The year is 2018. The Wisconsin Badgers are in the midst of one of the best stints in the program’s history. Since 2009, Wisconsin is an astounding 94-25. This is being done largely with unheralded recruits and a plethora of walk-ons. Michigan, for comparison sake, with all their four and five star recruits, are just 71-44 over the same time frame.
Wisconsin has always been seen as the gritty, not flashy program. That’s what makes competing with the “blue blood programs” so enticing for Badger fans. Not only have they competed with the big boys, but they’ve beaten them on a regular basis over the last decade. The list below highlights the biggest victories of this past decade, and highlights the sustained success of the Wisconsin football program as it enters what could be it’s golden generation in the coming seasons.
It’s hard to pick just five. The process isn’t exact. Every loyal fan has a favorite game or two.
So let the countdown begin!
Wisconsin Badgers Top 5 Games
Honorable Mention: September 3rd, 2016: Wisconsin vs #5 LSU
The 2016 season was deemed lost before it even began for the Wisconsin Badgers. The schedule was daunting and it began right away with #5 LSU coming to Lambeau field to kick off the season. To the surprise of everyone (other than Aaron Rodgers), Bucky kicked off a resurgent campaign with a 16-14 victory leading the program to an eventual 11 win season and Big Ten Championship appearance.
5. 2014 Outback Bowl: #18 Wisconsin vs #19 Auburn
This game had much more value than just your average Outback Bowl for Wisconsin. Coming off a 59-0 thumping from Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game wasn’t the only knock the Badgers took. Head Coach Gary Anderson left Wisconsin for Oregon State, citing disagreements with Athletic Director Barry Alvarez.
This also was Melvin Gordon‘s final game as a Badger. With Alvarez returning to the sidelines for one final game, Wisconsin was desperate for a happy ending to a tumultuous end of the season.
The game started fast with a Wisconsin touchdown on the opening drive, however, Auburn lead going into the half 14-7. Late in the third quarter, however, Gordon made his presence felt one last time. On fourth and short from their own 47, Alvarez gambled and it payed off big. The Heisman finalist scampered 53 yards, using a burst of speed and elusiveness. The game was not finished though, as a late drive to tie the game led by Joel Stave was needed to send it into overtime.
There, the Badgers finally got their break. After opening up the period with a field goal, Joe Schobert disrupted all three Auburn plays to force them into a long field goal attempt. The subsequent attempt bounced off the right post and the Badgers erupted from the sidelines, winning 34-31.
This game was an enormous morale booster. Add in Paul Chryst coming home to lead the program, and Badger football finally felt like it was in safe hands again.
4. 2017 Orange Bowl: #6 Wisconsin vs #10 Miami
After a 12-0 season, the Badgers saw their College Football Playoff dreams crushed in the Big Ten Championship game to none other than Ohio State. The critics were out in full force. Was Wisconsin a fraud? “Their easy schedule got them here” was the assumed narrative. The Orange Bowl offered up a chance for the Badgers to dismiss that narrative once and for all.
After allowing Miami to get out to a quick 14-3, the Badgers found their footing. The defense, which was the catalyst all season long, relinquished just 10 points the rest of the game. Sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw three touchdowns in the second quarter as part of his four touchdown performance. His play earned him the MVP of the Orange Bowl as the Badgers rolled to a 34-24 victory. Star freshman running back Jonathon Taylor responded from an early fumble well by rushing for 130 yards. Wide out Danny Davis, another freshman, snagged three touchdowns from Hornibrook as well.
The one thing about winning a bowl game that can’t be denied is that it makes you much more confident heading into the next season. This Orange Bowl exemplifies that. In what was basically a home game for Miami, the Badgers dominated all facets of the game. Physically, the Badgers wore down the Hurricane, and to the objective viewer looked to be the team with the “athletes”. This stigma that Wisconsin can’t play with top tier teams because they lack the high level athletes to compete is starting to wash away; albeit finally. From a national perspective, the future has never looked brighter for the Wisconsin football.
3. November 25th, 2014: #22 Wisconsin vs # 11 Nebraska
“4..0..8!” The words of Matt Lepay on the radio still ring through Badger football fans ears. In the midst of a weird season, there was one constant: Melvin Gordon. The Heisman Trophy finalist put together the best three quarter performance ever seen in college football. In just 25 carries, Gordon raced for 408 yards, as he was seemingly never tackled throughout the night. He also added four touchdowns to his record setting mark.
This game comes in at number three due to the sheer magic of the performance. Every fan remembers where they were when Gordon broke the record. The evening was transitioning into night, snow falling, and Gordon took the last play of the third quarter into the end zone from 26 yards out.
Gordon, the Kenosha Bradford product, will go down in Badger lore for his magnificent career in Madison. This performance, however, landed him among the greatest individual performances ever in college football.
2. 2011 Big Ten Championship Game: #13 Wisconsin vs #11 Michigan St.
The toughest part of this list was putting this at the second spot rather than the top spot. This game had it all. A heartbreaking loss on a Hail Mary to Michigan State in the regular season struck down National Championship hopes for Russell Wilson and company. Revenge was on the Badgers’ minds.
Wisconsin started out fast, but the Spartans were determined to respond. A back and forth affair ensued which led up to a moment that will go down as one of the top plays in Wisconsin football history. Facing a fourth and six to go from the Spartan 43 yard line, Russell Wilson had his shining moment. Wilson caught the snap, rolled left, then heaved up a prayer that was answered by Jeff Duckworth inside the 10 yard line. I’m not sure what was better; the play or Gus Johnson’s screech as it unfolded.
This play led to the go ahead touchdown by star running back Montee Ball and the Badgers held on to win the Big Ten Championship and punch their ticket to the Rose Bowl.
I’m not sure Badger fans ever had as much joy watching a team play in the last decade as they had in 2011. The offense, led by Wilson, Ball, and wide out Nick Toon, ran riot on opponents throughout the season. However, what could’ve been a possible national championship appearance was shelved by two Hail Marys on back-to-back weeks. One has to think what could’ve been for this group, but winning this inaugural Big Ten Championship thriller is one of the most memorable games of the last ten years.
1. October 16th, 2010: #18 Wisconsin vs #1 Ohio State
College Gameday was in town and so was #1 Ohio State. It was time for the Badgers to put on a show. This game had all the makings for a special night in Madison.
David Gilreath did just that, with an electrifying return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown. The Camp was sent into an absolute frenzy and continued through the night. The Badgers fed off the crowd, using it to propel them to a 31-18 victory over the top ranked Buckeyes.
JJ Watt made mockery of the Ohio State offensive line, wrecking havoc in the backfield all night long. The rest of the defense followed limiting the dangerous Terrelle Pryor and the rest of the Buckeye offense to just 18 points. John Clay and James White led the offense combining for nearly 200 yards and three touchdowns.
This game is not only significant in that the Badgers beat the top ranked team in the country. It also acted as a sort of catapult for the program for the season, and the years to follow. The Badgers used this win to take home the Big Ten Title, and began a streak of three straight Big Ten Crowns and Rose Bowl appearances.
From an objective standpoint, if you had to pick any moment or game where Wisconsin football culture changed, it was this game. They proved that they can compete with the class of college football, and do it consistently. Since this game, the Badgers have gone up against the likes of Auburn, LSU, and USC, and come out as victors.
They are no longer a program that can be seen as “overachievers”; but only as a powerful program that is here to stay.