For the first time all year, Wisconsin could use some style points
You would’ve been laughed out of the room if you predicted that Wisconsin would be in control of its own playoff destiny heading into mid-November.
With that schedule, Wisconsin’s playoff hopes were supposed to be over by the last week of September.
That’s obviously not the case anymore. The Badgers grinded their way through a murderous schedule and somehow came out with seven-point losses to Michigan and Ohio State, both of whom are very much alive for the College Football Playoff hunt.
Survive and advance. As long as the Badgers won, it doesn’t matter if it was a 14-7 or a 21-14 game. In fact, Wisconsin only has two wins all year by more than 14 points.
Compare that to the other teams ranked ahead of them:
- Alabama — 7
- Clemson — 4
- Michigan — 7
- Washington — 7
- Ohio State — 6
- Louisville — 6
- Wisconsin — 2
Now, the Badgers might have had the toughest schedule of any of those teams. Alabama and Clemson could make an argument, but that’s about it.
Wisconsin hasn’t needed blowout wins because simply beating top-10 teams like they did was good enough. But the Badgers are finally past their gauntlet start. They’ll likely be favored by double digits in their final three games.
It’s easy to assume that if Wisconsin wins out, it’ll make the College Football Playoff field. That could be the case. But it would still be wise of the Badgers to rack up some much-needed style points in the final three weeks.
I know what you’re thinking. If the Badgers win out, the committee values their strength of schedule enough to put them in the field. That could be true.
But consider this scenario. What happens if Wisconsin looks very average in three wins to end the regular season? As in, what if the Badgers beat Illinois and Purdue by a touchdown? We all know how everyone felt about Nebraska when it struggled against those teams.
Sure the Badgers would have a far-better résumé than Nebraska, but the selection committee doesn’t want to put in teams with a low floor. Michigan State had a low floor last year. We knew that when they lost to Nebraska and when they beat Purdue by a field goal. How did the Spartans do against Alabama?
There are people like ESPN’s Danny Kanell who are already calling for a blowout if Wisconsin were to face Alabama in the first round.
Would it be? It’s hard to see anyone rolling over that Wisconsin defense, including Alabama. And speaking of Alabama, that’s another reason why the Badgers would be wise not to just get by in these final weeks.
Consider this scenario. Wisconsin wins by 21-plus in each of the final three games. Maybe a shutout here or a shutout there. Then the Badgers put the clamps on the B1G East champ — another top-10 team — and appear to be rolling into the playoff.
Couple that with the Badgers’ résumé and they could potentially move up to the No. 3 spot. In other words, they could potentially avoid Alabama in the semifinal game.
Who wouldn’t want to do that?
As much faith as Paul Chryst has in his team, nobody in their right mind would want to see Alabama right now.
But before we get too caught up in a playoff matchup, let’s get back to the task at hand for Wisconsin. The Badgers are theoretically in position to do something that’s never been done before. That is, make the College Football Playoff field as a two-loss team. That’s never happened for a reason.
It’s still not a lock to happen this year. Nobody is talking about this scenario:
- Michigan loses to Iowa
- Ohio State beats Michigan
- Penn State wins out (the Lions are favored to do that)
Who goes to the B1G Championship in that scenario? Penn State. Who is suddenly sitting at home? A one-loss Ohio State team that won IN Madison. For argument’s sake, let’s assume Wisconsin wins the B1G Championship and that Alabama, Clemson and Washington run the table.
Would the Badgers jump past Ohio State with one extra loss and without the head-to-head advantage? What about Wisconsin’s loaded schedule? Well, the Buckeyes would have four wins against the current top 25. Wisconsin would only have three.
Even if Wisconsin won the B1G Championship, Ohio State would get in ahead of the Badgers in that scenario.
Whether or not anyone wants to admit it, Wisconsin needs to dominate in these final weeks. If the Badgers have a chance to apply some pressure, they have to do it.
Paul Chryst is wired differently than Bret Bielema. He doesn’t try and embarrass anyone. These final three weeks of the regular season, he should. That way, there’s no doubt that the Badgers look like a playoff-worthy team heading into the B1G Championship.
Above all else, that’s what the Badgers have to prove in November. They made a solid case in the first two months. Now the committee wants to see them distance themselves from the field and blow out inferior teams like the rest of the playoff contenders.
It would be natural to take a breath after that brutal start to 2016. But that’s the last thing the Badgers should be doing right now.