Today starts our season recaps for each school, looking at both football and basketball. This post will look at Wisconsin, along with touching on Notre Dame football.
I grew up in Wisconsin, and I was thinking the other day that if, in the early 1980s, someone would have told me that not only would UW produce a bowl-bound football team and an NCAA Tournament basketball team, but that such a season would actually be viewed as kind of a bummer, I would not have believed it. But that's the progress that this program has made over the past two decades, that such is the case. The football team opened with high hopes, seen as a legitimate contender for the BCS bowl game and a Big Ten crown. Heartbreaking defeats to Michigan and Ohio State started the conference season, and were followed by blowouts at the hands of Penn State and Iowa. Then the Badgers should have lost their final home to Cal-Poly, but three missed extra points saved them and they won in overtime. A humilating loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl concluded a season that was rightly seen as a disappointment. I don't know if Bret Bielama can really be called "on the hot seat" right now, but his chair is getting a little warm. The program has declined each year under his stewardship and a continuation of that trend would mean no bowl game in 2010. Bielama doesn't need to win big, but he needs to reverse the trend immediately.
The basketball team was kind of ho-hum. With the loss of Michael Flowers and Brian Butch, a reprise of their 2008 Big Ten championship wasn't going to happen. UW didn't really have any bad losses, nor did they have any dazzling wins. Beating Florida State in the NCAA Tournament put a nice gloss on what was mostly a re-tooling year for Bo Ryan.
One year ago, Wisconsin was the best program in the Big Ten, producing a conference champ in hoops and a New Year's Day bowl in football. They had a decent season this time around, but it was a definite drop-off.
On the surface, Notre Dame's 6-6 year and victory in the Hawaii Bowl doesn't seem so bad, considering they were 3-9 the year before. But the way the regular season ended left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. A humiliating home loss to Syracuse put Charlie Weis' job in serious jeopardy and being rendered offensively inept at Southern Cal in the finale didn't help. I think Notre Dame made the right move to bring Weis back for a fifth year. He has been to two major bowl games at South Bend and further improvement jumps the team back into the eight-win range, and probable New Year's invitations. But as one watches the decline of the Irish since he took over, it's hard to get the sense he's going to do it. Again, it was right to bring him back, because there was no point in the school repeating its mistake with Ty Willingham and pulling the trigger too soon. But I'm not betting on Weis being back for Year Six.