Badgers say all they can do is win and hope for the best
Despite a potentially better year than 2012's rosy campaign, Wisconsin could be left out of a BCS bowl.
By JESSE TEMPLEFS Wisconsin
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.