The 2012 football season has been a wild ride for the Wisconsin Badgers. The team sputtered to begin the season, especially running the football, and the Badgers also suffered some very painful defeats.
The result? A 7-5 record. Those five defeats were by a combined 19 points. Three of the losses came in overtime, including one to third-ranked Ohio State. The other two losses were to teams that are currently in the Top 25.
The Badgers were still able to play in the Big Ten Championship Game because both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible. The Badgers would get another shot at Nebraska, a team which had beaten Wisconsin by a field goal in Lincoln in late September.
The Badgers ended up blowing out the Huskers 70-31 in the championship game. The Badgers had 640 total yards in the game, including a whopping 539 yards rushing.
Wisconsin would be going to its third straight Rose Bowl to face 11-2 Stanford. The Cardinal is currently ranked sixth in the BCS standings.
But just three days after the Badgers demolished the Cornhuskers in Indianapolis, the football program was rocked by the news that head coach Bret Bielema had accepted the same position at the University of Arkansas.
It was shocking news. Bielema had compiled a 68-24 record at Wisconsin as head coach, and had won three straight Big Ten titles. Bielema was also athletic director Barry Alvarez's hand-picked successor to take over the football program after Alvarez retired from coaching after the 2005 season.
The main blemish on Bielema's resume was Wisconsin's record in bowl games, where the team was 2-4, including 0-2 in the Rose Bowl.
Still, even with that surprising news, one man was stoic through it all. That man was Barry Alvarez. He told everyone not to worry or panic. He would get the football program a new head coach, one that would continue the winning legacy at Wisconsin, a legacy that was started by Alvarez and his staff in the early 1990s.
While that search was ongoing, a number of players on the Badgers asked Alvarez to coach the team for the Rose Bowl. Barry accepted their offer. Barry will be back in Pasadena. Just for this game only. More on that later.
Meanwhile, a very thorough search was being done by Alvarez to find the right guy to run the football program at Wisconsin. On December 19, Barry found his guy...Gary Andersen from Utah State.
Andersen has an excellent resume as head coach, where he took over a bad Utah State football program and completely turned it around. It led to a 11-2 record in the 2012 season, which included a a 41-15 victory over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Before Andersen took over the Utah State program, he was defensive coordinator for Utah for four years, including the 2008 Utes team that went 13-0 and beat Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
When Anderson first arrived at Utah State, the football team had won just six games in three seasons. Like Alvarez had done at Wisconsin in the early 1990s, Anderson had done the same thing. He turned a stagnant program into an excellent program, where Utah State is currently ranked 22nd in the BCS standings.
In a classy gesture, Andersen personally called every member of his Utah State team to let them know he was leaving to become the head coach for Wisconsin.
Anderson is still putting together his staff for the 2013 season, as many of the coaches who served under Bielema have accepted positions elsewhere, including some who have followed Bielema to Arkansas.
A report by Jeff Potrykus in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave some updates about the new staff on Friday.
Meanwhile the Badgers will be led by Alvarez in the Rose Bowl, along with the rest of Bielema's staff, who will continue coaching through the game in Pasadena.
That has to warm the hearts of Badger Nation, as Alvarez knows a thing or two about coaching in the Rose Bowl. Alvarez is a perfect 3-0 in Pasadena, plus he was named to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, Class of 2009.
That's just part of Alvarez' strong resume. From 1990-2005, Alvarez won 118 games for the Badgers, which is 50 more than any coach in the history of Wisconsin football.
Barry also won three Big Ten championships, with the three Rose Bowl wins to go along with that.
Alvarez knows how to coach in big games. In fact, his 8-3 record in bowl games is the best mark in NCAA history, based on 11 games.
Alvarez was named Big Ten Coach of the Year twice (1993 and 1998), as well as National Coach of the Year twice (1993 and 1999).
It all led to Alvarez being elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2010.
No wonder the current Badger players wanted Barry to lead them in the Rose Bowl on January 1.
Few know Alvarez as well as Kevin Cosgrove, who is currently the inside linebackers coach at New Mexico under Bob Davie.
Cosgrove coached with Alvarez at Wisconsin from 1990-2003. No assistant coach was with Barry longer in his time in Madison. Cosgrove was the linebackers coach at Wisconsin from 1990-1994, and then became Barry's defensive coordinator from 1995-2003.
Included in that were the three Rose Bowl victories in 1994, 1999 and 2000. Ironically, Barry's last Rose Bowl win was against Stanford.
I had an opportunity to talk to Cosgrove, and he shed some light on Alvarez and the Rose Bowl.
"Barry is very excited about it," Cosgrove said. "I had a chance to talk to him a few weeks ago. It was right after Bret took the Arkansas job. Barry had an inkling that he might be coaching in the Rose Bowl and he was excited about that."
I asked Cosgrove how Barry prepares his team's for big games like the Rose Bowl.
"He certainly takes advantage of the time before the game, " Cosgrove said. "He's probably using his same plan now, because it has been successful. The actual Rose Bowl preparation starts about two weeks before the game. That's when we really started locking in on who the opponent was. We always had good practices before we left for California."
"The main thing about Barry in bowl games is that he wants the kids to enjoy the experience. Because they earned it," Cosgrove said. "He gives them the right amount of free time and then cuts everything back as the game gets closer, so the kids are locked in and focused at the right time for the game. The preparation was outstanding, and obviously Barry's Rose Bowl record speaks for itself."
That first Rose Bowl under Alvarez in 1994 was an amazing time in the history of the Wisconsin football program. The Badgers hadn't been to Pasadena since the 1963 Rose Bowl.
"It was unbelievable," Cosgrove said. "I mean, the program we took over wasn't very successful. Barry never veered from his plan in building the program. We came real close to going to a bowl game in 1992, but we lost the last game of the year. Still, we knew we had a good team coming back the following year."
"We were fortunate enough to get to the Rose Bowl in '93. Our goal was to win a (Big Ten) championship, go to the Rose Bowl, but to also win the Rose Bowl. We were able to accomplish all three of those things. You only get so many opportunities to do that, and we were fortunate to do it three times in the 90s."
What about this year's Rose Bowl?
"Well, this is three in a row for them (Wisconsin)," Cosgrove said. I know that they were disappointed in not winning the last two. But Barry has a plan, and it's to win the game. I'm sure he's fired up. He locked in, I'm sure he's got the kids locked in too."
Cosgrove was the defensive coordinator for the Badger teams that won consecutive Rose Bowls in 1999 and 2000. Both of those teams had top-ranked defenses as well. The 2000 Rose Bowl was against Stanford.
"Even though that Rose Bowl was a low scoring game (17-9), both teams had very explosive offenses that year," Cosgrove said. "We stuck with our plan. They (Stanford) were a a pretty good running football team that year, and we had a lot of success shutting down the run and we kind of made them one dimensional."
This year, the Badgers and the Cardinal are almost mirror images of each other.
"This game will have two physical football teams and it's going to be a heck of a game," Cosgrove said. "They both want to run the football, and they both play good defense. They both run with physicality and it's really going to be a heck of a game."
Right now, Stanford is averaging over 173 yards a a game running the football, and have the 21st-ranked defense in the country, which includes the third-ranked rushing defense.
The rushing game is lead by running back Stepfan Taylor, who has rushed for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Cardinal defense has a number of impact players, including linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov.
The Badgers have the 12th-ranked rushing offense in the country, as are averaging over 237 yards a game. Wisconsin also has a stout defense, as the Badgers are ranked 14th in the country in total defense.
The Badgers are once again led by Montee Ball in terms of running the rock, as this year's Doak Walker Award winner rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The Badger defense is also led by their linebackers, especially Mike Taylor and Chris Borland.
Bottom line, a lot of folks are saying that Wisconsin doesn't deserve to be in the Rose Bowl. They are the first team ever to play in the game with five losses for one thing. Again, those losses were a combined 19 points, however.
Meanwhile Stanford lost only two games, and one of those losses was an overtime loss to Notre Dame at South Bend.
The same Notre Dame that is undefeated and who will play in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.
Stanford is favored by almost a touchdown. However, I see the game as being very physical and competitive. The game should be close.
I like the Badgers chances, too. The main reason? Barry Alvarez.
Barry knows how to win bowl games, especially the Rose Bowl. Again, Barry is 3-0 in Rose Bowl games, including a win over Stanford.
Yes...Barry is back, even if it's only for one game. But it's also the Granddaddy of Them All...the Rose Bowl.
Barry has been there, and done that. Three times...going on four.