Wisconsin football has taken one of the strangest journeys to new heights of any team in Big Ten history.
On the one hand the team has garnered immense respect within conference circles since the arrival of one Barry Alvarez in 1990, and on the other it's a team that has never really garnered a ton of national respect.
After three straight appearances in the Rose Bowl the Badgers are right in the mix once again heading into the 2013 season. Yet as they come off a third straight conference crown the Badgers enter this season ranked just 23rd in both the AP Poll and the USA Today coaches poll.
The Badgers' seeming lack of national respect comes from a few different areas and eras.
Firstly, UW has failed to win any of it's previous three straight trips to the Granddaddy of Them All, losing to TCU, Oregon, and Stanford in consecutive trips out west.
Secondly, the Badgers have only been a respected member of the national scene for just over a decade. The first Rose Bowl win in 1994 put them on the map, but they weren't able to get rid of the "flash in the pan" stigma until they won back-to-back games in the 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowls.
It's hard to compete for attention when multiple generations of people have grown up knowing the power and prestige of names like Michigan and Ohio State around Big Ten country. Especially when those are the two names that dominated the better part of a three decade period from the 1970's to the 1990's.
However, a closer examination of facts suggests that the Badgers experience over the past twenty-three years should be far more than enough for them to join the respected ranks of OSU and Michigan as truly elite and respected members of the national hierarchy in college football.
In fact, Wisconsin is one of only two teams not named Michigan or Ohio State to win more than two consecutive championships EVER in the history of the Big Ten conference. The other team? Their bitter arch-rivals Minnesota, who did it way back in their heydays of the early 1930's (1933, 34, and 35).
Since then no other team, except for the Badgers, has challenged the superiority of Michigan and Ohio State. The Wolverines and Buckeyes have won three or more conference championships five and three times respectively in their histories.
Wisconsin has more than held its own on the conference level, so the question is, what would vault them into the national stratosphere?
It is pretty simple when you come right down to it—the Badgers simply need to win a big time game or two, and for this season that means wining a fourth straight Big Ten title and actually winning whatever BCS bowl game they would end up in.
There's a big difference between recognizing that you are a talented football team and becoming a truly respected national program. You must establish that teams from outside of your conference can't push you around and after three years of losses on the biggest stage possible only one thing will push the Badgers over the hump, and that's winning a bowl game.
Of course, not having won a bowl game since taking down a less-than-perfect Miami (FL) Hurricanes team in the 2009 Champs Sport Bowl doesn't help either. Sorry, but that doesn't exactly register on the national stage and it sure won't make you a household name outside of Big Ten country either.
With twenty-four seniors on the 2013 squad the Badgers have plenty of experience back and plenty of players who know nothing more than winning conference crowns in their time at Wisconsin to lean on in achieving the goal.
One thing that we can probably all agree on is that no matter what the Badgers do this season, it may take more than just one Rose Bowl or BCS win to truly put them on the forefront of the national discussion.
Luckily, their future chances of continuing to show they are a national power go up when they get shots at LSU and Alabama during the regular season in the next three years.