A new era is on tap for 2023 in Madison. But first, Wisconsin must get through 1 more game in 2022.

The Badgers will head out west to Phoenix, Ariz., to take on Oklahoma State in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl 2 days after Christmas. Both programs have been idling in their respective conferences over the past 2 decades, making bowl games but not much noise on the national stage.

This game will be more of the same, with a 6-6 Big Ten team in Wisconsin taking on a 7-5 Big-12 squad.

But it offers opportunities for new Badgers coach Luke Fickell. He can use the bowl practices and the game to evaluate his roster. He can get a look at Myles Burkett or Chase Wolf at quarterback now that 3-year starter Graham Mertz has officially entered the transfer portal.

In most years, a showdown between the Badgers and Pokes would entice both fan bases. Will that be the case for an 10:15 ET kickoff (ESPN) at Chase Field on the final Tuesday of 2022?

A down year for Mike Gundy

Mike Gundy is a proven winner, with a 156-74 record in 18 years with the Cowboys.¬†With Gary Patterson leaving TCU last October, the 55-year-old became the longest-tenured coach in the Big 12. He’s 3 wins from passing former Texas and current UNC coach Mack Brown for 3rd all-time in conference wins, and might not be ready to retire until he dethrones Oklahoma great Bob Stoops, who won 191 games with the Sooners.

If you were to ask Gundy, the 2022 campaign was a lost one. Last year, the Pokes were a yard away from hoisting a Big 12 championship trophy and potentially becoming the 2nd team from the conference to make the College Football Playoff. This season, the Pokes are 7-5 with losses to Kansas, West Virginia and Oklahoma. Oklahoma State’s defense regressed following the departure of coordinator Jim Knowles to Ohio State, while its offense was lackluster at quarterback due to injury.

Since 2008, the Cowboys have finished with 7 wins or fewer only twice. The other time came in 2014, when 3 quarterbacks took snaps. Speaking of which …

Question at QB?

Three quarterbacks took reps in 2022 for OSU. Spencer Sanders, the veteran starter who’s held the title of QB1 since 2019, missed 2 games with a lingering shoulder injury. Garret Rangel played in 3 games and made 2 starts, losses to the Jayhawks and the Mountaineers. Gunnar Gundy, Mike Gundy’s son, played in 4 games and completed 48.7% of his passes.

Sanders could elect to sit out and prepare for the 2023 NFL Draft. If he does, Gundy could play both remaining passers in hopes of figuring out which one offers more upside for next fall. Both Rangel and Gunnar Gundy have thrown 1 more pick than TD in their limited action this season.

No No. 1 WR, but plenty of options

OSU never found its No. 1 pass-catcher this season, but 4 receivers finished with at least 31 catches and over 480 receiving yards.

Brennan Presley finished with a team-high in yards (739), while Bryson Green tallied a team-leading 5 touchdowns. Braydon Johnson averaged 18.3 yards per catch, while John Paul Richardson was the team’s most consistent playmaker and did a bit of everything.

OSU finished 20th nationally in passing offense (283.8 yards per game) and ranked 2nd among Big 12 teams.

Presley and Johnson are draft eligible and could opt out of the bowl game, but the Badgers — at the least — will have to deal with Richardson and Green. This season, Wisconsin’s pass defense held opponents to 202.3 yards per game but gave up 16 touchdowns in coverage.

Throw away from Jason Taylor II

Much like Sanders, Taylor’s status is in question based on his NFL potential. If he does play, watch out for him in coverage. He’s a step away from turning a touchdown into a turnover if the ball is underthrown.

Taylor led the Big 12 in interceptions with 6 and finished 3rd in pass breakups with 13. He also was a reliable tackler, recording 87 stops, 2nd-most on the team behind linebacker Mason Cobb. Coaches have also praised him for his work ethic and leadership while trying to bolster the worst pass defense in the Big-12.

Cobb has entered the transfer portal, so Taylor will be the face of the defense if he plays. As a veteran, he also could present nightmares in coverage for the true freshman Burkett, who has thrown just 5 passes, completing 4.

A new story

There’s a first time for everything.

The Pokes and Badgers have never met on the gridiron before. In fact, Wisconsin has only faced 1 active Big 12 program in its history, defeating post-Big 8 Colorado 31-28 in overtime in the 2002 Alamo Bowl.

OSU is looking to strengthen it claim as a major player in the Big 12, especially with Oklahoma and Texas set to depart to the SEC in 2025. Wisconsin proved it’s looking to be more than a middle-of-the-road B1G program when it made Fickell an offer he couldn’t refuse. And with the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams in 2024, there’s more opportunity for both schools to fight for national relevance.

A showdown in the desert will mark the 1st meeting between these 2 proud programs. If the future remains bright in both Madison and Stillwater, it shouldn’t be the last.