MADISON – It was one of those iconic moments in the long history of Wisconsin football and Camp Randall Stadium: the Badgers knocking off No.1 Ohio State on an October evening in front of a crowd that was electric from start to finish.
Leo Musso was there as a Waunakee high school football player but his eyes were glued to the stands, not the field, as he was trying to peddle sodas to a thirsty crowd.
“Business was good that night,” Musso said.
The current Wisconsin senior safety doesn’t remember how much money he made that evening, only that he couldn’t work the second half because of age restrictions. When he turned in his drink tray, he found a spot in the southeast corner of the stadium and sat on a concrete block next to a security guard and watched Wisconsin ice away a 31-18 victory.
“It’s just a feeling,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it. The adrenaline will be high and you look up (into the stands) … It’s big time. That’s how you feel. It ain’t the N.F.L. but it’s about as big as it gets outside the N.F.L. Not everybody gets that feeling, but something comes over you and just takes over.”
“It was crazy being in that environment,” Musso said. “I remember how electric the stadium was and how much buzz there was beating the No.1 team in the country at that time.”
Musso hopes he and his teammates can replicate that experience from six year ago tonight when No.8 Wisconsin hosts No.2 Ohio State in Camp Randall’s first conference night game since 2011.
The Badgers are 37-29 all-time in night games, including a 13-5 mark at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin is 10-2 in their last 12 night games at Camp Randall Stadium, but those experiences have been few and far between for the current roster. Wisconsin has played only one home night game in the last three seasons, after playing eight in the six previous seasons.
Not only have the Badgers only had one home night game since October 2012, Wisconsin has only played five ranked teams, only one top-10 team and had zero games where both teams were ranked in the top 20.
“It’s going to really create a special environment for us, playing under the lights at Camp Randall against one of the best teams in the country,” Musso said. “It’s hard to fathom or replicate what it’s going to be like.”
Wisconsin got a little taste of the night atmosphere last year when it hosted Hawaii. Cornerback Derrick Tindal has run out of the Camp Randall 16 times in his three years but had a hard time describing what he felt when he exited the tunnel prior to the Badgers’ 28-0 victory over the Warriors.
With most matchups between top-10 programs, there’s a lot at stake. But while Ohio State could likely afford a loss and still feel comfortable of its standings in the Big Ten East and the College Football Playoffs, Wisconsin will have dropped consecutive conference games, likely be eliminated from the CFP (a two-loss team has not been selected into the four-team playoff in the two years of existence) and be behind the eight ball in the Big Ten West division race.
There’s also a small matter of revenge since a large portion of Wisconsin’s roster only game against the Buckeyes was a 59-0 embarrassment in the 2014 Big Ten championship game.
“Losing like that, when you come into the game thinking you’re prepared and just nothing’s going right and nothing’s working, it’s tough,” tailback Dare Ogunbowale said.
Wisconsin has only lost four games since the ominous evening in Indianapolis, three by seven points or less. They also have a brand new coaching staff. The only thing that hasn’t changed is how big of a home-field advantage Wisconsin is.
Since 2004, Wisconsin is 75-9 (.893) at home. Only Ohio State (80-9, .899) has won a higher percentage of its home games in that span. In its last six home night games, Wisconsin has won by an average of 19.3 points and have had success creating a tidal wave of momentum in their favor.
“The great thing about it is you feed off the energy the fans bring but you’re also trying to make them feed off the energy coming from us,” Musso said. “That’s what it ultimately comes down to. If you’re not making plays, they really can’t get into it. Our goal is to give them something to cheer about.”null