This was the year.
The year when Wisconsin had loads of talent and experience returning. The year when the Badgers were going to make the Rose Bowl. The year when expectations would finally be met.
Check. Check (just waiting on the official bid). Check.
But, this was also the year when Bret Bielema was going to prove whether or not he had a lasting future as Wisconsin's head coach. If the team underachieved, you knew there were going to be calls for his head.
Well Badger fans, Bret Bielema is here to stay.
As one of the more embattled head coaches in college football over the past five years, Bret Bielema has dealt with his share of critics. After that awful 7-6 campaign in 2008 that ended with an embarrassing 42-13 blowout bowl loss to Florida State, many hoped and prayed that Bielema would be fired.
But, he ignored the criticism, led last year's team to a surprising 10-3 record and now is in position to take Wisconsin to its first Rose Bowl in a decade.
Let it sink in a bit. This year, he led Wisconsin to its first Big Ten title since 1999 and has many calling his team the best one-loss squad in the country.
Yes, his players did the work, but Bielema is the one who recruited them. Bielema is the one who leads them.
After a disappointing 34-24 road loss to Michigan State in October, many believed the Badgers would crumble. This was going to be 2008 all over again, when Wisconsin fell on the road to Michigan and never recovered.
Not even close.
Wisconsin has not only gone undefeated since then, but it's looked like the best team in the country.
First, the Badgers started out by pounding rival Minnesota at home. Then, they took down No. 1 Ohio State 31-18 in what some were calling the biggest game in Camp Randall Stadium history.
But, they then had to go on the road to Iowa City—a place where Wisconsin never wins. Behind a blocked extra point, some hard running by Montee Ball in the final minutes and a bend-but-don't-break defense, the Badgers were able to eek out a 31-30 heart-stopper over their coach's alma mater.
Since then, it's been absolute domination. 34-13 over Purdue. 83-20 over Indiana. 48-28 over Michigan. 70-23 over Northwestern.
It seems like everything is pointing to one conclusion—Bret Bielema is leading the best team in Wisconsin history.
No, Bielema probably won't be National Coach of the Year. Heck, he wasn't even Big Ten Coach of the Year (MSU's Mark Dantonio deservedly earned that honor).
But, you can't argue with what Bielema's done. He's overcome adversity. He's led Wisconsin's offense to Bunyan-esque numbers. An official bid to the Rose Bowl is virtually a formality at this point.
Although he probably won't even be in contention—much less win it—at this moment in time, Bret Bielema just may be the best coach in America.
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