The start of the Big Ten season wasn't so kind to Wisconsin in 2008. They surrendered a 19-point lead to the hated Wolverines, fell victim to Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes, were blown out by Penn State and got crushed by Iowa. Now in 2009, Michigan State stands in the Badgers' way to kick off the conference schedule the right way.
It's that time of year again. The cupcake games are over and with the Badgers one of 21 FBS schools with a 3-0 record, it's time for the conference race to begin. When they storm into Camp Randall this weekend, Wisconsin and Michigan State open the 114th season of Big Ten football and we can only hope it starts better than the 113th for the Badgers.
After the first three games of 2008 the Badgers outscored their opponents 102 to 41 and were ranked No. 8 in both the AP and USA Today polls. The bye week came and went and then they headed to Michigan where the collapse began.
Up 19-0 at half, it was looking good for the Badgers to get their first win in the Big House since 1994.
A dominating performance by the defense held the Wolverines to only one first down and 21 total yards in the first half. But in the second half, after giving up 27 unanswered points and coming up short on a two-point conversion to tie the game, the Badgers began their mid-season slide.
The losses to Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa added up to the first 0-4 start in Big Ten play for Wisconsin since the 1996 season.
The players know it's almost like a whole new start to the season when conference games begin. Senior tight end and captain Garrett Graham was honored by the media last season when he was picked to the first-team All-Big Ten, and he realizes the atmosphere is special during Big Ten season.
""You practice just like it's any other game and you focus like it's any other game, but you get a little feeling around the locker room and around practice that it's Big Ten season and it's time to go,"" he said. ""It's hyped up a little more.""
Junior offensive tackle Gabe Carimi is no stranger to the Big Ten season. He said the team is a closer group during conference games and interacts with each other more. And preparing for the Big Ten teams brings out more enthusiasm in the team.
""There's a lot more excitement,"" he said. ""I always like playing better teams. For me, playing a better defensive end it's always more of a challenge and I always have a better head going into the game. I always perform better against better people.""
The Badgers couldn't ask for a better team to play in their opener to get them fired up. With seven seconds left in the game last season, Michigan State booted a 40-yard field goal to escape with a 25-24 victory in East Lansing.
""We definitely remember what happened last year,"" Carimi said. ""We had a couple [mistakes] that gave the game to them. They did the right things to stay in the game but it's more so that we just lost it.""
In a game that featured no turnovers, the Badgers out played Michigan State in almost every respect.
The offense had a great rushing day, averaging six yards per carry on their way to 281 yards. And the defense held Javon Ringer, one of last year's most dangerous runners to only 58 yards. But when the final whistle blew the Badgers had given up another fourth quarter lead.
One the list of retribution games this year, Michigan State is near the top.
""There were a couple games last year that left a sour taste in our mouth and [Michigan State] was especially one of them,"" Graham said. ""It's definitely a game we're looking forward to playing.""
The Spartans are off to a shaky-start after losing two close games, they'll be just as prepared and excited for this game as the Badgers. And just like a typical Big Ten game it will come down to who wants it more.