As usual, Spartans break Badgers' heart
Whether it is with a Doug Flutie special, as improbable as the finish was Saturday night, or with a common-as-dirt beat-down, it will happen almost every time.
Welcome back to Spartan Stadium, UW’s personal version of Dante’s fourth ring of eternal misery.
It’s almost become a cliché to say that UW football seasons come to this place to die.
But the nagging reality about such worn truisms is that they are often, well, true.
It is not necessary to recount how many potentially historic UW years have been trashed in this viper pit by Michigan State. You follow the Badgers. You know the depressing score on how the Spartans have habitually separated the great teams from the good where Bucky is concerned.
You recall how Sparty spread pieces of Wisconsin all over this place in 2004, when the Badgers came in with nine victories, no losses and a No. 4 national ranking. They were never the same after that 35-point beat-down.
Last year, too, when the Spartans hand-delivered Wisconsin its only regular-season loss.
The list of persistent gloom is long, tedious and revealing as to how the Badgers can come here looking so dominant, only to leave appearing so bruised, tattered, or, as was the case Saturday night, so stunned.
And, in the end, rather ordinary.
This has become such a trap game that Wisconsin has not won here since the season after Nick Saban vacated the premises. As well as Bret Bielema has done in pretty much every venue outside the Michigan capital, the MSU trashing has become a distressing part of his legacy.
But … this?
The Badgers come from 14 down in the fourth quarter, only to have instant replay determine that halest of Hail Mary passes—Kirk Cousins’ 44-yard tipped heave to a former quarterback and Oklahoma transfer by the name of Keith Nichol—makes the last-second difference in the 37-31 loss?
It’s a real philosophical quandary:
Which is worse, to just get your brains scrambled in this joint, or to lose in a way guaranteed to perpetually gnaw at your guts and be replayed to infinity?
In the end, it does not matter. A loss is a loss is a loss for a team that will again have no say in how the national championship is determined.
As unstoppable as the fourth-ranked Badgers looked in plowing through six relatively defenseless opponents this season, they were that dominant in creating a 14-point lead. Seriously, it did not look as if one of the nation’s best defenses had a prayer at stopping Russell Wilson and the seemingly indomitable UW offense.
Then came the perfect storm of self-destruction, which is to say business as usual at Spartan Stadium:
Wilson, who suddenly looked so human, threw an interception.
A flat-out stuffing of Montee Ball near the UW goal line. An intentional grounding by Wilson in the end zone that resulted in a really critical safety.
A double-reverse touchdown by the Spartans. A blocked UW field goal. A blocked UW punt for a touchdown. A fourth-down touchdown pass by the Spartans. Just a nightmare of mistakes by a team that rarely makes them.
And then to rally only to have it snatched away as if Flutie had suddenly been granted an extra year of eligibility?
Whether Wisconsin had a realistic shot at the BCS Championship Game had it beat the Spartans was debatable. The suspicion that a one-loss LSU, Alabama or Oklahoma would’ve trumped an unbeaten UW was always there.
But this settles it. The Badgers are no longer part of the big-picture conversation. It doesn’t mean they can’t go back to the Rose Bowl or have another satisfying year by Wisconsin standards.
It only means that the Spartans got them again.
They always do.
Michael Hunt writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.