INDIANAPOLIS — Wisconsin's last two trips to Indy have not gone well.
Back in 2014, the Badgers were favored heading into their Big Ten Championship Game showdown with Ohio State only to get absolutely destroyed, 59-0.
Saturday night, ranked one spot ahead of opposing Penn State, Wisconsin blew a three-touchdown lead and lost the Big Ten title to the Nittany Lions, 38-31.
It's hard to imagine anything being worse than a 59-0 blowout, but for at least one Badger in the immediate aftermath of this latest loss, this time around hurts more.
"I think it hurt me a little bit more because this is it for me," Wisconsin defensive back Sojourn Shelton said after the game Saturday night. "And I know a lot of guys in that locker room, it’s what we’ve been through. We came back after the bowl game (at the end of last season), we accepted the task of everything that we did, the schedule and everything. This one hurt."
They say it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, though the opposite might be true for leads in a football game. Perhaps it is better to never have led at all than to have a three-touchdown advantage cleared away by an unstoppable juggernaut of an offense that was Penn State on Saturday night.
It was the Badgers who were in complete control early. Corey Clement had a 67-yard touchdown run, the defense was forcing turnovers and scored a touchdown, and it looked like Wisconsin would avenge its 59-0 defeat the last time it was here in similar blowout fashion. But then the Lions turned it on, quarterback Trace McSorley and his bevy of pass-catchers made one highlight-reel play after another and cashed in on four straight touchdown drives.
The Wisconsin lead was gone, and the Badgers looked shell-shocked.
"This one’s tough. Especially just the way that we were rolling in the first half," Shelton said. "It’s tough right now. I can’t go back or anything. Time is going to keep moving. Let it hurt, just move on. It’s the only thing you can do."
Much like Penn State, Wisconsin wasn't supposed to make it this far. The Badgers had a seemingly impossible schedule when the season started, opening against LSU and staring down a stretch of games against Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska to open conference play. But Wisconsin survived it, losing just twice to two top-five teams in Ohio State and Michigan and only by a combined 14 points. The Badgers were hands down one of the best defenses in the country, and had they won Saturday night, we might be talking about them as a potential College Football Playoff team.
Instead, it's all what could've been, just like in 2014.
"I think it just hurt so much because I know the work we’ve put in behind the closed doors, the weight room, all the early morning workouts. For us to come up short like this, that’s where it really stings," Shelton said. "I’m not going to say 'bump the Playoff,' but I just think we worked too hard to come up short.
"For the group behind us, let it be a lesson. They’ll be ready."
An awful lot happened after losing to Ohio State two years ago. Head coach Gary Andersen left for Oregon State, athletics director Barry Alvarez coached the team to a big win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl, and Paul Chryst returned as the team's new head coach.
The questions always come after a loss like this about "getting up" for the bowl game. Shelton doesn't think that will be a problem. Why? Because these Badgers have done it before.
"We’ve been here before. Same stadium, worse loss. We’ll bounce back."