Looking back on 2008, there are too many lows, and a disturbing lack of highs, but there were a few. To end on a high note, I'll start with what brought me down (from the benign to the truly agonizing).
(1) Regional coverage. Overall, the Big Ten Network has been a good thing. More Big Ten football on my TV (as of the last minute deal before the season began), but it isn't without it's problems. First up, was missing the first game of the year and following via ESPN's gamecast. And the Ohio State game, too (thanks, ABC/ESPN). Now, missing Akron live wasn't the biggest deal ever (afterall, it used to be the norm), but missing all but the end of the epic battle with Ohio State because the ABC regional/ESPN national thing only occurs during the 3:30 EST slot? Not good.
(2) Injuries. I started the fall worried about our d-line and corners, but it was Beckum, Casillas, McFadden, and the offensive line who bore the brunt of it this year.
(3) Las Vegas. No, seriously. I got to the car-rental line just in time to watch Michigan State line up and kick the game winner, just moments after my Blackberry told me we had an 11-point lead in the 4th quarter. Maybe it's just travelling to the State of Michigan that does something to our guys . . .
(4) Come-from-ahead losses. Obviously this is nothing new, but Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State all had things in common. And very nearly Minnesota (two years in a row), too. If you look at the last two years, this looks like a trend. Actually, it's not just being ahead and losing, it's bad second halves. Add Fresno State, the Outback Bowl, the Champs Sports Bowl, heck, even Bielema's Capital One Bowl.
(5) Florida State. I've never felt so good about our chances while watching us get blown out. Surreal. So much about that game made it look winnable, and yet . . . (this is the inverse of the Capital One Bowl against Arkansas: never was a big win more painful to watch).
(6) Iowa. I'm ok with Penn State blowing us out. Ok, not "ok," but I can deal with it. But the one-trick pony that is Iowa? How did they make our defense look so bad!?! It's not like we didn't know what was coming. It's not as though we didn't have three and four year starters in the majority of our front 7.
(7) Michigan. Of all the losses, this hurts the most. People, they finished 3-9. Utah (ok, they were pretty good), Notre Dame (mediocre), and Toledo (also 3-9) managed to beat these guys, and we didn't? What is it about Ann Arbor that we can't handle (last win there was in '94).
I could go on, but we all know this season pretty well sucked. Still, it was better than 1995 (my senior year, 4-5-2), when I skipped out on the 3-3 Thanksgiving tie against lowly Illinois, and 2001 (5-7) when we beat Ohio State in Columbus, lost at home to Fresno State, got blown out at home by Indiana, and lost to Minnesota. Probably our second-best game (after beating OSU) was a closs loss on the road to a very good Oregon team (the one the BCS screwed that year) in the second week of the year.
Highs. Not so many, but there are a few, in reverse order:
(6) (this year I can't have as many highs as lows) The Big Ten Network. I may have missed Akron, but it's because I hadn't yet figured out the DVR and regional replay. Fortunately, by the time the Iowa embarassment came along, I learned that the BTN, at least, replays the regional games later. So a little DVR action, some media blackout, and I got Indiana and Cal Poly despite the regional problem.
(5) Allan Langford. Great comeback by a player often overshadowed. During a poor year for the defense, he was the bright spot.
(4) Garrett Graham. The kid is a baller. Tight end recruits around the nation should take notice, Paul Chryst loves him some tight ends. When we couldn't pass the ball to anyone else, we could get it to him.
(3) Cal Poly. Ok, so maybe they "should have" beaten us, but kicking is a part of the game, too, and going in we knew that was a weakness (probably didn't scheme 3 missed extra points). It was an exciting game, and we came back in the second half and won. That's enough for me.
(2) Fresno State. So it turns out neither team was that good, but it was a still a great game and a fun road trip.
(1) Minnesota. It's always good to beat Minnesota. It's a little better when it puts us ahead of them in the Big Ten standings. And it's better still when you have a monstrous second-half rally to come from a two-touchdown deficit. I shouldn't gloat about our rival's epic collapse -- I have friends and family who went to Minnesota -- but after '93, I consider it all fair game.
So, at the end of the highs and lows recap, I'll leave you with a tool to try and help us feel better about the Badger's season. We're better than both teams in the national title game.
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