The Voice: No need for apologies as Badgers chase prize

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In sports, I find the term "In the moment" to be perhaps the most appropriate three words to describe the emotions, the reactions, and yes, the overreactions of those who love to watch their favorite team.

Since I get paid to observe sporting events (I'm guessing you might use the term "stealing"), I believe I have at least some responsibility to take a look at the bigger picture. Some might call it spin control. Hopefully some of you will understand the point of today's column. Here goes:

In this strangest of Big Ten football seasons, the Badgers, with a 4-4 conference record, will play Nebraska Saturday night for a trip to the Rose Bowl. Win, and Bret Bielema's team will make school history with a third-straight trip to Pasadena.

Given the fact that Wisconsin has the sixth-best record in league play, we all know how some will choose to view the current state of affairs. But let us also remember that the Badgers did not make the rules, which were in place before the season began. Ohio State and Penn State broke the rules and paid for it with NCAA sanctions, including being ineligible for postseason play. 

Is this ideal for the Big Ten? Of course not. What is the best way to avoid this situation in the future? Following NCAA rules and obeying the laws of society would be a good place to start.

To be clear, this is no reflection on the current players and coaches at Ohio State and Penn State. Those two teams put together excellent seasons and should be congratulated for their efforts. Urban Meyer's bunch ran the table, and Bill O'Brien gets my vote for national coach of the year. There are many young men in both programs who represent all that is good about the game. But everyone knew the drill back in July. The Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions would get 12 games. That's it.

Are the Badgers happy about being the third-place team in the Leaders Division? No, but they need not apologize for having the chance to win a league title. In a perfect world, they would have won the division outright. The last time I checked, the world is far from perfect.

Now to the matter of close games, and how the Badgers have struggled mightily the last two seasons.

Note the words "last two seasons." To hear some talk about it, you would think Bret Bielema has never won a close game in his seven years as the Badgers' head man.

Here are the facts. To date, Bielema's overall record in one-score games is 21-15. In Barry Alvarez's final seven years as the Badgers coach, Wisconsin was 20-17 in one-score games.

Breaking it down to include the schedule a school cannot control -- meaning the Big Ten slate plus a bowl game -- Bielema is 12-14. Alvarez was 14-15. Not exactly a ton of difference.

These numbers are not meant to be a Bret vs. Barry debate. I use these numbers of emphasize one of Alvarez's favorite sayings "It is hard to win." A simple, but very accurate statement.

In a close game, it is only natural to second guess any decision that does not work. Coaches sign up for that stuff. On the other hand, sometimes there is a bad bounce, a tough official's call (or non-call), or perhaps a perfectly designed play that results in a dropped pass, a bad throw, or maybe the guy on the other team just made a great play.

Lately, maybe it is a little bit of everything. I just know in 2009 and 2010, the Badgers were 8-2 in one-score games (5-2 in Big Ten games plus the bowls), so I am pretty sure the current coach knows what it takes to win the nail-biters. 

One other thing. While the close losses have outnumbered the close wins, especially in the last two years, the Badgers did snag a rather significant down-to-the-wire tilt last year. For their efforts, they collected a very pretty trophy and a big, fat Big Ten championship ring.

The fact remains that despite the recent troubles, another trophy and more fat rings remain in play.
ON WISCONSIN