If you think it’s hard for you to flush the University of Wisconsin’s embarrassing defeat in the Big Ten Conference Championship football game out of your system, imagine what it’s like for the team.
So how long will the 59-0 drubbing at the hands of playoff-bound Ohio State linger in the Badgers’ collective bloodstream?
“Hopefully, until we go get a bowl win,” offensive tackle Tyler Marz said. “We have three weeks off here, so it’s going to be a tough three weeks.”
The 17th-ranked Badgers knew there was a bowl game in their future when they trudged off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night, they just didn’t know the particulars. They found out Sunday they will play 19th-ranked Auburn of the SEC in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Florida.
At least motivation won’t be an issue for the Badgers.
They will be both seeking redemption and trying to prove they still belong among the nation’s top programs when they face the Tigers.
“The kids should be excited for a couple of reasons,” coach Gary Andersen said Sunday. “The last performance was obviously not what we wanted it to be in any way, shape or form in all three phases. Also, none of these young men on this team has won a bowl game. For them to get into a position to have a bowl game championship will be something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. When we walked out of the locker room (Saturday) night, that was the last thing we said to each other.”
One of the topics of discussion was the bowl game can’t come soon enough for UW. They would play it this week if they could.
From a practical standpoint, the margin of defeat didn’t hurt the Badgers all that much. If they couldn’t beat Ohio State, they probably weren’t going to get into a New Year’s Six bowl anyway. Besides, a date in the Outback with Auburn, which won the national title in 2010 and played in the championship game again last season, is almost as attractive as any of the four non-playoff bowls set up by the College Football Playoff selection committee.
The emotional setback could be far more damaging for the Badgers because the fallout from their miserable performance was immediate and very, very loud. Unless they unplugged their television sets or threw their cell phones into Lake Mendota, they’ve heard ridicule from the national pundits and criticism from doubters on the homefront.
Some went so far as to suggest that UW tanked the game so the Big Ten could squeeze a team (Ohio State) into the initial four-team playoff field. That is ludicrous, of course, but the sting the Badgers felt after such a colossal failure on the national stage isn’t.
“It still hurts,” safety Michael Caputo said. “It makes you more hungry. It makes you more eager to get back on the field because we left a lot of things out there that I wish we could get back. Me, personally, it makes me just want to go back out on the field and just play another game because we let this one really slip away from us.”
Nothing can erase what happened in Indianapolis, but UW can undo some of the damage to its reputation with a victory over Auburn.
“Redemption, you could say that,” Caputo said when asked about UW’s bowl game approach. “But just remembering the feeling that this game gave us is a good motivational piece to just go out and win the bowl game and really strive to end the season with a win.”
The current players aren’t entirely responsible for UW’s four-game bowl losing streak, though many of them have suffered through all or part of it. The Badgers’ most recent bowl victory was over 14th-ranked Miami (Fla.) in the Champs Sports Bowl in 2009. The four teams they’ve lost to since then — by a total of 25 points — were ranked eighth or better in the nation.
Snapping that streak wasn’t something the Badgers talked about all season. However, that changed after they lost to the Buckeyes.
“It’s a goal we set just now,” Caputo said.
Using the Ohio State loss as motivation is the only way UW can turn what happened Saturday night into a positive. In some respects, the Badgers ran into a perfect storm: Ohio State was supremely motivated to make the playoffs; UW was coming off a physical three-game stretch against Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota; Ohio State had the horses to battle UW along both lines of scrimmage and the speed to dominate on the edges; and the Buckeyes’ surprising ability to throw the ball hit UW’s highly rated defense where it was weakest.
There also is the sobering reality the Badgers were thoroughly outcoached and outplayed. Still, Ohio State is not 59 points better than UW. The bowl will give the Badgers a chance to prove that.
“We have a lot of men that handle adversity on and off the field,” linebacker Marcus Trotter said. “We’re excited to go back in the film room, make the corrections of what we did wrong, use this to burn a fire, to be motivated, to prove to everyone the team that we can be. Because this wasn’t Wisconsin football (Saturday night) and we’re going to prove that the next game we play.”
It’s the only therapy that will work for the Badgers now.