Thirteen months ago, I remember sitting in the Wisconsin press box thinking “it’s finally gonna happen.”
The Badgers had a 10-point halftime lead against No. 2 Ohio State. Even minutes before the fourth quarter with Wisconsin still clinging to that lead, I braced myself for the possibility that “Jump Around” would finally bring the Camp Randall Stadium press box crumbling to the ground. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. What did happen was a classic J.T. Barrett-fueled comeback to top the Badgers in overtime.
Twelve months ago, I remember sitting in the Lucas Oil Stadium press box thinking “OK, now it’s definitely gonna happen.”
The Badgers had a 28-7 lead on Penn State late in the first half of the 2016 B1G Championship. Even after Penn State scored on a 40-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first half, I still thought there was no way that the Lions would overcome a 21-point deficit against that vaunted defense. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, that’s exactly what happened. Yet another missed opportunity to win the big one.
The latter of those two crushing losses was the Badgers’ only blemish since that overtime battle against Ohio State. Wisconsin enters Saturday having won 19 of its last 20 games. That lone loss was at the same Lucas Oil Stadium where they’ll try and make some history on Saturday against the Buckeyes in the B1G Championship.
Finally making that happen, however, will be Wisconsin’s biggest test yet. Perhaps ever. And it might be the only thing that can squash the “can’t win the big one” narrative.
Amidst all the debate about Wisconsin’s strength of schedule, something has been widely overlooked all season leading up to the conference championship.
No Power 5 team has gone 13-0 with a nine-game conference schedule in the Playoff era. Period.
Remember undefeated Alabama last year? The SEC, of course, is still using the outdated eight-game conference schedule. The same was true of 2015 Clemson…and 2014 Florida State. That 2015 Clemson squad did at least play two Power 5 foes (Notre Dame and South Carolina) in non-conference play, which would equal Wisconsin’s total of 10 Power 5 opponents.
Yes, that includes BYU. In case you forgot, the woeful Cougars still count in that category. And as bad as they were this year, Wisconsin was still willing to get on a plane and head out to Utah.
But enough about Wisconsin’s strength of schedule. Lord knows we’ve all heard enough about that. The fact that people were debating if the 13-0 Badgers could make the field in the same breath as talking about Ohio State’s Playoff chances as a two-loss team was ridiculous. And frankly, a huge slap in the face.
That 6.5-point Ohio State line was a pretty hardy slap in the face to Wisconsin, too. Obviously the oddsmakers are assuming that history will repeat itself and this will be more heartbreak for the Badgers. Never mind the fact that Wisconsin’s 19-1 mark is considerably better than Ohio State’s 15-4 record during that stretch.
What about strength of schedule, you ask? Just for fun, let’s compare those common opponents the last 2 years:
Believe it or not, the two teams actually share the same exact record among common opponents the last two years. All the skeptics under the impression that Wisconsin benefitted from only playing the B1G West probably forgot that A) the Badgers still face three B1G East teams every year and B) they actually have a better record vs. the B1G West than Ohio State the last two years.
And if we want to get even deeper into the common opponents discussion, look at the fact that Ohio State is +44 on Wisconsin in those 11 games. In other words, the Buckeyes have only been four points per game better than the Badgers against their common opponents.
Still, a victory on Saturday is the only thing that will convince people that Wisconsin is anything more than “good.” It’s convenient to ignore that the Badgers are +274 on the year while the Buckeyes are +287.
It’s Ohio State that’s been drumming up the unnecessary Playoff discussion. Meanwhile, nobody is talking about how high Wisconsin would be ranked if it won on Saturday. Remember, no 13-0 team has EVER had to get through a nine-game conference schedule in the Playoff era. Even just getting to 8-0 in conference play isn’t easy.
That’s why Clemson lost to Syracuse. That’s why Miami (FL) lost to Pitt.
Even teams with nothing to lose can be dangerous, especially when their coach is dropping halftime guarantees like it’s nothing:
PAT NARDUZZI JUST CALLED HIS SHOT AND WALKED OFF pic.twitter.com/vJAr5fX23b
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) November 24, 2017
Wisconsin has been getting everyone’s best shot for the past thirteen months. Only a Rose Bowl-bound Penn State squad could a muster a furious second-half comeback on a neutral site to take down the Badgers. If there was ever a respectable loss, that was it.
But Wisconsin isn’t after a respectable loss this weekend. Some are assuming the Buckeyes will roll into Indianapolis and do what they did to the Badgers back in 2014. They might not be aware that in Paul Chryst’s three seasons in Madison, eventual 2015 national champion Alabama was the only team to beat the Badgers by more than one score. That, by the way, was in Chryst’s Wisconsin debut.
With a win on Saturday, the Badgers would accomplish history. They’d have their first Playoff berth ever and they’d have their 20th win in 21 games. Not Alabama, not Clemson, definitely not Ohio State, not Oklahoma and not any Power 5 team could claim such a feat.
Will it finally happen? Wisconsin would definitely open a lot of eyes if it did.