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Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011

In an Instant, the Top Prize Disappears

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Bret Bielema said it best: "All the stars had to be aligned for that to happen."

The Wisconsin football coach was talking about the final play Saturday night in East Lansing, Mich., but his words applied to the entire game. The Badgers' undefeated status vanished with a 37-31 loss to Michigan State in which the last-second miracle touchdown was only the biggest of several highly improbable events. UW may still prove to be one of the best teams in the country, but in the ridiculous absence of a top-level NCAA playoff, it'll take an even wilder alignment of stars to give them a shot at the national title.


Artie:
This just frosts me so much. Bad breaks are one thing, but I want to know why the Badgers were playing in East Lansing for the second straight year! It's like when the Packers found themselves going to Dallas for, what, a half-century.

Frank:
Not quite that long; it was seven straight trips to Dallas in the 1993 through '96 seasons, including three playoff games that were located by the seedings. But I think the Badgers' situation had to do with the Big Ten's new divisional setup. The Spartans are "Legends" and the Badgers are "Leaders." The Spartans will visit Madison in 2012, if it makes you feel better.

Artie:
It certainly does not. Jeez, what had to happen for that Hail Mary pass to be a success?

Frank:
Bielema even called a timeout with 4 seconds left and inserted his own wide receiver, Jared Abbrederis, as a safety. But Abbrederis mistimed his jump, which helped cause the carom that went to Keith Nichol. And he squirmed enough to get the ball above the goal line.

Artie:
Hey, did you hear anything about Nichol having come back in from out of bounds on the play?

Frank:
On the replays I saw that he was hit near the sideline on the way downfield, but he looked like he stayed inbounds.

Artie:
Great. So move over, Doug Flutie, the Spartans' Kirk Cousins has a miracle throw, too.

Frank:
That whole final drive had so many dramatic moments. On one play Cousins fumbled and the ball just sat on the grass for an agonizing second before someone in green recovered it. Later Cousins almost threw an interception. And Bielema called a timeout with 30 seconds left because he was playing for a stop and a try for a blocked punt.

Artie:
It's just so dang deflating. Especially since the Badgers made up 14 points in the last few minutes to tie it.

Frank:
Russell Wilson looked like a Heisman contender in the first quarter and the last one. But he also had an interception and a safety that helped turn the momentum around.

Artie:
And the defense let Cousins get a flow going. And worst of all, the special teams had a field goal and punt blocked for a 10-point swing—three not scored and seven for the Spartans.

Frank:
"Every group kind of had their moment" of failure, Bielema said. But still, the sheer number of unusual things—safety, blocked kick, blocked punt, a double-reverse that almost was snuffed in the backfield but went for a TD, and the whole weird final drive—was staggering.

Artie:
Play the game, or run the final play, 10 more times and Bucky Badger prevails maybe eight or nine times. But that don't mean a thing.

Frank:
Not that the Badgers can't still have a great season. They could get another shot at Michigan State in the Big Ten title game...

Artie:
Let me guess. In East Lansing?

Frank:
Nope, Indianapolis. So UW could go to the Rose Bowl again with a 12-1 record.

Artie:
But because the BCS system is all about money and not genuine competition, it would take all sorts of craziness for UW to get a chance for the national championship.

Frank:
One bit of craziness happened Saturday night when Oklahoma lost to Texas Tech. But there are still so many unbeaten teams—Alabama and LSU, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Clemson, Boise State—that the Badgers just have too many hurdles now.

Artie:
Especially since they dropped nine stinkin' spots on the latest BCS list, to 15th. Holy cow, they only lost on a one-in-a-million throw and a replay ruling!

Frank:
We know either Alabama or LSU will lose because they play each other on Nov. 5, and one of them won't be in the SEC title game because they're in the same division. Oklahoma may beat Oklahoma State on Nov. 26, but the Big 12 has no title game this year because of conference defections. But even if they'd gone undefeated, the Badgers have poor marks in the BCS computer rankings because their strength of schedule isn't valued highly.

Artie:
But all that numerical crap wouldn't matter if there were a playoff system—the way there is for every other NCAA sport on every level! If the Badgers win their conference, they should be one of eight teams deciding the title on the field. Instead, this season will always be about "what might have been."



It's Called Maturity

Frank: Did you notice the recent UW story involving, shall we say, student vocabulary?

Artie:
I have no idea what you mean.

Frank:
A couple of weeks ago, Bielema and athletic director Barry Alvarez sent an email to the student body saying, "We are asking you to end the vulgar chants at our home football games." Apparently there were dueling chants at Camp Randall, in the pattern of "Tastes great... Less filling," but with asinine four-letter contents. Bielema and Alvarez quoted messages they'd received from outraged fans and concluded, "We tell our student-athletes all the time that the way they behave in public is a reflection on themselves, their families, the football program and the university. We are asking you to reflect on the impression you are leaving on other fans."

Artie:
A completely reasonable request.

Frank:
But then the university did something I think is pretty weak. A second email told students that if they knocked off the vulgar stuff at the Indiana game on Oct. 15, two students would be picked to receive a free trip to the Badgers' bowl game.

Artie:
What, the kiddies won't do the right thing unless they get a lollipop, too?

Frank:
At any rate, the Indiana game was "clean." We'll see if the students remember to be responsible on Nov. 5 against Purdue.



Bye for Now

Frank: The Packers had things under control in Minnesota, but somehow in the final minutes it was 33-27 and the Vikings had a chance. Were you worried, in light of the Badgers' experience?

Artie:
Not a bit. Maybe I was just numb from Saturday night.

Frank:
I thought it was nice that this kid QB I never heard of, Christian Ponder, made things interesting.

Artie:
He did OK, no doubt about it. But really, I wasn't surprised by the closeness of the game for two reasons. One, these division games are almost always tough. And two, Minnesota still has some mighty good players.

Frank:
I must have been looking away when Adrian Peterson piled up 175 rushing yards.

Artie:
Yeah, it was a quiet 175, if that's possible.

Frank:
So now the Pack is 7-0 and get their bye this weekend.

Artie:
They can use the rest. Come to think of it, I can use about six months of bye weeks.

Frank:
Our readers would never stand for it.

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