowski: I'm going to pop in this one as editor of these roundtables, and this is more of a Debbie Downer moment, but the play of the year has to be Stave's fumble near the goal line against Iowa. If there's no fumble, the Badgers have another shot at the end zone to take the lead, and at the very least, should convert on a field goal to bring it within one point. With the way the defense played, that sets up that last drive to be a game-winning one where the Badgers could have relied on the leg of sophomore kicker Rafael Gaglianone (though he was more inconsistent this season than his freshman campaign). Granted, Iowa cornerback and kick returner Desmond King could have had a big return off that ensuing kickoff, but the Badgers' defense was playing lights out against the Hawkeyes.

In a broader stroke, the Badgers then hold the edge against Iowa for the season, quite possibly win the Big Ten West, and take on Michigan State -- upping their potential for a New Year's Six bowl.