Yesterday, Bret Bielema made some waves on Twitter when he announced that Wisconsin was closing in on a "non-traditional opponent." We figured that meant he was scheduling the Cubs or the Canadian men's beach volleyball team or something, but no. Bielema was a little more tradition-minded than that.
Instead, Wisconsin will be taking on BYU in 2013, as reported Thursday by Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal on Twitter. Mulhern reports that Wisconsin will host BYU in that game and that BYU will be the home team in the second game of the home-and-home. The date of the game in Provo hasn't been set yet, but since BYU is newly independent, it's not exactly hurting for open game slots in 2014 and beyond.
Bret Bielema deserves a lot of credit for making this game happen, because the sad truth is, under Bielema's watch, the Wisconsin non-conference schedule has been a disaster. Quick, name the last time Wisconsin played a non-conference, BCS-level team that finished with even a winning record. Also, listen to this while you peruse Wisconsin's past scores to look for that opponent. See if you find it before the horns come in.
The correct answer is actually 2003—a solid decade before the upcoming BYU game—when Wisconsin (under Barry Alvarez) dispatched a nine-win West Virginia squad. That's right: Bret Bielema has never beaten a BCS-level non-conference opponent that finished with a winning record. Sure, he beat Fresno State twice, but let's not kid ourselves about where Fresno State's wins always came from. WAC is whack, kids.
So if we're going to bury Bielema for those shortcomings, we should laud him for this scheduling update. Further, as mentioned before, he's been aggressively courting Notre Dame and Alabama (not to any great level of success, but not for a lack of trying). Yes, Barry Alvarez is the guy that signs these contracts, but Bielema's been front and center in the effort to get these games to happen.
Wisconsin's got a bevy of open slots from here on out; in 2014 and 2015, the only BCS-level team on the docket is rinky-dink Washington State, so depending on how much faith you have in Mike Leach, that may or may not be a game. Why not call up someone from the Big 12, like West Virginia*?
Remember, schedule strength is a factor in the new playoff system, and Wisconsin needs to be thinking about the Big Ten championship and beyond for the foreseeable future. But really, anything against real opponents would be better than the spree of FCS teams, MACrifices and relegation-worthy BCS teams Wisconsin has faced for the past decade—and make no mistake, the Wisconsin 2012 slate is as horrendous as last year.
So, nice start, Mr. Bielema. Now keep going. Please.
*God, West Virginia is seriously in the Big 12. That wasn't a summer-long hallucination last year.