It’s possible that we were wrong about Wisconsin.
“We” is the group of us who thought the Badgers’ 2019 ceiling was getting to a B1G Championship and losing to the East winner. That would be typical Wisconsin.
I realize it’s only been 2 weeks, but is it possible that take is already outdated? Like, should we be talking about Wisconsin as a legitimate Playoff threat?
It’s hard to play more perfect than Paul Chryst’s team has in the first couple weeks. A pair of blowout, shutout, never-had-a-chance victories have the Badgers ranked at No. 14, which is unofficially the fringe Playoff conversation. Of course, if they beat Michigan at home in a couple weeks, they’ll be well inside the top 10.
That Michigan matchup certainly looks much different now than it did a few weeks ago. The Wolverines’ offensive woes to start the season could resurface in an ugly way if they aren’t figured out during the bye week.
Speaking of that Wisconsin defense, my goodness has it been phenomenal. It leads the country in scoring (duh), total defense and passing efficiency defense while it sits at second in rushing yards per game allowed. By the way, Wisconsin is only allowing 20.5 rushing yards per game so far.
Zack Baun and company have been dominant. Like, even better than that loaded 2016 Wisconsin defense.
Granted, it’s early. Real early. Blowing out a couple of Group of 5 teams shouldn’t scream “this is the year we make our Playoff push.”
But to at least contend? I mean, Wisconsin looks like a team that took it personally that Nebraska was getting all the preseason B1G West buzz. And obviously a big reason why the Badgers weren’t the obvious pick to win the division was because of how awful last year went.
I had Wisconsin as one of my preseason Playoff picks last year. Why? They returned what I believed to be the best offensive line in the country with Jonathan Taylor and I thought the defense would be just fine with Jim Leonhard. A mix of injuries, a lack of depth and awful quarterback play prevented Wisconsin from even sniffing a New Year’s 6 Bowl.
And to be fair, we knew that early. It wasn’t ideal that Taylor was the lone source of offense and racking up a billion carries in early-season victories against Western Kentucky and New Mexico State.
This year, Taylor has somehow been an even better version of his 2,000-yard self. He already has over 300 scrimmage yards and 8 touchdowns on just 20 touches. That’s absurd. As great as Taylor is, he won’t sustain that good of a pace. What he could sustain is the increased involvement in the passing game. That’s something we heard about in the offseason, but if we’re being honest, I thought that was coach speak. Taylor had never had more than 8 catches in a season, and he never had a passing touchdown. Until 2019.
Through 2 games, Taylor has 5 catches, 3 of which he took to the house.
Jonathan Taylor’s first career receiving touchdown ✅ pic.twitter.com/R29m62xJbu
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) August 31, 2019
Sure, Taylor was in the preseason Heisman conversation, but perhaps his consistency through 2 years and the Wisconsin running back tradition prevented us from thinking he could be anything different than what he’s been.
I think that sort of sums up Wisconsin. Last year felt like the floor. The year before felt like the ceiling. That would mean even the person highest on Wisconsin coming into this year wouldn’t have Playoff thoughts.
Check that. How dare I forget about Desmond Howard:
Desmond Howard has the Ducks as the No. 3 seed in the college football playoff pic.twitter.com/vdaLPbxvGA
— Kevin Wade (@KwadeSays) August 24, 2019
For the rest of us, we might’ve subconsciously factored in that a Wisconsin program that’s been crazy successful in the 21st century has yet to have a top-5 finish in that timeframe.
So why would this Wisconsin team, which returned less experience on the offensive line and had a new starter at quarterback while not necessarily getting some major influx of talent via the transfer portal or its recruiting class, be the team to break that mold?
That’s a fair question. Nebraska was the new, exciting thing with the up-and-coming coach and quarterback who people fell in love with because of how they finished last year, which was significantly better than Wisconsin’s injury-plagued dumpster fire of a close to the regular season.
And part of the lack of preseason Playoff contender love had to be related to Wisconsin’s schedule, which has crossovers against Michigan, Michigan State AND Ohio State. That’s brutal. It’s worth noting that Wisconsin is just 7-6 against the East during the Chryst era, including a 2-4 mark against those 3 aforementioned East teams.
That’s part of the “wait-and-see” with Wisconsin and why more people nationally aren’t talking about the Badgers yet.
But in a year in which Ohio State has a first-year head coach in Ryan Day (who has looked really good so far), Michigan looks like a major question mark offensively and Penn State is riding a 5-game losing streak against East contenders, why not Wisconsin?
Nobody in the conference has a player as good as Taylor, Jack Coan looks significantly better than Alex Hornibrook, the defense is healthy and looking better than ever and as tough as the conference schedule is, Wisconsin’s last remaining non-conference game is against woeful Kent State.
You could do a whole lot worse than saying the Badgers have a legitimate chance to win the conference and clinch their first Playoff berth.
It took me awhile, but I finally woke up to that being a realistic possibility in 2019.