The Wisconsin Badgers have struggled in Year 1 of the Luke Fickell era, currently standing at 5-5, including 3-4 in conference play, losing each of their last three games.
When Fickell entered at Wisconsin, it was expected that there’d be growing pains on both sides of the ball, given the amount of turnover, but expectations were high in Year 1, given an easier schedule facing a weaker Big Ten West.
However, through ten games, the Badgers have failed to separate themselves from the pack and face a major inflection point this weekend against Nebraska in their final home game of the season.
This isn’t new territory for Fickell; at Cincinnati, the head coach struggled in his first year with the program, going 4-8 before turning things around in Year 2 with an 11-2 record.
Both of Fickell’s head coaching stops have included a similar trajectory: a disappointing year that got the previous coach fired, followed by an up-and-down first year with Fickell as he settled in.
Which stop has been a tougher challenge for Fickell as a head coach?
While acknowledging the difference between the experiences, Fickell pointed to his current stop as a tougher experience.
“Everything is its own entity. And I would tell you that this is much more difficult and not because I think I know more because in Year 1 [at Cincinnati], I had not a great clue as to what was going on, but I think every place you go, to things are new and different,” Fickell said.
Perhaps it was the high expectations that Fickell set upon the team, but the head coach believes that the current challenge is much more difficult than the one he faced rebuilding the Cincinnati program.
“But I don’t know. Maybe it’s the expectations that we walked into, maybe it’s what I truly had envisioned, the things I thought we could be as we grew,” Fickell said. “And then obviously there are some situations that have caused us injuries and things like that to put us in a little bit of a different mode.”
“But, in general, I think it just have an expectation for myself and the things that we do that are far greater now than they were seven years ago. And so this is and continues to be and is a hell of a lot more challenging.”
It was always going to take time, but this year clearly hasn’t been what Fickell and the new coaching staff expected.
Still, the Badgers hold a top-25 recruiting class in the 2024 cycle, and could be active again in the transfer portal as they reshape their roster to compete with the bigger programs as the Big Ten changes into a new format next season.