The national debate lasted seven days, or until another weekend of college football games turned the Debacle in the Desert into just another final score to be fed into the BCS computers.
For the University of Wisconsin, however, the controversial 32-30 loss at Arizona State in mid-September lives on.
The initial pain has worn off somewhat for the Badgers, and the Pac-12 Conference’s admission that the incompetence of its officiating crew prevented UW from attempting a potential winning 33-yard field goal at least confirmed they had a right to be outraged. But UW is still dealing with the consequences of that unfair result, consequences that could only get worse if the season plays out like some think it will.
It is highly speculative, of course, but should the Badgers win their remaining five games and finish with a 10-2 record, that unwarranted blot on their record could dramatically alter their postseason destination. It likely would cost them a chance at going to a BCS bowl.
That realization didn’t hit home until the BCS released its first rankings of the season Sunday and UW ominously was not in the Top 25. The Badgers are receiving more love from the human polls, but they have a lot of ground to make up in the eyes of the computer geeks before they can think about going to, say, the Fiesta or Sugar bowls.
With a 5-2 record that also includes a seven-point loss at fourth-ranked Ohio State, UW is widely considered the second-best team in the Big Ten Conference. And the way the Badgers are playing, many believe they’re a lot closer to No. 1 than they are to No. 3.
But unless Leaders division rival Ohio State starts losing games, which seems unlikely given its schedule, the Rose Bowl is out of reach and UW’s best chance to play in a BCS bowl is to gain an at-large berth. To even qualify for such a berth, UW would have to finish in the top 14 in the BCS standings.
The Badgers likely will be favored in each of their final five games, though the opponents and locations ensure none of those games is a gimme. But a 10-2 record in a Big Ten burdened by a weak non-conference schedule and a general lack of prestige isn’t likely to help the Badgers improve their standing in the BCS rankings much.
Which brings us back to the Arizona State loss. Assuming Kyle French had been allowed to attempt that field goal and had sent it through the uprights, the Badgers, by winning out, would have an 11-1 record with the only defeat coming at Ohio State. Since Arizona State is currently 5-2, a win over the Sun Devils would further strengthen their BCS resume.
Some think UW should stop talking about the loss and just get over it. Critics say there is no guarantee French would have made the field goal or that if UW had taken care of business earlier, the outcome wouldn’t have been left up to the officials.
But those are lame responses at best. French has since lost his job, but up to that point in his UW career, he had made 13 of 15 field goal tries from 39 yards and in, including a 34-yarder earlier in the game. And there is never an excuse for incompetent or biased officiating determining the outcome of a game.
Other than a reprimand — Oh, no, not that! — and some alleged but so far unknown sanctions, there have been no consequences for the officials who completely botched the final 18 seconds. If Jack Folliard and his crew were benched for a game by the conference, no one knows about it. Folliard has worked every Saturday except one since then, and the Pac-12 didn’t have a full slate of games on that weekend.
At this point, the only ones negatively affected by the outcome are the Badgers, who were ranked 20th (writers) and 18th (coaches) in the polls when they played Arizona State. If the only blemish on their record was a close loss at Ohio State, they certainly would be higher than their current rankings of 22nd and 24th, respectively. It seems likely a once-beaten UW team would be situated in the 12 to 15 range in the polls.
The problem for UW is that the computers, like the rest of us, don’t understand Pac-12 officiating. It’s hard to tell where UW would be in the eyes of the computers had it been allowed to beat Arizona State, but it’s a safe bet it would have had a spot in the initial BCS rankings. If that were the case, the Badgers could legitimately aspire to a BCS bowl even if they couldn’t catch Ohio State in the division.
And as long as we’re speculating wildly, what happens if the Pac-12 lands two BCS spots and the Big Ten only gets one because UW has two losses? In that scenario, an egregious error by Pac-12 officials will have helped the conference beat out the Big Ten for the money and prestige that go along with a second BCS bowl. How would that go over in the Big Ten offices?
Of course, this is all a moot point if UW doesn’t win out. But if it does, the Debacle in the Desert likely will hurt even more than it does already.