For the second time in the last three years, Wisconsin suffered a big defeat at the hands of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game. In 2013, the No. 8 Buckeyes crushed the No. 4 Badgers 59-0, and although this season's 27-21 defeat in the title game was much closer, it was more painful in many ways.
The Badgers entered the title game with a No. 4 ranking and an undefeated regular season record for the first time in program history, and needed a win to land one of the four College Football Playoff spots. But the Buckeyes (11-2) scored 14 points in the first quarter against the No. 1 defense in the country, and rode injured quarterback J.T. Barrett to the title.
The Badgers' consolation prize is a trip to the Orange Bowl, where they will play Miami (10-2) on Dec. 30. Wisconsin (12-1) dropped to the No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
In the end, Ohio State exposed the Badgers' flaws: A soft regular season schedule, their vast number of injuries, particularly at wide receiver, an overdependence on freshmen running back Jonathan Taylor and sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook's penchant for throwing interceptions.
"Certainly, really disappointed," Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said after the Ohio State defeat.
"It's a quiet, disappointing, hurting locker room. But proud of the way they battled. Credit Ohio State. They made more plays than we did. I thought guys played and guys believed all the way till the last play. You hurt for them, you hurt for the seniors. Got to find a way ... it's going to hurt for a little bit, but we got an opportunity. One more chance with this team. We got to make sure we finish it the right way. Proud of them, certainly."
The No. 6 Badgers have another opportunity to silence their season-long critics with a win over the No. 11 Hurricanes in their backyard. Miami was unbeaten until a last weekend shocking 24-14 upset at Pittsburgh. They followed that up with a 38-3 loss to No. 1 Clemson in the ACC title game Saturday night.
So both teams will have a chip on their shoulder in the bowl game. But the Badgers must regroup and not look at the Orange Bowl as a consolation prize, or risk another stinging defeat that will further lessen the impact of a storied regular season.
The Big Ten West Division champions must shore up the defense, which allowed 449 yards to the Buckeyes. Hornibrook enters the bowl game with 15 interceptions in 13 games, an aspect Miami's ball-hawking secondary will look to exploit.
A key storyline to note is whether the Badgers have a emotional hangover from the Ohio State loss, and if the offense is slightly altered to not force Hornibrook to carry the load. Whether that means a restrictive passing game, limited to shorter situations or further emphasizing the run, particularly early in the game.