Questioning Wisconsin’s place in the College Football Playoff picture seems kind of silly now. After the Badgers put an exclamation point on its undefeated season with a 31-0 win over Minnesota, it’s hard to remember exactly why we weren’t giving the B1G West champs much credit in the first place.
When the first CFP rankings were released on Halloween, Wisconsin was slated at No. 9 despite the perfect 8-0 record. What the Badgers lacked were quality wins and style points. The Badgers beat Purdue by just eight points in Camp Randall. Two weeks later, they beat a two-win Illinois team 24-10. Sure, Paul Chryst and Co. were coming out on top, but they weren’t rolling over the bottom-feeders like Alabama and Clemson.
Wisconsin wasn’t winning games like a true championship contender.
That’s all changed over the last four Saturdays.
Since the initial CFP poll was unveiled, the Badgers have ran over everyone in their path — literally. Wisconsin has rushed for at least 200 yards in three of the final four games as they posted an average margin of victory of 24.3 points per contest. They beat Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota by at least 24 points and posted a 24-10 win over Michigan — a game that was never really in doubt.
The defense has been sturdy as well, surrendering just over 10 points per game in the final four-week stretch. None of those four opponents eclipsed 300 yards of total offense.
Does that qualify as championship caliber?
The criticism Wisconsin received for its weak schedule an unimpressive showings wasn’t an unfair assessment. A month ago, the Badgers really didn’t look the part of a conference champion and a potential threat in the CFP. And after the B1G left a pair of goose eggs on the scoreboard in the semi-final games each of the last two years, the selection committee was probably skeptical of the purity of that 8-0 record.
But over the last four weeks, Wisconsin has proven it’s a national contender. While Miami squandered its perfect record in a loss to Pittsburgh and Alabama failed to secure an undefeated season by losing to Auburn, the Badgers closed out the regular season with a 12-0 mark. Not only did they make it to the B1G Championship Game unscathed, they’ve played their best football in the month of November.
That, more than anything, might be most important or Wisconsin.
Despite the undefeated record, the Badgers are in a must-win situation. Beat the Buckeyes in Indianapolis and they’ll punch their ticket to the CFP. Lose, and they’ll leave a 12-1 record — and a résumé with only one Top 25 victory — in the hands of a selection committee that’s been lukewarm about this team from the get-go.
More than likely, a bid in the final four is going to require Wisconsin to bring a B1G title back to Madison. Against a Top 10 Ohio State team with wins over Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan, that’s anything but easy. The Badgers will need to have their best 60 minutes of the year to knock off the Buckeyes in Indianapolis.
Fortunately, Wisconsin is trending in the right direction and is playing its best football at the exact right time.
As reluctant as some still are to give credit to the Badgers, it’s hard to argue they’re not deserving of one of those four spots in the semi-finals. A 12-0 record speaks for itself.
But if Wisconsin plays its best game of the season next week in the B1G Championship it’ll earn a bid to the CFP and a chance to compete for a national title. It will also be impossible to deny that the Badgers have been worthy of our attention all along.
They’ve certainly been worthy over the last four weeks.