I was convinced that blocked field goal was a bad omen.
When Wisconsin blocked Sean Nuernberger’s 43-yard field goal attempt at the end of the second quarter, I was sure those three points would haunt Ohio State. It was going to be the play everyone defined as the game-changing moment. And when they took the field for their final possession with less that three minutes remaining, I was sure the Badgers would piece together their most coherent offensive drive of the game and cap it off with a game-winning, B1G title claiming and College Football Playoff berthing touchdown.
Those three points, they were going to be the story.
The story morphed into a debate about Ohio State’s chances of earning one of the four bids into the Playoff. That’s been the hot topic ever since Alex Hornibrook threw the game-ending interception to Damon Webb on the 4th-and-20 that sealed a 27-21 win for the Buckeyes.
For some reason, I thought it would be different this time. Instead, Wisconsin sits around with the same, tired label that’s been slapped on its helmet for the past several years: really good but not good enough.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear about what a talented team Paul Chryst has and how it gave Ohio State all it could handle in the B1G title game. It’s a good-for-you, you-did-your-best kind of recognition that seems more insulting than complimentary after too long. It seems like forever since we’ve treated Wisconsin like a contender rather than a feel-good story.
I don’t mean to discredit or devalue the undefeated regular season. In today’s college football, with nine conference games and a push to schedule more competitive non-league contests, getting to 12-0 is nothing short of impressive. It’s such a difficult feat, Wisconsin and UCF were the only FBS programs to skate through the year unscathed.
Ultimately, though, the Badgers have nothing to show for it. That’s kind of been the story since Bret Bielema left Madison for Arkansas — winning three-straight B1G titles from 2010 through 2012 before accepting the job in Fayetteville. It’s been especially grueling the last two seasons, though.
Saturday’s loss in the B1G Championship Game marked the fourth time in the past two years that Wisconsin has lost to a team that finished the regular season in the top 10. What’s worse, all four games have been decided by a touchdown:
- at Michigan (2016) – 14-7
- vs. Ohio State (2016) – 30-23 (OT)
- vs. Penn State (2016 B1GCG) – 38-31
- vs. Ohio State (2017 B1GCG) – 27-21
Why did I think this time would be different? Especially after a dreadful start, surrendering three plays over 50 yards in the first 20 minutes of the game?
Wisconsin looked like a better team this season. The defense ranked in the top two nationally of every major statistical category. The Badgers had a Heisman-caliber running back in Jonathan Taylor, who led the B1G in rushing this season — by a lot. Throughout the year, Wisconsin avoided potential letdown losses to Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan. This looked like a team capable of ending the season with an exclamation point.
Instead, the Badgers are left wondering what could have been after another game slipped through their fingertips. This one, though, it was the most important in decades. They had a chance to prove they could sit at the big boys’ table and dine with the best in college football. Once again, they fell short.
Chryst has only been in Madison for three seasons, so I’m not going to label him as a choker or a guy who can’t win the big one. Not yet. After back-to-back double-digit win seasons and a pair of B1G West titles, I don’t think that would be quite fair to him or his teams.
But Wisconsin has shown that it’s not ready for college football’s biggest stage. If it was, it would have found a way to win at least one of those aforementioned games in the last two seasons. It wouldn’t be losing top 10 contests in repetitive fashion. If the Badgers were ready for the national stage, they would’ve found a way to turn that blocked field goal into a game-changing moment.
I thought the Badgers were going to prove they belonged in the College Football Playoff. That all the hubabaloo about a weak schedule and style points was overblown. This was a team with all the right pieces and one finally ready to take the next step.
Ohio State left this one on the table and Wisconsin still couldn’t take it. The Badgers couldn’t win a game that was essentially handed to them in the final two quarters. The story of the 2016 season trickled over into 2017.
I’m starting to think that might be the bad omen.