I have not seen a better defense since I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1992. The only defense that I think would come close to this season's defensive unit in talent would be the 2004 unit. The Badgers had a defense that was stacked in 2004 with six players off of that defense that would be playing in the NFL the following year. The defensive line in '04 was dominant with Erasmus James, Anttaj Hawthorne, Jason Jefferson and Johnathan Welsh. The only flaw that this group had was that ironically after a Sports Illustrated article came out on this unit they proceeded to lose their next two games and they did not play to expectations. They may have been reading too much about how good they were and forgot what it took to get them there and how to play as one. The 2004 defense also had a great backend with a cover corner in Scott Starks and a very smart, strong safety in Jim Leonard that was always all over the field and played a lot bigger then his 5'9 185 lb frame. With all that talent in 2004 I still believe undoubtedly that this year's defense was the best ever because there were no big names or star players yet they were in top 5 categories in passing and scoring defense in the nation. They played as one. They ran, covered, pressured, hit and tackled as one. Nobody wanted the glory or cared if someone else received it. The only praise they wanted was a chant from the 85,000 Badger fans screaming, "DEFENSE"! When all individuals sacrifice for each other and the team you are going to have something special on the field. The scary thing is that this was a young defense and a lot of these individuals that played so well together and collectively as a team will return next year unlike the senior dominated 2004 defense.
2) Travis Beckum - is he All-American caliber?
I have said all year that Travis Beckum is not only one of the top two tight ends along with Matt Spaeth out of Minnesota but one of the best in the country. Travis Beckum leads the nation amongst tight ends in receiving yards yet he went unrecognized from the media and coaches for all conference selection. Was it because he was a freshman? I do not know, what I do know was that opposing defenses could not come up with an answer for the Badgers leading receiver. The thing I was most impressed with in Beckum was his awareness on the field. He did not play like a freshman, rather like a veteran 5th year senior. The Big 10 all conference selection snubs seem to fit the theme of this 11-1 Badger team which went underrated and unrecognized all season. The 2006 team goes down as one of the greatest "teams" in UW football history. There were no individuals on this team and the only recognition they wanted was a Capital One Bowl berth and a chance to finish the season ranked in the top five nationally.
3) Of the teams you played for, which team does the 2006 squad compare with?
This team reminded me most of the 1993 squad. Nobody expected anything from us that season and the preseason rankings had us near dead last in the Big 10. The Badgers had not been to a bowl in almost a decade and Coach Alvarez was still rebuilding a program. We did not have any "talent" on that team. We had hearts of lions, commitment and dedication, unwavering determination and will that would not accept defeat. Most of all we had trust in one another. We had trust in Coach Alvarez and his staffe. My teammates created bonds amongst each other that were as strong as blood. This was the character of the 1993 squad that went on to win its first Big 10 Championship and Rose Bowl in over three decades. There were no "superstars" but only team players. We were not the most talented team but we were 11 individuals playing together as one. This is what I saw from the 2006 team. No individual stars but 11 players with no names but a helmet with the motion W on it fighting for each other. This is why I think this team is so special compared to teams in the past. Nobody even gave them a shot to finish in the upper half of the Big 10 in training camp. National media has not given them respect all year long. The 1993 team didn't care about any respect from the national media. The only respect they wanted was from the teams they were facing on Saturday. The 2006 squad has the same mentality and they have my respect for the ages.
4) What are some of your old teammates saying about this team - because I know you have probably spoken with them.
I have spoken to a couple of my teammates from that 1994 Rose Bowl team and many of my previous comments that I wrote were the same feelings expressed from them. There was a certain feeling that we got as old players that this team was special because of the way they played and many of their comments in the media. Nobody gave this team any credit or respect throughout the season and that disrespect continued to feed this young band of warriors. They did not let the lack of notoriety effect them and there were no individuals on this team searching for the hype. When an individual did get praise or accolades they accepted it as a team not one player. They had respect for each other and they trusted one another. A few of my teammates, including Joe Panos, the captain of that '94 Rose Bowl team have noticed the similarities between the two squads. There was great senior leadership on the '94 team and there was great senior leadership on this '06 squad. Most of all there was undeniable character that led both teams to historic seasons.
5) If the Badgers win a bowl game, could they be placed as a top five team in Wisconsin history?
There is no doubt that this team should be placed as top five in Badger history. It would be hard to argue against that with 12 wins and a national ranking in the top five. There are three Rose Bowl teams in the '90s and a couple of teams in the 50's and 60's that could make the argument also but I think that with the intangibles of a young, inexperienced team and a new staff you have to believe that this year's 2006 squad's accomplishment is one of the top five in UW football history.
Former Badger offensive lineman/center Derek Engler joins us each week for "Centering the Ball" . He will give us a look at the previous week's game from the field. Currently, Engler works for Morgan Stanley as a financial advisor. If you have any questions regarding investments, reach him by email firstname.lastname@example.org . Or reach him by phone (800) 776-7797.