Badger Bits: Now That The Pressure's Off, MSU Game Means Everything

Gregory Shamus

Now that the Badgers have all but secured a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, the pressure is off. Yet Saturday's game against the Spartans may be the most significant of the season.

I have a problem: I can't enjoy anything in the moment. I have a compulsive need to rank and categorize every experience I ever have -- the best and worst Thanksgiving turkeys I've eaten, where brushing my teeth stands among bathroom experiences, etc. -- and I don't trust that any given moment is as good or as bad as it seems. Crippled with skepticism, it can take me days and months (years, in rare instances) to figure out whether I actually enjoyed something

This is why football is good to me. It affords a full week to psychoanalyze a team to its core, and because of the internet there are whole communities devoted to the same fruitless, yet fulfilling, yet inescapable urge.

The ultimate question in college football is, "Where does my team stand?" and the sample size of games is agonizingly small. We have to look to a few specific tests throughout the season -- "big games", as they are known in the industry -- to find out whether a team is any good, and whether we can actually enjoy the product on the field.

Nebraska was a test, and Wisconsin ultimately failed after looking brilliant in the first half. That loss will hopefully be seen as the end of a chapter, leading into Wisconsin's return to prominence that began with three convincing wins against overmatched foes. The front seven has looked strong, and the offensive line and running game even stronger. The team is riding as high as it has at any point this season, heading into a game against Michigan State that could ultimately mean everything.

In technical terms, Saturday's game against the Spartans is meaningless. The Badgers have essentially clinched the Leaders Division crown, and will be within a game of the Rose Bowl no matter how the rest of the regular season pans out. But in terms of the ultimate question, a game against a newly-bitter rival, coming into Camp Randall with a nasty defensive front and a battered ego, should prove a significant litmus of how far this team has come since Lincoln.

I will feel very good about this Badgers squad if the defense dominates as it should, and if the offense does what few have and runs over the Spartans' defense. But at the very least, they should win. The bye week's coming and if I'm spending the next two weeks inside my head, I'd rather not be snuggled up next to a loss.

Thursday's Links:

Scott Van Pelt is posting up at the Union! You should be there. (Yes, you).

Wisconsin will likely be going with the Ricky Wagner-less offensive line personnel this weekend. He was reportedly held out of practice Wednesday.

Welcome Matt Hubley! He's 6'2, 205 pounds, runs a 4.5, plays safety, and he's a Badger.

Ben Worgull discusses NJ running back Corey Clement with Adam Mertz of the State Journal.

OTE projects Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl vs. UGA this week. I feel oddly confident about that matchup, but maybe Georgia just does that to people.

How the Badgers ran/passed in Week 8.

Frank Kaminsky has slimmed down to a svelte 230 pounds for basketball season.

Sam Dekker sounds like he is just the greatest.

No charges will be filed on two UW football players in connection with the fight that led to the attack on Montee Ball.

Minnesota didn't make the cut in This Week in Schadenfreude, because they are a bad team and don't feel bad enough about it.

Kirk Ferentz' bear-ly legal (ha-ha!) plan to fix James Vandenberg.

Lane Kiffin is still massive jerk-hole.

Wrapping up: Dig in to Jon's End Zone Bar & Grill!

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