Trying to figure out why Wisconsin scheduled such a weak non-conference slate for 3 straight years
ESPN’s Chris Low recently came out with an article that ranked the weakest non-conference schedules for the 2018 season. There was one thing I was certain about before I even clicked on the article.
Wisconsin was going to have one of the top spots.
Of course, Low had the Badgers as No. 2 on his list of teams with the weakest non-conference slates for 2018. In case you forgot, Wisconsin will play three non-conference home games, none of which are against Power 5 teams. Western Kentucky, Central Michigan and BYU will all travel to Madison to inevitably get trounced. The College Football Playoff selection committee will treat those games like a used tissue. To the trash they’ll go.
It’ll be just like last year…and next year. Yeah, for whatever reason, Wisconsin currently is set to face ZERO Power 5 opponents in non-conference play from 2017-19. Yes, the Badgers travel to USF in 2019, but that’s a stunning feat considering the B1G actually required teams to play at least one Power 5 foe in non-conference play per season.
Why, Wisconsin? Why did you, a perennial division winner and Playoff contender, do this to yourself? Haven’t you been paying attention? Didn’t Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who served three years in the selection committee, have this realization?
The selection committee treats non-conference play like a rich person treats a prenup. It’s sort of a deal-breaker. Zero Playoff teams made the field without a non-conference win vs. a Power 5 team (counting Notre Dame as Power 5). Zero Playoff teams went unbeaten with a 9-game conference schedule.
Ya see what I’m getting at here?
Just like 2017, the Badgers are going to be subject to national ridicule (again) because of this schedule for the next two years. Does it help that they have crossover matchups at Michigan and at Penn State? Yeah, but the selection committee doesn’t like to reward teams who don’t push themselves in non-conference play.
Take the 2016 Washington squad’s Playoff résumé. The Huskies destroyed everyone en route to a Pac-12 title with their only loss coming to eventual-Rose Bowl winner USC. So why did they barely make the field? They hosted Rutgers and played an FCS team in non-conference play. Wisconsin isn’t playing an FCS team, but it won’t even face a Power 5 team like Rutgers (sorry, but 4-win BYU was awful last year).
I just want to know the logic behind that decision-making. It’s not like the Badgers are scared of elite foes. They kicked off the Playoff era with neutral-site games vs. LSU and Alabama. They added a neutral-site series with Notre Dame for 2020 and 2021, and they have later home-and-home series lined up with Pitt, UCLA, Virginia Tech and Washington State.
So why did this current 3-year stretch happen? There might be answer to that albeit not one that’ll help Wisconsin come Playoff poll time.
Remember when Wisconsin originally scheduled the USF home-and-home series back in 2013? That was at the same time that the announcement came about the switch from the BCS to the Playoff system.
Then the B1G switched to a 9-game conference schedule, and the Badgers had to move one non-conference game off its full 2017 slate. They moved the USF game in Tampa that was originally scheduled for 2017 to 2019.
I know what you’re thinking. Why does that matter? And how can that happen with the B1G’s requirement? Stay with me.
Just before the 2014 season, Wisconsin canceled a home-and-home series with Washington for 2018 and 2021. Because of the 9-game conference schedule, the Badgers had to play five conference road games in 2018. Wisconsin was supposed to play at Washington in 2018, but for ticket revenue, the Badgers prefer to have seven home games per season. I’m guessing Washington didn’t want to flip the home games because of its own scheduling reasons. Thus, the cancellation.
So because BYU was actually a competent independent team once upon a time — the Cougars won between 8-10 games from 2011-16 — Wisconsin was allowed to count it as a Power 5 matchup by the B1G’s exemption standards. The same was probably true for Wisconsin’s 2019 matchup with USF, which won double-digit games each of the last two seasons.
Wisconsin probably thought at the time that with the “Power 5 requirement” taken care of, it wouldn’t face criticism over its schedule. After all, it still has five conference road games in 2018, and had non-conference road games for 2017 and 2019.
Here’s the problem.
The selection committee doesn’t care about that. All that matters is the body of work within the timeframe of a given season. If BYU or USF isn’t winning double-digit games in that given season, it won’t satisfy the committee’s unofficial Power 5 non-conference win requirement in the way it does for the B1G.
By the time Wisconsin realized that, it was probably the middle of last season. You know, when people debated if the potentially-unbeaten Badgers were even worthy of a Playoff spot. That was because of their non-conference slate. Swapping out BYU or USF (again) and finding a quality Power 5 team to face in either 2018 or 2019 was likely next to impossible.
That’s why we’re at this point now. Who knows? Maybe they’ll pull off a miracle and make a change so this weak non-conference schedule doesn’t happen for the third straight year in 2019.
Had they left the USF road tilt on the 2017 schedule, the Badgers probably would’ve been fine. The Bulls were a top-25 team for most of last year, and a road win there would’ve added some legitimacy to their weak regular season résumé.
Had they left Washington on the 2018 schedule, the Badgers would’ve likely gotten preseason buzz like they had in 2016 when their schedule was as brutal as any in the country. Instead, Washington scheduled arguably the biggest opening week game of the 2018 season vs. Auburn in Atlanta while Wisconsin will host…Western Kentucky.
The Badgers will likely again find themselves in a precarious spot throughout 2018. They could be a rare preseason top-5 team without any margin for error because of their non-conference slate. It’s unfortunate because they’re in position to potentially have their best team of the 21st century, but that’ll be questioned all year (especially if they lose one of those games at Michigan or Penn State). Wisconsin has itself and the B1G’s conference scheduling change to blame for that.
If last year taught us anything, don’t expect the selection committee to feel sorry for Wisconsin.