Maybe it was the wet, slippery conditions.
Maybe it was John Clay's troublesome, surgically repaired ankles.
Maybe Michigan State was simply the better team.
Whatever the case, Wisconsin fans witnessed an awful, awful performance by their beloved Badgers last Saturday afternoon. The Badgers came into East Lansing full of enthusiasm and momentum following their 67-point destruction of Austin Peay. They left Michigan depressed and demoralized.
That's what tends to happen when you get outplayed in virtually every facet of the game en route to your first loss of the season.
But, that's just it. It's only Wisconsin's first loss of the season. They are in no way out of the Big Ten race.
That said, if they want to stay in that race, they will have to play much better than they did against the Spartans.
And, that has to start Saturday morning against rival Minnesota.
No, the Gophers aren't very good. Actually, at 1-4, Minnesota could not only be the worst team in the Big Ten, but the worst major-conference team in all of college football.
But, this is Minnesota. This rivalry transcends quality of the teams. It's a battle every single year.
This year, college football's oldest rivalry couldn't come at a more crucial time for Wisconsin. Not only do they need to win to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe and their bragging rights, but they need to re-gain their confidence. After the performance they put on last Saturday, you could see that confidence was severely shaken.
Oh, and it's also Homecoming.
Assuming Wisconsin does indeed defeat the Gophers, a number of things will have to happen for the Badgers to experience the taste of a Big Ten title for the first time in over a decade.
First, they have to pretty much win every game from here on out. That includes not only wins against Minnesota and Ohio State, but road victories against Iowa and Michigan. This is certainly no easy task.
Although it's possible the Badgers could lose one more game and still win the conference, it's unlikely. That means Ohio State would have to lose two games, with one of them coming against Wisconsin. Not impossible, especially since the Buckeyes do go on the road to both Madison and Iowa City, but really, really unlikely.
Wisconsin would then have to hope that Iowa also suffers two defeats in-conference. That means the Badgers would have to beat them in Iowa City. Much easier said than done.
Then, of course, Wisconsin would have to hope Michigan State loses three games because if they ended up tied for first, MSU would own the tie-breaker.
With three games against potential Big Ten champions coming up, Wisconsin needs to play close to perfect.
So, as you can see, it's a tough road ahead of Wisconsin. Losing your first conference game already sets you back a step and to overcome that, you must play close to perfect the rest of the season.
The fact is, for Wisconsin to get the help they need to win the conference, they need to help themselves. They need to beat Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan. Actually, with that kind of competition, they need to beat everyone. Everyone.
They simply can't lose another game and hope for multiple losses from other teams.
The "1-0" mantra begins this Saturday. No one can be overlooked, because if they are, it could signal the end to any chance Wisconsin has of winning the conference.
There is simply no room for error.
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