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Badgers expectations set high

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Aaron Brenner/Special to the Gazette
August 11, 2008
— Two seasons ago, University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema enjoyed a dynamite rookie season with the Badgers, compiling a 12-1 record and collecting a Capital One Bowl victory and year-ending No. 6 ranking.

Last year wasn’t as sweet for UW, as Bielema endured a “sophomore slump” by many standards when the Badgers went 9-4, splitting their final eight games after ascending to No. 5 in the polls.


With just 19 days before Wisconsin’s 2008 opener against Akron, everybody’s asking: How will Bielema and his Badgers respond to a so-called “down” year?


“Well, that’s something that’s going to get answered every day, how they practice, how they prepare,” Bielema said during UW’s media day on Sunday. “You guys get tired of hearing about the 1-0 philosophy, but we’re not going to do anything different.”


Bielema was referring to his patented “1-0” statement that the Badgers won’t rest on their past laurels, nor will they look ahead to any forthcoming opponent.


This preseason is not unlike the last one. Wisconsin entered the 2007 season highly ranked in many preseason publications and needed just a five-game winning streak to start the season to crack the national top five.


Of course, it all went downhill—at least for awhile—after that. And to an extent, the players are still licking their wounds, learning what can happen when heads swell too large and focus and games are lost, along with the 1-0 mentality.


“(We have) an opportunity to improve on last year’s mistakes,” senior linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “It’s the same as last year—if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. It starts with Akron, but I don’t think anybody’s going to be satisfied with nine wins again.”


Bielema won’t speculate how many wins would be satisfying for him, but he did promise the team will prepare even stronger for a year of sky-high expectations—already fueled by the fact that Sports Illustrated has Wisconsin rated 10th in the nation and playing Southern California in the Rose Bowl.


“You start with practices. If you have a good week of practices, you’ll go out and play well on Saturdays, get Ws, and that will lead to a bigger bowl game and bigger opportunities,” Bielema said.


“That’s the reality. That’s not coach speak.”


Meanwhile, the Badgers must replace key players lost from last season. Special teams may be the largest void, left by the loss of All-America kicker Taylor Mehlhaff and all-conference punter Ken DeBauche.


But eight returning starters on offense—including tight end and John Mackey Award candidate Travis Beckum, who passed on the NFL to return for his senior year—and an experienced front seven on defense have resulted in the Badgers getting their high ranking.


Wisconsin also has been almost unanimously selected to finish second in the Big Ten, behind defending conference champion and national runner-up Ohio State.


“I know there’s going to be expectations from the outside world. There are going to be predictions,” Bielema said. “But bottom line, how we handle our business, how we stay healthy—that’s going to determine (our success) in the end.”


One thing’s for sure. While a nine-win season and a January bowl game may have been considered successful in the past, that won’t fly with the Badgers this season.


“It wasn’t acceptable last year,” sophomore tight end Garrett Graham said of the nine wins, “and it won’t be this year.”



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