While January 1st marks the start of a new calendar year, the Wisconsin Badgers are not quite finished with their year of football, as they play Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl on Monday.
For many Badgers fans, it may seem like ages ago when the Badgers went 10-2 to win the Big Ten West and travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship against Penn State. The 38-31 loss at Lucas Oil Stadium left for a somber locker room following the game.
Safety D’Cota Dixon, who finished the year with 53 tackles, one forced fumble, one sack and four interceptions, showed his emotions following the championship loss back in early December. The junior from Oak Hill, Fla. said it was a broken locker after the Wisconsin defense, so known for putting up big plays and making the necessary, failed to finish in the second half.
After apologizing to the Badgers nation of fans, Dixon stressed the one thing that defined the Wisconsin Badgers 2016—resilience in the face of adversity.
“There’s a lot of good that will come out of this,” Dixon said. “We will bounce back. We will play. We will persevere and we will work hard.”
After nearly a month without football—some of which allowed for players to step away and some of which was back at Camp Randall practicing—the Badgers will return in the final game of the 2016 season.
And though a new year and a new opponent, it will be a final game for the 2016 Wisconsin football program and for the 12 seniors, some of who have already graduated from the University of Wisconsin.
“This is a very great team, a fun team to be a part of,” senior running back Dare Ogunbowale, and recent graduate, said earlier this season. “We’ve grown very close. I would say that is the biggest thing I’m thankful for, these guys, being a captain, being able to represent them and having relationships with all of them.”
Some, like outside linebacker Vince Biegel, are expected to try for the NFL while others may be playing their final game of football. And while it may not have been the bowl game they had hoped for, as head coach Paul Chryst said, the team will play this upcoming game with pride in the football program and the recognition of committee assigned bowl game.
“You train all the blood, sweat and tears in the offseason for this,” Biegel said after the Big Ten Championship loss. “As a competitor, as a football player what’s the best thing to do to get the bad taste out of my mouth? It’s going out there. It’s going back to the drawing board, going back to the slate, working hard. That’s what we have at Wisconsin.”
2016 brought a lot to the historic Wisconsin football program. It was a new era of Wisconsin defense under the leadership of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox—a defense that continued its recognition as high caliber, high performing, high playmaking group of men. 2016 saw the arrival of former NFL safety and All-American, Jim Leonhard, to the Wisconsin coaching staff as the secondary coach.
Leonhard experienced a solid first season on the Wisconsin coaching staff as he saw his senior safety Leo Musso make five interceptions and 65 tackles, earning him team MVP or watched the secondary unit make play after play in the backfield, moving Wisconsin up in the defensive rankings.
2016 brought second-year head coach Paul Chryst his first Big Ten Championship berth and his first Big Ten Coach of the Year award. It brought a new era of Wisconsin quarterbacks in the combination of senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. Senior running back Corey Clement saw a 1000+ running season with 1,304 yards and 14 touchdowns, and senior Andrew Endicott made his first field goal after starter Rafael Gaglianone went out with a season-ending injury.
So as everyone celebrates a new calendar year in the arrival of 2017, the Wisconsin Badgers look to play one more game in the 2016 Wisconsin football program. For the 12 seniors and 112 men on the 2016 football roster, Monday marks the last day of the year, and the last day of a memorable Wisconsin football season.