In the moment, it can be difficult to understand the historical perspective of a team’s accomplishments. As far as Wisconsin football players and coaches are concerned, the only thing that matters this week is beating Minnesota and retaining Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Program records will have to wait.
But perhaps one day down the line, these Badgers will come to appreciate what they have achieved, particularly if they beat the Gophers on Saturday. A victory, and Wisconsin would finish with an unblemished regular season record, 12-0 overall and 9-0 in Big Ten games.
The last time Wisconsin went unbeaten? All the way back in 1912, when the Badgers closed 7-0 overall and 5-0 in Big Ten play. That’s five years before Camp Randall Stadium — the oldest stadium in the Big Ten — was built. Two of the opponents on Wisconsin’s schedule that season were Lawrence and Chicago.
It marked the first year of NCAA football in which teams were given four downs instead of three to gain 10 yards. The value of touchdowns increased from 5 points to 6 points, and 10-yard end zones were added to the field. There was no such thing as a playoff or any real way to crown a true national champion.
First-year Wisconsin coach William Juneau had just finished four seasons as the football coach at Marquette. Marquette, which was known as the Golden Avalanche back then, hasn’t fielded a varsity football team in 57 years.
According to the Sporting News, Juneau issued nine football “don’ts” for his Wisconsin team to follow. Some of them have withstood the test of time and likely would make Badgers coach Paul Chryst proud: don’t smoke, don’t stay out late nights, don’t indulge in strong drinks, don’t get less than eight hours of sleep and don’t report late for football practice. Others have not held up as well, such as don’t attend banquets, dinners or hops and don’t eat pie.
Over the last 105 years, Wisconsin has produced plenty of memorable seasons. In 1952, Wisconsin spent one week at No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25, still the only time in program history that has occurred. There have been nine Rose Bowl appearances and 18 total January bowl games. In the past 25 seasons, the Badgers have won double-digit games 12 times.
But never before has Wisconsin been this deep into a season with a chance at a national championship. With seven seasons of double-digit wins in the last nine, Wisconsin has been angling toward elevating itself on the national stage.
My first season covering Wisconsin’s football program came in 2011, which is the last time a season began with so much promise for the Badgers. Yet not even stars such as quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball could prevent the team from losing three games. So many small details must add up to form a perfect season, and the Badgers have seen up close just how difficult something so special is to achieve.
Even if Wisconsin players and coaches aren’t ready to revel in their accomplishments, this season has been a remarkable journey 105 years in the making. And who knows? When the national championship game arrives, Wisconsin could have its pie and eat it, too.