Fitting end for Alvarez

first_imgIt’s safe to say that this weekend’s showdown in Camp Randall is already one of the surprises of the college football season. Who would have thought Iowa would be fighting for their bowl game lives? And who would have thought Wisconsin would be sitting at 8-2?Last year was a shocker. A team that had settled for mid-level bowl appearances the previous two seasons suddenly found itself in the midst of a National Championship race. And, regardless of the meltdown to end the year, taking a look back at the season brings the realization that Barry Alvarez and Co. did a heck of a job getting nine wins out of that team.No one, absolutely no one, in their right mind would have forecasted a bowl game in the new year for this version of the Badgers. With nearly the entire defense save for the linebacking corps gone and a large majority of an offense that struggled last season returning, there was no reason to think Wisconsin could repeat its 2004 success.Seems fitting, though, that Alvarez saved maybe his best effort for last. For a coach who took over a program with no expectations 15 years ago and built it into a conference power, what better way to go out than with a team that beat the set of humble fortunes many predicted of it?There’s really no way to sum up the transformation Wisconsin has made since Alvarez took the reigns. A program and athletic department in shambles both in terms of finances and performance reaped the benefits of an improving team of gridiron Badgers. After not really mattering on the national radar for decades, Wisconsin became a fixture near the top of the Big Ten.But, as good of a job as he did in some of those early seasons turning UW’s fortunes around, this year ranks right near the top of the list. With a win in Saturday’s home finale — an afternoon that should prove to be one of the most emotional ever at Camp Randall — Wisconsin can start making plans for a trip to somewhere warm.And for a team that entered the season hearing plenty of gloomy predictions, ones that told of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2001, that is quite an accomplishment. Granted, the Badgers still need to beat the Hawkeyes to do that — a task that eluded them a season ago with a share of a conference championship to play for.But any comparisons between the direction of this season heading into this game and last year’s should be thrown out the window. Just look at the two team’s top offensive weapons. Anthony Davis missed that loss in Iowa City. Brian Calhoun is a better back than Davis in the first place, and is as durable as any playmaker in the country.This year’s team — in large part due to Calhoun — has the type of offense to recover from last week’s miserable performance. Wisconsin has proven itself to be resilient all season long, finding different recipes to win throughout the year. That was evident in the season opener against Bowling Green. And the concept further manifested itself in wins over Minnesota and Purdue. Heck, throw in the loss at Northwestern.So, with yet another opportunity to prove itself (playing against a team it hasn’t beaten since that 2001 season) in its last chance to send its coach out a winner in his final home game, there’s not much of a case to make that Wisconsin won’t find a way to bounce back from its second loss of the season.And why should any negative expectations heading into Saturday’s game really matter? No one thought Alvarez could do what he’s done in Madison. No one thought a Rose Bowl in just four years was possible. No one thought this year’s team would ever have been in the running for the conference title. So it shouldn’t matter if detractors are expecting another late season collapse.last_img read more