TAMPA, Fla. - Winning or losing a bowl game to end a season doesn’t give a team an extra advantage on the scoreboard or an extra check mark in the win column when the next season begins.
But there’s no discounting the extra lift of motivation it could give a team in offseason workouts or how the outside opinion of a group after an especially uplifting moment at the conclusion.
For the first time since 2009, Wisconsin will find out how much a lift it will provide, as the Badgers transition into the Paul Chryst era with a 34-31 overtime victory over No.19 Auburn in the Outback Bowl.
“It proves to young players that if you buy into Wisconsin football it’s going to pay dividends with wins in the regular season and wins in the bowl game,” said sophomore linebacker Vince Biegel. “Moving on to Coach Chryst, he’s a phenomenal coach, and I’m expecting big things. I’m excited for the future of Wisconsin football.”
While there are plenty of young pieces and a handful of projected starters returning in 2015, Chryst will have plenty to figure out before the Badgers travel down to Arlington, Texas, to take on an Alabama team that will likely start the season in the top 10 Sept.5.
Wisconsin has to replace senior tight end Sam Arneson and three starters on the offensive line, including tough-guy right guard Kyle Costigan, who quarterback Joel Stave joked was playing with “five season-ending injuries in his body.” Wisconsin also has to find answers at tailback, receiver and quarterback.
UW will undoubtedly miss Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon, who finished with the second-most rushing yards in FBS history, but Corey Clement rushed for 105 yards on 15 carries and caught a 7-yard touchdown pass against Auburn. With no other scholarship tailback on the roster with a collegiate carry, that’s a huge dose of confidence.
Chryst’s main concerns is developing talent at wide receivers and quarterback. UW hasn’t had a standout wide receiver tandem since Chryst’s final season as offensive coordinator in 2011, which could be argued was the last year UW had an above-average quarterback in Russell Wilson. Those two positions severely limited UW’s offense throughout the season.
Stave is a lightning rod for criticism, but he’s the best quarterback on the roster, and Wisconsin doesn’t win the Outback Bowl without him making some big throws late.
“He’ll be the most critical person of himself because of the mistakes, but it speaks to his character and the kind of person that he is,” said Arneson. “He just keeps moving forward. He stepped up and make some huge plays, some huge throws at the end when we really needed him.”
While the offense will have transition, the defense should be even better considering UW returns some young defensive ends and outside linebackers and virtually all the starters in the defensive backfield. Sources indicate Dave Aranda will return as defensive coordinator, a huge bonus considering he’s produced two top 25 defenses in two years.
“I couldn’t be happier for Coach Chryst,” said Landisch. “He’s going to get that momentum and hopefully the young guys take the program to another level.”
Wisconsin entered the season having lost four straight bowl games by an average of 6.6 points per game. With 77 sophomores or younger on the roster at the start of fall camp, a lot of first-time starters hadn’t been a part of that past heart break.
It was an injection of youth that proved to be the difference; youth that now has some momentum, a good foundation to build on and plenty of experience after earning the program’s third 11-win season in five years.
“There are a lot of young players in that room," said UW interim head coach Barry Alvarez. "Winning is good, especially now. They beat a very good team … 11 wins is hard. There aren’t many teams out there that will have 11 wins at the end of the year and we’re going to be one of them.
“These guys know how to win, the young guys see what it takes to win and that will carry over.”