To say this season has been surprising would be an understatement.
Every emotion the brain can produce – joy, anger, rage, hope, disappointment – it’s all been encapsulated within the already wobbly and extending frame of Wisconsin’s 2012 campaign.
And boy, could it get even crazier Saturday.
The Badgers haven’t lost to the Indiana Hoosiers since 2002, falling 29-32 in Bloomington. But still, with the way things have gone lately, would anyone be surprised by anything this game could produce?
A game whose winner will most likely represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship Game, Wisconsin comes limping into Bloomington with an uncertain situation at quarterback, an underperforming offensive line and a tear-jerker of a loss against its archrival Michigan State.
Indiana? They come in rolling off two straight conference wins, including the program’s first conference home win since 2009 thanks to a comeback effort against Iowa this weekend. And now, sitting with just a 2-3 conference record, the Hoosiers have a chance to take the lead of all bowl-eligible teams in the Leaders Division with a win over the Badgers. Yes, you read that right: A team with a below-.500 record in conference play has a chance to take the lead in a division during November.
The Hoosiers have found a way to slide into contention for a chance to play for the program’s first Rose Bowl berth since 1968. Just to put things in perspective, the Hoosiers haven’t been the toast of the conference since Lyndon B. Johnson was president, the Vietnam War was in full swing and O.J. Simpson was the running back at USC. Yes, the Hoosiers lost the Rose Bowl against a Trojan team with O.J. Simpson in the backfield.
Some would say the fact this game is even relevant – even more, deciding – of the Leaders Division title is a travesty and a farce to a conference that is already severely lacking competitiveness against the other major automatic-qualifying conferences (minus the Big East). I mean, when the top two teams aren’t even bowl eligible thanks to scandal and the rest have unimpressive records, who cares?
Well, Wisconsin and Indiana fans do. And maybe even some people outside of that. But, that’s probably where it ends. But maybe others should, considering the unpredictable nature of this Big Ten season.
This Hoosier program is fast on the rise under offensive guru and second-year head coach Kevin Wilson. Sure, the wins for the Hoosiers have come against a paper-bag Illini squad and a reeling Hawkeye group, but this Indiana team also fought tooth-and-nail with Ohio State and holds the third-highest scoring offense in the Big Ten behind Nebraska and Ohio State.
And it’s no given which Badger team, or rather, what quarterback, will show up to play this coming Saturday. Will it be the weathered and unproductive Danny O’Brien, or the comeback kid Curt Phillips?
Wisconsin has already handled its fair share of adversity this season. Montee Ball’s offseason incidents, a seemingly revolving door at quarterback and a firing of an offensive line coach after two games. But Wisconsin and Bielema have continued to respond to each setback the same way, putting their proverbial heads down and plowing forward. Which is really the only thing you can do on the rocky road this team has endured so far.
So it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Badgers blew out the Hoosiers Saturday. But then again, it wouldn’t exactly be a shocker if they lost as well.
Stave’s injury doesn’t exactly make it easy to diagnose the Badgers’ chances against Indiana. Heck, it doesn’t make it easy to decide against anybody at this point. One thing’s for certain: UW’s offense won’t be able to rely on its defense to give it time to wake up like it did against the Spartans. Facing the best offensive competition since its loss on the road against Nebraska, Indiana can put points on the board quickly. But without Stave, will the offense be able to keep up with its opponent’s production?
The Badgers have had two weeks of preparation and healing time, giving the coaching staff and players an extra week of prep time to develop a gameplan and getting players like left tackle Ricky Wagner healthy again.
So who knows what’s going to happen on this trip out to Indiana. But one thing’s for certain. In this season of Big Ten football, uncertainty is the only certainty.
Nick is a fifth-year senior majoring in English and history. Catch him on WSUM’s “The Badger Herald Sports Hour” Sundays from 4-5 p.m. and “The Student Section” Mondays from 4-6 p.m. Have a comment on the column? Let him know at [email protected] or on Twitter @NickKorger.