Wisconsin can introduce itself as Playoff contender Saturday night
Welcome back, Wisconsin Badgers.
Last time we saw them, redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz put on a show for all of college football to see on a Friday night in an empty Camp Randall Stadium to open the B1G season. It was about as flawless of a performance as you’ll see from a team to open the season, and expectations should’ve been raised immediately following it.
In one game, the Badgers turned into heavy favorites to win the B1G West and potentially close the gap on Ohio State in the conference, triggering thoughts of a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Wisconsin took the last two weekends off with canceled games against Nebraska and Purdue due to a coronavirus outbreak. The Badgers finally appear healthy enough to play, and they could reintroduce themselves to the Playoff picture with another solid showing in a Saturday night game that should draw quite a few eyeballs (ABC, 6:30 Central) with not a whole lot of compelling competition in that time slot. This could be a pretty good “remember us?” moment for the Badgers.
Michigan struggles hurt
Michigan has not done Wisconsin any favors by starting the season 1-2 with losses to Michigan State and Indiana. Had the Wolverines remained unbeaten, they would be a top-10 team, and taking them down on the road in a prime time matchup would be extra sweet for Wisconsin. The Badgers need as many big-time opponents as possible to persuade the College Football Playoff committee to give them a spot if everything falls in their favor.
Despite Michigan’s struggles, a win on Saturday sure should be impress the committee, considering Wisconsin just returned to practice after undergoing a full shutdown shortly after the Badgers’ season-opening victory on Oct. 23. In addition, Wisconsin will likely be without several players who are still not healthy enough to play or haven’t passed the B1G’s mandatory 21-day pause for those who test positive for the coronavirus. It remains to be seen which players will sit out this weekend as Wisconsin is not reporting COVID-19 cases, but it appears likely Mertz will return to the field to be the Badgers quarterback.
No matter how bad Michigan has looked this season, especially on defense, Wisconsin should not overlook the Wolverines. Jim Harbaugh’s back is officially against the wall and he needs a win in the biggest way. I still remain confident he will not be fired during or immediately after the 2020 college football season, but going against a desperate team is always difficult, and that’s just the start of it for the Badgers.
Tough slate the rest of the way
If the Badgers survive the road game against Michigan, they still have plenty of tough matchups the rest of the way.
Opening day victim Illinois and the opponents from the canceled games — Nebraska and Purdue — gave Wisconsin a cushy start to the season that is now gone. I know Purdue is still unbeaten, but if I’m Wisconsin, I’d rather play the Boilermakers over any of the final four teams on the Badgers’ schedule.
After Michigan, Wisconsin heads on the road to take on No. 23 Northwestern, which has been a tricky place for the Badgers for a long time. Despite all their success, the Badgers beat the Wildcats in Evanston just once since 1999 and are 1-5 in that span, and this is a Northwestern team still undefeated.
Wisconsin still has a home game with Minnesota, and despite the Badgers’ domination of the series and the Gophers struggling in 2020, anything can happen in a rivalry game. Wisconsin will stay at home for the next game against a top-10 Indiana before closing out at Iowa in a series that always gets weird.
If the Badgers run through the regular season unbeaten, that would be pretty impressive even if it is just six games.
What to cheer for this weekend
To have any shot at the CFP, Wisconsin needs to finish the season 7-0 and beat an undefeated Ohio State in the B1G title game. I think it has to be Ohio State, nobody else. Even then, the Badgers will need some help. So who should Wisconsin fans be rooting for?
First off, Wisconsin needs a loss from Purdue at some point. That matchup was canceled, and the Boilermakers are still unbeaten. If they end the season at 7-0 and Wisconsin finishes 6-0, the B1G’s convoluted 2020 tiebreaker procedure comes into play. Root for Northwestern over Purdue on Saturday night.
Elsewhere in the B1G, the Badgers should root for Indiana to keep playing well this weekend so a victory over the Hoosiers would look all the more impressive.
The ACC did not do Wisconsin any favors last weekend. Notre Dame’s win over Clemson could very well mean two teams make it from that conference, assuming both teams win out the regular season and the Tigers avenge their loss in the ACC title game. Badgers fans should be rooting hard for Boston College to beat Notre Dame this weekend.
With so many teams on bye weeks and with games getting postponed or canceled, Wisconsin doesn’t need to do too much scoreboard watching this weekend. Plus, none of that will matter if it doesn’t take care of business the rest of the way, starting Saturday night against Michigan.