Badgers say all they can do is win and hope for the best

MADISON, Wis. — The team that finished the regular season
7-5, placed third in its own division and never won more than three consecutive
games played in a Rose Bowl. The team with a potential to finish the regular
season 10-2, hold the second-best record in the entire conference and close
with seven straight victories could miss a Bowl Championship Series game
entirely.

Sometimes, life isn’t fair. And players on Wisconsin’s
football team are finding themselves on the cusp of realizing how that maxim
can play out on the field. Or, more specifically, in the polls.

One year after backing into a Big Ten championship game
because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for postseason play, Wisconsin
will garner no such luck in 2013. The Badgers are once again at the mercy of
circumstances beyond their control, and — at this juncture, anyway — it
doesn’t appear it will work in their favor.

Wisconsin enters the week ranked No. 22 in the latest BCS
standings, and the climb into a possible BCS game is steep with three weeks
remaining in the regular season. The Badgers would need to reach No. 14 to earn
a shot at a potential at-large BCS selection.

All indications suggest victories to close the regular
season against Indiana, Minnesota and Penn State aren’t going to be enough.
Instead, Wisconsin will need teams to tumble — and a bunch of them at that. A
look at the schedule of other ranked teams reveals several upset possibilities:

• BCS No. 21 LSU plays No. 11 Texas A&M

• No. 20 Louisville plays 7-2 Houston and at 7-2 Cincinnati

• No. 19 Arizona State plays at No. 13 UCLA

• No. 18 Oklahoma plays at No. 12 Oklahoma State

• No. 16 Michigan State plays at 7-2 Nebraska

• No. 15 Northern Illinois plays 9-1 Ball State on Wednesday

Yet even if all six of these ranked teams lose — and the
likelihood seems slim — Wisconsin still may miss out on a BCS game because the
Badgers need to jump eight spots.

For Wisconsin players, it isn’t enough to put a damper on
the entire season. But it certainly could hinder perception in gauging the
overall success of the Badgers’ year.

“That’s not something that we as players can
control,” Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward said. “I don’t understand
the BCS rankings. I understand the AP. Those are (done by) man. You never
understand it, but it’s the system that’s been in place for a long time. It’s
for the most part put together some pretty good games — sometimes not so good
games. As players, the only thing we can do is continue to play. As coaches,
they’ll continue to coach and then let everyone else decide who’s worthy to
play.

“If we were to win out, which is definitely our plan, I
would hope that people would take a lot of things into consideration when it
comes to BCS games. We’ll see how it goes.”

Many assumed that if Wisconsin won its final seven games,
the Badgers would be a lock for a BCS selection. But it has taken the Badgers a
month in the BCS polls simply to reach No. 22. Wisconsin was not included in
the initial top 25 poll on Oct. 20. The Badgers reached No. 24 on Oct. 27 and
were still there one week later despite an impressive victory at Iowa.

This week marked the first time Wisconsin even showed up in
a set of six computer calculations that determines one-third of the BCS
standings. Wisconsin’s victory against BYU boosted the Badgers into an average
computer calculation of No. 18, up from No. 27 a week ago.

Now for the first time, players are noting the reality of
where Wisconsin stands. If the Badgers cannot make up substantial ground, a
spot in the Capital One Bowl as the Big Ten’s No. 2 team or Outback Bowl as the
No. 3 team is on the horizon.

Still, players are trying to find the positives in earning
an opportunity to play one more game.

“The Capital One is a great bowl,” Wisconsin tight
end Jacob Pedersen said. “Outback Bowl is a great bowl. All those are cool
things. Maybe as a player, especially for me being out in Pasadena the last
three years, maybe it’s cool to go see somewhere else. Obviously, we’d love to
be back at the Rose Bowl again.

“You just know that whatever bowl game you’re going to
go into, normally you’re going to play against some high competition. It gives
you a chance to showcase your talents.”

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect to all this is that
this year’s Wisconsin team is so clearly better than last year’s team across
the board. Quarterback Joel Stave is much improved as a sophomore, the offense
is better by more than a touchdown, the defense is better by four points and
the team could win 10 games for only the ninth time in program history.

But with such a competitive top of the college football
world this season, the Badgers are being punished for a controversial
last-second loss against BCS No. 19 Arizona State and a one-touchdown road loss
against BCS No. 3 Ohio State. And given that there is no way to one-up an
undefeated Ohio State season this year, Wisconsin’s chances to reach a fourth
consecutive BCS game are fading each week.

“I think this team does a better job of playing to its
potential,” Southward said when asked to compare this team to last year.
“And I say that because sometimes it’s hard to come out and win when
you’re noticeably better than an opponent. For the most part, we’ve done that.

“I think sometimes in some of our past years, we
haven’t been able to do that. And that’s completely fine. Every team is different
within each year. I think we’re playing to our ability more consistently.”

All Wisconsin can do now is keep preparing for its remaining
games and playing to the best of its ability. Players and coaches can only hope
the rest falls into place.

“Everybody wants to play in as big a bowl and as big a
stage as you can at the end of the year,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen
said. “No one’s ever going to say we don’t want that in any way, shape, or
form.

“As this team continues, they’ve labeled themselves as
a good team, and they deserve it. Right now, if it were over, they’d be known as a good team
regardless of what happens. They want to be a great team. If they’re a great
team, then they’re going to play in a very, very prestigious bowl game at the
end of the year, wherever it may be.”

Unfortunately for Wisconsin, the process that makes those
determinations may not agree.

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