With both Montee Ball and Russell Wilson potentially gone next season, Wisconsin needs to win now to stay in the national spotlight.
Rumors have dominated all conference talk this week, some turning true (Urban Meyer to OSU), some false (the B1G paying craigslisters to go to the championship game), some still lingering (Dan Mullen to PSU) and some actually pertaining to your interests (Wisconsin's next QB rental?). It is all exciting, except none of it is more than tangentially related to what is technically a very big game this weekend between leaders and legends.
In the buildup to both appearances on College Gameday this season, the Badgers almost seemed trendy. Bret Bielema was handing out interviews like Halloween candy, Russell Wilson showed up on PTI, and how awesome was that Depth Chart special? Pretty awesome. Consecutive losses shut the spotlight off, however, ESPN apparently feeling spurned for sticking their neck out. Wisconsin's struggles aren't yet worth constant psychoanalysis from the Sportscenter brain trust, apparently.
The excitement level for this week's matchup against the Spartans hasn't reached the same fever pitch as October's bout, which is weird because there's actually something tangible on the line this time. Neither team is in the national title picture, true, but last I checked Rose Bowls were still enormously important. Wisconsin is being batted around in the national conversation as one of the conference's "elites." That's not a bad thing, but I will say it is a bit shortsighted. Next year we are facing a possible middle-of-the-pack season, with the offense's three biggest playmakers (if Montee Ball goes) potentially out the door. Reloading is not so simple.
Wisconsin isn't at the point where everything it does is a story, it needs to win to stay in the spotlight. A Rose Bowl berth and win would go miles towards helping national perception. Lose, and you may not hear from the Badgers until 2013. Judging by the quality of the Class of 2012 so far, Wisconsin may be, slowly, on its way to becoming a consistent annual power. They need to keep the momentum from this season going as long as possible, however, through the start of next season, because honestly, Dayne Crist is no Russell Wilson.
Three-point loss on the road on an off-night shooting? Wins are preferred, but sometimes moral victories aren't so bad.
Montee Ball is the B1G Offensive Player of the Year. This man be in New York come Heisman time.
Speaking of which, a healthy Ball could have been the difference the first time UW faced the Spartans.
ESFU still going strong despite attempts at outright bribery to get the chant to stop.
Tickets are still available, and downright dirt cheap.
Wisconsin's penalty breakdown for the season, and this tidbit:
The Badgers had six (tying a season high) and the Spartans had none, obviously a season low (despite an obvious false start not called on MSU's late third-down play).
In fact - and I guess I write this just to infuriate the Badgers fan base - Michigan State averaged 7.5 penalties in its other Big Ten games (6-13-9-5-7-5-8). If MSU trends back toward the norm this game, it could be an X factor.
Russell Wilson misses the cut for the Walter Camp Award.