Coming off two straight overtime losses to the ineligible teams ahead of them in the standings, Wisconsin backed into the B1G championship game with an deceptive, but still disconcerting 7-5 record. It was a little like seeing Pig Pen attend a White House state dinner. Nebraska packed their never-give-up attitude to Indianapolis that put them one win away from their first conference title since the late 1990s.
Last year’s inaugural B1G Championship was novel. Sold out. Wild. Badgers won a thriller.
Well, the thrills took a blow in the 2012 version. A battered Wisconsin team vs. the conference newbie. Half the crowd. Half the drama. Until the unexpected happened. Wisconsin, a team whose offense could be compared to a slow moving tanker, scored 10 TDs for 70 points. Nebraska’s blackshirt defense faded as “On Wisconsin!” was played more often than the ref’s whistle. Only one half of the crowd was able to contribute to the decibel level of Lucas Oil Arena, while the Cornhusker faithful slowly thinned out as the 7s piled up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Despite all the roadblocks, hoops to jump through, and red tape to cut, Wisconsin managed to record their third straight Big Ten Championship. Coach Bret Bielema hoisted the trophy and accepted the roses as touchdown king Montee Ball lifted the MVP trophy. Athletic director, Barry Alvarez, looked on with an expression of delight. Stability had been firmly planted in the Badger program and fans had good reason to breathe easy – until Tuesday after the game.
Bielema announced that he accepted the head coaching position at Arkansas. A shell-shocked Badger fan base looked to Alvarez, who was now forced to scramble to find a replacement for the Rose Bowl and for the team going forward. The players asked Alvarez to coach them in Pasadena, and he accepted the honor with grace. Although Wisconsin would fall short to Stanford, there still was a sense of pride in seeing the man who rebuilt this program in the 1990s putting his undefeated Rose Bowl record on the line to help out his team. That brand of loyalty garners immense respect.
The new hire? Gary Anderson. A man who views Wisconsin as a destination job. Already, he is laying the foundation for a similar brand of loyalty as anticipation for the future blossoms.