Hello readers! This is my first column here at TJR Sports so I figured I would introduce myself. I am a 25-year-old journalist based out of Illinois and a lifelong sports fan. I will be focused on college football here for the time being with an emphasis on the Big Ten. I am a massive Northwestern Wildcats fan as I grew up right outside of Evanston and would go to at least one game at Ryan Field every year throughout my childhood. Don't worry, I will do my best to not have that bias shine through. I hope you enjoy my work and feel free to leave me feedback or suggestions. Follow me @JWEngelhardt
The subject of dynasties captivates the imaginations of sports fans and creates great debate about what it requires to truly earn that title.
Are the San Francisco Giants two World Series titles in three years enough? Perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks winning two of the last four Stanley Cups qualifies because of the difficulty of the NHL playoffs?
One thing is for sure, the Wisconsin Badgers' three consecutive Big Ten championships do not equal a dynasty. I always found it odd the national media, and even stations and publications dedicated to the Big Ten, never lauded the accomplishment as a herculean feat or even debated whether the trifecta made the Badgers one of the league's all-time best squads.
But as with most things in life, context and timing determine the narrative. It becomes evident upon closer examination that the empire Wisconsin built was never destined to be more than a footnote in the rich history books of Big Ten football.
Problem 1: The Rose Bowl
It's hard to call a program a dynasty when it had three cracks at the "Granddaddy Of Them All" and failed to win a single one. To be considered a great champion, other champions must be conquered and Wisconsin failed to do that as it fell to TCU, Oregon and Stanford in consecutive Rose Bowls.
While the 2011-12 squad was the best of the Badgers, their best chance to win was in their first attempt at the Rose Bowl when they took on defensive stalwarts and WAC champion TCU.
The matchup against the Horned Frogs was not expected to be a walk in the park as they were ranked No. 3 in the nation – two spots ahead of Wisconsin – and featured future Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton along with a nationally acclaimed defense. But while TCU's notable victories came against Utah and Oregon State that year, Wisconsin was busy knocking off the likes of No. 12 Iowa and then-undefeated No. 1 Ohio St.
The Badgers had the potential to win the game but a failed two-point conversion near the end of the fourth quarter resulted in a 21-19 defeat and proved to be an eerie forecast of what Wisconsin would experience during their championship era.
As previously mentioned, the 2011-12 squad was the best of the bunch but a date against one of the most athletic teams ever assembled proved too much to overcome in Pasadena.
Wisconsin was experiencing the sort of storybook year legends are made of as there was no asterisks (more on that later) and some superstars (more on that too) for the Badgers. Quarterback Russell Wilson was a feel-good story, Montee Ball was an emerging star and the team just won the inaugural Big Ten Championship game against Michigan State in true Hollywood-ending style.
Unfortunately, the Ducks trotted out a nuclear array of offensive weapons featuring De'Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James that led them to a 45-38 win.
The Badgers Rose Bowl woes would continue in 2013 with a loss to Stanford, but honestly, at that point, the chance for a dynasty had been derailed not only from past Rose Bowl defeats, but circumstances that deflated their accomplishments.
Problem 2: The asterisk
It was the 2012-13 season that had the largest asterisk of all for a team that could not seem to avoid them in its three-year run of glory. Dynasty talk flies out the window when a team "wins" its division with a 4-4 conference record and 8-6 overall record, especially when another team in the same division is 12-0.
That was the case last year for Wisconsin who limped into a Big Ten Championship game against Nebraska – a team expected to win in a blowout. Instead, the Badgers blew out the Huskers 70-31. That result, paired with the storyline of Badger icon Barry Alvarez returning to the sideline for the Rose Bowl, still was not enough to savor a season that left Big Ten fans feeling underwhelmed about their Rose Bowl representative.
Ohio St. and Penn St. had clearly outperformed Wisconsin in the regular season but could not compete in the Big Ten title game because of sanctions. Not only did the fact two teams had better records than Wisconsin hurt the public perception of the Badgers, but the stories surrounding the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions were also more compelling.
In one town, you had the return of Urban Meyer showing the start of his crusade to bring SEC-style football to the Big Ten with tremendous results as he went undefeated. In Penn St., Bill O'Brien was shocking the country as he rallied a group of players who had been - to a degree - vilified by association and kicked to the curb to an 8-4 record.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, those storylines overshadowed their journey to three conference championships.
The asterisks started even earlier in the team's run when it technically split the Big Ten title with Michigan State in 2010-11. Had there been a Big Ten Championship game that season, perhaps the Badgers could have staked a larger claim to a dynasty with a win.
Once again it was the outstanding 2011-12 squad that went asterisk free in its season. It was also the only team to boast superstars – another downfall to the Badgers' run.
Problem 3: Starless
Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt were the only two players in three seasons of Wisconsin championship football that became household names. But even then, neither man was a true star at the collegiate level.
Even the other supremely talented players such as Monte Ball were left off highlight reels because of the flashy styles of blinding runs from backs in Oregon or the wide open offense of a Baylor.
It wasn't only on the individual level where Wisconsin was being looked over, but as a team. While the Badgers were stringing together three Big Ten titles, Alabama was busy getting to work on winning three out of four national championships. That's right. Not conference titles, not BCS bowl game appearances, but winning national titles.
Wrong time, wrong place for the Badgers.
Perhaps it is unfair to scoff at Wisconsin's accomplishments. Even with the Rose Bowl losses and asterisks that plagued its run, it is still a team that brings in recruiting classes ranked well below Michigan and Ohio St. and many times Nebraska and still found a way to achieve tremendous success.
If the Badgers truly want to be viewed as a dynasty, they are tasked with the unfair expectation of a fourth consecutive conference title. The national media fully expects Ohio St. to challenge for a national championship and Michigan to go for the roses. If Wisconsin emerges from the conference this year, respect will have been taken whether people wanted to give it or not.
But until that pipe dream is achieved, Wisconsin's empire has only been built tall enough to be seen by those around Madison.