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Today is Tuesday, Jan. 3, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
What we expected from Badgers
Those who follow the Wisconsin football team closely never thought for a second that they’d see anything different than what they did on Monday. The same thing they saw all year from the Badgers — toughness, grit, resiliency — was on full display in Wisconsin’s 24-16 Cotton Bowl victory against Western Michigan.
Anyone who thought this group of kids would lack motivation because the opponent came from a lesser conference, or would go quietly into the night after losing the Big Ten title game in heart-breaking fashion, didn’t truly know what fueled coach Paul Chryst’s second team in Madison.
Thank you for everything Wisconsin! ??
— Corey Clement (@CoreyClement_6) January 2, 2017
Guys with bright futures could have turned their focus to the next level — like Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette — and no one would have taken issue with it. Instead, there was RB Corey Clement handing out violent stiff arms, LT Ryan Ramczyk washing down a defensive end, OLB T.J. Watt abusing an offensive lineman and his partner on the other side, Vince Biegel, chasing the quarterback like a madman, just like they all have this season.
It was that strength of mind and body that got them to a New Year’s Six game despite a brutal schedule and an even more brutal conference title game loss.
But this effort was what Wisconsin football has become in the last 25 years — the golden age of the program. The Badgers are going to hit you in the mouth again and again, and see if you want to come back for more. After being staggered early, Western Michigan showed it did want some more, and made Wisconsin work hard for a third-straight bowl victory — the longest stretch since the mid-1990s when now athletic director Barry Alvarez was running things on the sidelines.
— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) January 3, 2017
Oh, you say the Broncos had a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter? Not anymore, not after a clutch interception by one-time Western Michigan commit T.J. Edwards led to a Troy Fumagalli touchdown. So coach P.J. Fleck and his #rowtheboat crew cut it to a one-score game in the final minutes? No problem, just have Bart Houston find Fumagalli for 20 yards and a first down to salt the game away.
— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) January 2, 2017
This may not be the best Wisconsin team of all-time, but its fight and care-level were as high as any team that’s called Madison home. They could have gone in the tank several times this year — after losses to Michigan and Ohio State or after blowing a 21-point lead to Penn State in the title game — but they didn’t. And they didn’t once again when Western Michigan challenged them. They accepted the challenge and won the day — something they did time after time in a year of unexpected success.
Chryst may go on to have teams that end up more successful than this one, but he may never have another one that embodied the word “team” more.
On a high note
Like Joel Stave did a year ago in the Holiday Bowl win against USC, senior QB Bart Houston saved his best day for his last day. Getting a second-straight start, Houston was near perfect, going 11 of 12 passing for 159 yards, with his only incompletion coming on a drop by TE Troy Fumagalli in the end zone for a would-be touchdown.
— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) January 2, 2017
Houston’s performance is admirable on several levels, starting with the fact that he was still so invested in the team. After waiting so long to get the starting job, in this his fifth year with the team, he had it taken from him because, to be fair, he was outplayed by redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook after three games.
Some would go in the tank after such a disappointment. Houston didn’t. He stayed the course, and by the middle of the Big Ten season he and Hornibrook were sharing snaps. And over his final six games, Houston completed 77.2 percent of his passes and had a quarterback rating of 179.6.
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) January 2, 2017
The way Houston went out is perfect. His potential was never fully reached, though much of that has to do with playing for three different head coaches, including one who thought his best role would be rugby punter. But he didn’t change or give up, and he got rewarded with a pretty special final day.
That’s a memory that will last forever.
Wisconsin will lose 14 seniors, including multi-year starters like Biegel and CB Sojourn Shelton, along with important cogs in the form of Clement and RB Dare Ogunbowale. But their time is at an end because they have no eligibility left. That’s not the case for Ramczyk and Watt, both of whom have a big decision to make when it comes to whether to return for their senior seasons.
According to @Jason_Galloway, Ryan Ramczyk will be getting hip surgery on Thursday. Still no decision on his NFL future
— Benjamin Worgull (@TheBadgerNation) January 3, 2017
Ramczyk’s choice will almost certainly be impacted by the fact he will reportedly have hip surgery on Thursday to fix a torn labrum. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last month that his recovery time could be up to four months, which would keep him out of the NFL Combine, Wisconsin’s pro day and any individual workouts.
But the question is, does he need them? A very good athlete, Ramczyk almost certainly would test off the charts, but his stellar play should do all the talking for him. And with his grade from the NFL draft advisory coming back as the first-round, that will be difficult to turn down even with the surgery.
The decision for Watt is also tough. Though unclear what his draft grade was from the advisory committee, a pair of talent evaluators told Sports Illustrated earlier this season that Watt would have a second-round grade “at worst” if he came out. After earning first-team All-Big Ten honors and leading the conference in sacks, you wonder what else he has to prove.
Add in his injury history — and that of his All-Pro brother J.J. — it would see unwise to return. But if his grade isn’t as high as he wants it, then maybe he does come back and make a scary Wisconsin defense that much more so.
Both have said a decision won’t come right away, and they do have until Jan. 18 to announce their intentions. If they leave, Wisconsin will miss them, no doubt, but will be fine in the long-term. If one or both returns, it can only be viewed as a cherry on top of what is a very experienced team coming back for 2017.
Former Badgers chime in
Wisconsin’s win in the Cotton Bowl didn’t go unnoticed by former players, who took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the game.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) January 2, 2017
— O'Brien Schofield (@Ob_Scho) January 2, 2017
— Bill Ferrario (@Bill_Ferrario) January 2, 2017
fun fact: last remaining active NCAA player from HS Class of 2011 played last game for the Badgers today- congrats Eric Steffes?? #44 #jerry
— Lance Baretz (@lbaretz) January 2, 2017
How bout dem Badgers? #OnWisconsin
— Anthony K Davis (@AD908_Strong) January 2, 2017
— Kevin Zeitler (@kzeit70) January 2, 2017
— Aaron Henry (@AaronHenry7) January 2, 2017
— Beau Allen (@Beau_Allen) January 2, 2017
— Travis Beckum (@TravisBeckum47) January 2, 2017
- WATCH: Wisconsin’s T.J. Edwards, Troy Fumagalli talk Cotton Bowl win, pick up MVP awards
- TE Troy Fumagalli left Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck very impressed.
- Sean Keeler writes that Wisconsin deserves praise for doing something the rest of the Big Ten could not — finish.
- Paul Chryst spoke to the media after the game. Read what he had to say.