By Andy Staples
October 17, 2010

MADISON, Wis. -- As Ohio State coach Jim Tressel picked apart the corpse of his team's 31-18 loss to Wisconsin late Saturday night, a disembodied voice interrupted the autopsy.

"Attention fans!" the voice boomed over a speaker. "For your safety, please get off the goal posts."

Outside, students in "Teach Me How To Bucky" T-shirts and grown men in red-and-white-striped overalls partied on the field where the Badgers had just pummeled the Buckeyes with a power running game that would have left Woody Hayes tipping his Block O cap. Wisconsin hadn't done anything fancy. The Badgers didn't run any trick plays. They simply surged ahead behind a herd of 320-pound offensive linemen and dominated when it mattered. "They did exactly what we expected them to do," Buckeyes linebacker Brian Rolle said. "They lined up and beat us. That's it."

Neither Tressel nor his players paid much mind to the No. 1 ranking that slipped from Ohio State's grasp Saturday. The Buckeyes ascended after South Carolina whipped Alabama last week. Oregon will ascend now that Ohio State has lost. Unlike the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes, the Ducks won't have to defend their ranking on the road against a ranked conference rival. They'll be at home against UCLA on Thursday. But this is starting to feel a little like 2007, when a lot of weird things happened. The fun started a week earlier that year, but coaches' poll No. 1 USC lost to Stanford in Week 5. The following week, top-ranked LSU lost at Kentucky. Then, Ohio State held the top spot for four weeks before losing to Illinois.

But that year, no mid-major started the season in the top five, so Ohio State and LSU could claw their way back into the BCS title game. Boise State did start in the top five this season. The Broncos, who will lose this season only if some WAC team performs a miracle, probably will move into the No. 2 spot in the polls. They should be No. 1 when the first BCS rankings are revealed Sunday night. So for the Alabamas and Ohio States -- the megapowers with a loss on their résumés -- the climb back into the BCS title race is that much steeper. "This loss doesn't define us as a team," Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor said. "It doesn't define me, I know that. There will be plenty of more cheers and joy." But, in the eyes of voters and in the circuits of computer polls, the loss will define Ohio State unless a few other teams lose.

Besides, we don't even know if Ohio State is the Big Ten's best team. Undefeated Michigan State handled Wisconsin, and the Badgers mauled the Buckeyes for most of Saturday. Iowa sits with one loss and head-to-heads against Wisconsin (next week), Michigan State (Oct. 30) and Ohio State (Nov. 20) on the horizon. The Big Ten will be lucky if its champ emerges from that bloodbath with only one loss.

Wisconsin doesn't control its destiny because of its loss to Michigan State, but the Badgers proved Saturday they're worthy contenders for the title -- should the Spartans stumble. Receiver David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. After the Badgers stuffed Ohio State's offense, Wisconsin rammed the ball down the Buckeyes' throats on consecutive possessions, thanks to the pancaking prowess of tackles Gabe Carimi and Ricky Wagner, guards John Moffitt and Kevin Zeitler and center Peter Konz. The first was a six-play bludgeoning by the line and 255-pound back John Clay, who rumbled in untouched for a 14-yard touchdown. The second was a 19-play, 89-yard tour de force that ended when Clay launched himself into the end zone from the 1. That made the score 21-0.

Later in the second, Wisconsin's defense stoned Ohio State three times inside the 4 and forced a field goal. The Badgers went into the half up 21-3, but they knew the Buckeyes would eventually punch back. Still, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema wondered if Ohio State could keep swinging through the fourth quarter. "We've been in fourth-quarter games this year," Bielema said. "Whether by choice or not, we've been in them -- and I didn't really think Ohio State had been."

Ohio State did indeed rally in the third. Tailback Dan "Boom" Herron raced in for a 13-yard score as a wildcat quarterback early in the quarter. When the third ended, the Buckeyes were marching again.

Wisconsin fans celebrate the start of every fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium by following the instructions of '90s one-hit-wonder House of Pain. They jump around. They jump up, jump up and get down. As the red-and-white clad mass bobbed in unison and shook the stadium, the Buckeyes jumped on their own sideline.

Less than four minutes later, Herron scored from a yard out to cap Ohio State's own 19-play odyssey. Pryor tossed a two-point conversion to Reid Fragel to cut Wisconsin's lead to a measly field goal. Now, it was a fourth-quarter game.

But Bielema had guessed correctly. The Buckeyes weren't ready for that. On their next possession, the Badgers got as fancy as they would all night. Quarterback Scott Tolzein threw on the first four plays, completing three passes for 36 yards. With the Ohio State defense sufficiently frightened of the pass, the Badgers went back to the ground, pounding ahead first with Clay and then switching to lightning-back James White, who zig-zagged between a pair of tacklers on a 12-yard touchdown run.

Pryor and company wouldn't get near the end zone again, thanks to pressure from Wisconsin's J.J. Watt and tight coverage of the Big Ten's best collection of offensive skill players. On Ohio State's penultimate play, Watt dragged down Pryor and rose with a scream. On the next play, Pryor threw the ball up for grabs. Wisconsin linebacker Blake Sorensen came down with it. Two victory formations later, the party began.

Tressel sprinted to midfield to congratulate Bielema. Watt and Carimi bearhugged. A fan ran in from the stands and tackled Sorensen. "Oh my God," the fan yelled. "Sorensen!"

Moffitt, the Badgers' 323-pound right guard, surveyed the mob at midfield and shook his head. "This is amazing," he said. "This is one of the best days of my life. I'll never forget it."

As blood trickled from the bridge of his nose, Watt beamed. "It's unbelievable," he said. "This is what football's all about right here."

In an age of spread-out, hurried-up offenses, the Badgers had just toppled the nation's top-ranked team with smashmouth football. FieldTurf has turned three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust into three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-rubber-pellets, but nothing has replaced the satisfaction of lining up across from an opponent, announcing a plan to run the ball straight at him and then burying him.

After the fans had dropped off the goal posts and migrated toward Wando's and the Great Dane to toast the Badgers, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez watched Bielema break down the victory in his postgame press conference. When his successor finished talking, Alvarez, the Badgers' longtime coach, grinned at a reporter's question about powerball in the age of the spread.

"We play football," Alvarez said. "And I love it."

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