Fiammetta: Enthusiastic postseason hopes simply illusions

first_imgCOLUMBUS, Ohio – Wisconsin’s first trip to Ohio Stadium since 2009 was so cruel to the Badgers that you’d have to wonder if some sort of karmic revolt conspired to shatter the hearts of Bret Bielema & co. one more time.In the span of one week, the Badgers have plummeted from a team with national title aspirations, and a quarterback with Heisman Trophy hopes, to one wondering how far it can sputter with the wheels fallen off and the season having taken the worst possible turn.But for all the misery that, for whatever reasons, struck a team and a fan base so gosh-darn happy to finally have a seemingly elite squad that would once again carry Wisconsin to the BCS promised land, there are very clear reasons why it was all a flash in the pan. The Badgers, for all their sheer brilliance through the season’s first six games, are simply not as good as everyone thought.It was absolutely so exciting for Wisconsin to get behind Russell Wilson and drive the RussellManiaXVI Heisman campaign, and the fact that a Rose Bowl berth was suddenly designated as Plan B is a resounding testament to the progress this program has made over the past two years.And while a return trip to Pasadena remains scarcely feasible, the Badgers’ first two true road tests of the season proved that this team just wasn’t ready for actual upper-echelon status. Calling them “fraudulent” is likely a bit excessive – they did fall by a combined 10 points in two of the toughest environments in the country – but the Badgers showed over the past two weeks that all the illusions of grandeur envisaged in Madison really were just illusions.The statement reeks of clich? over-simplification, but to a great extent, it’s true – legitimately great teams win on the road. Squads “destined” for postseason greatness do not allow two blocked punts in back-to-back weekends, on the road in the heart of the Big Ten schedule. Teams that finish atop conference standings and computer rankings follow up on quick starts; they don’t get outscored 26-0 in the second quarters of two games after opening the first quarters with 21 unanswered points.The realizations discovered Saturday night in Columbus are harsh, and the numbers only bolster their sting. Wilson finished 20-of-32 for 253 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, but he missed more throws than he had in any game (as a Badger) to date. Montee Ball, despite finishing with a 5-yards-per-carry average, was held to just 85 yards and one touchdown rushing and receiving respectively. Wisconsin’s rushing attack as a whole mustered only 89 yards, the first time the Badgers have failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark since Nov. 21, 2009, at Northwestern.Wisconsin even exited Ohio Stadium with a plus-one turnover margin, though its greatest miscue – the blocked punt in the third quarter – proved more critical than any negative play from Ohio State. The blunders committed by the Badgers over the past two games have been so monumental that it’s a wonder they were able to mount desperate comebacks not only once, but twice.That speaks to the unmistakable talent on this team, but it also highlights a sizable void that, until it’s filled, will bar Wisconsin from maximizing its potential. The Badgers lost so much following the Rose Bowl – J.J. Watt’s mesmerizing ability to produce in the biggest moments and his sheer willpower, as well as the aggressive leadership on and off the field of Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt – that it’s kind of a wonder national title hopes once seemed so genuine.The abrupt fall from grace normally would provoke questions regarding the leadership on this team, but even the most brief look at Wisconsin’s four captains seems to debunk them. Wilson, though far from perfect against the Buckeyes, put the Badgers firmly in the national title picture and very nearly avoided this midseason collapse with two stellar late, late comebacks on the road. Bradie Ewing, reliable as ever, played one of his finest games in Columbus, providing a tremendous safety blanket for Wilson in the passing game in addition to usual well-rounded contributions. Aaron Henry and Patrick Butrym continue to lead as necessary and produce without much fanfare, though they’ve clearly anchored their respective positions.Perhaps a different picture has unfolded behind the scenes, in the locker room, than the one that’s been painted under the spotlight of the media. Speculating any further is an injustice to a team that nevertheless has put itself in position to have something to play for in November and December. With some help – and/or further chaos in the Big Ten – a trip to the conference title game in Indianapolis is indeed still possible, though the Badgers absolutely must win the remainder of their games.So many questions were born Saturday night, and a few more answers likely would provide a little relief for a fan base that is aching for some. With that said, the most concrete takeaway from this weekend is obvious. For all the promise this season appeared to hold, the Badgers were just not for real.Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. Where does this team go from here? Share your thoughts with him on Twitter @mikefiammetta and be sure to follow @BHeraldSports for all the latest Badgers news.last_img

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