By Mark Alewine (MR_Alewine)
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS— Troy Fumagalli and the Wisconsin seniors have been here before.
Watching the confetti cover the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium. Filing into the tunnel with the deafening cheers behind them.
O! H! I! O!
It’s been three years since Wisconsin lost to Ohio State, 59-0, in the Big Ten Football Championship Game. Three years since former coach Gary Anderson jumped ship for Oregon State, and left Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez to take the helm for the Badgers 34-31 victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Three years since Paul Chryst came home to take over a program in need of a leader.
And just one year since this same team lost to the Penn State Nittany Lions on this same field for a Big Ten Championship.
Now it was less than an hour since the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin, 27-21, in the 2017 Big Ten Football Championship Football Game, and the Wisconsin seniors are once again facing the reality of coming up just short of a conference title near the end of a suddenly imperfect season.
“We’ve come a long way,” Fumagalli said of his senior class. “Totally different team, I would say. Different circumstances, things like that. I speak for the seniors in saying that we’ve come a long way. We showed up ready to work and have shown a lot of improvement over the years.”
Fumagalli led all receivers with five catches for 45 yards, including a crucial two-point conversion to bring the Badgers within three points, 24-21, early in the fourth quarter.
On the verge of its first College Football Playoff berth, the Badgers dominant ground game failed them when they needed it most. Freshman phenom running back Jonathan Taylor, who came into the game averaging 150.5 yards rushing a game for third most in the nation, spent the night searching for holes in the Buckeyes suffocating rush defense. Taylor was held to a season-low 41 rushing yards.
Wisconsin finished with just 60 yards rushing, third-fewest in the seven year history of the Big Ten Championship and 124 yards below its season average.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who just last week had his best game as a collegian, throwing three touchdowns with a 78.9 completion percentage, was held to 19 completions on 40 attempts for 182 yards, with two interceptions.
The Badgers spent all season justifying their place among college football’s elite with their methodical, grinding style. But standing center stage in Indianapolis, Wisconsin failed to capitalize. In brutal irony, it was Ohio State who sealed the game by eating 7:19 off the clock in the fourth quarter with a methodical, rushing intensive drive.
It is the third time Wisconsin has lost a chance to take home the Big Ten title in four years. But for the senior class, the end of this season has more to do with that they’ve been through together than the scoreboard.
“We’ve made a lot of steps this year,” said fullback and fellow senior Austin Ramesh. “The heart that this team has is unmatched, and I’ve never felt like this around a team before. We’re a family. Guys are proud of each other. Nobody’s giving up.”
Fumagalli and the Wisconsin seniors have reached heights never before seen in Madison. The Badgers ended the season with 12 wins for the first time in school history and finished the regular season undefeated for the first time since 1912. Wisconsin’s bid for a national championship ended in the same building where the men’s basketball team lost the championship game in 2015.
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst will always appreciate the class he inherited when he became coach of his alma mater.
“What’s neat for me personally is that they were here, and I joined them,” Chyrst. “To be able to be around them, for them to take you in, I’m very grateful. For them to have a lot of success, and to see the growth in a lot of guys, you appreciate being around them. How are they different? The records are going to be the records, but each guy has his own story, and you appreciate being able to be a part of that.”