Wisconsin Football: The Bowl History of the Badgers

The Wisconsin Badgers have played in 27 bowl games in their storied history and their record in those games is 13-14.

The Badgers first started playing football in 1889 and have an all-time record of 684–489–53. (.583)

Wisconsin has also won 14 Big Ten titles since they joined that conference in 1896.

The 10-3 and B1G West Champion Badgers will be playing in their 28th bowl game on January 2, 2017 when they will be facing the 13-0 and MAC Champion Western Michigan Broncos in the 2016 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

This will be the first time that Wisconsin has ever played in the Cotton Bowl. However, another team from Wisconsin, Marquette University in Milwaukee, played in the first ever Cotton Bowl game versus the TCU Horned Frogs in 1937 and lost 16-6. That was when Marquette still had a football program and were called the Golden Avalanche.

The football program was discontinued by Marquette in December 1960.

This will be the third time the Badgers have played a bowl game in Texas. Wisconsin also played in the 2000 Sun Bowl in El Paso and the 2002 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

The two states where the Badgers have played most of their bowl games are California and Florida.

In California, the Badgers have played in nine Rose Bowl games in Pasadena (1953, 1960, 1963, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2011, 2012 and 2013) and also the 2015 Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

The record of the Badgers in those 10 bowl games is 4-6.

Wisconsin has also played 10 bowl games in the state of Florida. The Badgers have played in the Hall of Fame Bowl once (1995), the Outback Bowl four times (1998, 2005, 2008 and 2015), the Capital One Bowl three times (2006, 2007 and 2014) and the Champs Sports Bowl twice (2008 and 2009).

The Hall of Fame Bowl became the Outback Bowl and all of those games were played in Tampa, either at old Tampa Stadium (Houlihan’s Stadium) or Raymond James Stadium.

The other Florida bowl games were all played at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

The Badgers are 5-5 in the 10 Florida bowl games in which they have played.

I have gone to six of the bowl games that the Badgers played in the Sunshine State. It started in 1995 at the Hall of Fame Bowl when Barry Alvarez and the Badgers took on the Duke Blue Devils.

Because I was a college buddy of defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove of the Badgers, I was able to see the Badgers work out at Tampa Stadium in practice a day before the game.

A couple of friends and I also sat next to the coaches’ wives at the actual game as Wisconsin beat Duke 34-20.

That was the first game in which Cosgrove was the defensive coordinator for the Badgers under Alvarez. He replaced Dan McCarney, who had left to become head coach at Iowa State.

Cosgrove stayed on as defensive coordinator through the 2003 season. He coordinated those great defenses on the 1998 and 1999 Wisconsin teams that won back-to-back Big Ten titles and the Rose Bowl.

In 1998, the Badgers were ranked fourth in the nation in total defense and first in scoring defense. In 1999, they were ranked 15th in the country in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.

Running back Ron Dayne of the Badgers was the MVP in both the 1999 Rose Bowl game and 2000 Rose Bowl game, when he rushed for a combined 446 yards and five touchdowns.

My fondest memory of watching the Badgers at a bowl game was being at the team hotel (Westin Tampa Harbour Island) after the Hall of Fame Bowl and smoking a victory cigar with a number of the coaches (including Alvarez and Cosgrove) overlooking the Hillsborough River from the balcony.

Cosgrove is now the defensive coordinator at New Mexico under head coach Bob Davie. The 8-4 Lobos, who were also Co-Champs of the Mountain Division of Mountain West Conference, will be going to their second consecutive bowl game for the first time since 2007.

Under Alvarez, the Badgers were 8-3 in the bowl games they played under him from 1994- 2006. As an interim head coach at the 2013 Rose Bowl and the 2015 Outback Bowl, Alvarez had a 1-1 record.

I also was at the 2015 Outback Bowl when Alvarez and his Badgers were victorious. Running back Melvin Gordon ran for 251 yards and three touchdowns as the Badgers beat the Auburn Tigers 34-31 in overtime.

Before Alvarez arrived in Madison in 1990, the Badgers had only appeared in six bowl games. But Barry and his Badgers compiled a 118–73–4 from 1990-2005 and that led to to 11 more bowl appearances.

It should also be noted, that before 1975, only the Big 10 champion was eligible for a bowl bid. That team always went to the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin had a number of teams which would have gone to bowl games if they were allowed to at the time.

The 1942 team (8-1-1) comes to mind, along with six teams in the 1950s which were all in the AP Top 25 poll.

The most famous bowl game the Badgers ever played in was the 1963 Rose Bowl. The Badgers were ranked No. 2 in the country before that game, while their opponent, the USC Trojans, were ranked No. 1.

Wisconsin was down 42-14 early in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Ron Vander Kelen led a stirring comeback. The Badgers scored 23 straight points to pull within 42-37, but Wisconsin ran out of time.

Vander Kelen completed 17-of-21 passes in just the fourth quarter alone. For the game, Vander Kelen ended up completing 33 of 48 throws for 401 yards, while Pat Richter finished with 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown.

Besides playing multiple bowl games in California, Florida and Texas, the Badgers have played one game in New Jersey (Garden State Bowl), one in Louisiana (Independence Bowl), one in Alabama (Hall of Fame Classic Bowl), one in Arizona (Copper Bowl) and one in Tennessee (Music City Bowl).

In terms of the opponents who the Badgers have played most often in bowl games, Wisconsin has played Auburn, UCLA and USC three times each.

The Badgers have also played Georgia, Stanford and Tennessee twice in bowl games.

Second-year head coach Paul Chryst (20-6) and his Badgers beat the USC Trojans 23-21 in the 2015 Holiday Bowl last December 30. It was the first time the Badgers had ever beaten the Trojans (regular season or bowl game).


Until last year’s win, Wisconsin had lost six games against the Trojans, which included two losses in the Rose Bowl (1952 and 1963). I wrote a story about Wisconsin’s bowl history versus USC last year.

At the Cotton Bowl, Chryst and his Badgers will be going for their second straight bowl win without a loss. A victory over Western Michigan by the Badgers will give the Broncos their first lost of the season, plus would even up the record of Wisconsin in bowl games at 14-14.

Here is a complete rundown of the 27 bowl games that the Badgers have played in.

  • 1953 Rose Bowl: USC 7, Wisconsin 0
  • 1960 Rose Bowl: Washington 44, Wisconsin 8
  • 1963 Rose Bowl: USC 42, Wisconsin 37
  • 1981 Garden State Bowl: Tennessee 28, Wisconsin 21
  • 1982 Independence Bowl: Wisconsin 14, Kansas State 3
  • 1984 Hall of Fame Classic Bowl: Kentucky 20, Wisconsin 19
  • 1994 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 16
  • 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Duke 20
  • 1996 Copper Bowl: Wisconsin 38, Utah 10
  • 1998 Outback Bowl: Georgia 33, Wisconsin 6
  • 1999 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31
  • 2000 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9
  • 2000 Sun Bowl: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 20
  • 2002 Alamo Bowl: Wisconsin 31, Colorado 28
  • 2003 Music City Bowl: Auburn 28, Wisconsin 14
  • 2005 Outback Bowl: Georgia 24, Wisconsin 21
  • 2006 Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin 24, Auburn 10
  • 2007 Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin 17, Arkansas 14
  • 2008 Outback Bowl: Tennessee 21, Wisconsin 17
  • 2008 Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State 42, Wisconsin 13
  • 2009 Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin 20, Miami (FL) 14
  • 2011 Rose Bowl: TCU 21, Wisconsin 19
  • 2012 Rose Bowl: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38
  • 2013 Rose Bowl: Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14
  • 2014 Capital One Bowl: South Carolina 34, Wisconsin 24
  • 2015 Outback Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Auburn 31
  • 2015 Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin 23, USC 21

7 thoughts on “Wisconsin Football: The Bowl History of the Badgers

  1. Pingback: Wisconsin Badgers: Their Bowl History with the USC Trojans | Bob Fox

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  3. Pingback: It’s One Game at a Time for the 8-0 Wisconsin Badgers | Bob Fox

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