I have to admit, I’ve always set the bar a little higher for Wisconsin.
As an alum who’s a sportswriter, I never wanted my personal feelings to color my work.
And as an alum who was on-campus during a very modest era (who’s also a Cub fan), I never wanted to over-emphasize wins and losses.
But let’s just say this right now: What’s going on at Wisconsin this fall is right up there with anything that’s happening in college football.
Not one, but two signature wins against top-10 teams: The raucous 16-14 nail-biter vs. LSU at Lambeau Field. The methodical 30-6 dismantling of Michigan State at Spartan Stadium. . . And it’s only September.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The fact that LSU is slowly sinking into the Bayou does not diminish the accomplishment. Nor does the fact that Sparty’s big win at Notre Dame no longer looks like an indicator of future results.
Those are good wins. Really good wins.
And the Badgers now can go to Michigan this week and see what happens. Take a week off and welcome Ohio State to Camp Randall Stadium and see what happens.
This isn’t just significant for this season. What second-year coach Paul Chryst is doing is a big deal for the Wisconsin football program.
And I will tell my TMGcollege sports colleagues, Rankman and Blaudschun, who are into discussing what constitutes an elite college-football program, that Wisconsin has built one.
In the quarter-century since Barry Alvarez became Wisconsin coach, the Badgers not only have won consistently. They have developed an identity that has evolved from strictly pound-the-ball, physical stuff to adding some modern necessities like all-around athleticism and, when needed, a passing game.
I don’t know if freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook will hold up against Michigan and Ohio State.
I do know that in Chryst, Alvarez has anointed a worthy successor. That, to me, is key to a program—transitioning from coach to coach. Bret Bielema, who took over for Alvarez, was a talented coach who won at the highest level but ultimately was too bizarre for buttoned-down Wisconsin.
Gary Andersen was a West Coast guy who ultimately was a bad fit.
In Chryst, the Badgers are most likely in good hands for a long, long time. When I wrote last month that Wisconsin had been dealt a ridiculous schedule, I was trying to prepare Badger fans for the possibility that Chryst could be a really good coach even if Wisconsin had a really tough year.
I had no idea the season would start this way. Nobody who doesn’t have a Bucky Badger outfit in their closet would have expected this. (And you know who you are, David.)
It’s just another reminder of how far my alma mater has come while I’ve been watching.
From Nov. 19, 1966, to Oct. 11, 1969, the Badgers went 0-22-1, losing 18 straight at the end of that stretch.
The year before I settled in at Ogg Hall, there was a big celebration in Madison. Because the Badgers had ended that 18-game losing streak.
In the four years I was there, Wisconsin never had a winning record.
And yet, as I look at the results, the Badgers always drew well. At least 60,000 people usually flocked to Camp Randall Stadium, and the crowds often swelled to 78,000.
One key was a talented set of running backs with colorful names: Grape Juice Johnson. Lancelot Moon. A-Train Thompson. Rufus Ferguson.
To hear 70,000 people shouting, ``Ruf! Ruf! Ruf!’’, I much prefer that to the Jump Around, which sounds like squealing from the stockyards to my ears, and raises structural-engineering disaster concerns.
The other key was that stadium personnel were very lax about frisking. In those simpler times, many pints of cheap booze found their way into the stadium. Early Times. Canadian Mist. Kessler’s. And of course, because it was Wisconsin, flavored brandies.
I’m sure this all sounds like some aging relative telling you he walked five miles in the snow to go to school. And honestly, it wasn’t that terrible. We got to see Bo and Woody. And we had blackberry brandy.
But so much has changed at Wisconsin these days.
When I covered Notre Dame in the ‘80s, I would talk to the talented young defensive coordinator about job openings. He would tell me he was waiting for the right job. And I would agree.
But when Barry Alvarez took the Badger job, I had no idea.
Six Rose Bowls since 1993 on his watch as coach and athletic director.
And counting. . .
That 1993 Rose Bowl, the Badgers’ first since 1962, was a big deal. So big that Liz and I hosted a Rose Bowl party, complete with a big vat of my world-famous New Mexico-style green chili. (Yup, I worked in Albuquerque for a while.)
Who knew that Badger Rose Bowls would become as common as me whipping up a batch of green chili?
When I say that ``the Badgers have won at the highest levels,’’ I am, of course, leaving out national championships. Because that’s not part of the deal at Wisconsin.
I’m still not going to predict that, or expect that.
But the way things are going, I’m not going to be surprised if that happens one of these years.
SPECIAL NOTE: If you were amused by my for-amusement-only Week 4 predictions, you're welcome. A perfect 5-0 doesn't happen often. Thank you for your patience. And I make no bold predictions about the future. I know that Week 5 and the rest of the season are hopeful but precarious.[/membership]