What Will it Take for the Badgers' 2024 Football Season to be Considered a Success?

Wisconsin was given a win total of 6.5 for the upcoming campaign, but is a season with six or seven wins enough to please victory-hungry Badger fans?
Buffalo v Wisconsin
Buffalo v Wisconsin / John Fisher/GettyImages

Luke Fickell's debut season didn't quite live up to the expectations set by Badger faithful, as the program overhaul yielded a 7-6 record with more lows than highs. With the Big 10 adding a pair of powerhouse programs and the reigning National Champion runner-up, the Badgers' schedule isn't getting any easier in Year 2 of the Fickell Era. So what will it take for the 2024 season to be marked a success?

What went wrong in 2023?

Wisconsin supporters -- myself included -- may have set expectations too high for a team that featured an all-new staff, and underestimated how long it'd take to implement Fickell's system and culture.

Still, there were issues out of the coaching staff's control.

Wisconsin was riddled with injuries, and the absences of Tanner Mordecai, Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi for portions of the season certainly kept Phil Longo's air raid -- or more aptly named dairy raid -- offense from reaching its full potential.

After opening up with a 4-1 record, the Badgers lost four of their next five -- including an embarrassing loss at Camp Randall to Northwestern -- and averaged 13 points per game during that stretch.

The loss to Northwestern seemed to be a turning point for the program. Safety and vocal leader Hunter Wohler ripped into the team for lack of effort and physicality, himself included, as Evan Flood of Badger247 captured post-game. The team responded to the criticism, finishing the regular season with a pair of victories before losing 35-31 to LSU in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

Despite showing signs of growth, the Badgers caught flack for having another mediocre season -- a problem Athletic Director Chris McIntosh sought to fix with Fickell's hiring.

Defining Mediocrity in 2024

Wisconsin hasn't won fewer than seven games since 2001 and, according to 247 Sports, Fickell's transfer class is ranked 26th in the country and his recruiting class sits seventh in the Big 10.

Yet, their implied win total indicates that the 22-year streak will end this season. Even if the Badgers come out on the higher end of 6.5 wins, is seven W's considered a success? Or will it take eight? Maybe nine?

Looking at the Badgers 2024 schedule, there aren't many easy games. After facing Western Michigan and South Dakota in Madison to open up the campaign -- two should-be wins -- a daunting matchup with Alabama bridges Wisconsin into conference play, where games against Oregon, Penn State, Iowa and USC await.

On May 20, Mark Schlabach of ESPN came out with his post-spring Top 25 rankings. Five of Wisconsin's 12 opponents made the cut for Schlabach, with Oregon (4) and Alabama (7) in the top eight. As for the Badgers, they fall into the "Just missed" category, not too far behind Iowa (23) and USC (25).

Let's be positive and give the Badgers a 3-2 record in games against ranked opponenets. Then, add in wins over Western Michigan and South Dakota, and Wisconsin sits 5-2. Surely, they blow that 6.5 win number out of the water right?

Not necessarily.

Nebraska owns a 7.5 win total, Rutgers matches Wisconsin at 6.5, and anything can happen during the Axe Game against Minnesota. Purdue and Northwestern should be wins, but nothing is guaranteed in the Big 10.

Where should expectations fall?

There's a chance that everything clicks in Madison and we see the Badgers push for double-digit wins -- a total that almost certainly would give them the inside track for appearances in one or both of the B1G Conference Championship and the College Football Playoff.

With the SEC and Big 10 forming super-conferences, we're likely to see plenty of two and three-loss teams make the CFP, especially considering the 12-team format beginning this season. So expectations should be lower across the country.

The most likely outcome, however, is that Wisconsin falls between six and eight wins. Specifically, an eight win season would mean that the Badgers defeated one of the five teams on ESPN's post-spring Top 25 and took care of business against everybody else -- including a win over the Golden Gophers at Camp Randall.

Obviously, there's wiggle room in how the eight wins are delivered, but showing an objective improvement in the win column from 2023 with at least one high-quality win is enough for me to be satisfied in regards to 2024, and excited for the years beyond. The question is, will it be enough for the rest of Badger nation?