Down…But Not Quite Out?
This morning, I was all ready to bury the University of Wisconsin football team. Don’t get me wrong; the Badgers deserve every bit of scorn heaped upon them but reality intervened when I looked at the numbers. Not the numbers the Badgers have put up in their last two games; those are horrifically (?) highlighted by two crucial blocked punts followed by two game-ending ‘Hail Mary’ touchdown passes allowed by the defense. No, the numbers I’m talking about are the current standings in the Leaders Division of the Big(12)Ten. Amazingly enough, there is still a semi-plausible way for the BADgers to win the division and secure a spot in the inaugural conference title game.
Joe Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions currently sit atop the standings at 5-0 after squeaking by the Illini yesterday for JoPa’s NCAA career best 409th win. Penn State has three games remaining on its schedule; they host Nebraska before traveling to Ohio State and Wisconsin. If the Lions were to lose to either Nebraska or Ohio State, Wisconsin would have a chance to defeat them in their final game to put them at 6-2. Ohio State and Wisconsin are currently tied at 2-2 in the division, with OSU obviously winning the tiebreaker after last night’s debacle in Columbus. But OSU still has 4 games left. Assuming Buckeye wins over Indiana and Purdue, they would need to lose to either Penn State or Michigan to finish at 5-3. If the Badgers win out under either scenario, they would finish at least a game ahead of Ohio State and be tied atop the division with Penn State at 6-2, whereby they would win the head to head tiebreaker and advance to the conference title game.
Improbable? Certainly. But perhaps not much more so than the set of circumstances that put Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last season.
Now, of course, having written all that the Badgers should never have been in this position to begin with. Last week’s loss, while frustrating, really didn’t hurt them in the overall scheme of things. I never bought into the National Championship hype (though it was fun to hear them mentioned in that converation). I thought their defense was too suspect; a reality born out in devastating fashion over the course of the last two weeks. I did, however, assume them to be the class of what has proven to be a weak Big(12)Ten conference. There was no excuse for what happened Saturday night. Wisconsin was pushed around and outplayed in nearly all phases of the game by a largely one-dimensional Ohio State team that is a shell of its traditional self.
Wisconsin has usually fared better as the underdog than as the favorite. The Badgers may yet somehow get a reprieve from their ineptitude, but they’ll have no one but themselves to blame if they don’t.