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It is interesting how quickly a team's perception can change based on one bad game.
Interesting, and at times inaccurate.
For weeks, as the Badgers football team was rolling along, more and more national observers were talking about how Gary Andersen's squad was underrated. The Arizona State game was incomplete.
With the Badgers on the brink of the top 14 in the BCS standings, at least some media members were projecting Wisconsin to play in the Orange Bowl.
Then last Saturday happened.
Suddenly, at least for some, the image has changed. Be it a talk show host or a national columnist or two, much of the love for the Badgers has faded.
So goes life in the Big Ten. This week the debate continues whether Ohio State is worthy of its No. 2 ranking. Yes it is undefeated, but critics point to its poor non-conference schedule and a league that remains viewed as weak.
Suddenly, the Buckeyes' win against Wisconsin loses some juice. How can OSU be ranked ahead of a one-loss SEC team? On and on it goes.
While Penn State deserves a ton of credit for coming to Camp Randall and dumping a bucket of cold water on the Badgers' Senior Day, let us not forget that UW has had a very good season.
Yes, the loss to the Nittany Lions will cost Wisconsin a chance at a BCS at-large bid, but take a look at the other two setbacks. We know what is on the line for Ohio State, but it is worth mentioning that Arizona State will be hosting the Pac-12 title game this weekend against Stanford.
While the officials botched the ending of the UW-ASU game in Tempe, it is worth noting that the Sun Devils are having a terrific season, and they are one win away from playing in the Rose Bowl Game for the first time since 1997.
To me, what is happening here is the classic case of an old saying: You are never as good as people say you are, nor are you ever as bad.
Was I surprised at last weekend's outcome? Yes, very much so. The Badgers defense had been in shutdown mode for several weeks, while the offense was taking care of its business. Penn State had just lost on its Senior Day and had yet to win a road game in the Big Ten.
The script called for another convincing victory for the home team, but PSU played one of its best games of the season, while the Badgers played their worst.
Sometimes it is just that simple. It can happen in any sport at any level. In this case it stinks, but it is reality.
As someone who has lived in Big Ten Country his entire life, I will admit to being sick and tired of the verbal pounding this league has had to absorb.
There is one sure way to stop it. Win the big bowl games.
I can tell you how I believe the Big Ten is better than many believe. I really do believe that. However, the image can only change through better postseason results.
Assuming the Badgers are headed for either Orlando or Tampa, they will play a highly-regarded SEC team. Ohio State and Michigan State will be in big-stage bowl games -- for OSU, maybe the biggest of them all.
Win those games, and the perception will begin to change.
To this observer, the Big Ten is improving. Hopefully in the next few weeks this conference will make a loud statement that can be heard nationwide.
Other than to say it has been warm and humid here in Mexico this week, I will avoid any further weather details as Bo Ryan's basketball team as it makes its way back home after playing in the Cancun Challenge.
Tropical conditions aside, the competition continues to be serious for the Badgers, with more of the same on the horizon next week. After returning to Madison, the Badgers will hit the road next Wednesday to play Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Three days later, Marquette comes to the Kohl Center.
Not exactly Cupcake City for this group.
I have to say I am eager to get home -- cold weather and all -- as the Badgers football team prepares for its home finale against Penn State.
While there will be no Big Ten championship game for this year's team, there is much at stake this Saturday. The Badgers are vying to go unbeaten at home for the third time in four years. A 10th win would make it four years out of five that Wisconsin has hit double digits in victories. The seniors are looking for a 24th conference win, which would be the most in a four-year span.
Talk about consistency. That defines this senior class. A low-maintenance group that wins and wins the right way. Good students. Leaders on the field. Leaders in the community.
Not a bad way to represent your university.
As always, emotions will run high before, during and after Saturday's game. It is always interesting to talk to players before that last home appearance. They realize the clock is ticking, but you get the impression some of them would love to call a timeout.
"I don't really want to think about it," said linebacker Ethan Armstrong. "I'm still in the denial stage. Maybe I will figure out a way to have one more year."
Like many on this team, it has been a wild ride for Armstrong, who has battled through numerous injuries to carve out an excellent college career. Not that he has taken a ton of time to think about it.
"I'll probably appreciate it when I'm old, fat and retired," Armstrong said with a smile.
Coming off one of the coldest games in Wisconsin football history, there is at least one player who is rooting for Old Man Winter to make another appearance.
"I've been telling guys that I would be happy if it snowed for our last game," said Conor O'Neill of Delray Beach, Fla. Yeah, that is correct -- a Florida native wants snow this Saturday.
"I think it would be fitting for our senior class. We haven't played in a real snow game."
For the record, the last time I can remember a measureable snowfall for UW football was the 1994 spring game. The players started having snowball fights during the game. But let Conor have his dream, OK?
Snow or no snow. Bitter cold or relatively mild, it is another huge game for the Badgers. Senior Day alone makes it big, but with the home team still jockeying for position in the BCS standings, it is one more chance to make an impression on the voters.
Those folks should be impressed with what they have seen the last two months. It is a hungry team that is winning in dominant fashion.
"It starts with the guys in the locker room," said Armstrong. "They expect to be great, and they demand that of themselves and of this team. The coaching staff does as well. Of themselves and of this team."
Quarterback Curt Phillips agrees. He has appeared in just two games this season, but Phillips is as respected as anyone in the program. And he has nothing but respect for what he has seen in the last year.
"Coach Andersen and his staff, and the spark they provided," Phillips said. "Coach Alvarez holding down the fort with everything he did last year to coach us in the Rose Bowl. It is special."
So is this senior class. Winners in every way. I look forward to seeing them play in front of the home crowd one more time.
OK, how many of you had Wisconsin holding Indiana to 3 points last Saturday? I would guess very few, if any, expected such a shutdown performance. After all, going into the weekend, the Hoosiers had scored at least 28 points in 10 straight games.
So much for that streak.
Through ten games this season, Wisconsin has held half of its opponents without a touchdown. No matter the era, that is an impressive stat. In this day of spread-you-out, fast football, keeping five opponents out of the end zone is borderline mind-boggling.
As the Badgers get ready to face Minnesota in the annual Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, they know another big-boy effort is needed in all phases.
On multiple occasions, I have written and talked about the rivalry, and how much fun it is to watch every year. This time around is even better. Why? Because the Gophers are good, and the stakes are high for both programs.
While the Badgers continue a slow climb up the BCS standings (UW is 19th this week), Minnesota checks in at No. 25. Both teams are 8-2, and both teams are rolling. The Gophers have won four straight, while the Badgers have won five in a row.
Rivalry aside, how can you not appreciate what the Gophers are accomplishing as head coach Jerry Kill works to get his health back in order? There can be very little argument that to this point in the season, Minnesota has been the league's most pleasant surprise.
While not such a surprise, the Badgers deserve a ton of credit themselves. They have managed to overcome two tough losses in September. Since then, they have done nothing but win in convincing fashion. The Badgers are playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten, and to date, continue to state a case -- on the field, and not through the media -- why they should be ranked higher than 19th.
By the way, if you are going to TCF Bank Stadium, bundle up. The forecast for this Saturday calls for a game-time temperature of about 20 degrees, which would be in the top five -- or perhaps bottom five -- coldest temps at kickoff in UW football history.
* * * *
Part of what makes watching sports so enjoyable is we never know for sure what is going to happen. In the last week, Badgers football and basketball fans have witnessed history.
First, it was James White's 93-yard touchdown run against Indiana. It is the longest run from scrimmage in program history.
Tuesday night at the Kohl Center, Frank Kaminsky's 43 point effort against North Dakota set a UW single game record. Talk about efficiency -- Kaminsky needed just 19 shots. He made 16, including for 6-for-6 from 3-point range.
North Dakota's Troy Huff wasn't too bad, either. The former Brookfield Central standout dropped in 37 points. Both Huff and Kaminsky did their damage in just 28 minutes of playing time.
It was an entertaining night in what has been a fun start for Bo Ryan's team. An early-season storyline of different players stepping up is continuing. Kaminsky's historic night followed his critical contributions in the three-point victory against the Phoenix, when he scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots.
In the last two games, Bronson Koenig 's minutes have picked up, and he is playing well. At Green Bay, Koenig scored seven points and, on Tuesday, added five more.
Yes, this group wants to be better defensively, but the Badgers have faced good teams and some special individual players. So far, so good as Wisconsin's busy stretch of non-conference games continues.
While the Badgers slowly move up in the BCS rankings, coach Gary Andersen continues to stay above the fray. It is only natural for fans to be concerned, if not angry, at the lack of movement, but do not expect Andersen to publically campaign for more love from those who vote in the coaches and Harris polls.
"Not my style, not my deal," said the Badgers boss during this week's Big Ten coaches teleconference.
Different strokes for different folks. Andersen is extremely consistent in his stance. I asked him that very question a few weeks ago, and his answer was the same.
Maybe stating his team's case is unnecessary. A number of neutral observers, including ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, continue to praise the 7-2 Badgers. Maybe it will make little if any difference, but it never hurts to have a national pundit remind fans and voters that one of those losses will always remain questionable (I'm being as nice as possible here), while the other setback was a one-score game at Ohio State.
If nothing else, it is refreshing to hear Herbstreit and colleague Rece Davis suggest that maybe the Big Ten Conference is better than advertised. Unbeaten Ohio State still needs help, but it is very much in the mix for a shot at the national title. Michigan State plays shutdown defense, and to this point is proving to be a very strong team.
Meanwhile, the Badgers are playing some of their best football. In addition to a high-powered offense, they also have one of the country's top defenses. That defensive group proved it again last week by slowing down a red-hot BYU offense for most of the day.
Another challenge is waiting this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. While Indiana has had a world of trouble trying to stop people, the IU offense is one of the best you will see. It is another team that pushes the pace -- to the tune of running a play every 19.3 seconds -- very much like BYU.
Even if fleet-footed running back Tevin Coleman is unable to go because of an ankle injury, the Hoosiers offense is loaded. Fellow RB Stephen Houston averages 7.3 yards per carry, and there are five players with 1,000-plus career receiving yards. It is the first time in league history that five receivers with those stats have played together.
Knowing that, it probably makes sense that Andersen and his team remain focused on preparing for a game, and not on stumping for votes.
* * * *
It was a fun atmosphere Tuesday night for the Badgers basketball team's home opener against Florida. After Wisconsin's 59-53 victory against the Gators, I suggested to one of the players that, with the schedule they have to open the season, it is like jumping into the deep end of the pool.
"But we are swimming," the player responded.
The season has just started, but it is encouraging to watch this young group pick off a couple of wins against good teams. Last Friday in Sioux Falls, S.D., Duje Dukan played well off the bench. Tuesday evening, freshman Nigel Hayes gave his team a lift. There has been good scoring balance, and when big shots are needed, the Badgers have made them.
It is way too early to draw any conclusions, but for a team with so many new faces, getting through the first two games is encouraging. Now they head to Green Bay for a Saturday night matchup against the Phoenix, a preseason favorite to win the Horizon League.
Bo Ryan's group will remain in the deep water, but it hopes to keep swimming as a busy month of November continues.
There are times when a non-conference football game in November can be a difficult sell. In recent years, the Badgers have had a couple. In 2006, Wisconsin closed its regular season against Buffalo. Two years later, Cal Poly came to town and very nearly ruined Senior Day.
Cal Poly was a very good FCS team that year, but it simply is not the type of opponent fans expect to see during the final month of the regular season.
Which brings us to this week's opponent. Forget that BYU does not play in the Big Ten, or any conference for that matter. The Cougars are very good, and this game is huge for both programs.
After losing two of its first three games, BYU has won five straight, including a convincing 37-20 victory against Boise State on Oct. 25. The Cougars had a bye last weekend, so they come to town rested.
They also will arrive in Madison with at least some hope of getting into the BCS picture.
In the case of BYU, it might appear to be long shot, but in this week's coaches poll, the Cougars are ranked 29th. While not in the BCS top 25, perhaps BYU is not far removed.
The Cougars certainly can help themselves down the stretch. Two weeks after facing the Badgers, ranked 24th in the BCS, BYU will play at 23rd-rated Notre Dame.
The Cougars already have punched their ticket to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, but should they stay hot, who knows what could happen? Much like Wisconsin, BYU wants to keep winning and at least give the voters something to think about. Both have work to do to get into the top 14, but it never hurts to roll through November.
All the possible scenarios can be fun to talk or write about, but Saturday's game will feature two teams that are playing good football, and it will feature some of the nation's best players.
Badgers fans know all about the home team's stars. You might not know as much about some of BYU's top players, but you will by this weekend.
Chris Borland says he expects to be good to go this Saturday, which means we will see a couple of the nation's premier linebackers. BYU's standout is Kyle Van Noy, an All-America candidate who has 26 career sacks, second best among active FBS players.
Offensively, the Cougars play fast. Very fast. They run nearly 90 plays per game, and sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill appears to be improving by the week. After a choppy start, the dual-threat QB is rolling. In his last five games, Hill has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,455 yards and 11 touchdowns.
It is worth noting that Hill also leads the team in rushing with 841 yards and eight touchdowns.
When Hill throws the ball, there is a good chance that Cody Hoffman will be the target. He has the BYU record with 31 career touchdown catches, and he is on the brink of breaking the school mark for receiving yards.
Fans in Big Ten country might not be familiar with BYU, but Badgers coach Gary Andersen knows the Cougars well. "They seem to follow me wherever I go, so here we go again," he said with a smile.
When asked to describe BYU, Andersen called it a "Tough, mature team. Blue collar. Hard workers. Tough guys."
Sounds a lot like Wisconsin. The style of offense might differ, but these teams could be very much alike in other areas.
Both Wisconsin and BYU are 6-2. Both are good teams with aspirations of being among the elite. It will make for an interesting, and most likely, highly-entertaining afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.
If you are lucky enough to have a ticket, I hope you use it. This is a non-conference game, but it figures to be big-boy football with two big-time programs.
Let me start by offering a round of applause to UW and all the fans who were at the Kohl Center for Saturday's Red/White Scrimmage. That was one of the best turnouts I can remember for the men's basketball team's intrasquad game, and as scrimmages go, it was a high-quality show.
From the creative player introductions, where each of the Badgers had the chance to show off a move or two with a member of the UW Dance Team, to Vitto Brown's excellent performance of the national anthem, to the down-to-the-wire game itself, it was a fun way for Wisconsin hoops fans to spend a couple of hours.
As I wrote last week, the scrimmage included one of my favorite words -- free. It was a good weekend for that word. Last Friday, UW Athletics hosted its annual Kids Day at the Kohl Center, where young boys and girls had the chance to meet a number of student-athletes. As usual, the players seemed to enjoy the day as much as the youngsters.
The cost of attending sporting events is well documented, but we also should note that UW offers a number of low-cost or no-cost events. Hopefully you were able to take advantage of at least one of those outings last week. If not, hopefully you will in the future. After all, the price is right, and those who do attend have a great time.
* * * *
For this observer, November is when the Badgers' sports world kicks into high gear. Basketball season is here. After Wednesday night's exhibition game with UW-Platteville, Bo Ryan's Badgers set their sights on the regular season opener one week from Friday against St. John's.
The Badgers and the Red Storm will help break in the new Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.. It is a 3,200-seat facility with a parquet floor that might remind you of the old Boston Garden. A couple of weeks ago, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves played an exhibition game there.
This game counts, and it will be fun to see coach Steve Lavin again. During his days as an ESPN analyst, Lavin was the keynote speaker on two occasions for Bo's Coaches vs. Cancer gala in Madison. This season will be Lav's fourth as St. John's head coach.
* * * *
Now to football, where after two bye weeks in October, the stretch drive begins. In an odd schedule, the Badgers will play nearly half of their slate in November, starting this Saturday in Iowa City.
It is good to see Wisconsin crack the BCS rankings at No. 24. I am biased, but I believe they deserve a higher ranking. At least they broke into the Top 25, so I will spare you the complaining -- for now.
The Badgers have five games remaining, and while none features an opponent currently in the BCS rankings, this month will be anything but easy.
Iowa is coming off an emotionally-charged overtime victory against Northwestern and most expect a very physical battle this weekend. The Hawkeyes-Wildcats game had an old-school feel to it, and I would think it will be more of the same when the Badgers roll into town.
BYU is playing well, and it has a bye this week before visiting Camp Randall a week from Saturday. The Cougars have a very good dual-threat quarterback in Taysom Hill, who leads BYU in rushing and has accounted for 20 touchdowns so far this season.
On and on it goes. Minnesota is looking better and better. Indiana can score in bunches, and while Penn State had a long Saturday night in Columbus, the Nittany Lions can be a dangerous team. Just ask Michigan.
The hectic month of November is about to begin. Yes, it can be crazy, and it also has a chance to be special.
I am looking forward to it. I am guessing you are as well.
Ready or not -- and I would guess most of you are more than ready -- another season of Wisconsin basketball is about to begin.
This Saturday, while the football team enjoys its second bye of the month, the men's basketball team will have its annual Red/White Scrimmage. Tip time at the Kohl Center is 5 p.m., and admission is one of my favorite words -- free. (Media motto: "If it's free, it's for me. I'll take three.")
Once again, it figures to be an interesting season for Bo Ryan's group. While an August trip to Canada allowed the team to get a jump start on the season, Saturday's run will mark the first opportunity for most fans to get an up-close look at the Badgers, including the six new faces in the program.
There are minutes to be had in the front court, and everyone is eager to see the next step in Frank Kaminsky's growth, as well as the development of rookies Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown.
How much this first-year class will contribute right away remains to be seen, but based on some very early observations, both mine and others, this will be enjoyable bunch to watch and get to know.
Let me put it another way -- Ryan and his staff did not go out and recruit a class of wallflowers. At last week's Steak Fry, Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Patrick Herb was quizzing seniors Ben Brust and Zach Bohannon on the newbies. When they told the crowd that Brown can carry a tune, the entire team urged him to give a little sample. Young Vitto obliged, and yes, he can sing.
Actually, the man stole the show.
Herb accurately pointed out that "women's hearts are melting."
Yeah, I know that has nothing to do with understanding what Ryan wants done on the floor, but it was a fun moment at a preseason function.
It is hard to believe that this is the 13th year for Bo Ryan as the Badgers' head coach. Time flies when your team is winning most of its games, right? For the good times to continue, it is a good guess that Ryan and his staff will be counting on veterans such as Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson and the return of Josh Gasser to help lead the way.
There is also no doubt that defenses will be dialed in to sophomore Sam Dekker. As impressive as he was last year, keep in mind he averaged just a bit more than 22 minutes of playing time per game. I would imagine there is a decent chance his workload will increase this season.
Next Wednesday, the Badgers host UW-Platteville and then the regular season begins. In what is an aggressive non-conference schedule, the Badgers will jump right into the deep end of the pool. They open with St. John's in Sioux Falls, S.D. Four days later, Wisconsin has its home opener with Florida.
So much for easing into the season.
Most believe the Big Ten will again be a very strong conference. Perhaps the best in the nation. The good news is the Badgers have been good enough for long enough that they have earned nationwide respect.
When in doubt, many just assume they will be very good -- again.
Late Saturday afternoon is your chance to get a sneak peek at what this year's Badgers have to offer.
We are one year away from the four-team College Football Playoff, but there is no shortage of talk about it, especially as reports surfaced with the names of those who will make up the selection committee.
One name in particular raised some eyebrows. That name would be Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State.
I will admit to a bit of surprise. Not because of gender, but rather because Rice is not directly involved in the sport. Like many of us, I expected the committee to be made up of former players, coaches, administrators and perhaps a media member or two.
After giving it about five seconds of thought, I believe that Rice's involvement is not just interesting, but also sound.
This is no attempt at making a political statement. I just tend to believe that Rice can process information and bring solid reasoning to a discussion involving the best teams in college football. I would guess the ability to process information was a rather important skill in her previous jobs.
There will always be questions about any selection committee, but I have to believe it will be a step forward from the current system.
I do believe the BCS era will go down as an improvement from the previous method. While flawed and tweaked along the way, the Bowl Championship Series generated a ton of interest, created some memorable games, and of course gave fans, writers and broadcasters plenty to talk about.
This weekend we will see the first BCS standings of the season. A projected ranking from Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has the Badgers at No. 29. Currently, Wisconsin is rated 26th in both the USA Today Coaches Poll as well as the Harris Poll.
At the risk of overreacting, I wonder whether the selection committee might have a more favorable opinion of the home team.
The record says the Badgers are 4-2, but nearly every neutral observer is putting an asterisk on the Arizona State game. While calling last Saturday's tilt against Northwestern, ABC/ESPN broadcaster Sean McDonough said he considered Wisconsin a one-loss team.
That one defeat would be the seven-point setback at Ohio State, currently rated fourth in the Harris Poll, third in the coaches poll and fifth in Palm's projected BCS standings.
The Badgers just dismantled a Northwestern team that came to town ranked in the top 20 of both major polls.
Yet, to this point it is not enough to impress the current pollsters into believing Wisconsin is top-25 material.
There is a month and a half remaining in the regular season, so it is a bit early to press the panic button. But keep in mind to be considered for an at-large birth to a BCS bowl, a team must finish in the top 14 of the final BCS standings.
That is important to note. We keep hearing that the goal of the BCS is to determine the two teams that will play for the national title, but the current system also can help determine the other big-boy bowl matchups.
There are a thousand and one things that can happen between now and the end of the regular season.
Yes, one more loss would likely knock out the Badgers from any BCS bowl consideration. However, I would like to believe that should this team go on a run the rest of the way, the coaches and Harris poll voters will do something the computers are unable to do -- take another long, hard look at what happened in Tempe.
Hopefully that will occur. Yet to be honest, I will be more confident next year, when a committee made up of very smart individuals will process information, discuss it and make reasonable decisions based on sound evidence.
I have to admit that I enjoy bye weeks. Part of it could be my naturally lazy nature, but it was fun to sit back and watch nearly 12 straight hours of college football. I took a peek at the Illinois-Nebraska game, and watched with even more interest as Indiana scored an impressive victory against Penn State.
I found myself glued to the TV during the Georgia-Tennessee game, and later took in part of the Florida-Arkansas tilt, which featured former UW assistant coaches Tim Davis and Brian White for the Gators, plus -- well, you know -- the first-year head coach of the Razorbacks and the staffers who followed Bret Bielema to Fayetteville. Since I happen to like everyone involved, I had no real rooting interest. Sorry to play the role of Switzerland here, but I am telling the truth.
Moving right along, the Northwestern-Ohio State game was as good as advertised, maybe even a bit better than the hype.
While the Buckeyes pulled out the win, the Wildcats continued to make a statement that they are no longer a cute little story. This is more than a team full of bookworms who will play a little football in their spare time.
For those who have yet to notice, it is time to state what should be obvious -- Northwestern is good. Very good. It is hard to believe that Pat Fitzgerald is in his eighth season as the head coach. The College Football Hall of Famer is just 38 years old, but if ever there is a perfect fit for a program, it is Fitzgerald and Northwestern football.
When the national pundits talk about good rivalries and crazy games, it is unlikely many will mention the Badgers and the Cats, but in the last couple of decades, there have been some wild ones between these two teams.
The gut-wrenching loss in 1996, followed by a dramatic 27-26 UW victory a year later on a Matt Davenport field goal in the closing seconds.
A Northwestern double-overtime win in 2000. A shootout in 2005, when the Wildcats outscored the Badgers 51-48. On that October afternoon, the teams combined for 1,189 yards of offense.
In 2009, a late fumble allowed Northwestern to hold off the Badgers, 33-31.
In 2010, Wisconsin erupted for 70 points in route to clinching the Big Ten championship. No close-game drama, but it was a terrific day for the Badgers as they collected the first of three straight conference titles.
Given the fact that the campuses are less than three hours apart, it is good to see these teams meet again. This often-interrupted series should be stable for the time being. Starting next season, the Badgers and Northwestern will be in the same division, so fans from both sides can hope for -- if not expect -- more wild games in the coming years.
Simply put, this is a huge game. The Wildcats still control their own destiny in the Legends Division. The Badgers need help in the Leaders, but regardless of what happens with Ohio State, the home team knows full well there is plenty of season remaining, and plenty to gain by getting back on track this weekend.
Yes, bye weeks are good. Then again, it seems like it has been a month since the Badgers last played.
During a beautiful autumn week in Madison, it is time to get back to football.
Bring on the Wildcats, and let the season resume.
To the credit of coach Gary Andersen, he refuses to harp on the number of injuries the Badgers are dealing with right now. In last week's game at Ohio State, tight end Jacob Pedersen was hoping to play but simply was not ready. In the fourth quarter, the Badgers were without Melvin Gordon, who was on pace for a 100-yard night against a Buckeyes defense determined to stop the run.
While the coach believes the overall health of the team is pretty good, this seems to be a very good time for a bye. With some luck, most of the banged-up Badgers will be up and running in time for the Northwestern game a week from Saturday.
That would be a good thing, because in my humble opinion, the league race is far from decided.
Yes, Ohio State has the inside track for the Leaders Division crown. For Wisconsin to advance to the conference title game for the third-straight year, it would need to run the table in Big Ten play and OSU would need to lose twice.
That might be asking a lot, but it is not asking for the impossible.
Don't get me wrong. Ohio State is very good. On Saturday in Columbus, it was the better team, and the Buckeyes won fair and square. However, I am not ready to say the Buckeyes are national title good, at least not yet.
As for the Badgers, I still believe they are very good as well. Not great, but very good.
Last week's game provided the latest example of how just a handful of plays can make the difference between winning and losing. A missed opportunity in the red zone. A chance to force a turnover but not quite finishing the play. A split-second breakdown that results in a big play, or as Andersen might say, a layup. Too many penalties.
Otherwise, one can make a good argument that the game was evenly matched.
Another popular saying in sports comes to mind -- minimizing mistakes is more important than making the spectacular play.
To repeat, I want to be careful not to take anything away from coach Urban Meyer's team. It is very gifted. Braxton Miller is a much improved passer, and there is no shortage of speed on either side of the ball.
That said, the best wide receiver on the field was Jared Abbrederis, and one could make a strong case that the best linebacker was Chris Borland.
Those are just two positions, but my point is the overall gap might not be as wide as some would lead us to believe.
Logic should tell us as much. Wisconsin was error-prone, yet still had a chance to force overtime. The mistakes are obvious. What also should be obvious is the Badgers' ability to keep fighting and stay in games that otherwise could get out of hand.
If Ohio State wins out, so be it. But to this observer, the Buckeyes will have their hands full this week in Evanston (as will the Badgers when they host the Wildcats). There is another tricky game or two in OSU's future, including a late November road trip to Ann Arbor.
The Badgers missed an opportunity last weekend. The good news is there is a long way to go. While helping themselves is priority number one, it is a bit early to dismiss the possibility that the Badgers could get a little outside help along the way.