Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 10/30/11
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Three weeks ago, Wisconsin seemed to be cruising toward a season to remember, unbeaten and in the running for a shot at a national championship. Meanwhile, Ohio State was 0-2 in conference play and seemingly playing out the string in a season beset with NCAA problems, suspensions and bad breaks. How quickly things have changed. The Badgers, once No. 4 and considered an elite team, have been deflated by two soul-crushing defeats on successive Saturday nights on the road. The Buckeyes, their season all but written off, now find themselves a strong contender to play in the first Big Ten championship game -- if they get a little help. Two teams, different outcomes, different perspectives. One is down, the other feels it has turned the corner. "We always believe everything happens for a reason," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said after his team's latest hard-luck loss. It's difficult to imagine what the reasons would be behind two weeks of heartache. In one of the most replayed videos of this or any college season, the Badgers famously lost at Michigan State on Oct. 22 when Kirk Cousins flipped a prayer of a pass toward the end zone, the ball ricocheting off another player and ending up in the arms of converted wide receiver Keith Nichol at the goal line. A video review confirmed that he had scored the winning touchdown. Then, seven days almost to the minute, Wisconsin was struck again by late, long TD pass. On Saturday night at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes' Braxton Miller looped a 40-yard touchdown pass to wide-open Devin Smith with 20 seconds remaining. The Badgers ran off four more plays but could not pull off some magic of their own in a 33-29 setback. "It's pretty tough, especially two in a row," Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson said glumly. "The Hail Mary from the week before. Then just throwing it up and finding a guy. That's kind of tough." Once the front-runner, now the Badgers (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) need loads of help to even get to the Big Ten title game. In the Leaders Division, Penn State (5-0) is alone in first. Wisconsin, Purdue and Ohio State are all 2-2. So the Badgers, who have plummeted to No. 19 in the latest Associated Press Top 25, need to win against Purdue at home on Saturday, at Minnesota and at Illinois the next two weeks and at home against Penn State on Nov. 26. They also need someone else to beat Penn State, in addition to Ohio State (which would win a tiebreaker) losing at least once more. The trauma of the double whammy they've taken the past two weeks will be hard to overcome. "We've handed them the game two weeks in a row at the end," Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon said, referring to "them" as if there were a conspiracy against the Badgers. "You can't do that." Ohio State has struggled all season since losing Terrelle Pryor, who was caught up in the NCAA violations dealing with improper benefits including cash and free tattoos from a local tattoo-parlor owner. Pryor, a three-year starter at quarterback, left a gaping void when he announced in June -- with the NCAA already suspending him for five games and looking into other alleged misdeeds -- that he would give up his senior year to jump to the NFL. The Buckeyes tried Joe Bauserman as Pryor's replacement; that experiment was deemed a failure after three games. So the job was handed to Miller, a freshman who admitted in August that he was just hoping to learn four plays a day so he could figure out what was going on with the offense. He showed some signs of maturity even though he completed just 1 of 4 passes in Ohio State's 17-7 win over No. 15 Illinois on Oct. 15. That victory was also the first sign that perhaps the Buckeyes were coming out of their yearlong funk. Now it appears Ohio State has its quarterback, for now and the future. Before he went out on the field for the Buckeyes' last offensive thrust, with Ohio State trailing 29-26, Miller showed he was in charge. "As he walked out there for the last 1:10, he looked at me and winked," Buckeyes interim coach Luke Fickell said. "And he said, 'We're all right.'" Then he led a 52-yard drive that took just 50 seconds and rejuvenated Ohio State's hopes. Asked what he had said to Fickell, Miller smiled and said, "We got it. Don't worry about it." He added, "It was confidence. You've got go out there and have confidence and things will work out." Things have been working out -- but for only one of the teams who left the field near the witching hour on Saturday night.
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