Could They Go All the Way?

Packers, Badgers poised for big successes … if they can play defense

Luc Anthony

Lambeau Field, Green Bay (Image: Jeramey Jannene | CC 2.0)
Lambeau Field, Green Bay (Image: Jeramey Jannene | CC 2.0)

One could make the case that the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers are on the cusp of historic football seasons. With a roster full of receiving talent and a future Hall Of Famer to throw the ball to said talent, the Packers are thought by many as a safe pick to return to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, a look through the Badgers’ schedule leaves one with a thought not oft-mentioned in the past quarter-century of their program’s renaissance: This team could go undefeated, and undefeated Big Ten teams are likely a lock for the College Football Playoff. The 2017 season portends a high likelihood of dual championships for the cream of Badger State football.

You know, assuming either team has a linebacker.

“Look for the Green and Gold to add yet another NFC North division crown to their list with about an 11-5 record. However, as much as Packers fans are salivating over the prospect of winning the Super Bowl on the Vikings’ home turf at U.S. Bank Stadium, the most-likely scenario is that they come two steps short, bowing-out in the Divisional Round – though they do have the ability to find their way to Minneapolis.”

As the Sixth Annual Athletic Aesthetic Football Preview is being written, both Bucky and the Pack are dealing with assorted preseason injuries to their linebacker corps, potentially opening a nice hole for the passing-heavy offenses each will face throughout their seasons. An earlier summer wave of Wisconsin sports optimism – the aforementioned football prospects, this summer’s surprising Brewers competitiveness, and the continued ascension of the Bucks with their top-10-MVP-finalist in Giannis Antetokounmpo – is tempered by the physical realities of sprains and muscle tears.  At least all football teams have to contend with such issues throughout the autumn; meanwhile, enough players remain healthy that both Green Bay and UW should still claim at least a division title, if not something more. We asked some members of the Chippewa Valley sports media for their takes on what is to come, and the following is what they said.

The Green Bay Packers are shaping up to have a classic Aaron Rodgers-era season – at least in terms of the final record (one would hope the streaky sections of the last two campaigns could at least be smoothed out). Look for the Green and Gold to add yet another NFC North division crown to their list with about an 11-5 record. However, as much as Packers fans are salivating over the prospect of winning the Super Bowl on the Vikings’ home turf at U.S. Bank Stadium, the most-likely scenario is that they come two steps short, bowing-out in the Divisional Round – though they do have the ability to find their way to Minneapolis. This being an aforementioned classic Aaron Rodgers season, he should put up another round of MVP-caliber numbers.

UW-Eau Claire Blugolds (Image: Blugolds.com)
UW-Eau Claire Blugolds (Image: Blugolds.com)

While the bottoms of the linebacker depth chart are mined ever-further for the Badgers, sufficient personnel talent remains – and a sufficient lack of high quality is found among fellow Big Ten West teams – for Wisconsin to claim the division title. The B1G Championship Game would pit them against scary-good Ohio State, and the Buckeyes should beat Bucky in that bout, resulting in a poll finish in the lower teens (not too far below their preseason ranking) and a Citrus or Rose Bowl berth on New Year’s Day.

The UW-Eau Claire Blugolds scored a couple of wins last year – a couple more than in all of 2015. Dan Larson’s second season as head coach should bring a bit more improvement, though the Blugolds will remain near the bottom of the WIAC around UW-Stout, with last year’s national runner-up UW-Oshkosh claiming the conference over perennial favorite UW-Whitewater.

Speaking of perennial favorites, Menomonie is usually a safe bet to win the Big Rivers Conference, and the Fightin’ Joe LaBudas should once again finish the regular season atop the BRC. Many of the rest could place anywhere, outside of River Falls and Eau Claire North in seventh and eighth, respectively; Eau Claire Memorial may be a team to watch with new coach Mike Sinz. However, what matters most is a trip to state, and none of these big schools are expected to get to Madison. Stanley-Boyd and Spencer/Columbus from the Cloverbelt, Bloomer from the Heart O’ North, Mondovi in the Dunn-St. Croix, and Independence/Gilmanton from the Dairyland are smaller schools with state potential. Individually speaking, Kenny Bednarek will fly again for Rice Lake, and watch out for Memorial’s Keagan Calchera.

They say defense wins championships. If the 2017 football season demonstrates anything, it may be the validity of that axiom. Our state’s football prestige may require it to be proven wrong.

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