Perhaps there have been UW teams with more overall talent. Maybe this group needed an additional playmaker or two. But anyone who paid any attention would never question the heart and genuine class of this team. To me, that is what made it special.
Early in the season, or probably even before the season, there was reason to wonder why Montee Ball returned for his senior year. An assault before training camp. Early struggles in general with the offense. An injury in the game against UTEP. There were plenty of reasons to second-guess Ball's decision to come back.
I think now we can say it worked out pretty well for the Doak Walker Award winner. Yep, by staying in school, the NCAA's career touchdown leader may have outsmarted us all.
It would be difficult for many of us to even try to imagine what Curt Phillips has gone through. With multiple knee surgeries, who would have blamed him for giving up the game?
I think now we can say it worked out well for the fifth-year senior. He started the final five games, and was able to live a dream by playing in the Rose Bowl, and playing well.
There are many other stories of players who overcame injuries, such as right guard Kyle Costigan. He was not going to let a "little" thing -- like a dislocated kneecap -- keep him off the field very long.
The return to health of cornerback Devin Smith was a big step for a secondary that turned out to be very solid. The improvement of Marcus Cromartie was fun to watch, and the play of safety Dez Southward should have everyone excited for next season.
The defensive line returns next fall, led by tackles Ethan Hemer and Beau Allen. The linebacking corps will miss Mike Taylor, an all-day tough and talented player who helped recruit a Hall of Fame coach back to the sideline.
To say the least, the 2012 Wisconsin Badgers had a few obstacles. Down-to-the-wire games that got away. An in-season change with an assistant. Then, a change with the head coach following a stunning performance in the conference championship game.
While Bret Bielema's decision to leave for Arkansas was quite a jolt, the chance to watch Barry Alvarez back on the field was a treat for players and fans alike.
"I had a blast," said Alvarez shortly after the game. So did the players, both past and present. Watching Alvarez lead his team out of the tunnel one more time in Pasadena is a snapshot I will keep in my mind forever.
To those who are leaving, the coaches and especially the senior players, I say thank you and wish you great success in the future.
To those who are returning, your future looks promising. New coach Gary Andersen and his staff are eager to get to know you better. While the result on New Year's Day was not what you hoped, my guess is the new boss liked much of what he witnessed in the last couple of weeks.
Hopefully there is a Rose Bowl title in your future. But until then, being the three-time Big Ten champs isn't all that bad.