INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: Russell Wilson (R) #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates with a rose after they won 42-39 against the Michigan State Spartans during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
There's this little game called the Rose Bowl coming up in a couple of weeks, and its kind of a big deal. In our attempt to get to know the Badgers inside and out, we turn to our colleagues at SBN's Wisconsin blog Bucky's 5th Quarter, where Adam Hoge answers. This will be a four part series, the first part an overview of the Wisconsin program. You can see my answers to Adam's questions over at B5Q, and his answers to my initial questions follow here.
1. After getting Russell Wilson in the offseason, many pundits were speculating a spot for Wisconsin in the National Championship. After two losses on last minute touchdowns, are Badger fans satisfied with the way the season has gone?
There’s no question fans are still thinking "what if". I think winning the Big Ten Championship Game gave fans some satisfaction – especially because it was a thrilling win over the team that ended Wisconsin’s national title hopes – but I think the general thought among Badger fans is that this season won’t be deemed a total success without a win in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin has never had a sniff of the National Championship Game so in that regard I’m not sure how many actually believed it was possible, but to look back on this season and realize they were two plays away, I know it’s something both fans and the players are still thinking about. Again, a trip to Pasadena has temporarily cured the hangover that lasted over a month, but there’s a lot of pressure to win the Rose Bowl after losing it last season.
2. Bret Bielema is obviously a good coach, but from the outside he seems like a guy who is not always the best sport and is more than happy to run up the score. How do Wisconsin fans feel about him?
Well I certainly think Bielema is a coach who during the course of a game isn’t worried about what the coach across the sideline thinks about his moves, but I also think the sentiment you bring up is completely overblown. Most of the talk of him running up the score comes from last season when the Badgers scored 70+ points three times, including 83 against Indiana. What was missed in those games is that the backups and even third stringers did a lot of the damage. Then-Indiana coach Bill Lynch even conceded that the Badgers did nothing wrong. Bielema is well liked by those who know him (in the media, around the program, e.t.c.) and most of the complaints about him come from those who have never even met the guy. Overall, Badgers fans are happy with him. He rubbed them the wrong way with some mistakes in 2008 when he was a younger coach, but the last three seasons have more than made up for it.
3. We know about Wisconsin's recent history--the two Rose Bowls under Barry Alvarez and now consecutive Rose Bowls again. Tell us about Wisconsin's history and their historical place in the Big Ten hierarchy.
Before Barry Alvarez got to Madison in 1990, Wisconsin football was the doormat of the Big Ten. During his introductory press conference he made the bold threat that Badger fans better buy their season tickets quickly because soon they won’t be available. Sure enough, the Badgers were in the Rose Bowl in 1993 and tickets have been hard to come by ever since. Before Alvarez, the Badgers had success here and there with a few Rose Bowl appearances along the way, but he completely put Wisconsin football on the map. Now Bret Bielema appears to be taking the program to a new level as the Badgers have the best overall record in the Big Ten over the last three seasons. He also happens to be working on a recruiting class that will likely be the best in school history. Ohio State and Michigan are obviously the class of the Big Ten historically, but the Badgers are at the top of the conference right now and under Bielema, they have every intention of staying there.
4. Tell us all we need to know about the Wisconsin fan base.
More than anything, the Badger fan base just loves to have fun. They’ll welcome any party, anytime. They’re a passionate group that hates losing, but for the most part, they handle struggles with class. Duck fans will find Badger fans very welcoming and very nice. There are some students that tend to cross the line, but I think every fan base deals with that. Overall, the students are nuts (in a good way) and the adults can be every crazier. Last year, an estimated 20,000 fans flooded the Santa Monica Pier for the pre-Rose Bowl pep rally two days before the game. It was quite a sight. The UW Marching Band will lead the way on game day. They’re a huge group and widely regarded as one of the best bands in the country. And that part about having fun? That’s all the band does.
5. Packers. Brewers. Bucks. Badgers. We know that the Packers are king, but where does Badgers football fall within the ranks of the Wisconsin sports hierarchy?
The Packers are a clear No. 1, but Wisconsin is an underrated sports state (I’m from Chicago by the way) and the Badgers are still gigantic. The Brewers’ recent success has closed the gap a little bit, but I think it’s safe to say the Badgers are No. 2. In football, they don’t have to compete with any in-state schools for attention, although the University of Minnesota is close enough to the western part of the state that the Gophers steal a couple fans. Still, it’s the Badger state and if you live within state lines, you’re pretty much groomed to be a Badger fan.