We will start with a quick refresher course on how Big Ten divisional play works, and how the Badgers are still in the race for a trip to Indianapolis. They need some help, and as the saying goes, they need to help themselves. Here is how it can happen:
1. The Badgers right the ship and win their remaining regular season games.
2. Ohio State loses one more game, giving it three conference losses. The Buckeyes will play Indiana and Penn State at home, and will travel to Purdue and Michigan.
3. Penn State loses either at home to Nebraska or on the road against Ohio State. Of course, the Badgers would need to give the Nittany Lions their second conference loss.
In this scenario, Wisconsin and Penn State would finish 6-2 and tied for first in the Leaders Division. Since the Badgers beat Penn State (again, in this scenario), Wisconsin would win the tie-breaker, and thus would earn the trip to the Big Ten championship game.
Does it sound farfetched? I don't think so. Perhaps the most challenging task is the Badgers winning four in a row in a hotly-contested conference race.
Last week, I was not all that concerned with the Badgers' emotional state. Coming off a tough game at Michigan State, I was more worried about the physical toll. This week, it might be a little bit of both.
I have not seen a team go through anything quite like this. The only stretch that is comparable is in 1996, when the Badgers lost their conference opener to third-ranked Penn State on a late field goal. The following week, Wisconsin was a huge underdog at second-ranked Ohio State. In an old-school Big Ten slugfest, the Buckeyes prevailed 17-14. The very next week was the heartbreaker against No. 14 Northwestern, when a late fumble set up the Wildcats winning score.
In last week's Varsity magazine, Barry Alvarez talked about how a coach tries to move on from such a gut wrenching loss. I would guess it is easier said than done.
The difference is that stretch in 1996 knocked Wisconsin out of the league title chase. The 2011 Badgers are still alive for a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy. Yes, they are out of the national title conversation, but quite honestly, opinions vary whether even a 13-0 Wisconsin squad would have made it to New Orleans. It would have been fun to find out, but I tend to believe the computers would have been unkind to the point where a one-loss team would have passed the Badgers.
That is open to debate, but what cannot be questioned is the Badgers are still in play for the Rose Bowl, and getting there does not necessarily require a miracle, something those connected with the program seem to understand.
No doubt this group is hurting right now. As Bret Bielema admitted in his Monday news conference, you tend to feel the bumps and bruises more after a loss. The test will be how this team comes out both mentally and physically for Saturday's game with Purdue. Hopefully, there will be a good atmosphere for 2:30 p.m. game, but that remains to be seen.
The Badgers have lost consecutive games in lousy fashion. They have made critical mistakes, and they have had some bad luck. Yet they remain a very good team with a chance to do something special. If the Badgers can rally and still find a way to reach the conference title tilt, it could say more about this team than any words can describe.
I would like to think the players believe this can happen. The question is, do you?