Big Ten Championship

Despite championship loss, Badgers' season one to remember

Though they ultimately fell to Penn State in the Big Ten Championship, the Badgers had a truly remarkable season.

Image By: Jessi Schoville

INDIANAPOLIS — The Wisconsin Badgers’ season ended the same way it started. On the first play against LSU and the last play against Penn State, Bart Houston took the handoff under center, turned left and handed it off right to Corey Clement, with Austin Ramesh leading the way from the backfield.

It brought UW’s season full-circle. Wisconsin started the season defying expectations by clawing back to upset the No. 5 Tigers, and 13 games later, the No. 5 Badgers (7-2 Big Ten, 10-3 overall) felt the agony of giving up a lead on the biggest stage in their 38-31 loss to the Nittany Lions (8-1, 11-2).

“Myself and Corey [Clement], we came back for our senior seasons for games like this,” redshirt senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel said. “We didn’t take care of business today, but that doesn’t take away from the great season we had.”

Heading into this season, none of ESPN’s Big Ten writers had Wisconsin in the Championship Game and none of them had Paul Chryst as a Coach of the Year candidate. The Badgers weren’t supposed to stand a chance against an insurmountable schedule with an unsettled quarterback situation.

Instead, Wisconsin was right where no one outside of its own locker room expected the Badgers to be, carrying a lead into the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium. The defense that seemed to have answers for everything thrown at them all season couldn’t handle what redshirt sophomore Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley was dishing out.

“We had a great game plan in, and in the first half we showed that we were making plays. The confidence was there. Our swagger was there,” Biegel said. “I really believe Penn State did a great job of making adjustments at halftime. They were able to come out there and make more plays than we did.”

All season, the Badgers were carried by their resilience. It started Week 1 at Lambeau Field. It got them through a scare versus Georgia State. It put them over the top in overtime against Nebraska. Yet, when they needed it most, it wasn’t there.

It wasn’t there as the defense gave up three touchdown passes of 30-or-more yards, and it wasn’t there when Corey Clement lowered his shoulder on fourth-and-1 with a minute left in the game.

“It’s just all about who wanted it more, and it’s one yard, either got it or didn’t,” Clement said. “I’m pretty sure that everybody on the field laid it out on the line for that last play.”

All 11 Badgers laying it all out there wasn’t enough, the way it had been so consistently this year. It brought both sidelines to tears with opposite emotions, emotions Wisconsin players got a taste of after mid-season losses to Michigan and Ohio State.

But following those games, they wiped away the tears and got back to work. They won six straight games from that point to clinch the Big Ten West and punch their ticket to Indianapolis. The loss to the Nittany Lions ended their College Football Playoff hopes, but it doesn’t diminish a season that no one saw coming.

“This one’s going to sting for a while. It’s going to take a while to get the sour taste out of your mouth,” Biegel said. “We’ll figure out where we are in the bowl game, and our preparation starts there, from getting that bad taste out of our mouth.”

Wisconsin has enjoyed the sweet taste of success more than most expected this year, and after a loss like this, the Badgers will be craving it more than ever.

“We had 12 big games, and we had a chance to play this game. We won a lot of those, and it wasn’t easy,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “We haven’t won them all, and we’re going to always work to get better, but I’m proud of this group.”

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