Wisconsin is in some unfamiliar territory.
No, not the Big Ten title game. The Badgers count as grizzled veterans after playing in last year’s inaugural conference championship, well acquainted with all the hype and hoopla that comes with it. A trip to the Rose Bowl isn’t so daunting, either. The Badgers, after all, rang in the last two New Year’s in Pasadena.
It’s being so, well, mediocre, that’s new for Wisconsin. Winners of the Big Ten title the last two years, the Badgers are getting a chance at the first three-peat in school history – by default. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the postseason, it’s Wisconsin playing No. 14 Nebraska on Saturday for the title and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Obviously it is different and strange this year because of our record going into this game, said Montee Ball, who last week became major college football’s all-time touchdown leader. But it’s not our fault what happened to the teams that can’t play in this game. We’re most definitely going to take the opportunity, and we’re going to run with it. We’re going to go to Indianapolis and play hard.
Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) stumbled to the finish of the regular season with three losses in its last four games, all in overtime. It tied for fifth in the Big Ten, and lost more than three conference games for only the second time in coach Bret Bielema’s seven seasons.
To be fair, the Badgers weren’t all that far from being a good team. Possibly even a really good one. Only one of their losses was by more than three points, and that was the 21-14 OT loss to Ohio State. Wisconsin led or was tied going into the fourth quarter in three of the losses. It also played its last three games with a quarterback who had played all of three snaps – that’s snaps, not starts – since the 2009 regular-season finale.
A play here, a play there, and the Badgers could be headed to Indianapolis with a far more impressive record.
The end result, however, would have been exactly the same.
Obviously we didn’t want to lose those games. But one thing coach B told us is that 7-5, 12-0, we’d still be in the same position right now, playing the same team, Ball said.