No. 8 Wisconsin

In days of yore, those of us who rooted for Cubs and Badgers considered it an achievement when one of those teams finished over .500. Because all things considered, it was an achievement.

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How times have changed. The Cubs are world champions—and the Badgers’ near-misses stick in the craw, even though six Rose Bowls in less than 25 years says these are halcyon days.

Blowing the 28-7 lead against Penn State and losing 38-31 in the Big Ten title game last December was painful, especially because I was texting sweet nothings to my Nittany Lions friends.

But at least that was only for the Big Ten marbles. The meltdown that remains an open sore is the 2015 national championship basketball game, in which Wisconsin blew a nine-point second-half lead and lost 68-63 to Duke, which, like the Yankees and the Patriots, has won enough titles already. Give somebody else a chance, will ‘ya?

Which brings me to the 2017 Badger football team.

I like them to win the Big Ten West for the second straight season and reach the Big Ten championship game for the fifth time in its seven seasons. That nifty stat makes them sound like a juggernaut, except when you consider that since winning the first two league title games in Indianapolis, they have a 59-0 drubbing against Ohio State and last year’s collapse to show for their trips to Indy.

I hope they at least got a steak and a nuclear shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s out of the deal.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Wisconsin will unveil its third new defensive coordinator in three years, but that should not be a big deal. Jim Leonhard, the 34-year-old former walk-on who turned into a DB star and then a DB coach, has all the tools, as they say.

Leonhard does not, unfortunately, have all the linebackers after losing T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel. The season-sending ACL knee injury of fifth-year inside backer Jack Cichy adds to the concern. But my friend, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel standout Jeff Potrykus, points out that three returning inside backers have made a combined 40 starts: T.J. Edwards (25), Ryan Connelly (8) and Chris Orr (7).

The offense should be OK, too, with now-experienced sophomore Alex Hornibrook likely to grow after a pretty impressive debut season. The running game, which finished 39th last season, also should make another stride.

The Badgers will need to beware of Northwestern, which I expect to be their chief threat. That game comes early, on Sept. 30, and is in Madison, but the Wildcats did some great work on the road last year. They will be men on a mission.

That said, another strong season is likely for third-year coach Paul Chryst, who is a very tidy 21-6 in his first two seasons.

Whether the Badgers can snap their two-game losing streak in the Big Ten champ game is another question. But if they get there and disappoint, readers who remember the pre-Barry Alvarez era should keep things in perspective.

Wikipedia calls that chapter in Badger football history, ``Limited Successes, 1963 to 1989.’’[/membership]

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