Having already clinched a spot in Indianapolis for the conference title game, Wisconsin lost on its own senior day to Ohio State only to follow it up with a lost in the regular season finale at Penn State, both coming in overtime and to two teams that finished above them in the standings.
"It was difficult, especially at Penn State," said senior linebacker Chris Borland, who watched both games from the sidelines while resting his injured right hamstring. "I believe it was a game we should have won. They were amped up. It was their senior day. They retired the team, so it was a big game for them, but I believe we should have won … We had a lot of games like that last year."
In the same breath, Borland said it's a different year and Wisconsin has different players contributing. That's unfortunately the same for Penn State, who comes into Madison for the regular season finale needing a win to avoid its first non-losing season since 2004.
Including the overtime win over Wisconsin, Penn State won eight of its last 10 games to finish 8-4 overall and second in the Big Ten Leaders Division at 6-2, putting a positive note at the end of a long year known more for problems off the field with the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial, the alleged cover up by Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno and all the wins from 1998 to 2011 vacated by the NCAA.
The NCAA also initially reduced Penn State's scholarships by 20 and while the school will start gradually getting those scholarships back in 2014-15, the lack of depth has started to make an impact.
Alternating wins and losses since Sept.7, Penn State (6-5, 3-4 Big Ten) has scored 24 points or less seven times while its defense has allowed over 40 points three straight games against Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State. Penn State ranks sixth in the conference in giving up 374.3 yards per game.
"You are what your record says you are," said Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. "We're a 6-5 team, barely above .500 with a chance to be 7-5 or 6-6. So, certainly the season has had its ups and downs. It hasn't been a consistent season."
Penn State was expected to battling consistency issues with two-year starter Matt McGloin graduating, but O'Brien calls the development of true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg one of the positives of the season.
Ranking second in the conference in completions (210) and passing yards (237.8 ypg), Hackenberg has eight 200-yard passing games this year to break to Penn State freshman record and ranks in the top five in school season completions and yardage. However, Hackenberg has thrown for less than 225 yards in three straight games, including 163 yards in a 23-10 loss at Minnesota three weeks ago.
"I think he's done a good job," said O'Brien, as Penn State ranks fifth in the conference in total offense (430.3), but third in passing offense (251.9). "I'm sure he has some plays he wished he could have back, but we don't get those plays back. Overall, when you look at being 18 years old and coming in here and playing pretty much every snap of every game, I think he's gotten better and better at doing that."
In the second year of a four-year bowl ban, O'Brien continues to be aggressive on the recruiting trail. A year after getting Hackenberg and five-star tight end Adam Breneman, O'Brien has secured verbal commits from four four-star recruits, including Wisconsin legacy recruit Troy Vincent Jr.
It's a talented, yet under-manned, group that wants to spoil Wisconsin's regular season finale for a second straight season.
"We're focused on Wisconsin because we want to, again, have another chance to send these seniors out on a winning note," said O'Brien. "That is really important. But it's also a chance for our younger players who are coming back next year, younger and veteran players who are coming back next year, to go out there against a very good football team and play well. So it's an important game for that.
"I think our program, with the two year sanctions that we've been under and things like that with the limited amount of guys we could offer and guy that's left the program, I think our program stands on pretty solid ground right now."