By the time you read this, the University of Wisconsin may have already played its first football game. If that is not the case, then tonight, Sept. 1, we find out if all the hype attached to this edition of the Badgers is warranted when they take on the University of Nevada (Las Vegas) at Camp Randall stadium to open a milestone 2011 season.
In our cover story this week, "Home-Field Advantage," staffer Jason Joyce prepares us for the season by investigating the phenomenon of the "Wisconsin Kid." Now that's not someone necessarily born and bred in Wisconsin. It refers rather to the preferred psychological makeup of the player that Badger coaches seek - hard working and humble. The team's relative success in recent years may be attributable in part to character, but there are a lot of factors that go into a winning season, up to and including strength-giving milkshakes.
But the big news this season, one that makes it a milestone, is the addition of a 12th team to the Big Ten, leading to the formation of two six-team divisions within the conference named, mysteriously, the Leaders and the Legends. After bumping along with an awkward 11-team configuration for more than a decade, the conference added perennial powerhouse Nebraska. The Cornhuskers play the Badgers in their first-ever Big Ten conference match-up on Oct. 1 at Camp Randall.
With 12 teams, the conference has instituted a championship game, again the first ever, which will pit the two division leaders in Indianapolis on Dec. 3. Since the implosion of the Ohio State football program, the Badgers are favored to take the Legends division and could very well meet Nebraska again in that championship game. But there are 10 other teams that will contend during the season, and nothing is preordained. As they say, that's why they play the games.