“Rat poison”, that’s what Nick Saban calls it. Saban was referring to the media focusing on how great your team or players are to the point that players believe it and his fear is they will quit listening to the coaches. Alabama always has some of the best players in the nation on their team every signing day, they can handle a little poison. Some teams cannot.
The 2018 Wisconsin Badgers had the highest expectations coming into this year for the football program than I can ever remember. Almost everyone was back on offense including four offensive linemen that will be playing in the league next year and a running back in the Heisman picture. They were ranked number four in the pre-season polls and for the first time in my lifetime Badger fans were like, ‘this could be the year we could win a national championship’ instead of ‘let’s see if we can win the Big 10 and make it to the Rose Bowl’.
Then BYU happened at Camp Randall Stadium. For the first time in the last 41 non-conference games, the Badgers lost a non-conference game in Madison. For some teams, a bad non-conference loss early might not be a dream killer, for the Badgers, it was the end of the big dream and team showed it. This was the year when just a Big 10 championship game appearance wasn’t enough. This was the year when the team and coaches were all talking about B1G dreams and how if we can beat Michigan or Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship game we will finally be in the playoffs for a shot at Alabama. Then BYU happened and they never recovered.
The Badgers finished 7-5 and ended the season with a 20 point loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers at home. Yes, the same Gophers that lost to Illinois by 20 points this season. AND- yes, that Illini team lost to Iowa 63-0.
For people outside of the midwest, you might not understand why these high expectations killed this season. You see, midwesterners, especially Wisconsinites, are raised not to brag. We want to be seen as average so if we are above average, we don’t let anyone down. The Wisconsin athletic programs are for the most part comprised of overachievers. No sport is ever going to be in the top 10 in recruiting classes in the nation. Wisconsin recruits guys that are midwest guys or guys overlooked by the SEC. So when these guys start hearing about how great they are going to be, this is not normal for them. None of them had that press in high school.
But, it’s not just Wisconsin. Look at any team that overachieves one year and then the next season they have all this praise dumped on them and they simply can’t relive the previous season. Last year Miami was the feel good story of the year with their turnover chain (which has now been copied in some form by 68% of all teams at all levels and needs to go away) and unexpected success. This season they were preseason top 10 in every poll and they finished 7-5. 4-4 in the ACC Coastal Division, tied with Virginia and VA Tech.
So, look out Kentucky, don’t believe what you read before the 2019 season. You will have a solid team, but the SEC title will have to wait for another season.