Wisconsin Badgers season recap

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin made no secret about its chief goal for the 2008 season. As one of only three FBS teams to have reached January bowl games in each of the last four years, the Badgers' next step was obvious.

BCS or bust.

Unfortunately for Bret Bielema's team, it turned out to be the latter. A four-game losing streak to begin Big Ten play eliminated Wisconsin from the BCS mix and made the program's last BCS bowl appearance (2000 Rose) seem a little further away. Wisconsin rallied to win three of its final four games and reach its fifth consecutive bowl, but the Badgers and their fans wanted more.

Things looked good after Wisconsin won its first three games and built a 19-0 halftime lead at Michigan. But the fundamental lapses and poor quarterback play that would define the losing streak surfaced in the second half in the Big House. Though Wisconsin boasted the Big Ten's deepest rushing attack with P.J. Hill, John Clay and Zach Brown, it needed more from its quarterback and its drop-prone wide receivers. Dustin Sherer provided a lift under center down the stretch, but Wisconsin figured things out a little too late.

The defense had its moments but struggled to stay consistent, and Bielema began to feel some heat after a charmed first two seasons on the job. Wisconsin's bungling of the second half at Michigan and the fourth quarter at Michigan State prevented a special season, though the Badgers can finish with a Champs Sports Bowl victory against Florida State.

Offensive MVP -- Wide receiver David Gilreath
It's tough to separate Hill and Clay, so Gilreath gets the nod after showcasing his big-play ability during the Big Ten season. Gilreath led Wisconsin in receiving yards (515) and displayed his speed as a runner (290 rush yards) and a punt returner (9.1 ypr). The sophomore finished third in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (145.3 ypg).

Defensive MVP -- Cornerback Allen Langford
Langford battled back from a torn ACL and finished his college career on a high note. The senior earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media after finishing second in the league in passes defended (14) and recording two interceptions. Langford racked up 11 of his 14 pass deflections in Big Ten play. Linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Mike Newkirk also deserve to be recognized.

Turning point -- Sept. 27 at Michigan
The Badgers were rolling along: a 3-0 record, a top 10 national ranking, a 19-0 halftime lead. They pounded Michigan with Hill and Clay and shut down the Wolverines offense. But everything fell apart in the second half, as Wisconsin lost its defensive edge, committed costly turnovers and made fourth-quarter mental mistakes that cropped up too often this season. A second turning point should be noted on Oct. 25, as the Badgers beat Illinois to open a 4-1 closing stretch.

What's next
A Champs Sports Bowl win against Florida State would end things on a good note and possibly build some momentum for 2009. Sherer could be the answer at quarterback, but Wisconsin will once again turn to the rushing attack of Hill, Clay and Brown. The Badgers must fill some holes on both lines and at linebacker, but they return enough talent to make another postseason push. Bielema is definitely safe in Madison, but another disappointing season could change things.