Wisconsin won. Full stop. No doubt about it.
The Badgers out-gained the Tigers 339–257, won the time-of-possession battle by over 10 minutes, had seven more first downs, threw for more yards and rushed for more yards. By every statistical indicator, Wisconsin won.
This wasn’t the equivalent of a soccer team taking on a defensive posture and hoping to sneak a goal or force penalty kicks at the end. This was an overlooked, talented team taking the fight to a top-five opponent from the supposed Holy Conference of college football, the SEC, and emerging victorious. The storylines practically write themselves, but unfortunately we are left with headlines like this:
- What a whiff: LSU comeback falls apart (ESPN)
- Opening ouch: LSU sputters as Wisconsin lands historic upset (ESPN)
- LSU's embarrassing loss to Wisconsin is why Les Miles was nearly fired last year (Fox Sports)
- No. 5 LSU stunned in Lambeau by unranked Wisconsin (Sporting News)
- Wisconsin shocks No. 5 LSU to put Miles squarely on hot seat (Sports Illustrated)
Word choice matters, and here we are riddled with headlines that either don’t mention Wisconsin, focus on how the loss impacts Les Miles instead of Badger bowl possibilities or treat LSU as a team that was supposed to win but didn’t. There is an important distinction between a team that is predicted to win and is supposed to win. Many media members predicted LSU to win, but as the game played out it was clear that Wisconsin was supposed to win. So why doesn’t the media give Wisconsin its due?
Take a closer look at the ESPN game recap and you will notice that out of the entire articles, there exist only two paragraphs, 105 out of 883 words, that even mention Wisconsin:
Wisconsin had overwhelmed them at the line of scrimmage, clearly the more physical team from the opening kickoff. Quarterback Brandon Harris was more maddening than masterful. If not for two Bart Houston interceptions, which essentially equaled a 10-point swing for LSU, Wisconsin would have been comfortably ahead in the closing minutes at Lambeau Field.
Wisconsin’s Vince Biegel ran virtually untouched toward Harris, who skillfully evaded him, only to miss safety D'Cota Dixon, lurking in coverage. Dixon easily corralled Harris’ pass, then, as he began celebrating, absorbed the massive forearm of LSU’s Josh Boutte, a 6-foot-5, 346-pound guard. Officials ejected Boutte for a flagrant personal foul.
The second paragraph is particularly disappointing in the way it treats the playmaking ability of the Badgers. It is as if Biegel didn’t have to do anything other than chase after Harris. He surely didn’t need to time out the blitz or rely on the defensive line to occupy the LSU offensive line, and Dixon was just lurking in coverage, a player fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. It was Harris who "skillfully evaded" Biegel and just missed Dixon in coverage as opposed to closing his eyes, winging a pass and hoping for the best.
This slight of the Badgers' accomplishments carried over to the highlight packages as well. Take a look at this ESPN highlight package that is representative of what was displayed on ABC and FOX during Saturday night’s games.
Most of the others don’t even include the part about the Badger defense limiting a guy who averaged a shade over 6 yards per carry last year to a paltry 3 yards per carry in the first half! Again, it is as if LSU spotted Wisconsin 13 points, decided to play defense and if not for an untimely Fournette injury or poor decision by Harris, would have surely won the game.
Juxtapose the treatment of Wisconsin with another team that upset a top-five opponent, Houston, and things get even more interesting. Wisconsin’s win leads to a possible Les Miles firing. Houston’s win "makes [an] emphatic playoff statement." It is important to note that Houston was ranked heading into its matchup, so the Cougars' win catapulting them into the playoff discussion isn’t unreasonable. But shouldn’t Wisconsin’s win announce its presence as a contender in the Big Ten? Shouldn’t a win over a top-five team from the vaunted SEC make Wisconsin a nightmare for teams with national championship aspirations, Michigan and Ohio State, in the Big Ten?
The cause of this slight is hard to pin down. Is there a Gulf Coast media bias? Is it a product of the folks who put LSU in the top five of the media polls being too embarrassed to each their crow? Does the fact that Wisconsin lacks a Heisman hopeful or telegenic coach prevent folks from getting on the Bucky Hype train? Who knows, but the lack of respect for what the Badgers accomplished oozes out of every orifice of the national sports media.
The late, great Rodney Dangerfield once remarked, "I get no respect at all. When I was a kid, I lost my parents at the beach. I asked a lifeguard to help me find them. He said, 'I don't know kid, there are so many places they could hide.'" Hopefully the media stops running and hiding from the story that is searching for them on the beach. The Badgers may not deserve to be placed in the national championship conversation just yet, but they deserve better than this.