Wisconsin was rated No. 8 heading into its Big Ten opener at Michigan in 2008. The Badgers lost 27-25 and it was the start of a four-game losing streak.
The regular season ended with a 36-35 overtime victory over Cal Poly in Madison. The Badgers then were walloped 42-13 by Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.
Bret Bielema's third season as the head coach had gone South. The Badger hardcores were no longer sure athletic director Barry Alvarez had chosen the right guy as his replacement after the 2005 season.
Bielema is now one week from his sixth opener -- an ESPN prime time game vs. UNLV from Camp Randall next Thursday -- and the doubts in Madison seem to have disappeared.
The Badgers went 11-1 last season before losing to TCU in the Rose Bowl. They are on the edge of the top 10 in the 2011 preseason ratings.
Wisconsin's prestige nationally has grown to the point quarterback Russell Wilson, an N.C. State graduate with one more year of eligibility, chose the Badgers over Auburn and other pursuers to play out his college career.
"Bielema is doing a tremendous job,'' said Dick Spangler, a Badgers booster from the Madison area. "What I couldn't believe were the three incredible coaches he was able to hire as assistants for this year. He brought in the defensive coordinator from Central Florida to coach linebackers, he brought in a coach he tried to hire before and had been with the Buffalo Bills, and he hired the running backs coach that Minnesota wanted to keep.''
Those assistants would be, in order, Dave Huxtable, DeMontie Cross and Thomas Hammock.
"The Badgers have have commitments from six four-star recruits already for 2012, and they are in on a couple more,'' Spangler said. "In comparison, they had a total of nine four-stars in Bielema's first five recruiting classes.''
Wisconsin's profile will move up another notch on Oct. 1, when Nebraska comes to Camp Randall to play its first-ever Big Ten game on national TV and in prime-time.
"I'm holding onto my four tickets, but these Nebraska people are crazy,'' Spangler said. "They are paying $500, $600 for seats anywhere in the stadium.''