Welcome back to another session of the B5Q roundtables.
More than a week after their disappointing loss in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Wisconsin Badgers are preparing for the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2.
While the players begin to dissect film and prep for the impressive MAC program, our writers took a look back at the 2016 regular season. This is the first of four one-question roundtable chats.
Heading into the Cotton Bowl, what are your general feelings about the 2016 Wisconsin Badgers and their 10-win season?
Owen Riese: I think that in August if you said 10 wins was possible, you’d have to take that. When you find out after the season that all three losses were by seven points, that hurts a bit, but overall it’s pretty evident that head coach Paul Chryst has the program headed in the right direction and is realistically ahead of schedule in this “rebuild” phase of his tenure.
Drew Hamm: I am begrudgingly happy with how Wisconsin’s season turned out. Ten wins is never something to take for granted, but as has been the case with many Wisconsin football seasons in the last five, there will always be the feeling of “what might have been.” The future looks bright, and I hope the Badgers can get over the proverbial “hump” and join the true elite of college football.
Neal Olson: Regardless of the win/loss record, the thing that stands out about this season was how much Wisconsin had to overcome. The Badgers lost multiple games from three different starting linebackers. Sophomore inside linebacker Chris Orr played exactly one snap in 2016, redshirt senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel missed Michigan and Ohio State games and redshirt junior inside linebacker Jack Cichy played half a game against Iowa with one arm then was lost for the rest of the season. Several other key contributors missed time on both offense and defense, yet somehow the Badgers never really missed a beat.
Injuries are part of the game of course, and no one makes it through an entire football season unscathed. Without the stable of four and five-star recruits enjoyed by other programs, injuries of that magnitude could easily have derailed the season.
Additionally, the Badgers had to work through some inconsistencies on the offensive line. Stalwart line play has been synonymous with Wisconsin football since Barry Alvarez took over in the early 1990s, but in 2016 the big guys up front were shuffled around more times than I can recall. Redshirt freshman David Edwards, who started out the spring as a tight end, ended as the starter at right tackle and looks to have a promising future at that position.
Perhaps what all this is leading to is the incredible job Chryst and his staff did in re-focusing the team. Keep in mind, many players experienced three different head coaches during their time at UW, all with slightly different ideas on how to run the program. Tough schedule, piles of injuries, midseason quarterback change—none of it derailed Chryst and co., from their #QuestForFun train ride.
Jon Beidelschies: I am thrilled at the season the Badgers had. With all of the questions coming into the year, this has got to be one of the all-time great surprise years in recent Wisconsin history. This squad was smart and resilient, and the defense was (Penn State loss aside) fun to watch.
I know this is probably a #hottake, but I am actually pretty excited for the Cotton Bowl. In full disclosure, I am a full-on mark for bowl games in general, so my judgement in these matters is questionable. Sure, it’s a high-risk trap game. But it is also a high-profile game against a decent team that the Badgers should absolutely win. And if they hang 50 on the Boatrowers, it’s a nice public statement for recruits and fans.
Jake Kocorowski: The team surpassed almost every expectation originally thought headed into the season. How many times did one hear 8-4 or 9-3 as a pleasantly over-optimistic prediction? The team made an impact statement early on Sept. 3 in upsetting LSU 16-14 and was in every single game this season. I had expected that much from Chryst’s team, which has taken on the identity of its head coach in approaching one game at a time and continuously looking for improvement.
With so much in the plus category this season—another great defensive performance, a re-emerging run game that still hasn’t seen its best outing yet—it’s OK to think what might have been. Three losses were by a combined 21 points, and in two of the three Wisconsin had a substantial lead and in all likelihood should have won. The Badgers, for the first time, really sniffed the College Football Playoff.
I do hope Wisconsin fans get up for the Cotton Bowl, and like Jon, I’m intrigued to see how this team responds. Yes, the Badgers may be in a “lose-lose” situation against the Broncos, but with what this senior class has accomplished despite the coaching turnover, they’re in prime position for a New Year’s Six bowl victory at the end of their careers—if the hangover from the Penn State loss doesn’t linger. With this group, I don’t think it will.
It could be a springboard to even greater things in 2017.