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Stats and Charts: What About the Two-Point Conversion?

Twice in two weeks, the Badgers have had the chance to go for two and end the game in regulation instead of sending the game to overtime with an extra point. Did they play the odds correctly?

Mike McGinnis

Watching the three overtime periods of Wisconsin football games this season, you'd be surprised the Badgers managed to play to a tie through regulation. The defense allowed 17 points and 56 yards in just 11 plays; on 10 offensive plays Wisconsin gained all of one (1) yard and scored nothing.

17-0. 56-1.

Entering Saturday's game, it was 14-0 and 50-3. Although nobody will be surprised my kick-hating, go-for-it chanting self immediately called for the two-point conversion attempt, via Twitter and a few real-person discussions I discovered I wasn't alone. Confidence in the Badgers' ability to win in overtime has been decimated right along with the team itself.

How soon we forget, then, a pair of devastating two-point failures under Bret Bielema. The first came in 2008 as the Badgers went into the Big House ranked ninth. The fourth quarter saw a 19-7 lead turn into a 27-19 deficit within five minutes and 16 seconds. The Badgers scored with 13 seconds left but Allan Evridge couldn't finish the two-point conversion. And then in the first Bielema Rose Bowl, a fantastic play by the TCU defense knocked down a two-point pass from Scott Tolzien with two minutes to go in the game, dooming the Badgers to a 21-19 loss.

Considering Nebraska defeated Wisconsin by three points in the club's first two meetings and home field advantage in football is typically estimated at three points compared to a neutral site, it's nauseatingly likely we could be dealing with yet another overtime situation this Saturday.

So let's take a look at how the two-point conversion has progressed in college football over the last five years -- how viable a strategy is it? Observe, the attempt rates and success rates for two-point conversions since 2007:

The league has been consistent over the past five years -- although in 2008 there was a drop in both conversion rate and attempt rate, the Chip Kelly Oregon Ducks and similar teams have raised the rate of both attempts and conversions back above 40 percent.

The Badgers themselves haven't attempted a two-point conversion all season (although they did score two points against UTEP on a Devin Smith interception return). The closest thing to a two-point conversion in their history would be either third-and-short or fourth-down conversions. The Badgers are a combined 45 percent on these plays.

Either way, the two-point conversion looks like a distinctly less-than-50-percent play, whereas overtime should be by definition a 50-50 proposition. The two-point conversion, then, is a loser's play.

The loser's play is the right play for the inferior team, though, and with Curt Phillips at quarterback there's plenty of reason to believe the Badgers were the inferior team in both cases. The team combined for minus-14 expected points against Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State combined after putting up at least plus-7.5 each week in the five previous weeks.

Against Ohio State, the Badgers were two-point favorites and outgained Ohio State 360-211 in regulation. There was plenty of reason to believe the Badgers could ride the momentum of Phillips's game-tying drive to an overtime victory.

Against Penn State, however, the Badgers were woeful on offense and the wind threatened to make an already-shaky kicker in Kyle French into a total crapshoot. The Badgers were outscored 14-0 in the first 29 minutes of the second half and were 2.5-point underdogs heading into the game. The loser's play may not have fit against Ohio State in the friendly confines of Camp Randall, but at Beaver Stadium against the strong Penn State defense, the 40 percent (or so) play of the two-point conversion was likely the right play.

Nebraska has been installed as three-point favorites in the Big Ten Championship game. Nebraska has already taken out the Badgers once. As much as it might hurt Bret Bielema and the coaching staff to admit it, the loser's play is probably the right one if the situation rears its ugly head again this Saturday in Indianapolis.