The University of Wisconsin football team has been in this situation before.
Two years ago, the Badgers lost their Big Ten Conference opener at Michigan State, 34-24, in an emotionally charged game.
Now, the Badgers are coming off a 30-27 loss at Nebraska, which wanted to make up for last year's humbling 48-17 loss in Madison.
"In a lot of ways, it reminds me of two years ago, when we lost a heartbreaker at Michigan State early in the year," UW defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge said. "You could tell the kids put a lot into it that week and were heartbroken."
Two years ago, the Badgers came home to face struggling Minnesota, which would go on to finish 3-9, prior to a huge game against top-ranked Ohio State.
This year, the Badgers (3-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) come home to face a struggling Illinois (2-3, 0-1) before a huge game next week at Purdue.
The team two years ago got off the deck to win seven straight games and claim a share of the Big Ten title.
It's open to debate whether these Badgers are capable of a similar turnaround, though they probably won't need to run the table to make it to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
In fact, with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the postseason, the margin for error is significantly greater than after losing conference openers in past seasons — something UW coach Bret Bielema has now done four times in seven seasons.
"The only thing you can deal with is the situation you're in," an upbeat Bielema said at his Monday news conference. "We're 3-2. Would we rather be 5-0? Absolutely.
"We could also be 1-4. We've lost a Big Ten Conference game but we haven't lost anything within our division."
With the Big Ten looking as weak as it has been in many years, it should be a forgiving conference race. The only ranked opponent remaining on UW's schedule is No. 12 Ohio State (5-0). The Big Ten, which had five teams in the preseason top 25, are now down to the Buckeyes, No. 21 Nebraska and No. 24 Northwestern.
"I know we don't have as many teams ranked now as we did before the season, including us," Bielema said. "But I've been in football long enough to know it's not how you start the race, it's how you end the race."
Despite surrendering a 17-point lead against the Cornhuskers, Bielema came away encouraged on many fronts. The first was the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave in his first road start.
"He's arrows up in all categories," Bielema said. "The point that jumps out at you, I think he plays better in games than he does in practice. To me, that's just something you've got to learn about your quarterback."
Another thing Bielema learned about Stave is he will stay in the pocket and take a hit.
"He took some real shots on Saturday, from really big people and, obviously, handled that and didn't miss a beat," Bielema said. "He's truly competitive."
Bielema is also pleased with the development of several young players, mentioning wide receivers Kenzel Doe, Jordan Fredrick and Chase Hammond, fullback Derek Watt, right guard Kyle Costigan and Stave.
"If that wasn't happening, I'd be able to be frustrated," Bielema said. "There's so many positive things. We've just got to line up and get a chance to play again."
Of course, the Badgers also lost their 2008 Big Ten opener, which turned into four straight conference losses.
They were able to keep things from going south after the early loss to Michigan State two years ago and back-to-back road losses last season to the Spartans and Buckeyes, in part because of the senior leadership on those teams.
Bielema has mentioned frequently this team only has nine seniors. Of the four senior captains, Bielema described three of them as not talkative in left tackle Ricky Wagner, running back Montee Ball and linebacker Mike Taylor. The fourth, strong safety Shelton Johnson, has missed three games with a broken arm but could return soon.
There also has two junior captains in center Travis Frederick and linebacker Chris Borland.
"Our seniors have been doing a good job," Partridge said. "But I think because of our number of seniors being so small, I think some of our young guys need to step out on that ledge."
Bielema said some of the juniors have done that, including wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and Borland. But this is a time when more players need to step forward, regardless of class.
"This is when you're at a little bit of a fork in the road from a leadership standpoint," Partridge said. "We need those guys, regardless of whether they're seniors, juniors or sophomores. We need those personality types to come out right now."
Partridge said some young players tend to defer to seniors out of respect. But now is not the time to stand on formalities.
"They don't want to overstep the bounds of our seniors," Partridge said. "They're good kids; they respect our seniors. But I think they need to not be afraid to lead us."