Over rated. Over Rated! OVER RATED!
No analysis could be more accurate about the Wisconsin football team than those two powerful words screamed by the students within Memorial Stadium.
How can a defense that returns seven starters [including four linemen] at a school known for a punishing run defense give up 530 rushing yards in the last two weeks and be ranked in the top five nationally?
That answer is easy. There's no accountability. No players grabbing each other and getting into each other's face. There's no outspoken leader and through the last three Big Ten games, there is no dependable playmaker.
"Until we can have some accountability and dependability that we are going to do our job every single play and not go outside what we're supposed to do, we're going to get beat," cornerback Allen Langford said.
Maybe that's why Wisconsin, a program that was ranked fifth in the country, was an underdog at unranked Illinois, a team that they had beaten for four straight years. While many thought it was ludicrous and that Wisconsin would use that spread as a motivational tool, it was evident early on that Vegas knew what they were doing.
Illinois had an offensive rhythm from minute one. The Illini were nearly flawless in their execution between Mendenhall and Williams – racking up 373 of Illinois' 410 total yards. Besides the fact that Illinois ran over Wisconsin with only two offensive weapons, linebacker J Lehman, Illinois' defensive leader, could be seen pumping up every member of the unit on and off the field.
Other than having linebacker Jonathan Casillas, Wisconsin's other captains were a punter, a backup defensive back and two players unable to play because of injury. That's not an insult. That's a fact.
Wisconsin has been so riddled with injuries that the Badgers new corporate sponsor should be WebMD. Elijah Hodge didn't practice and basically tried to play on half of leg, P.J. Hill was fighting a sore groin, Luke Swan suffered a hamstring injury and missed the second half, Paul Hubbard has missed a month and secondary backups Kim Royston and Jay Valai could not play.
The latter forced the Badgers to play in 4-3 defense the entire game and couldn't adjust for the simple reason that they didn't have the personal.
"We didn't have the same people out there all week," Bielema said. "We were extremely thin at DB position this week, so we couldn't do our set package based off what they do. We were just kind of bumping and sliding out there and gave up too many big plays."
As poor as Wisconsin played, they still somehow had a chance to win the football game after scoring a touchdown to pull back within five with 1:31 remaining. But when Illinois got the ball back, Ron Zook didn't do anything foolish, running the ball four straight times to get a winning first down. With Illinois running 44 times with virtually no resistance on Saturday, what is four more times for a landmark victory?
"You put ourselves in position to finish the game the right way and we weren't able to get off the field," Bielema said.
Even so, one of the most eye-opening statements made after the game on Saturday was when Bielema was asked about his thoughts about the team's national title chances after their loss to Illinois.
"If you ask anybody on our team, we don't have [a national title] as an expectation in our program," Bielema said. "That's from the outside world looking in."
Huh? Did he say what I thought he said?
"We don't have [a national title] as an expectation in our program."
Wow, the head coach of a top 10 team said a national title was not an expectation of his team.
Wisconsin was ranked seventh to start the season – a huge ranking in terms of making it to a BCS title game. The Badgers have more wins (36) than any other Big Ten school and the third-most in the country since the beginning of 2004. Wisconsin has more wins than Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma and LSU programs that certainly have national title listed as one of its goals each and every season.
For a group of dedicated, hard-working student athletes that are ranked in the top 10, how could a national title not be a realistic expectation? Don't get me wrong. I think that Bret Bielema is an outstanding coach and has done an excellent job with this program. The players like him. The fans like him. Most importantly, the media tends to like him. But letting the cat out of the bag and saying that Wisconsin doesn't set out to win the top title?
That's what separates the Badgers from the teams that contend for the national title year after year - those teams expect a title.
It's a mute point now, but Wisconsin doesn't need to worry about expectations, opportunities or premonitions. Right now, Wisconsin needs to get things corrected and corrected now. Otherwise, it's going to be a long season and, according to Bielema, one void of national title expectations.