PASADENA, Calif. -- After a 45-38 loss to Oregon, Wisconsin was left to wonder what might have been; not just in the Rose Bowl but in its season as a whole.
The Badgers could have played for the national title if not for a loss on a Hail Mary pass at Michigan State and another long passing touchdown in the final seconds at Ohio State. The team rebounded to make it to Pasadena, only to lose in another heartbreaking manner.
The weirdness of the finishes had at least one player wondering if there was some sort of voodoo going on.
"Something must have happened with this team before the season," running back Montee Ball said. "It's just terrible luck. If you take a minute off our season, we'd probably be undefeated."
This time, Wisconsin got the ball back with 16 seconds left at its own 13, needing a touchdown. Russell Wilson completed a 29-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis and a 33-yarder to Nick Toon to put the ball at the Oregon 25 with two seconds left. One problem: the Badgers were out of timeouts. The offense hustled to the line, and Wilson snapped and spiked the ball as soon as the officials whistled it ready for play. But the game clock ran down to zero, and after an official review, the game was ruled over.
Wilson threw up his hands in confusion and outrage when there was not a second put back on the clock.
"I didn't think there was any way that two full seconds ran off the clock there," he said. "They made the call and it is what it is. We could have won the game in a lot of areas, too, but it would have been nice to have a chance there. Obviously with one second left, I think we could have capitalized."
Head coach Bret Bielema said there was no thought to try and run a play instead of going for the spike. Wisconsin put itself in a tough position by calling two timeouts early in the third quarter, something Bielema could get criticized for.
The first timeout was called on first down from the Oregon 14 in the first few minutes of the second half. Bielema ran down the sidelines and onto the field screaming for the timeout there. Bielema said that was a busted formation where a wide receiver lined up on the wrong side. The Badgers ended up settling for a field goal on that drive.
The second timeout came with 10:45 left after Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas hesitated on whether to bring a kickoff return out of the end zone before kneeling down very close to the line. Replays showed that Thomas' foot was on the goal line, though the ball never completely crossed the plane. A replay reversal could have pinned the Ducks inside their own 1 or even ruled the play a safety.
"I was trying to get a read from my sideline official if we could review forward momentum," Bielema said. "He didn't understand the question where I was at, and that's why they charged me a timeout.
"They knew that what I was trying to get answered was answered the proper way, so they came back and gave me another timeout instead of using the challenge."
Ironically, Bielema was questioned for calling timeouts at the end of the Michigan State loss, which ended up giving the Spartans enough time to pull off the Hail Mary. Who knows if having another timeout would have changed things against Oregon, but the Badgers had their guts ripped out again.
"My stomach kind of fell," linebacker Chris Borland said. "We've been through that before. You hate to see a game determined by a review."
A review of Wisconsin's 2011 season will find several weird finishes. Could it have ended any other way in the Rose Bowl?