Grimyser: Dessert After the Meal

The Badgers have recently finished their season with an easy opponent at home, a strategy that allows Wisconsin to potentially coast to a bowl game without jeopardizing their season with a potentially humiliating loss. Unfortunately, there are large drawbacks.

MADISON - Assuring the Badgers an easy finish to each season seems like a wise choice for coach Bret Bielema. It gives Wisconsin some comfort while finishing a long and grueling season against the Big Ten, creates some momentum and allows the team to make more risky choices to prepare for an upcoming bowl game.

"I'm glad we got ourselves bowl-eligible and put ourselves in a better position [for a bowl game]," said Bielema after Saturday's 36-35 win against Cal Poly.

Mostly, it avoids any potential embarrassing losses. Because as the BCS has repeatedly proven, late season losses can be crippling to a team.

Bielema has followed this tradition from his predecessor Barry Alvarez, who scheduled a 4-6 Hawaii team to close out the 2005. Since Alvarez, Bielema has scheduled Buffalo and Cal Poly to come into Camp Randall to respectively close out the 2006 and 2008 seasons. It's no surprise that he's trying to guarantee his team a victory before the more important bowl game.

Unfortunately, it allows no room to make up ground in the BCS rankings if they needed to.

If Wisconsin is desperately searching for a spot in a top bowl game, beating the Cal Polys of the world won't help at all. It's almost like playing an 11-game season, meaning whatever record they have at the end of that eleventh game is going to be what determines their future.

This strategy is not working. Obviously, for the 2008 season this idea really doesn't come into play with Wisconsin finished with a 7-5 record.

Bielema might say that "a win's a win," and it doesn't matter who the opponent is. Yet, it's easy to imagine how this strategy could prove to be a critical mistake.

Take for instance that 2006 season where they finished against Buffalo. Without an earlier loss to Michigan, the Badgers could have come into that last game with a perfect 11-0 record. If they had been ranked third or fourth in the BCS ranking, they would need any help they could get to reach the championship game. So, unless one of the teams ranked ahead of them lost, Wisconsin was not going to leapfrog one of them with a victory over Buffalo, no matter how large the margin of victory was.

Bielema claims that the Badgers scheduled this game against Cal Poly for a specific and unavoidable reason.

"It really gets down to scheduling. If we have an opportunity to play a non [Football Championship Subdivision] team, we would," said Bielema. "There were very few teams that were open at this date and Cal Poly was the best option for us."

That may be true, but it's not the full answer. Wisconsin's only chance to play a good team is not as limited as Bielema makes it seem.

How was Ohio State, another Big Ten team, able to travel to top-ranked USC and play them in the beginning of the year if the schedule was as tight as Bielema makes it seem?

It's because Bielema doesn't want to. He might say scheduling conflicts prevent a better game, but ultimately he's not getting it done. Ohio State played at USC, one of the toughest road games imaginable, because they wanted to.

It's ironic that Ohio State chose to play such a difficult non-conference game. The Buckeyes are one of the few teams that compete every year for a National Championship. More than any other team, they should be scheduling the cupcakes on their schedule.

Wisconsin is not one of those top teams. The Badgers need to desperately fight for the chance to gain an invitation to a great bowl game. Their current scheduling tactics will simply not get them there.

This decision limits hope for the season – in the beginning of the year. By making this choice before Wisconsin has even played a game, Bielema has essentially given his team less of a chance then it deserves.

The worst point of all, it just stinks for the fans. They come to every home game during a trying season – like right now – and have to sit through a game that means nothing. If Wisconsin is playing well, it means even less and almost becomes irrelevant.

Bielema is unwilling to take a gamble for his team and give Wisconsin fans an exciting finish to the season. Finally, he's hurting what the program and the fans want the most – a chance at the National Championship.

"To be in the situation that we are in and the way the season has unfolded says a lot about our team," said Bielema. "Ultimately, this gives our fans one last chance to win one more game."

If Bielema really cared about the fans, he should either schedule a more difficult game or begin to offer a six-game home season ticket package to fans, and then offer the last game as a bonus. That's apparently how Bielema treats the final game.


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