You may remember that when we played Kansas State earlier this season, the Kansas State blog posted Q&As with some of our rivals to gauge their thoughts and feelings on the Tigers. I decided to replicate that for the bowl game and reached out to a number of Wisconsin's B1G rivals. I'll be posting the responses that I received over the next three days. Here is the first up, Ross from BlackHeartGoldPants.com, the SB Nation Iowa site.
1) Tell us your best and worst memory of playing Wisconsin.
Best memory? I'd have to go with Iowa's 30-7 beatdown of Wisconsin in 2004. Thrashing Wisconsin is always fun, but thrashing them when a win also gave Iowa a share of the Big Ten championship and let Iowa fans rush the field and celebrate a conference championship in the aftermath? Yeah, that was pretty special.
Worst memory? Getting obliterated 41-3 in 1999 in a game where Ron Dayne set the NCAA career record was pretty miserable and given the record-setting context, highlights of it turn up fairly frequently, rubbing salt in the wound. More recently, Iowa's 31-30 loss to the Badgers in 2010 was an absolute gut punch loss that the Iowa program still seems to be struggling to recover from. Many of the flaws that continue to plague Iowa to this day reared their ugly heads in that game. This year's 26-24 almost got 'em loss to Wisconsin was also a pretty bitter pill to swallow.
2) How about just your opinion of Wisconsin in general?
As an Iowa fan, I'm envious of the level of success that they've been able to maintain since Barry Alvarez brought the program back from the dead. They don't have substantially more resources than Iowa or a significantly better recruiting base, but they've been able to enjoy an impressively consistent level of success -- particularly over the last 5-10 years. And, as an aficionado of RUNNIN' THE DANG BALL, I am compelled to admire their consistent ability to pound the rock on the ground.
3) What are your impressions about us down in the Loveliest Village? Don't worry about being tactful if you think we're horrendous, we've heard it all before. We live in Alabama, after all.
As a fan of a team that's had two coaches in the last 30+ years, the fact that you guys change coaches as often as some people change hairstyles is a little tough to wrap my head around -- especially when you cut ties with coaches who seem kind of, you know, successful. Maybe there's a happy medium to be found between Auburn's extreme volatility at head coach and Iowa's equally extreme lack of volatility at head coach. Beyond that, Gus Malzahn seems like one of the most interesting and creative thinkers in football today, so I always find it intriguing to watch his offenses go to work.
4) What do y'all think of Barry Alvarez coaching another "last game?" Will that help or hurt Wisconsin?
I'm not really sure, to be honest. If the rumors of Alvarez being too much of a meddler and micro-manager are true, that could make things a bit awkward. On the other hand, it's hard to find anyone who bleeds cheese as much as Barry Alvarez, either, so I suspect he'll be able to motivate the players pretty well for this game. That said, Auburn should definitely have an advantage in terms of X's and O's -- Alvarez has coached one game in the last nine years and the game has changed quite a bit in that time (with Malzahn at the forefront of many of those changes).
5) What do you think of this Wisconsin team? Depending on how much you know about us down here at Auburn, what weaknesses of ours do you think they're particularly suited to exploit? What strengths of ours set up well against them?
I think this is a good Wisconsin team, but definitely not a great one. They lost to a mediocre Northwestern team and a below-average LSU team and got absolutely destroyed by a very good Ohio State team. Wisconsin had some very gaudy defensive numbers before the Ohio State debacle, but those numbers seem like they may have been a touch inflated by so-so competition.
Ohio State showed how an offense loaded with good athletes could create problems for the Badger defense; last time I checked, Auburn's offense had a few pretty good athletes of their own. Stretch out the defense, play at a fast tempo, hit them with speed... these are are all things Auburn should be able to do against Wisconsin, too. Auburn's biggest defensive weakness looks like their pass defense, but that's a pretty good weakness to have against Wisconsin -- neither Joel Stave nor Tanner McEvoy are particularly proficient passers. If you can make them throw the ball 25+ times, you should win.
6) What are your thoughts on how this game plays out?
I mean... like I said above, Ohio State laid out a pretty fantastic blueprint for how to beat Wisconsin just a few weeks ago, right? At least offensively, Nick Marshall and the rest of Gus Malzahn's offense seem pretty well-equipped to utilize those lessons against the Badgers. I suspect the Badger offense will also have a fair amount of success against Auburn's defense, but I like Auburn to come out on top in a shootout. Let's say Auburn 38, Wisconsin 24.