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Today is Tuesday, Dec. 27, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Here in the final week of 2016 we’re counting down the five biggest plays of the year for the Wisconsin football and basketball teams.
On Monday, at No. 5, was Ethan Happ’s lay-in to help the Badgers beat Michigan State last January. Today, it’s another play against the Spartans, but this one happened on the football field.
No. 4 (Sept. 24, 2016): Leo Musso’s 66-yard fumble return sparks 30-6 rout of Michigan State
Wisconsin was 3-0 and ranked No. 11 in the country as they headed to East Lansing in late September. At the time, the Spartans were ranked in the top 10 and hadn’t lost to the Badgers at home since 2002. Redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook made his first start at quarterback, and helped Wisconsin to a 13-6 lead at the half. But after a three-and-out by the offense to start the second half, Michigan State looked poised to make it a game when they faced a second-and-3 from Wisconsin’s 43-yard line.
That’s when Wisconsin’s two starting safeties made a game-changing play.
In their own words:
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio: “The game was all of a sudden moving and we’ve got some adrenaline, it’s 13-6. The tackle, which was a great tackle, the fumble recovery and they housed it, all of a sudden turns it from 13-6 to 20-6.”
Linebacker T.J. Watt: “It was huge. Anytime we can get a turnover and then also score on defense is huge. We’re trying to flip the turnover margin in our favor and when you score on defense, obviously that’s a huge play.”
Musso: “If there’s a lot of guys around, then you just try to get on it. But if there’s a little bit of space, try to scoop and score. It was just one of those things where instincts kicked in and you just pick it up and go.”
What it meant:
No one knew that Michigan State would fall so far this season, though there are at least some around the Wisconsin program who believe they had a part in what led to a 3-9 year for the Spartans. But at the time of the game, it legitimized the Badgers.
Many questioned their win against an LSU squad that was inept on the offensive side of the ball, but the dominating victory on the road against a top-10 team made everyone sit up and take notice. This Wisconsin defense was for real and wouldn’t be an easy out for anyone the rest of the year.
Arguments over whether bowl games are worthwhile or meaningless have been raging in recent weeks as some players elected to not play in their team’s games in an effort to get ready for the NFL. There are arguments both ways, but what neither side can disagree with, is going to a bowl game, especially big-time games like the Cotton Bowl, are largely fun experiences.
Just ask the Badgers, who arrived in Texas on Monday to start preparing for their matchup with Western Michigan on Jan. 2.
— Cotton Bowl Classic (@CottonBowlGame) December 26, 2016
And while there will be plenty of work ahead for both teams, the trip is definitely a reward as much as anything. They were greeted by a band as they arrived at the hotel, found a huge game room inside one of the banquet halls and ended up at AT&T Stadium to take in the Dallas Cowboys’ game with the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.
— TJ Watt (@_TJWatt) December 27, 2016
While running back Corey Clement took over the team’s Snapchat account at the game, others took time to make their NFL allegiances clear despite being in the home that Jerry built.
Corey, Vince, T.J. and the fellas are hanging at Monday Night Football.
Follow along on Snapchat:
? OfficialBadgers pic.twitter.com/VokJ0Kboac
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) December 27, 2016
Go Pack Go!!! Run the Table pic.twitter.com/PegEjIamUL
— Alec Ingold (@AI_XLV) December 27, 2016
Go Eagles pic.twitter.com/v878QSZCxF
— Alex Hornibrook (@alex_hornibrook) December 27, 2016
This is just the beginning of a week that will be full of events for the players, designed to show them a good time, while also providing them an opportunity to bond with teammates in advance of what will serve as the final college game for some of them.
It’s perks like these that people will point to when they say the bowl system is worth saving, and that college football isn’t solely about the playoff. While that can be debated, what can’t is that bowl games do matter for most who take part.
For every Christian McCaffrey, who chose not to play in Stanford’s bowl game, there is a guy like Eric Steffes, a tight end for Wisconsin, who has battled through injuries over 5 ½ years, with this trip serving as the final cherry on top of his career. He and the rest of the Badgers will enjoy the fruits of all their hard work this season by taking in everything the Cotton Bowl has to offer.
Wisconsin opens Big Ten play tonight against a Rutgers squad that is apparently tired of hearing its 11-2 record means little considering the competition it faced in the nonconference. As relayed by Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com, the Scarlet Knights’ schedule ranks 273rd of 351, but the players don’t care.
“We definitely showed that we are a good team,” Rutgers guard Corey Sanders said. “I don’t care what anybody says: 11-2 going into the Big Ten is good for us.
“Last year we won seven games, so we’re past that right now. It’s something we’re very proud of, but we’re facing these teams in the Big Ten — the toughest teams to play in any conference — so we’ve just got to pick it up and work harder.”
For comparison sake, Wisconsin’s schedule is ranked No. 185, so it’s not like the Badgers have faced some murderer’s row of opponents, and in reality, lost to the only teams on their schedule that are currently ranked (Creighton and North Carolina).
Weak schedule or not, though, this is a different Rutgers team that comes to Madison than the one that lost by 22 to the Badgers in coach Greg Gard’s first conference win as a head coach last January. Under first-year coach Steve Pikiell, the Scarlet Knights have shown more effort and determination on the defensive end than they ever did under former coach Eddie Jordan, who went 3-33 in the Big Ten over two seasons.
Wisconsin should win. It has the size and experience, and is favored by 18.5 points. But as Rutgers showed against a talented Seton Hall team the last time out, it won’t roll over just because no one expects them to win. Yes, they lost to the Pirates, but the Scarlet Knights fought like hell. Expect the same on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center.
Where is Paul Chryst’s hat?
When Western Michigan arrived in Texas on Monday, the team’s Twitter account tweeted out a picture of coach P.J. Fleck wearing a cowboy hat delivered to him by the folks with the Cotton Bowl.
— WMU Football (@WMU_Football) December 26, 2016
Later, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was seen doing interviews with his own cowboy hat, as the Aggies got ready to play in the Texas Bowl.
Photo of Kevin Sumlin's headgear at today's festivities (Not pictured: His black ostrich (??) boots). pic.twitter.com/ZueO4Z4xl9
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) December 27, 2016
Both of these pictures has made it nearly impossible to not wonder where Paul Chryst’s 10-gallon headgear is. A guy whose choice of sweatshirt in the Holiday Bowl last year led to its own Twitter account, Chryst needs to have a picture of him in a cowboy hat. It’s almost a requirement when you’re in Texas to wear one. We need at least one picture of Paul Chryst rocking the same hat that Fleck did.
The chances of it happening? .00000001%
- The latest national basketball polls were released on Monday, and the Big Ten teams stayed put.
- Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caught up with linebacker Jack Cichy to see how his recovery from surgery is coming — both mentally and physically
- The ‘Jet Sweep’ has been a part of Wisconsin’s offense since the mid-2000s but it was a lot more successful this year than it was in Paul Chryst’s first season, writes Jason Galloway at the Wisconsin State Journal.
- In his first game at the World Juniors, Wisconsin forward Luke Kunin had an assist to help the Americans to a victory.
- A healthy Sam Dekker has been an exciting Sam Dekker for Houston, as the former Wisconsin star showed with his latest dunk.