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2012: 8-5 (4-4), Third in Leaders Division, Big Ten Champions
Wisconsin was a hard team to nail down this season. At times, the Badgers played like the Big Ten Championship Game winners they are. At others, Wisconsin was downright terrible.
The Badgers opened the season with a narrow win over FCS Northern Iowa, 26-21. After a loss to Oregon State, the Badgers nearly laid an egg at home against Utah State.
Wisconsin barely managed a .500 record in Big Ten play this year, but that was just enough. Backing your way into the conference championship game is bad enough, but the Badgers backed their way through a back door with both Penn State and Ohio State—both Leaders Division teams and both with better conference records than Wisconsin— who were both ineligible to participate.
Wisconsin wasn't having any of that “the Badgers don't belong” nonsense though and shellacked the Cornhuskers, 70-31 to earn yet another trip to Pasadena.
While the Badgers will have 16 combined starters returning in 2013, there are two big names that won't be returning: Montee Ball and Bret Bielema.
Losing a star running back is one thing. Losing a NCAA record-setter like Ball is something entirely different. Ball may have been a once-in-a-generation ball carrier, and his loss will be plain come the fall.
On top of that, losing a head coach always involves a transition period of a season or two. Wisconsin isn't the only Big Ten team that will need to break in a new head coach in 2013, but it is the biggest coaching departure in the conference, maybe even the nation.
Even if the Badgers' hold serve—which is possible—there's little to no chance they can keep ahead of Ohio State in the Leaders Division to win a fourth-consecutive title.
2013 Prediction: 8-5 (4-4)