After trying to explain its fourth defeat by seven points or less, Wisconsin will have to settle for a handout.
"People always say we didn't beat a big team, we didn't earn the right to go to the Big Ten championship," said junior tailback James White. "We really wanted to win this game. We just have to move forward to Penn State."
Wisconsin's game at Penn State means nothing in the landscape of the Big Ten Leaders Division. The Badgers (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) can finish in a tie for second in the division with a win, but clinched a spot in the Dec.1 title game in Indianapolis two weeks ago due to Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible from postseason play.
But for a team that has lost four games by a combined 16 points and lost to both ranked conference teams on its schedule, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema won't be tentative with his starters as it searches for a winning mixture.
"If a guy is healthy coming into this game, (there are) no plans to hold anybody back," said Bielema.
And for the most part, Wisconsin is healthy. Junior linebacker Chris Borland (hamstring) missed last week's game, is expected to go through pool workouts and could return Tuesday. The only main concern is with sophomore right tackle Rob Havenstein, who was diagnosed with a mild MCL strain and is questionable for Saturday. He is listed as the starter on the depth chart released Monday.
Preparing to play its 12th game in 13 weeks, Bielema is cognizant that his team's mental and physical fatigue will be pivotal with a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl on the line in two weeks. To balance that, Bielema acknowledged potential changes to their preparation schedule.
"We practice very, very hard and very, very physical and maximize the amount of time," Bielema said. "We definitely work while we're out there, but this week we have to be smart about lessening the amount of contact we have, and the amount of time we're on the field.
"We've just got to get ready to play Penn State and get ourselves in a position on Saturday to be at full strength."
If No.17 Nebraska wins at Iowa Friday, the Badgers would play the Cornhuskers in a rematch of their Sept. 29 game in Lincoln. Nebraska won that game, 30-27, despite trailing by 17 points in the third quarter. If Nebraska loses and Michigan wins at Ohio State Saturday, the Wolverines would represent the Legends Division.
"I'm sure winning in Indy and going to the Rose Bowl and winning there would erase all the losses we've had," senior tailback Montee Ball said. "Because that's our goal."
Ball rushed for 191 yards and a touchdown, the most rushing yards an Ohio State defense has given up since at least 2002. The Badgers' defense – anchored by three seniors defensive backs – held Ohio State to a season-low passing, rushing and offensive points, all of which Wisconsin hopes to build on before it enters the postseason.
"There were a lot of guys that might have played, couple seniors that might have played their best games of their careers," said Bielema. "Really felt that our guys for the entire game, four quarters and beyond, strained, fought, tried as much as they could do, obviously came up short."
Expand the Brand
The University of Maryland's Board of Regents voted Monday to accept an invitation to join the Big Ten and begin competition in the conference in the 2014-15 academic year. As soon as Tuesday, Rutgers University, the state college of New Jersey, is expected to vote to become the conference's 14th member.
The Big Ten now reaches the valuable television marks in Washington D.C. and New York City, and it allows the Badgers football program more exposure to the East Coast in recruiting.
"We do go against Rutgers quite a bit in recruiting when we're in New Jersey, New York, even on the eastern side of the country in Florida," Bielema said. "We go against Rutgers quite a bit. I'm excited every time the commissioner and the athletic directors have come up with a plan that's been very, very positive. I'm assuming this will be as well."
ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that Maryland and Rutgers would join Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State Purdue and Wisconsin in the Leaders Division while Illinois would move to the Legends Division. If true, that will be a huge selling point to East Coast recruits, giving them at least six games close to home over a four-year career.
"If that's the way it planned out, it would obviously help us on the East Coast recruiting," said Bielema. "It's a fun time. It gets everybody involved and engaged, and the reason we pursued a game with Maryland is because it was an attractive offer for us in recruiting, to be quite honest, to allow kids to go back home and play.
"Right now our only true East Coast game is Penn State, and obviously that would give us two more opportunities to sell it."