I have a simple message for the message board crazies out there: you're crazy.
This guy? You're partially right, but on Bielema?
Look, I don't know if Bielema is the answer. He's certainly done some things I wasn't happy with. He's done some things I was happy with, but in hindsight were wrong. He hasn't been perfect. But where all the crazies get this, "UW will never win under Bielema" from is beyond me. Seriously.
Oh, but you have numbers on your side, right? I mean look: 12-1, 9-4, 7-6. Clearly a team on the decline. Clearly Barry Alvarez's legacy is tarnished, left in tatters by a coach who doesn't know what he's doing.
Well, I'm a lawyer in my day job, so I like precedent. Let's look at some:
10-1-1 . . . 8-3-1 . . . 4-5-2. Anyone recognize that? Ok, another:
10-2 . . . 9-4 . . . 5-7. How about that one?
So what happened? In 1993 Barry led the breakout season that was a sign of things to come and was golden every year since, right? Um . . .
Returning a bunch of stars in '94 (notwithstanding Brent Moss's troubles), we started the season highly ranked (#10), got smacked around by Colorado (55-17, for those who don't recall the pain), and ended up beating #25 Duke (yeah, Duke), in the Independence Bowl (and we remained unranked). Not what we wanted, but not awful. Then it all came crashing down: 4-5-2, including another embarassing loss to Colorado (at the Camp, 43-7, we were ranked #21) and painful ties to Stanford and Illinois (the last tie in college football, and the most boring game in the history of Wisconsin football; thank God I decided Thanksgiving was more important).
That was it. '93 was a flash in the pan, and Wisconsin was back to the Morton era. Well, not quite. Ron Dayne saved the program, or that's how the script goes. In '96 we started unranked (not even receiving votes), went 8-5 but lost to all but two teams with a winning record (Utah in the Copper Bowl, and 7-5 Stanford), and finished the season unranked. In '97 we started the season #24, but after another embarassing loss (remember when Syracuse was good?) we dropped out, and ended the same way, with a brutal loss to Georgia in the Outback Bowl, finishing unranked, just as we had the prior three years (8-6 overall, beating one team with a winning record, 7-5 Iowa).
We all know what happened next: we were "the worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl" (until we stunned national title contender UCLA), then we beat Stanford to become the only Big Ten team to ever win back-to-back Rose Bowls. And then?
That's right, we started 2000 with seemingly all the pieces in place, ranked #4 in the country, and instead went 9-4, beating a good Oregon team (10-2), but only beating two other teams with winning records (Western Michigan and pre-Big East Cincinnati; forgive me for not alerting the presses) before beating 6-6 UCLA in the Sun Bowl to finish the season at #23. Then? 5-7. And that's when people started wondering if Barry had passed his prime. The same people who are now arguing that Bielema has permanently ruined Barry's legacy and needs to go . . . now.
And it isn't as though Barry rocketed back from that 5-7 season, any more than he did from the 4-5-2 season in '95. 8-6 (losing to 3-9 Indiana and only two conference wins), 7-6 (beat a good Ohio State team, but the only other conference win over a winning team was Michigan State); that was when everyone started wondering if Barry had gone all Joe Tiller on us. The voices were loud: Barry needed to go. Then we narrowly missed the Rose Bowl in Barry's last two years, and sent him out with an epic beat down on Auburn.
Under Alvarez (of whom I'm a big fan, by the way), the Badgers finished in the top 25 only 6 times in 16 seasons, with two big gaps interspersed: '93, '98, '99, '00, '04, and '05 (see here).
So, Bielema goes 12-1 (#7), 9-4 (#24), and 7-6. Not the trajectory we like, but not without plenty of precedent from none other than "King Barry." So let's save the "trashing his legacy" talk for a little further down the road. How about we start by cheering for the Badgers and hoping (not without reason) that they have a good year. And what's the standard? Well, if we're holding up Barry's legacy, I'd go with about 8 wins against a pretty mild slate. That's what the King did.
I, for one, think we'll be a little better than that.