It was a bitter, frustrating finish to the 2013 season for Wisconsin football when it fell to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. An injury to Joel Stave and several missed opportunities were too much for the Badgers to overcome as they finished 9-4 in Gary Andersen's inaugural season.
Wisconsin will bid farewell to some of the best players to ever don the cardinal and white, including James White, Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland. While it will be difficult to replace such notable players, there is still plenty of talent returning, and Andersen has amped up the recruiting at Wisconsin.
Many feel there is reason for optimism in Madison and that the Badgers are just a few breaks away from becoming a national contender.
For as disappointing as the end result was in 2013, the moments created by those remarkable players that will look to thrive at the next level, as well as some that will return to Wisconsin in 2014, are some we'll never forget. Let's keep that optimistic vibe going and relive the five best moments of 2013 for Wisconsin football.
Anytime you are a running back at the University of Wisconsin and you set a school record, you have accomplished a truly amazing feat.
From the moment he stepped onto campus, White was a force for the Badgers. As a freshman, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and had the second-highest yards-per-carry average in school history. Three years later, here he was, as a senior, setting the school record for the longest touchdown run in program history.
White's 93-yard touchdown run came on the first play from scrimmage against Indiana, a team the Badgers have dominated in recent years. White found the hole created by his offensive line, broke a tackle and then it was off to the races as he got some help down field from a blocker on his way to the end zone.
That run set the tone for the remainder of the game as the Badgers would go on to win, 51-3. It was Wisconsin's fifth consecutive victory, and on the season, White would finish with 1,444 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns.
His ability to pass protect and impact the game as both a rusher and a receiver make White a viable option to contribute in the NFL, and he will always be remembered for his distinguished career at Wisconsin as well as his record-setting touchdown run against the Hoosiers.
Sometimes, Chris Borland does ridiculous things on a football field, like single-handedly stuffing Carlos Hyde twice when only one yard was needed.
Of course, that's just one example of Borland's ability to impact a game. He is the FBS' all-time leader in forced fumbles, and to no one's surprise, Borland was Wisconsin's leading tackler in 2013 while also leading the way in tackles for a loss.
But there wasn't a single play that better defined Borland's college career than the one he made in the third quarter against Minnesota in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe.
Not only did Borland stop Minnesota running back David Cobb well before the line of scrimmage, but he managed to rip the ball loose while holding Cobb upright, and then caught the ball out of midair while on his back to complete the turnover.
Borland nearly doubled the next-closest tackler on the team despite missing the better part of two games with a hamstring injury. While his biggest knock is his size, that hasn't proven to slow down Borland at the college level, and based on his work ethic and phenomenal nose for the football, there's a good chance he'll able to overcome this "deficiency" at the next level.
The Arizona State game remains a sore subject for Badger fans to this day, but it is also the source of two of Wisconsin's best moments of the season—the first one being Melvin Gordon's 80-yard touchdown run.
Badger nation was thrilled and relieved to learn that Gordon, who is a redshirt sophomore, would be returning next season to play for Wisconsin. This play was a huge reason why, as Gordon is one of the most explosive running backs in Badgers history, as well as all of college football.
Among players with at least 200 carries at the FBS level, nobody had a better yards-per-carry average than Gordon (7.8). Another remarkable statistic is that Gordon, despite having just 206 carries on the season, was a top-10 rusher in the FBS with 1,609 yards to go along with 12 touchdowns.
As did so many of his lengthy runs this season, Gordon's 80-yard sprint to paydirt came on the jet sweep, a play that has become a staple in the Wisconsin offense. The superb blocking on the outside by the Badgers receivers and tight ends combined with Gordon's burst led to several big plays on the jet sweep, including this one, which put Wisconsin up, 21-13, on the Sun Devils in the third quarter.
While James White won't be back in 2014, a backfield of Gordon and Corey Clement—and perhaps even 5-star running back Joe Mixon—is something anyone can get behind.
Ugh—Arizona State again?
Sorry, but while the controversial ending will always trump what happened throughout the game, the fact of the matter is that Wisconsin's showdown with the Sun Devils was one of the more entertaining football games of the young 2013 season.
That was thanks in part to the fake punt the Badgers beautifully executed while trialing by eight points in the fourth quarter.
The snap was taken by the up-back, Brian Wozniak, who promptly pitched the ball to Chris Borland. While Borland appeared to be stopped dead in his tracks, he then lofted the ball over a defender to tight end Jacob Pedersen, who converted the first down.
The drive would result in a touchdown, and had the Badgers been able to complete the comeback, there's little doubt that this fake punt would have been given the recognition it deserved. Unfortunately, we all know that didn't happen, but we'll pay this gutsy call by Andersen and its perfect execution its due by making it the No. 2 moment for the Badgers in 2013.
One of the most incredible and unexpected individual efforts in college football this season came back in September when the Badgers traveled to The Shoe to take on Ohio State.
That individual effort came not from James White, Melvin Gordon or Joel Stave, but from Wisconsin's only viable threat at wide receiver—Jared Abbrederis.
While Abbrederis is one of the better receivers in the country, the fact that every opponent of the Badgers knew that he was Stave's security blanket and only true option in the passing game put him at a disadvantage all season long.
If that wasn't enough, Abbrederis would be going up against an All-American cornerback in Bradley Roby.
All the senior wide receiver did against the Buckeyes was catch 10 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown, including a one-handed 36-yard grab despite being tugged on for a majority of the play. Another leaping grab Abbrederis made after burning Roby on a double-move shouldn't go unnoticed, either, although the Badgers would wind up falling short in the end.
Questions remain about how Wisconsin will move forward without Abbrederis at wide receiver, and it's because of efforts like this—the best play for the Badgers in 2013.