The year is 2018. The Wisconsin Badgers have just finished off their best season in school history going 13-1 and winning the Orange Bowl over the Miami Hurricanes. You, like many others, are very happy with the direction Wisconsin has taken and feels like this could be the beginning of a very special era of Wisconsin football. It’s year three under Paul Chryst and it feels like the Badgers are THIS CLOSE to being a program that can consistently compete at the highest level. I mean, did you see that Big Ten Title game? The refs blew that pass interference call on Danny Davis!
A year later, Wisconsin has a down season going 8-5 but finished it with a win in the Pinstripe Bowl. You, like many others, chalk it up to roster turnover and some locker room issues that we all heard about... despite the poor finish, things look positive as Wisconsin puts together its highest-ranked recruiting class ever, finishing 29th.
The following season Wisconsin bounces back strong starting 6-0 and blowing the doors off of their opponents. However, a bad upset to Illinois followed by a loss to Ohio State derails a solid season. Despite that, Wisconsin wins four in a row to get back to the Big Ten Title game. Once again, the Badgers are defeated by Ohio State and follow it up with a disappointing Rose Bowl loss. Still, the program feels like its trending upward with another record-breaking recruiting class in 2020, finishing 27th. Shortly after that though, the world gets turned upside down with a pandemic. College football scraps together a season, but ultimately it's hard to gauge what to take from it.
Suddenly, time flies by, and it's 2022. Wisconsin is sitting at 1-1 after another poor loss due to self-inflicted issues, much like most of 2021. You, like many others, are no longer surprised at the result. You shouldn’t be. Wisconsin has now been doing it for years. In fact, the Badgers are now just 24-16 against power five opponents since 2018.
so this prompted me to look up Wisconsin's record in P5 games from 2018 on: 24-16— Ryan Nanni (@celebrityhottub) September 11, 2022
that feels like a pretty slow but meaningful backslide!
For many years, we Wisconsin fans have thought that the Badgers were “this close” to competing with the big boys of the conference and college football. They were the premier program of the West that just needed to “get over that hump” of the East. Can any of us sit here and really think that is the case anymore? That gap is wider than it has been in quite some time, and it does not feel like it is going to be closing anytime soon. Truthfully, it feels like its going to continue to widen given the state of college football and the changes coming.
The Big Ten East already had a sizeable gap, but that continues to grow larger. Additionally, the Big Ten will welcome two more teams (and likely more) each of which has very strong brands attached to it. Those brands, frankly, are stronger than most of the teams in the West division. Add in the fact that the Big Ten West is likely going to be scrapped altogether in favor of the top two teams and you’re looking at a conference where the Badgers, and others in the West, are behind a bigger 8-ball than they already are right now.
After Week 2— Dalton Shetler (@DaltonShetler) September 11, 2022
Big Ten East: 14-0
Big Ten West: 9-7
That gap doesn’t even take into account NIL and recruiting which Wisconsin is already lacking. Just look at the class of 2023 rankings. Wisconsin currently sits 54th in the country and 12th in the conference. The Badgers have yet to land a 4-star player to that group. The only other teams that haven’t are Maryland, Rutgers, and Indiana. Not teams you generally want to be associated with. Sure, Wisconsin historically has done more with less but again, that hasn’t been the case for a couple of years now. In fact, those “top-ranked” recruiting classes are producing fewer results than the ones before them.
All in all, I don’t like to be the guy that acts like the sky is falling after one loss, because, it is in fact just one loss in a non-conference game. But let's look deeper, is it really “just one game”? Can we really sit here and say that we haven’t seen that same “one game” for years now? A game where Wisconsin has no offense, poor turnovers, special teams' ineptitude, and stupid penalties is something that has been happening consistently for years.
This “one game” is the same version, it’s just a different opponent in a different season. It’s no longer a one-off. It's a consistent backslide, and it has been that way for a while. It’s ok to admit it. You aren’t a bad fan for thinking it. It’s ok to expect more, and it’s ok to be disappointed in the trajectory this program has taken over the past few seasons. There’s time to change it, and I truly hope they do, but optimism is waning in a lot of different areas.