Wisconsin began this season expected to compete for the Big Ten title and commenced the Big Ten campaign 5-0 and ranked 15th in the country.

Things went downhill from there.

Wisconsin is 1-5 in the conference, with its lone victory coming against lowly Michigan State. The story of the season for the Badgers has been the absence of star wide receiver Lee Evans; after weeks of “Lee Evans will return soon,” Wisconsin gave up on getting back its superstar, and is finishing a season that has been nothing if not disappointing.

As if playing short one skill position star wasn’t enough, running back Anthony Davis – who is among the Big Ten’s best – was involved in a domestic altercation two weeks ago in which his girlfriend stabbed him in the thigh. Quarterback Brooks Bollinger also sat out Wisconsin’s game last week against Illinois with a concussion.

Both Davis and Bollinger are expected to play against the Wolverines, but Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez is hesitant to blame injury on his team’s failure.

“I’m not putting blame on anybody, but that would give you a place to start,” Alvarez said. “When your starters, a couple of starters, aren’t in there, the guys that touch the ball the most, that may have a little something to do with it. I would not use that as an excuse … may have been – I don’t know. All we can do is try to reload and try to correct things and refocus and play better.”

For Michigan, this game is a necessary hurdle on the way to Columbus next weekend. The season finale against Ohio State is always special, and is made more so this year because the Buckeyes are currently ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings.

But the Wolverines insist that they are focused on the task at hand.

“We know what we have to do against Wisconsin,” senior wide receiver Ron Bellamy said. “We are not worried about Ohio State or a bowl game. It is just Wisconsin this weekend.”

Last year’s matchup in Madison proved to be one of the most bizarre and exciting games in recent memory. Two blocked punts by Wolverines Marlin Jackson and Marquise Walker kept Michigan in the game, the former resulting in a 43-yard touchdown return by Jackson.

Michigan won the game on a last-second Hayden Epstein field goal after Brandon Williams recovered an Epstein punt that bounced off a Badger.

“Either team could have won,” Alvarez said. “You know, they’re smart enough to understand that they didn’t make the plays and Michigan did.”

This time around, the key matchup is between the Wisconsin secondary and Michigan’s receiving corps. Safety Jim Leonhard leads the nation in interceptions with eight, and cornerback B.J. Tucker has five snags so far this season.

Michigan quarterback John Navarre has been just the on-field engineer that the Michigan offense has needed, throwing for more than 2,200 yards and 19 touchdowns while remaining nearly interception-free. If the Badgers are going to keep the game close, Leonhard and Tucker will have to pick away at Navarre’s confidence.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.