We hoped the Badgers had turned the corner. We hoped after stumbling out of the gates and suffering two early season loses, Wisconsin had finally found its identity again and would play well the rest of the way to Indy. Instead, we must put this Badgers season in perspective.
After back-to-back special seasons at UW -- call us spoiled -- it seemed most of us expected a third. Barring an epic collapse, I understand the Badgers still have a great opportunity to reach the Big Ten title game and fight for a Rose Bowl berth. However, it's difficult for me to get overly excited about a team that's only beaten Northern Iowa, Utah State, UTEP, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. The magic of the last two seasons feels as if it was ages ago, and now we're left with 6-3 (3-2 B1G) UW team.
I'm still more than satisfied with how the defense has looked. Say what you want about Michigan State's final drive and the game-winning touchdown, but they held the Spartans to three points for nearly the entire game. When the Badgers muffed a punt deep in their own territory, it was the defense making big plays to prevent Michigan State from scoring. It's difficult to hold a team down for that long when there's minimal offensive production. This UW defense may give up some plays at inopportune moments, so I wouldn't call them an elite or stellar defense, but they have certainly given the Badgers a great chance to win every week and have been the least of the Badgers' worries this season.
The offense's performance against Michigan State was very humbling. For the most part, the Spartans' front seven dominated Wisconsin's offensive line. In both contests against MSU last season, Montee Ball had quite a bit of success, but this time around he only ran for 46 yards on 22 carries. UW's offensive line paved gigantic holes against the likes of Purdue and Minnesota, but hit a wall against Michigan State.
The Joel Stave injury also greatly affects the dynamic of this team and this season. Before the Stave injury, the Badgers had the potential to progress more and more every week, and had proven they could be one of the best teams in the conference. But without Stave, the Badgers offense is left searching again for an answer at quarterback.
It's tough to believe, but this three-loss Wisconsin team still has plenty in front of them. With the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State, we are witnessing one of the more bizarre seasons we'll ever experience. The Badgers could very well beat Indiana and lose to Ohio State and Penn State on the way to a conference title game with a 7-5 record. These next few weeks hold much uncertainty, but it is safe to say the Badgers appear to be an average football team. There are certainly phenomenal athletes on this squad, but when you look at this team and its coaching staff as a whole, we're left with a record that accurately reflects this year's Wisconsin team.
Without a game this weekend, the biggest news regarding UW football will center around the quarterback battle. Bielema is not handing it to Danny O'Brien -- thank God -- so he'll have to fight Curt Phillips for it.
With a big victory over Michigan this weekend, Nebraska becomes the frontrunner in the Legends Division. BTN says that also makes them the frontrunner for the Rose Bowl. See the rest of BTN's bowl predictions.
Bret Bielema has had his back against the wall many times before and his Badgers sure are facing tough times again, but he says he loves being in these spots as a coach.
Danny Hope's future with Purdue looks bleak after getting routed by Minnesota, sending the Boilermakers to a 0-4 conference record.
Cover your eyes. It's Dave Heller's weekly compilation of rankings and bowl predictions for the Wisconsin football team.