Following last week’s close loss against Ohio State, the Wisconsin football team will spend this Saturday idle for the first of their two bye weeks.
While traditional coachspeak will tell you that Wisconsin is just looking ahead to next week, just needs to focus on playing good football, etc., the Badgers do have some stake in this week’s premium Big Ten game. No. 4 Ohio State travels to Evanston, Ill. to face off against No. 16 Northwestern.
As I mentioned in a previous column, the Badgers’ game against the Buckeyes was crucial for conference championship implications. Whichever team won that game controlled its own destiny in the Leaders Division. Winning the division gave a team a spot in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game, a chance to play for the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes’ victory gave them the inside track.
However, Wisconsin fans that are still holding onto a sliver of hope for a fourth consecutive Rose Bowl can root for the Wildcats to knock off Ohio State this weekend. A win by Northwestern would create a tie in the Leaders Division between OSU and UW, the only two teams with feasible Rose Bowl aspirations.
If this was to happen, the Badgers could win out and hope for one more loss by the Buckeyes. This scenario would place Wisconsin in the conference championship game.
Northwestern is one of the few remaining Ohio State opponents that has a realistic opportunity to defeat the vaunted Buckeyes, so that’s why this game is really important for any Rose Bowl chances for Wisconsin.
It’s important to note that hoping for another UW Rose Bowl is like grasping for straws. It’s very unlikely that a perfect Badgers’ conference finish and two Ohio State losses will occur. So that traditional coachspeak actually does have some merit now—all Wisconsin can really do is look ahead to next week’s home game against Northwestern and focus on playing better football for the rest of the year.
But since it’s the bye week, there’s nothing wrong with spending some time dreaming about Pasadena. After tomorrow’s game, we’ll see if it’s back to reality for the Badgers or if they can hold on to those dreams.