The, not for long, No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (6-1 overall, 3-1 B1G) embarrassed themselves in a one point loss to the destitute Illinois Fighting Illini (3-4 overall, 1-3 B1G) on Saturday afternoon. You watched it, I watched it, we all watched it and it was terrible.
It was another game in another season that will end with the Badgers being pretty good, but nothing more. No one outside of Wisconsin will remember the 2019 Badgers just like no one outside of Wisconsin can you tell you much of anything about any Wisconsin Badgers team, besides Ron Dayne and Melvin Gordon, ever.
The Badgers are always pretty good. Even last year’s 8-5, losing to Minnesota, Northwestern and BYU trash ass team was pretty good. They were rated No. 19 by S&P+! The fourth best team in the conference! That’s pretty good!
Wisconsin had won double digits game the previous four years, including going 13-1 in 2017. That’s pretty good! They lost to Ohio State in the B1G title game, of course, which shut them out of making the CFP, which would have made the season great. But still, a pretty good season.
Since 2010, a year I picked because it is 10 seasons worth of data, the Badgers have been extremely successful for a team of their historic stature. Wisconsin spent many decades wandering in the college football wilderness until Barry Alvarez was hired by Donna Shalala in 1990. He turned things around for the football program and they have been on the fringe of the national conversation ever since.
There have been Rose Bowl wins, B1G titles, upsets over No. 1 teams and Heisman Trophy winners since Alvarez was put in charge and that has all been pretty good. Sometimes it has even been great! Ron Dayne winning the Heisman Trophy was great. Wisconsin winning the Rose Bowl a couple of times was great.
However, the Badgers have never been a great team. They’ve never played for a national title. They have never made it to the CFP. They haven’t gone undefeated since 1912, when they went 7-0 and won the conference! They lost to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl in 1962 and finished No. 2 in the nation and the next time they finished the season ranked it was in 1993.
In the past decade of seasons though, the Badgers have been pretty good. For three straight years, starting in 2010, the Badgers were B1G champions. They lost all three Rose Bowls in which they played in excruciating fashion. They didn’t give the ball to John Clay on the two-point conversion against TCU, the ball didn’t bounce out of bounds, or at all, when Jared Abbrederis fumbled it against Oregon and later Russell Wilson wasn’t able to spike the ball in time on the final drive and then they lost to Stanford, stupidly.
All of those years featured stupid losses, in fact all three years there were losses to Michigan State that were stupid, that kept the Badgers from doing something bigger and greater. The 2012 season had five regular seasons losses (three in OT) by 19 total points, the 2011 season had the back to back long passes against MSU and OSU and 2010 had the one loss...to Michigan State.
2013 had the loss to Arizona State where the Pac-12 refs couldn’t figure out how the end of a game worked, 2014 had the loss to LSU where Melvin Gordon didn’t play in the second half, 2015 had the loss to Iowa where Joel Stave tripped over his own lineman’s foot on the goal line and where #JazzCaughtIt against Northwestern, 2016 featured three losses to B1G teams that were all ranked No. 8 or better by a touchdown, 2017 saw undefeated No. 3 Wisconsin lose to Ohio State in the B1G title game by six points, 2018 was...well 2018 was bad.
Which brings us back to the game on Saturday against Illinois.
Wisconsin was predicted by everyone, and I do mean everyone, to blow Illinois out of the water and have the backups in by the third quarter. Everyone at The Champaign Room thought the Illini would get destroyed. The Badgers were favored by 31 points. They had the No. 1 defense in the country and the No. 1 running back in the country and Illinois had a bad offense and a bad rushing defense.
It was a cake walk.
Until it wasn’t. Illinois was losing players to injury left and right but it didn’t matter. They kept hanging around and hanging around and then Wisconsin started turning the ball over and turning red zone trips into field goals instead of touchdowns and then Illinois had a chance to win the game with a field goal.
The kick was good the moment it left the ground.
Wisconsin was probably going to end this season as another pretty good team regardless of if they lost to Illinois or not. There is basically a 0% chance that they go into Columbus and beat the Ohio State Buckeyes next weekend, and now that they’ve lost to Illinois who knows what will happen when Iowa comes to town or when they go to Minneapolis.
The Badgers had about a week, this past week, where a “great” season was a topic of conversation. “Well, Ohio State hasn’t seen a defense like Wisconsin’s yet.” “What if Jonathan Taylor has a monster game against the Buckeyes?” “Jack Coan doesn’t turn the ball over like Alex Hornibrook, he’ll keep us in the game!”
None of that matters now. Wisconsin is going to have another season that only we remember and eventually the sun will swallow the earth whole. Eat at Arby’s.
Before you were born you didn’t exist for a literally infinite amount of time. Soooo soon, you return to that state for another eternity.— Nihilist Arby's (@nihilist_arbys) February 9, 2019
So enjoy Arby’s.
I know other schools have had it worse than Wisconsin. Shit, Illinois is definitely one of them! But, Wisconsin has made a concerted effort to be one of the “big boys” but never quite done enough to actually earn it. The official Twitter account for the football team will always say that the Badgers have one of the “best records of any team in the country over the last x amount of years” and the other teams listed will be Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
You know what the big difference is between those five schools? One of them hasn’t won a national title. Unless you are counting the 1942 title that Wisconsin claims from the Helms Athletic Foundation, which hasn’t named a national champion since 1982, and picked the Badgers despite them having a worse record than the other two teams that claim national titles that year.
I once thought that the Wisconsin men’s basketball team was going to win a national championship, with me in attendance natch, but that didn’t happen. Yesterday my wife blamed me for “ruining her whole week” and “getting her emotionally invested in football” after the loss to Illinois and it got me thinking:
Will the Badgers ever be more than just pretty good?
I sure as shit hope so because I’ll keep on tuning in every year because they might just do it and I don’t want these 1,200 words of venting to be for naught. We will have earned that celebration when it comes.