It began before the season even started when starting tackle Justin Ostrowski suffered an injury during fall camp and, unfortunately for UW, things snowballed from there.
The Badgers lost two starters at defensive end—Jamal Cooper to a season-ending leg injury at North Carolina in just the third week of the season, and standout freshman Matt Shaughnessy in their home finale against Iowa.
"It's a big loss—they were speed rush guys and they always got back to the quarterback," sophomore tackle Nick Hayden said. "We miss them, but we've just got to keep going on."
Combine those devastating injuries with the fact that tackles Jason Chapman and Mark Gorman and ends Joe Monty, Kurt Ware and Travis Beckum have all been banged up during the season, and you have an infirmary, not a defensive line.
And this was a unit trying to replace four NFL draft picks from a year ago.
Yet, through all of the injuries the defensive line, as a group, has stuck together and made the best of things.
"We lost all kinds of guys all year," Ostrowski said. "The thing is, the guys that have filled in have done a good job. That's helped a great deal."
The group has gotten more help down the stretch as Ostrowski has battled his way back onto the playing field.
The sophomore, who made his season debut against Purdue but then had to take a week off before seeing action in each of UW's last three games, says he is prepared to start in Monday's Capital One Bowl.
"Every day and every week it's getting better, I'm close to where I need to be," Ostrowski said. "You've just got to do what you need to do [and take] the responsibilities you need to take to get the job done."
After feeling the effect of his injury in the game against Hawaii, the Portage, Wis. native definitely took advantage of the month off. He devoted the two weeks after the game to working almost solely on upper-body work to allow his leg to heal.
"The last month has been a big help," Ostrowski said. "That calmed my knee down quite a bit here. My knee has kind of flared up a little bit [in Orlando], but by game time I'll be ready.
"This is the best I've been. It's great to play again and get on the field."
Ostrowski's comeback allows Chapman, who had been playing tackle, to shift out to the left end position.
"It was nice [to get Ostrowski back]," Hayden said. "We need another big body in there. [Chapman] is a big guy, but going against a team like Auburn it's nice to have him at the end rushing."
The Badgers also plan to give offensive tackle and former two-way high school star Joe Thomas about a dozen snaps at defensive end.
"I think we can probably match that up if we want," head coach Barry Alvarez said about potentially seeing Thomas square off against McNeill. "I'm not much on that. It's about the team. One guy's going to win, one guy's going to lose, but it's about the team. It's about the team producing."
McNeill, at 6-foot-9 337 pounds, and Reddick, at 6-foot-5 335 pounds, head up an offensive front which surrendered just 17 sacks all year and helped Tiger running back Kenny Irons lead the SEC in yards per game.
But Wisconsin's embattled defensive front will take all the help they can get at this point, because McNeill and Reddick are just the beginning. Auburn's offensive line measures in at an average of 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds.
And those numbers include center Joe Cope, who at just 6 feet tall and only 276 pounds feels like a David sandwiched in the middle of four goliaths.
"[We've] basically got to outplay them every play and get low on them," Hayden said. "If we get too high one play, they're just going to crush us."
Outplaying Auburn's offensive front may be a tall task for the Badgers' defensive line, but it would be a rewarding finish to a unit that has persevered through plenty of adversity throughout the season.