By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Dec 11, 2014 at 1:08 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

This was supposed to be a column on the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program, the fifth-ranked team in the country who completed a Milwaukee sweep of Marquette and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Wednesday night.

No. Instead, we’re wondering what’s wrong with Wisconsin football.

As you read this, Gary Andersen is making recruiting calls for Oregon State University, and Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez is calling his already formed "short list" of candidates to become the third Badgers head football coach since December 2012.


Perhaps we should’ve known this was coming.

This was the year that never was for Bucky.

Melvin Gordon was back. A veteran quarterback was under center. Year two of a coaching staff and a dynamic offense.

And, most importantly, one of the easier schedules in the Big Ten.

If Wisconsin took care of business, Bucky would be part of the national championship conversation — even with an opening week loss to LSU.

After all, some names were missing on the schedule in 2014. Namely, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. And, the two "tough" games against Nebraska and Minnesota were going to be held in the friendly confines of Camp Randall in Madison.

Beat up on the little sisters of the West in a mediocre conference, roll into the Big Ten title game, and things are looking good.


First, the odd decision to go to converted safety Tanner McEvoy at starting quarterback going into that LSU game. Then, the Badgers blew a 17-point lead in Houston to the Tigers. Then, Gordon was hurt, or he wasn’t, or he was.

A couple of nice wins later, and then, oops, a bad 20-14 loss to Northwestern in Evanston.

National championship hopes clearly dashed.

The team rallied, won its next four, and then in a "big game" trounced Nebraska. Gordon catapulted himself back into the Heisman discussion.

An easy win over Minnesota sent the team to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game against Ohio State. The Buckeyes were a better team, sure, but they were playing with their third string quarterback and were dealing with the shocking loss of a teammate due to a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

On the field, Ohio State was vulnerable against the run.



Four days later the head coach is calling the athletic director and telling him, yo, I’m out. Westward ho, my friends.

Of course, Badger Nation wonders how this could be. How could two coaches bail like this — and for Arkansas and Oregon State, of all places!

Well, Bret Bielema and Andersen clearly felt they would find longer term success elsewhere. And, say what you want about Bielema but many pundits feel his Razorbacks will be a top 10, if not top 5, program to start next year. And in the Southeastern Conference, that sets you up early for a shot at a national title.

Oregon State is a little harder to swallow, and Alvarez insisted it was family reasons for a Utah native who loved the western part of this country. And who knows, after that drubbing in Indianapolis, it was made known to him his leash was shortening.

And, let’s face it — Nick Saban and Alabama are going to be waiting for the new head coach, sans Gordon, some receivers and offensive linemen on Sept. 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.

But, again, the Badgers are set up. Non-conference opponents Miami (Ohio), Troy and Hawaii all are coming off losing seasons, and all are traveling to Madison.

The Badgers go to Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers will also have a new head coach (Oregon State’s Mike Riley — go figure). But Iowa is coming to Madison, and the crossover games with the Big Ten East remain Rutgers and Maryland.

So, there is a shot for success and another January bowl game.

But is that good enough? The last two coaches didn’t think so.

And if that’s the case, what kind of coach can Alvarez expect to find?

That said, a positive it is it seems like he’s aware of where the Badgers rate:

So while there seems to be something wrong, it may take some time to determine what that is, and who is the right person to fix it.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.