As the Big Ten season hits the final few days and more than a dozen other conference tournaments get going, let us just go ahead and welcome all those sports fans whose interest in college basketball picks up -- right about this time of year.
More than one week away from Selection Sunday, and already I have heard what has turned into an annual question. How far will the Badgers advance in the NCAA tournament?
Who knows? Can we at least wait for the tournament pairings?
Boring as it might sound, that is the best answer I can give. However, there are some signs that the Badgers once again could be a tough out in postseason play.
The effort last Sunday at Ohio State certainly gives fans reason to believe. After coming close against highly-ranked teams such as North Carolina, Marquette, Michigan State and the first matchup with the Buckeyes, Wisconsin broke through with a 63-60 victory in Columbus.
In sports, there are some games that you steal. This was not one of them. The Badgers won it. They won it with a big-league effort from Jared Berggren, Jordan Taylor and company. With Taylor, it is the latest chapter in a terrific career, but to see Berggren have success at both ends of the floor against OSU big man Jared Sullinger is encouraging. Yes, it is simply one game, but what a game it was.
How about the recent play of Rob Wilson? The senior can hear the clock ticking on his college basketball career, and he is playing as though he would like it to last several more weeks.
To make a long story short, it appears as though a certain All-America point guard is getting more and more help from players not named Jordan Taylor. In two of the previous three games prior to Tuesday night's 52-45 victory against Minnesota, Wisconsin had four players scoring in double figures. Against Ohio State there were three, with Wilson adding nine critical points off the bench.
It is no secret that opposing teams have tried to do everything possible to contain Taylor. Still, there are times when Taylor proves to be next to impossible to stop. Just ask the Gophers. However, on other nights, Taylor needs the other four on the floor to pick him up. As the regular season comes to a close, the Badgers are showing they are capable of providing some balance.
"They're gonna have to," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "That is how you can get to keep playing. They are trying to be a more consistent unit, no matter who the five are on the court."
Against the Gophers, it was more a matter of Jordan needing to be Jordan. The senior guard knocked down 3 of 6 shots from 3-point range and then added 11 of 12 from the free throw line. Come tournament time, he may very well need to have a monster game --maybe more than one -- for Wisconsin to advance.
But perhaps the better chance for the Badgers would be if they are able to distribute the scoring.
On Tuesday, the Badgers finished a rather grueling stretch of playing three games in six days in three different cities. They won two of those, which assures the Badgers of a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament for the 12th-straight year.
And they are in line for a 14th-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
Some of the Badgers' games have been anything but pretty, but this streak of postseason appearances is a thing of beauty.
While it is unlikely anyone associated with the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team will say it out loud, the Badgers appear to be in pretty decent shape for a 14th-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
Only Kansas, Duke and Michigan State have longer streaks. Meanwhile Texas, which like the Badgers has gone dancing for the last 13 years, would seem to have some work to do.
To be sure, the Longhorns could still make it, but they begin the week with a 7-8 conference record, and a ratings percentage index (RPI) of 59, according to CollegeRPI.com.
A couple of other traditional powers will need to win their conference tournaments to make the field. Pittsburgh is last in the Big East with a 4-11 record, while its RPI is 93. UCLA is 8-6 in the Pac-12, but has an RPI of 136.
In other words, dropping games to the Panthers and the Bruins, especially the latter, would be considered a bad loss. Imagine that.
The RPI is just one of several tools for the NCAA tournament selection committee, but clearly those numbers help demonstrate that Texas, Pitt and UCLA have had their struggles.
Meanwhile, the Badgers simply continue to win. On Sunday, Bo Ryan's bunch won its 20th game of year. That is six straight seasons of at least 20 victories, and the ninth in 11 years under Ryan. In the history of the program, the UW has 13 such seasons.
Perhaps even more telling is the fact that the Badgers can still finish in the top four of the Big Ten standings.
They would like to believe they can end up even higher, but for now, Wisconsin is a game-and-a-half ahead of fifth-place Indiana. If the Badgers hold on to that position, it would be the 11th-straight season of a fourth-place or better finish in the league.
Now that is impressive.
Perhaps even more so this season. Yes, this team really struggles to score, but far more often than not, they defend. They protect the basketball. And they make free throws, especially late in games.
To this point of the season, that combination has helped the Badgers to the Big Ten's best road record.
With trips coming up to Iowa City and Columbus, that combo needs to be in play again.
Much has been made of Wisconsin's home record under Ryan, and much has been made of the Badgers' four Kohl Center losses this season. Understandable, but what many folks have missed is the success away from home.
Since Ryan became the head coach in Madison, no team in the Big Ten has been better outside of its own gym than the Badgers.
During that period, Wisconsin's 47 conference road wins is tied with Ohio State for the most in the league. Michigan State is next in line with 43.
The Badgers are not picky. They win here. They win there (stolen from Charlie Sheen).
Without a doubt, the Badgers would love to average more than the 60 points per game they manage in league play. But, if they score 52 and the opponent has 51, they will take it.
Especially at this stage of the season, when absolutely nothing is easy.
Against Penn State, the shots started to fall more frequently. Hopefully that is a sign of things to come.
However, if the offense starts scuffling again, the Badgers still can have a fighting chance, as long as the defense remains solid, they secure the basketball and they knock down pressure free throws.
That might end up being Wisconsin's winning recipe.
This Sunday, the University of Wisconsin will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the basketball team's first Big Ten title in 55 years. Let me confess to you how smart I was about that group. Before the season began, I wondered whether it could win 10 games.
There was a new coaching staff. A couple of players left the program. Promising freshman Latrell Fleming had to give up the sport because of a heart condition. Another freshman, Andreas Helmigk, blew out his knee in training camp. People wondered whether a shooter such as Kirk Penney could have success in Bo Ryan's system.
There was reason to be excited about a freshman named Devin Harris, but how good would he be in his rookie season?
The seniors on that team were Charlie Wills and Trevon Davis. The previous season, Wills averaged 4.2 points per game, and Davis chipped in with 2.2. There were some who labeled Davis as a hard-nosed but turnover prone player. How would the point guard handle Ryan, and vice versa?
Early in the season, the critics seemed fairly smart. The travel schedule was brutal, with a road trip to Las Vegas, followed by a flight to Hilo, Hawaii. The team returned to Madison for a day, and then it was off to Atlanta for a date with Georgia Tech.
At the end of that stretch, the Badgers were 1-4. They dropped six of their first nine games, but as the non-conference season moved along, the players started to understand what Bo and his staff expected.
They blitzed a Dwayne Wade-led Marquette team, 86-63, slipped past UW-Milwaukee and held off a solid Tennessee squad, 65-62.
In a crazy Big Ten season, no team really took hold of the league. By early February, the Badgers got hot, beginning with an overtime decision against 16th-ranked Ohio State. It started a six-game winning streak to close the regular season.
Two years before, Badger fans witnessed the incredible run to the Final Four. Keep in mind they finished sixth in the Big Ten.
After that season, perhaps many observers figured Wisconsin basketball would return to the background. Obviously, the Badgers have done the opposite.
On Feb. 27, 2002, the Badgers had a celebration. They pounded Michigan 74-54, giving the fans a chance to rush the floor, and giving Bo and his players a chance to cut down the nets.
The 2001-02 team was low on healthy bodies, but it was a team with impressive scoring balance, led by Penney's 15 points per game. Harris and Wills also averaged in double figures. Mike Wilkinson was right behind them.
Freddie Owens hit a game-winner at Michigan State that snapped the Spartans' home winning streak at 53 games.
Davis was more than solid at point guard, averaging 7.8 points a game and 4.3 rebounds. Dave Mader also started every game, giving his team valuable minutes with his size.
It will be good to see those who can make it to Madison this weekend. Wisconsin basketball has come a long way in a fairly short time.
Yes, it was 55 years between Big Ten titles, but once the Badgers won that trophy in Bo's first year, opponents have found them very difficult to beat.
The Badgers of 10 years ago sent a little notice to the college basketball world that they planned to be a factor for awhile, and that certainly has been the case.
The 2001-02 season was amazing to witness, and I was very pleased that my preseason inkling was so off target.
You want to know the best part about the Badgers having a 10-year championship reunion?
Some random thoughts from someone who is thrilled that Travis Beckum will get a Super Bowl ring, but is disappointed for him that the price to pay includes a torn ACL:
We're talking about playoffs Is college football one step closer to a four-team playoff? Earlier this week the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein reported Big Ten officials are tossing around the thoughts of taking the top four teams in the final BCS poll and having them meet in semifinal games, with the higher-ranked squads earning home field advantage.
The winners would meet for the national championship at a site determined through a bid process.
Last month, BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said schools are looking at 50 to 60 different postseason plans, but this latest nugget sounds plenty intriguing to me.
The current BCS postseason agreement runs through the 2014 season, but perhaps the Big Ten, which as a conference has been anti-playoff, is ready to change its tune. To some, it might not include enough teams, but count me in as being in favor of this step.
I like the possibility of an SEC team travelling north to play a big game. Now, let us just wait and see whether it happens.
Leuer making an impact I don't know about you, but I find myself trying to watch a little more of the Milwaukee Bucks this season. The reason is Jon Leuer. Yes, the Bucks have been wildly inconsistent.
It also is true that here in Madison, interest in the NBA, and specifically the Bucks, appears to be choppy at best.
But it is fun for me to watch a former Badger standout who has put together some pretty good games in his rookie season.
While doing a little channel surfing last Saturday night, I caught some of their game with the Bulls. It was a long night for the Bucks, but I appreciated hearing Bulls color analyst and former player Stacey King praise Leuer, calling him a very good addition to the team.
Maturi will be missed Sticking with hoops, on Thursday night the Badgers will play the Gophers at Williams Arena, AKA, "The Barn." It will be good to see Joel Maturi, who this summer will retire as the University of Minnesota's athletics director.
Maturi has been the target of some harsh criticism in the Twin Cities, but it is clear he walked into a difficult environment. Perhaps the crown jewel of Maturi's 10 years as Minnesota's AD is TCF Bank Stadium, the football home for the Gophers.
Above all else, Joel Maturi simply is one of the good guys in college athletics. In the late 1990s, when he was the AD at the University of Denver, Maturi wanted to hire someone named Bo Ryan. Apparently, university officials had other ideas, so the move never happened.
Interesting how things work out sometimes, right?
Eddie earned his return Finally, welcome back Eddie Faulkner. Football coach Bret Bielema hired the former Badgers tailback to be the team's tight ends coach.
In his playing days, Faulkner would step in for Ron Dayne and Michael Bennett, and the team recognized his value.
For me, the first memory that jumps out is Faulkner's game-winning touchdown in overtime to beat Cincinnati in 2000.
It was a clutch performance by a player who understood and accepted his role.
It is good to see Eddie Faulkner establish himself as a respected coach. It is even better that he gets to return to his alma mater.
In the last couple of weeks, the Badger men's basketball team has given fans a few more examples of how times continue to change, and for the better.
Last Sunday, Bo Ryan's team beat Illinois in Champaign. Ten days earlier the Badgers held off Purdue in West Lafayette. It marked the first time since 1918 that a Wisconsin team won in those two cities in the same season. For any team, winning at Purdue and at Illinois is difficult. The Badgers' miseries, especially in West Lafayette, are well documented.
Consider this year's success as another in a line of negative streak-busters accomplished by Ryan's Badgers.
Last Thursday, the Badgers defeated Indiana 57-50. It is the ninth-consecutive victory, and the 15th in the last 18 meetings for Wisconsin against Indiana. In addition, it is the 11th-straight home court win for the Badgers against IU.
You do not need to be in the "over 40" crowd to remember when the Badgers were on the other end of such a streak. From 1980 until 1997, Bob Knight's Indiana teams ran off 31 straight victories at Wisconsin's expense. Included in the domination was a 22-game home court winning streak against the Badgers -- until Ryan's first Wisconsin team ended the madness in February of 2002.
Knowing about that long, rough stretch of years might make it easier to appreciate what this current group of Badgers is doing against a storied basketball program.
Which brings us to another current streak that Wisconsin would love to extend. On Saturday, third-ranked Ohio State comes to town. No doubt there will be plenty of excitement. Perhaps not quite as much as last year, when an unbeaten and top-rated Buckeyes team visited the Kohl Center, but I would like to believe there will be no shortage of noise in the building.
Without a doubt Coach Thad Matta has put together one of nation's premier programs. OSU has had excellent role players as well as major star power. That trend continues this season.
The Kohl Center also happens to be the one building where Matta's Buckeyes have yet to win. They are 0-6 under the current boss, and OSU has dropped nine straight overall in Madison.
Perhaps to some, winning can be taken for granted. These streaks should not be viewed in such a manner. Like the bad streaks, the good ones will end sometime. The Badgers and their fans just hope this good stretch won't stop anytime soon.
Extending it another game will be a tall order. Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Aaron Craft make for a tremendous trio. There are those who believe Craft is the nation's best on-ball defender, which should make for another big time matchup with Jordan Taylor. When we last saw Taylor at home against Ohio State, the All-America guard was putting on a show for the ages, leading Wisconsin from a 15-point second-half deficit to give OSU its first loss of the season.
After starting Big Ten play 1-3, it might have been tempting to give up on this team. Instead, the Badgers have fought their way back into the conference race with six straight wins.
Sometimes they shoot it well. Other times they seem to get it done by sheer will.
Whatever the formula, they have found the right mix to turn negatives into positives. On Saturday, the home team would like nothing more than to keep streaking against a national power.
During the 1989 and 1990 Badger football seasons, I had the privilege of working with legendary announcer Jim Irwin. In those days, Jim did the play-by-play alongside Elroy Hirsch and Brian Manthey. My role was hosting the pregame, halftime and postgame shows.
I certainly knew about Jim. In those days, every sports fan in Wisconsin was familiar with the name. Among his many duties, Jim was the voice of the Badgers, the Milwaukee Bucks and, most notably, the Green Bay Packers. When needed, Jim also would fill in for Bob Uecker on the Brewers' broadcasts.
He did it all. On Friday, Jim would call a Bucks game. On Saturday, he would be in the booth for a Badgers game, and then he would either head up to Lambeau Field or race to catch a plane to wherever the Packers were playing on Sunday.
It was quite the schedule, but Jim was the consummate professional. There is a reason he is a Hall of Famer.
Like so many sports fans in this state and beyond, I am saddened at the news of his passing. Irwin died earlier this week in Southern California at age 77.
For many years, Jim Irwin was the voice of teams that had very little success. When we worked together for those two years on the UW football broadcasts, the Badgers' record was 3-19. On the field, those seasons were anything but pretty, but Jim always had plenty of energy, and he was the eternal optimist.
As for your truly, I was a twenty-something kid from Ohio still trying to figure out the business. The next think I knew, I was sitting next to a Wisconsin broadcasting icon.
While those were trying times for the Badgers and their fans, the 1989 and 1990 Wisconsin football seasons are years that I cherish. Why? Because Jim could not have been more welcoming to someone who was still fairly new to the industry.
Someone like Jim could have "big timed" me, but he always offered words of encouragement. In a sense, perhaps he was taking me under his wing. It was only 22 Saturdays, but for me they were important Saturdays, and Jim made me feel as though I was a big part of the Badgers' radio crew. He did not have to be that way, but he was. The same goes for Jim's lovely wife, Gloria, who often joined him in Madison for those home football games.
Jim retired more than a decade ago, and clearly the Packers have a great announcer in Wayne Larrivee. The Bucks' Ted Davis also does terrific work. But I think we all understand that for so many people, hearing Jim Irwin's voice takes us back to so many memorable moments.
From Wes Matthews' half-court heave to beat Michigan State in 1979, when he told his listeners, "Yes! He made it! He made it! He made it, and we win the ballgame! 83 to 81! From mid-court! Wesley Matthews made it!" to the 1981 Badger football team's upset of No. 1 Michigan.
On that September afternoon, Irwin described Matt VandenBoom's three interceptions, including the pick that sealed the game: "Back goes (Steve) Smith. He's gonna throw. He looks. This is the last play of the game. He fires it over the middle. Picked off! The Badgers win it. With 2 seconds to go, Matt VandenBoom intercepts the ball!"
Then there was the Packers' Super Bowl XXXI victory against the New England Patriots: "The Vince Lombardi Trophy is coming home where it started!" said Irwin that day.
Hearing those calls is like turning back the clock and being a kid again.
I am proud to say that I had the chance to work with Jim Irwin. I was very lucky to have had that opportunity. It isn't every day that one can say he was able to spend time with a Hall of Famer who was gracious, supportive and just a pretty down-to-earth man who loved his craft and performed it at a level that most of us can only hope to reach.
Rest in peace, Jim. Thank you for all of your wonderful calls, and thank you for believing in that young broadcaster.
Before the Big Ten basketball season began, it seemed everyone picked Ohio State to win the conference title, and perhaps win it going away.
On paper, it was hard to select any other team. With Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and William Buford, among others, the Buckeyes appear to be the most skilled team in the league.
That still could be the case, but through six games, the Buckeyes already have two losses.
Not one team made it through the first five Big Ten games unscathed. Home court has not always been an advantage.
The Badgers have dropped two of their first three conference games at the Kohl Center.
Indiana, which has beaten previously top-ranked Kentucky and then No. 2 Ohio State, lost to Minnesota last week at Assembly Hall. It was the Gophers' first victory in league play.
As Jim Polzin accurately writes in Tuesday's Wisconsin State Journal, "The Big Ten standings already are a mess."
With nine teams in the RPI top 50 and no one rated lower than 145, the Big Ten appears to be incredibly deep -- at least so far.
It makes me wonder. Will Big Ten teams beat up on each other all season and be worn down by March? Or will the best teams in this league be that much tougher and more NCAA tournament ready?
I realize it is early, but right now I tend to believe the answer is the latter.
My guess is Ohio State still has its best basketball ahead of it. Michigan State, led by Draymond Green, is just plain tough. Michigan, despite losing by 16 at Iowa last Saturday, appears to be strong. Freshman guard Trey Burke has been a valuable addition, and Tim Hardaway, Jr. is improving.
Illinois will be interesting to watch. Brandon Paul is coming off a monster 43-point outing against Ohio State, and big man Meyers Leonard is capable of being a difference maker.
It is unwise to look past anyone, including Northwestern. Otherwise neutral observers likely will pull for the Wildcats to make the NCAA field. When the Cats are on their game, they are a very tough out.
The shooting of John Shurna and Drew Crawford, impressive guard play from freshman Dave Sobolewski and the ever-present threat of the backdoor play in the Princeton offense make for a challenging preparation.
So where does this leave the Badgers? The shooting continues to be up and down, but for the most part, the defense has been quite good.
On most nights, that should give Wisconsin a chance.
As impressive as they looked at Purdue, perhaps Sunday's grinder with Nebraska said every bit as much about this team's resolve. When you shoot 31 percent from the floor (21 percent in the second half) and still win the game, you take it and move on.
I would like to believe that the Badgers' best ball is ahead of them too.
Let's face it. Replacing the scoring of Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil is no easy task. Opposing teams are doing what they can to make life difficult for Jordan Taylor, and at times they are daring someone else to beat them.
As players such as Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Ben Brust and Mike Bruesewitz continue to grow in their roles, the hope is they can become more consistent threats.
When they are in rhythm, the Badgers are pretty good. When they struggle to score, the Badgers struggle to win.
The one safe assumption about Big Ten basketball this winter is that little if anything will be easy. That is part of what should make it fun to watch, and perhaps it will help this conference make plenty of noise in March.
The Badgers are hoping to get a little winning streak going and be in the middle of all that fun.
By Brian Mason on January 12, 2012 10:35 AM
Back in October, I wrote about what a great time it was to be a sports fan in Wisconsin. The Brewers were rolling into the playoffs. After pounding Nebraska in the much-anticipated Big Ten opener, the unbeaten Badger football team was enjoying a bye week. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers and company, were putting on a show each week.
Hopefully, that show in Green Bay will continue for a few more weeks.
However, given the fragile nature of sports, we witnessed the Brewers' season end to rival and eventual World Series champion St. Louis. Later, we learned that Ryan Braun might be in line for a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test. Brewers fans nervously await the final word from MLB officials.
As for the Badger football team, a thrilling victory in the first-ever conference title game was followed by a heart-breaking Rose Bowl loss to Oregon.
To be sure, there is no shame in losing to the Ducks. It was a wildly entertaining game featuring two prolific offenses, but Wisconsin fell just short.
In the days following the Rose Bowl, Bret Bielema finds himself needing to replace five assistants. Paul Chryst, Bob Bostad, Dave Huxtable and Joe Rudolph are moving to Pittsburgh, while DelVaughn Alexander will join the Arizona State staff.
While assistants will move on, this is an unusually large hit. In some corners of Badger Nation, there exists a state of panic. Badgers fans nervously await word from Bielema regarding the new hires.
At the risk of sounding like the uptight guy in the movie "Animal House" who, during the parade scene, desperately shrieks "All is well. All is well!" let me suggest that it is too early to press the panic button. Perhaps it makes sense to sit back and allow Bielema the chance to reassemble his staff. In six years as the head coach, he has demonstrated the ability to follow a living legend, and his program has bounced back quite well after the 7-6 season of 2008.
Just consider it another example of the head coach's favorite saying, "It's not what happens, it is how you respond."
We move onto basketball, where Bo Ryan's team is going through an awful shooting slump that has resulted in three straight losses, two coming on the home court. This is the same Badger squad that thumped 12th-ranked UNLV, a team that has not lost since. It also is the same Badger group that took North Carolina to the final minute.
It is fair to be concerned, but I would think it is a bit early to jump off the ship.
On Thursday night, the Badgers have another tough road test at Purdue, followed by a home game with Nebraska on Sunday afternoon.
Yes, Sunday afternoon, while the Packers are playing the New York Giants. Tough timing for a Wisconsin basketball game, but the NFL has other scheduling matters to worry about.
It makes me wonder what kind of atmosphere there will be at the Kohl Center. It is no secret that the reputation is slipping.
When it comes to noise level, a writer from Las Vegas compared it to a library.
Look, I have little if any right to tell folks who pay very good money to support the Badgers to get off their butts and cheer louder. So please allow me to suggest that the team might need a little more help these days.
If nothing else, the past week-and-a-half should remind everyone that winning is not a given.
Yes, the Badgers can do their part to create more excitement, specifically by making more shots.
But let's be real -- it is easy to get behind a team when it is smooth sailing. Now that the waters are a tad choppy, it will be interesting to see how everyone responds, players and fans alike.
By Matt Lepay on January 4, 2012 12:00 PM
When our red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Madison landed at about 5 o'clock Tuesday morning, Mike Lucas suggested that, with the way things are going in the Badgers' world, Michigan State will win that night's basketball game on a buzzer-beater.
It was worse. It went to a replay review. Are you kidding me? Another (expletive deleted) replay review?
And yes, the officials got it right. Ryan Evans' desperation 3-point attempt -- a Hail Mary if you will -- was just a tad too late, leaving Badger Nation with yet another shot to the solar plexus.
This follows Monday's gut-wrenching setback in Pasadena, where the Badgers went toe-to-toe with lightning-fast Oregon only to fall one play short of at least having a chance to force overtime.
In yet another sign of how things have changed in these parts, a storyline coming out of the Rose Bowl is how Badgers coach Bret Bielema is in search of winning the big one. Or is it The Big One?
It is the same question Ducks coach Chip Kelly had to hear after his group lost the 2010 Rose Bowl, and then went down on a last-second field goal to Auburn in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.
I understand how it works, but let's be honest -- you have to win some big games to get to The Big One, don't you? The Badgers turned in a dominating performance against Penn State to win the Leaders Division. They followed that effort with the Big Ten championship game thriller with Michigan State. Those were pretty big games.
Following a legend is never easy, and fans, as well as some in the media, are wondering why Bielema's Badgers are 0-2 in Rose Bowls, while Barry Alvarez and the boys went 3-0 in the 1990s.
I suppose it is a natural question, but at the same time, perhaps it just points out how hard it is to win these BCS games, and it serves as a reminder of how special those 1993, 1998 and '99 teams were to have so much success at the Rose Bowl.
One could argue that the two most famous coaches in Big Ten history are Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. They led Ohio State and Michigan teams that, more often than not, ran roughshod through the rest of the Big Ten, and then squared off in what amounted to an almost annual conference title game. The winner would go to the Rose Bowl, where it would lose a lot.
Schembechler's Rose Bowl record was 2-8. In his book, written with Mitch Albom in the late 1980s, there is a chapter called "Why My Bowl Record Stinks, and Other Thoughts."
Hayes' OSU teams dropped four of its last five Rose Bowls, and went 4-4 overall.
I am talking about two dominant programs that generally ruled the day in the Big Ten.
In more current events, albeit from a different league, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer now has a 1-5 record in the big boy bowl games of the BCS era.
My point is not to sound like a Badgers apologist, but rather to suggest that the final step to becoming an elite team is extraordinarily difficult.
Wisconsin has turned in some tremendous work to reach its current level, which is that of a nationally-respected program. In the BCS era, only USC has made more Rose Bowl appearances than the Badgers.
That is something to shout about.
The 2011 Wisconsin Badgers embraced the lofty expectations. They fell a little short of meeting all of them, and that will hurt for awhile.
But man, what a ride it was. Monday concluded my 24th year of covering Badger football, and the 18th as its radio play-by-play announcer. This offense was the most exciting I have seen, led by a quarterback who always gave his team a chance, right up to the final second of the final game.
To be sure, there were flaws with the 2011 Badgers, but the team found a way to win another conference title, giving thousands of fans a great excuse to head to Southern California to ring in the New Year. That isn't so bad, is it?
I have been around this program long enough to remember when big stage games were few and far between.
I also understand the disappointment of losing a second straight Rose Bowl, but I hope most fans will look back and recall how much fun it was to watch this team.
The last chapter might have had the wrong ending, but in my book, this team will forever be special.
For years, many have said only half-jokingly that those who run the Tournament of Roses are far more interested in the Rose Parade than the game itself.
To be sure, through the years the hundreds of thousands of fans who have made the trip to Southern California have made every effort to take it all in. From Disneyland to Santa Monica Pier to Colorado Boulevard, it is all a part of the Rose Bowl experience. For the players, that includes the always popular Lawry's Beef Bowl, when we find out who can down the most red meat at one sitting.
That is all fine and dandy, but those who know their Rose Bowl history also are aware the game itself often produces high drama. I believe we may very well see more of the same next Monday.
Just take a look at Wisconsin's history in Pasadena. The victories have been one-score games. Last year, the Badgers were a deflected pass away from forcing overtime. Close games are not an annual occurrence, but they have happened enough to add to the magic of a game played in a stadium that has as beautiful a setting as any in college football, if not all of sports.
Outside of the BCS title game, you can state the case the Wisconsin-Oregon matchup is the most intriguing. Yes, the Fiesta Bowl with Stanford and Oklahoma State will be a fun watch, as well, but the Badgers and the Ducks are two teams that score a ton of points in different ways.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema likes to control the ball. His team led the Big Ten in time of possession and scored 44.6 points a game. Ducks boss Chip Kelly apparently could not care less about time of possession. In that statistic, his team was dead last in the FBS. It did OK anyway, averaging 46.2 points per game.
However, it would be a mistake to label this as an "Old School vs. New School" matchup. Without a doubt, Kelly thinks outside the box. The same can be said of Bielema. Kelly has a history of trick plays -- against Stanford, the Ducks ran a fake PAT, with the TIGHT END throwing for a two-point conversion.
Badgers running back Montee Ball is 2-for-2 as a passer, with one of those completions going for a touchdown.
Other than that, Bielema has kept the trickery to a minimum this year, but on his radio show last week, the coach reminded listeners that there is one more game to play. Hmmmm.
I would guess by now that players on both defenses are sick and tired of hearing about how the Rose Bowl scoreboard operator might be the hardest working person in the stadium. I have to admit I am one of those who figures it will be a fairly high scoring tussle, but I have seen enough football to understand that a couple of defensive plays can make all the difference.
The 1999 Rose Bowl between Wisconsin and UCLA comes to mind. It was an offensive showcase. Ron Dayne ran wild. The teams combined for 1,035 yards of offense. However, two plays that I always will remember are Jamar Fletcher's interception return for a touchdown and Wendell Bryant's sack that sealed the victory.
The 2012 Rose Bowl has two of the nation's top four offenses. It is fair to expect big plays from Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and company. The same goes for LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas, among others. Do not forget the special teams. Thomas has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis has one punt return for a score.
But don't forget about the defenses. In what might be a shootout, the defense that can come up with just one more big play could determine who is holding up the trophy.