MADISON –

Ohio State.

Those two words have been on the minds of Michigan fans all season.

The Wisconsin trap game didn’t even matter. It wouldn’t factor into the Big Ten Championship picture, and thus the outcome was unimportant.

In the big picture, the beatdown Wisconsin handed the Wolverines Saturday in Camp Randall Stadium didn’t even happen – because it didn’t count.

“No, it don’t mean nothing,” senior captain Shawn Crable said. “The morale wasn’t down in the locker room. We still recognize we got a shot at (a Big Ten Championship).”

But the 37-21 loss may have more of an impact on the Michigan season than most in the Wolverine program would lead you to believe.

For a team that had supposedly found its swagger, a squad that played with a chip on its shoulder, Michigan sure shook off the lopsided loss lightheartedly.

The Wolverines were the hot topic nationally before they took the field. After the 0-2 start, an eight-game winning streak had catapulted Michigan back into the top 15. The Wolverines said they still had goals to reach – particularly a Big Ten Championship.

Michigan entered Camp Randall Stadium with an unblemished mark in the Big Ten. The embarrassing losses to Appalachian State and Oregon were still in the back of the players’ minds, but a perfect Big Ten season could eclipse it.

True, that Big Ten Championship goal is still intact, but it’s slipping away.

The Wolverines were outplayed in every statistical category Saturday by Wisconsin. These were the Badgers who couldn’t hold a lead against the same Ohio State team Michigan will face next weekend.

Beating Wisconsin clearly didn’t matter to the Wolverines. Their eyes were already geared for Nov. 17. Just look at the way Michigan approached its warmup to the storied rivalry.

Michigan sat senior captain Mike Hart, likely resting him for the big one next week rather than risking further injury to take of business as a favored road team. Senior quarterback Chad Henne lasted all of two Wolverine possessions with a slightly separated throwing shoulder that slides in and out when he throws the ball.

With two stars missing from the field, Michigan couldn’t come back against a Badger team bent on avenging its lone loss last season.

So the stage is set, even if it doesn’t have the national implications many imagined two weeks ago, let alone heading into the season.

Michigan was the preseason Big Ten darling, the team with an offense powerful enough to carry a weak defense. But that was based on a healthy Henne at the helm. Saturday, with freshman Ryan Mallett under center, the Wolverines miraculously converted several third-and-long conversions to make the game close for a while.

Yeah, the Wolverines could afford to lose to Wisconsin, but it will cost them if they follow it up with a season-ending loss to the Buckeyes. If Michigan had defeated the Badgers, next week would’ve guaranteed at least a share of the Big Ten Championship win or lose.

But if this coming Saturday ends poorly for the Wolverines, will they look back at what could have been at Camp Randall Stadium?

The eight-game winning streak, the narrowed focus on the Big Ten Championship and the coming together of a team will all be for naught without a win next weekend.

One game will decide if this season in the Michigan football annuals will be remembered as a success or a failure. Beating Ohio State won’t erase the historic loss to Appalachian State, but it could cement another BCS bowl bid for a Wolverine team left for team after dropping their first two games.

Apparently, the Wolverines are confident next Saturday won’t end in the disappointment of the lead-in contest in Camp Randall Stadium.

– Wright can be reached at kpwr@umich.edu

Bowl Possibilities

Michigan goes to Rose Bowl if: It wins next week against Ohio State. Plain and simple.

Michigan goes to Capital One Bowl if: It loses Saturday and Northwestern beats Illinois.

Michigan could go to Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl if: It loses Saturday and Illinois beats Northwestern.

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