December 29, 2009

One final chance to re-establish UW football

When the Wisconsin football team broke fall camp and started prepping for the season opener against Northern Illinois back in September, it was clear what the team's No. 1 priority was.

Re-establishing Wisconsin football.

After a disappointing 7-6 mark in 2008, the returning Badgers had nothing but a stale and sour taste in their mouth throughout the entire summer. So, with that, players took the initiative to get better and prevent another lackluster season to unfold.

O'Brien Schofield dedicated his summer to bettering himself on the field. Chris Maragos was poised to become a leader and Scott Tolzien stepped up so much in camp that he was named starting quarterback to start the year and hasn't looked back since.

Now, when UW takes the field against a 9-3 Miami squad in the same place where it lost to Florida State a year ago, the Badgers have one final chance to re-establish Wisconsin football.

That being to win a bowl game.

"We need to win as many games as we can," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "This is the last one on the schedule. Anytime you can win a bowl game, it propels winter conditioning so much better and just your feeling going in. I did mention to our guys, not only is this the conclusion to the 2009 football season but it's the start to 2010 for everybody that's coming back."

So far this season Wisconsin has had its fair share of impressive wins, but three losses kind of cast a cloud over the season. So, should the Badgers lose to Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl, would it still be considered a successful season? One where the team re-established Wisconsin football?

"Yes and no," Tolzien said. "There's a lot of good things we've done this year and a lot of things personally and as a team that I'm sure we wish we could have back. I just want to focus on prepping for the win and hopefully we don't have to worry about that."

But losing wouldn't be too far out of the realm of possibilities for this Wisconsin squad. If you just look at the way the schedule played out, the Badgers consistently took care of the teams they should have, but at the same time, didn't win many games against tougher opponents.

Wisconsin dominated most of the game against Ohio State, but wound up losing because of two pick sixes and a kick return for a touchdown. Then, after jumping out to a 10-0 lead, UW squandered 20 unanswered points to Iowa in that loss.

Finally, against Northwestern, a late John Clay fumble derailed any hopes of a dramatic come-from-behind win against the Wildcats. Simply put, UW beat who they were supposed to and came up short in games against some of the league's better teams.

So, come kickoff, tonight's game against the Hurricanes, a team that is looking for it's 10th win to propel them back into the national picture in 2010, will serve as one final chance to re-establish Wisconsin football.

A win would mark a successful 10-win season. A loss, would leave that same stale and sour taste in UW's mouth. Only this time, it wouldn't necessarily be because what transpired during the season as much as it would be what could have been.

In short, it's not often that one bowl game could change the perception of the season that was.

"We've done a lot with this season," Maragos said. "Obviously it's going to put-in everybody else's minds and eyes of the outside world-they're going to say, okay, they beat a quality opponent like Miami, somebody they quote, unquote shouldn't beat and that was just a great season.

"For us, as I like at the season, we've done a lot of stuff. We've put this program in the position where it needs to be. Guys are stepping up in leadership roles, underneath the seniors, that are going to come up and do some good things. For us, we've had a great season and I think this would cap it off and make it even better.

"But I really feel we've done a lot of great things already."

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