Fittingly on Halloween weekend, Wisconsin’s football team played dress-up, looking more like a team belonging among the nation’s best than the one that dropped two straight losses to conference foes earlier this month.Now, with three games remaining in the season, the Badgers find themselves in position to salvage a season that would otherwise have been forgettable. With Ohio State and Michigan up next for Wisconsin, it will be these two games — and not the losses to Illinois and Penn State — that define the season.Though things started out well for the Badgers, winning their first five games en route to a No. 5 national ranking, just about everyone in Madison, and apparently around the country (as evidenced by their underdog status against Illinois), knew the Badgers weren’t quite as good as their record indicated.Through the season’s first seven games, the defense found themselves susceptible to big plays and unable to contain opponents. Teams put up big numbers on UW, forcing the Wisconsin offense to get away from their strength — the run-game — instead finding itself involved in pass-driven shootouts.After consecutive wins the last two weeks — the second of which was an impressive 33-3 victory over an Indiana team that gave No. 1 Ohio State a run for its money a week ago — the Badgers have been presented with a rare second-chance to rejuvenate the season.Heading into the 2007 campaign, it was pretty clear that it would be the next two weeks (Wisconsin hosts Michigan after it heads to Ohio State this weekend) that would make or break the season. In the preseason, the hope was the Badgers would be undefeated and playing for a chance to lock up a conference championship with a pair of wins at this time. Now, though, the Badgers head into the game with a respectable record of 7-2 — albeit a mark that doesn’t live up to the expectations many fans had for the team, but that doesn’t lessen the importance of the matchups.Unlike Michigan — which also lost two games, but both in nonconference action, Wisconsin does not control its own destiny when it comes to a Big Ten championship.When it comes to determining their legacy, though, the Badgers still have the power to make this season a success, and over the last two games they’ve proven they are ready to do just that.For the last two weeks the defense has shown up to play, not allowing a touchdown in either contest. Though the opponents haven’t been especially good, the unit’s performance still deserves recognition when compared to their play earlier in the season when they conceded 31 points to the lowly Citadel, 34 to Michigan State and 38 to Penn State.With their backs against the wall (after weeks of being against the goal-line), the defense rose to the occasion the last couple weeks, giving hope for the season’s remaining games. Obviously expecting the defense to hold the Buckeyes and Wolverines to a field goal apiece is unreasonable to ask, but if the defense can play nearly as well as they’ve been lately, the team will find themselves in a position where they can pull off an upset.It doesn’t look like it will be the defense holding the team back over the next two weeks, though, but rather the offense.Paul Hubbard has returned to bolster a Luke Swan-less receiving corps, but Lance Smith won’t travel to Columbus per his suspension and P.J. Hill has an injury that’s extent is still unclear.Adding to the Badgers’ troubles is the continued poor play of quarterback Tyler Donovan. Though he has shown strong play at times, the signal-caller’s play has deteriorated over the course of the season.Against Indiana, Donovan threw one interception — it easily could have been three — and fumbled the ball away once. Not only will the next two weeks serve as the defining moment for this team, but for Tyler Donovan as well. If Donovan can pull off one, or even (gasp) two wins, it’ll go a long way in determining how he will forever be remembered by Badger fans.The Badgers don’t need to win a national championship for Donovan to be looked back upon fondly, but as long as Bielema is starting the senior over next year’s starter-to-be Allan Evridge, Donovan needs to do something to prove that he deserved to be the starting quarterback in a year with such high expectations.Assuming the Badgers can get by 1-8 Minnesota in the last week of the season, it’s the next two weeks that will determine how the Badgers record looks. And, considering the expectations heading into the season, four losses heading into a midlevel bowl game won’t be too rewarding. It’s been clear for months that the next two weeks’ outcome would be critical for judging the season, and though the potential reward for winning them isn’t as great as it once was, the results are just as important.Mike is a juniorsophomore still looking for a major. If you’d like to talk about the football team, or just life in general, he can be reached at [email protected] He anxiously awaits your thoughts.
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