Give Wisconsin credit. The Badgers came to play and Stanford got all the fight it wanted and then some in the Cardinal's 20-14 victory in the 2013 Rose Bowl. Montee Ball did all he could, rushing for 100 yards and a score in the losing effort, but he was held to just 12 yards in the second half as Stanford held Wisconsin scoreless after the break.
And thus ends Wisconsin's season at 8-6. That record is still good, but not great, and that befits Wisconsin as a team. Good, but not great.
It's just a shame that the best team in the Big Ten wasn't the team representing the conference in the Rose Bowl.
Sure, Wisconsin took advantage of the circumstances and earned its way to the Rose Bowl from there by annihilating a Nebraska defense that was still smoldering when the Capital One Bowl kicked off (and was successfully reignited by Georgia), and nobody's going to argue that Wisconsin didn't earn any of the wins it needed to get to Pasadena. If anything, the Badgers caught the short end of the stick, record-wise, by ceding three overtime losses and two more by three points each.
It's just that we're not going to ignore the scarlet and gray elephant in the room. Ohio State was the best team in the Big Ten this year, hands down, and it should have been the team representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.
You can blame whomever you'd like for Ohio State's bowl bans, and there's no shortage of candidates. There's Terrelle Pryor and his friends taking the illegal benefits that started this whole mess. There's Jim Tressel making things considerably worse by not reporting any of the NCAA violations and then copping out with some lame excuses about not knowing who to tell (he had to know the correct answer wasn't "nobody").
There's also president Gordon Gee and athletic director Gene Smith not self-imposing the one-year bowl ban the year before, when Ohio State slumped its way to a 6-6 record before losing in the Gator Bowl. You could even hate the NCAA for imposing the sanctions if you don't think they were warranted.
The bottom line is this, though. In a season where the Big Ten was already taking a hit in terms of relative success on the field—Jeff Sagarin ranked the conference fourth on the year, and that's not good—having the best team (not to mention the third-best team as well) sitting out of the bowl proceedings means the entire conference is taking a hit when the bowls come around.
Would Ohio State have beaten Stanford? It's easily possible. If Wisconsin can hang within six points of the Cardinal, it's reasonable to think Ohio State would be able to accomplish at least that, especially with the two teams having such similar approaches on offense. Certainly one would expect the Buckeyes to run more than two plays in Stanford territory in the second half, which is all Wisconsin mustered (a loss of four and an interception, if you were curious).
At the very least, we won't have this problem next season, as Ohio State's bowl ban will expire without further incident. It's not a given that Ohio State will be the Big Ten's best team in 2013 as well, but looking at that roster, the Buckeyes can expect to be very, very high on the list. And when a team like that is allowed to represent your conference, surprise! The conference looks a lot better as a result.