The Wisconsin Badgers started the season with legitimate College Football Playoff hype surrounding them from both the fan base and the media.
Each week, as they won yet another game, the hype grew and grew, as it should have.
It reached its peak right before the Big Ten Championship Game, and then quickly started going downhill from there.
By the time the dust settled, the Badgers were 12–1 and losers of the Big Ten Championship Game and a playoff berth after a disappointing effort.
And when the final particles of dust had settled, the Badgers discovered that they would head to the Orange Bowl to face Miami.
Despite this brief diatribe of mine, I actually believe the Orange Bowl matters for the Badgers probably as much as anyone you might talk to. The Badgers will be fine whether they win or lose, but a program-record 13th win would provide a big dose of positive momentum heading into next season.
Before 2015’s Outback Bowl triumph, the Badgers had lost four straight bowl games, including three straight Rose Bowls. If you go even further back, they had gone 3–8 in their last 11 bowl games.
Bowl games present a unique set of opportunities for college football teams. They are a chance to get away to an exotic locale and play a (sometimes) comparable team from another conference. Thus, observers judge, fairly or unfairly, where teams and conferences stack up against each other based on the bowl results.
At the 2014 Capital One Bowl, Wisconsin’s most recent bowl loss, the BCS No. 19 Badgers faced off against the BCS No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks. The Badgers lost, 34–24, and looked pretty feckless.
Since then, they racked up a win against Auburn in the 2015 Outback Bowl that most prognosticators predicted they would not, out-executed an extremely talented USC team in a 23–21 win in the 2015 Holiday Bowl, and
methodically pounded into submission soundly defeated P.J. Fleck and his boat-rowing, undefeated Western Michigan Broncos in the 2017 Cotton Bowl.
Worth noting is that the Badgers were the first power-conference team in a New Year’s Six bowl to defeat their Group of Five opponent since the College Football Playoff era began. Chris Petersen-less Boise State felled Arizona in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl, and Tom Herman’s Houston thoroughly outplayed Florida State in the 2016 Peach Bowl.
Essentially, Wisconsin was the only team that didn’t fall for the trap. They were in a no-win situation, and still won. That should be noticed.
When you don’t reach the playoff and have to play a Group of Five team in a New Year’s Six bowl, you can lose focus and have a letdown, like Arizona and Florida State did, which hurts your program. In fact, since that Fiesta Bowl defeat, Arizona went 7–6, 3–9, and 7–5 in their next three seasons, respectively.
Furthermore, the only reason Arizona had a decent record this year, and Rich Rodriguez is still the coach, is that RichRod discovered, by accident, that, “Hey, this Khalil Tate guy can actually play football a little bit!” The program has drastically underachieved since the winning the Pac-12 South and reaching the Pac-12 Championship and Fiesta Bowl in 2014.
What about Florida State? Since its defeat in the Peach Bowl, Florida State similarly discovered that, “Hey, this Deondre Francois guy can play some ball!” and rode him to a perfectly fine 9–3 regular season record and an eker of an Orange Bowl win over Michigan in the 2016 season.
This year, after losing Francois for the season in their first game against Alabama, they started 2–5 and limped to a 6–6 record. Jimbo Fisher promptly bolted for the big-time, $$$$$, private jets, and maroon carpets of Texas A&M.
Think winning bowl games, especially big ones, matters yet?
Additionally, it may absolutely and totally suck that Wisconsin did not beat Ohio State and earn the right to prove its mettle against the best in the country in the playoff. However, this Orange Bowl is pretty much a win-win-win situation for the Badgers, unlike last year’s Cotton Bowl.
Due to the type of game last year’s tilt between Michigan and Florida State was, and the fact that the game is played on Dec. 30—also known as that day before New Year’s Eve when people are either working, doing nothing, or at home with the TV on and nothing to do but plan for New Year’s Eve/Day, this game will draw some ratings.
Wisconsin is playing a top-10 team in Miami in Miami’s actual home stadium. It is not that far removed from a true road game. Despite the Badgers being the higher-ranked team at No. 6, they will still wear their road jerseys and act as the road team.
Miami has played extremely well at home in prime-time games against “marquee” opponents this year, toppling Virginia Tech, who might not actually be that good, by a score of 28–10, and then totally, utterly, and literally destroying Notre Dame and eating Brian Kelly’s soul (and patience) by defeating the Irish 41–8.
Side note: Notre Dame also might not be that good. But I digress.
If the Badgers are able to pull off any win, especially a convincing one, against “The U” in Miami’s HOME STADIUM, they will get three things out of it, all of which would be quite beneficial for the program:
1. National respect
2. Momentum to build on going into next year
3. Potentially a top-four final AP ranking, depending on how they play
All of these things would build momentum toward next season and the next shot at the playoff.
Oh, by the way, this game is in FLORIDA. Not only does Wisconsin have several players (and seniors) from Florida, including defensive backs Derrick Tindal, Natrell Jamerson, D’Cota Dixon, and Dontye Carriere-Williams, that would love nothing more than to show out in Miami, but a strong showing in such a fertile recruiting ground would pay massive dividends for the Badgers’ future recruiting.
If you don’t think that matters, remember this—four-star offensive tackle Logan Brown, a 2019 Badgers commit and one of the highest-rated commits Wisconsin’s football team has ever landed, chose Wisconsin over his own flagship , home state university of Michigan literally the day after Wisconsin’s sound 24–10 defeat of Michigan at Camp Randall on Nov. 18.
It matters. This game matters. If the Badgers can take care of their bowl business in the Orange Bowl like they have in past years, it will pay massive dividends and continue the program’s recent trend of getting the most out of its postseason opportunities and continuing to move forward in its quest to reach the playoff and win a national championship.