Wisconsin football: Badgers cement themselves as clear No. 2 program in B1G
The Ohio State Buckeyes remain the king of the B1G, but the race for No. 2 in the conference’s ongoing battle of supremacy is likely over for the foreseeable future. While Ohio State is No. 1 by a fairly decent margin, the Wisconsin Badgers are alone in the conference’s 2nd tier. Where it goes from there is up for debate, but there is a clear 1-2 punch inside the conference.
For a long time, it was Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan, along with Ohio State, rotating atop the conference. For a few years, Michigan State and even Iowa spent some time near the top competing for B1G titles. All of those programs, aside from Ohio State and Wisconsin, have struggled mightily in 2020, as the Badgers have taken over the conference’s No. 2 spot without much reason for change over the next few years.
Let’s take a more in-depth breakdown and make the case for Wisconsin being the conference’s No. 2 program behind the Buckeyes for years to come.
2020 season results
Let’s start with what we have seen on the field. Maybe it’s not fair to judge teams by how they handle their business in a pandemic, but every team is playing by the same rules. When they have had a chance to play, Wisconsin has looked significantly better than Penn State and Michigan with a 2-0 record, beating Illinois and Michigan by a combined 94-18.
Penn State was expected to be at least somewhat competitive with Ohio State in the B1G East race, but the Nittany Lions have completely fallen apart to an 0-4 record, including a double-digit home loss to Maryland.
As for Michigan, expectations were limited heading into the season, but it has been a complete mess so far. They are 1-3, and they were nowhere close to competitive against Wisconsin for the 2nd consecutive year in a 49-11 home loss on Saturday night.
While Penn State and Michigan will fight and scrap to try to finish at .500 or better, Wisconsin hasn’t dipped below that mark in the past 19 years and have failed to break even just once since 1996.
Wisconsin has reached 10 wins or more in 8 of the past 11 seasons. In that span, Michigan and Penn State both have 4 double-digit-win seasons.
Remaining a consistent program starts with the leadership. Paul Chryst is as Wisconsin a head coach as a Wisconsin head coach can get, and it wouldn’t shock me if he spends the rest of his professional life as the Badgers’ head coach.
This cannot be said for Michigan or Penn State.
It’s possible Jim Harbaugh will remain the Wolverines’ head coach next season because of athletic department financial concerns around the country, but his seat could not be any hotter at this point. And while James Franklin should not be in any hot seat danger after one bad season, he doesn’t appear to be a guy who will lead the Penn State program much longer.
What evidence is there that the Wolverines will be a much better program when they move on from Harbaugh? In the 7 years between the end of the Lloyd Carr era and the start of Harbaugh’s tenure, Michigan’s overall record was 46-42 under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.
Built for the future
Coaching stability is a big part of the future at Wisconsin, not only at the head coaching position but for the assistants. The Badgers’ coaching staff is filled with former Wisconsin players, and they’ve built a culture of winning football in Madison.
Another critical point is Wisconsin’s recent success in recruiting. The Badgers do not have the edge in recruiting class rankings over Michigan, Penn State or certainly Ohio State, but they are getting much better, setting school recruiting class records each year. Getting someone like quarterback Graham Mertz, who had offers from every team that matters, is exciting for a program that develops players as well as any in the country.
Not to mention, Wisconsin recently had individual success stories in recruiting battles with Penn State and Michigan. In September, 5-star offensive lineman Nolan Rucci picked the Badgers over the Nittany Lions. On Nov. 6, 3-star wide receiver Markus Allen committed to Wisconsin after decommitting from Michigan.
Closing the gap
With all the evidence that the Badgers are the B1G’s 2nd-best program after Ohio State, how close are they to getting to the Buckeyes’ level? Wisconsin’s inching their way closer, but the Badgers have a long way to go to reach that level of consistency at the very top of college football.
Wisconsin has lost the past 8 games in their series with Ohio State, so the Badgers are getting dominated in that matchup record-wise. However, in 5 of those games Wisconsin lost by a touchdown or less, not even including last year’s B1G title game in which the Badgers held a 14-point lead in the 1st half of a 34-21 loss to the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes.
Wisconsin should be getting closer to competing and actually beating Ohio State, but the Badgers have established themselves as the lone 2nd-tier team in the B1G.