Let’s get something out of the way quickly, expecting the Wisconsin Badgers to strongly benefit from last week’s No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 ranked playoff teams is likely only going to get you upset. I mean, beyond the simple math of being a one-loss team against a two-loss team, two programs have cases that they are better than Wisconsin that can be brought out in a sentence. Clemson holds a win over a team that’s currently in the top four in Louisville, and Michigan beat Wisconsin.
Yes, you can call on the common opponent of Iowa and argue the case to have Wisconsin ranked higher. Direct always beats transitive, and the Badgers lost to the Wolverines.
While the likely expectation should be that the Badgers follow the polling and move up to No. 6, the Badgers have a real chance to get a playoff game if they win out. So let’s see how the Badgers would strengthen their cause and while some might not want it, Bucky might get Bama.
The Big Ten
The good news, the Badgers are likely to win out in the regular season. Purdue’s living up to their reputation, and while someone will likely put out some folderol about how this might be the year Minnesota beats Wisconsin for that Axe, the Badgers are clear favorites over a 7-3 team that has their top win being over Maryland. The Badgers won’t likely blow both teams out, but they should be the Big Ten West representatives.
As for the Big Ten East, Michigan still can make it to Indianapolis by winning out, and the game that ends the season against Ohio State will likely feature two 7-1 conference records. But with Michigan reeling from reports of Wilton Speight’s broken collarbone (though Jim Harbaugh is refuting reports of being out for the season), the Eastern Division has a real possibility to behold a dark horse as Penn State is currently tied for the conference lead with a 6-1 record. The Nittany Lions play Rutgers and Michigan State to end the regular season. While it won’t be the biggest upset of November if they lose, it’s going to be a stunner if they don’t win out.
For Badgers fans, while the Big Ten Championship would be a de facto playoff game if they play the Wolverines, Penn State isn’t a disaster scenario if Ohio State wins their end of season battle.
For one thing, while Colorado could jump them with two home wins over Washington State and Utah before the Pac-12 title game, the conventional wisdom is that the Pac-12 is down this year. If that holds serve, Penn State is locked into being the most regarded opponent of a playoff team for championship week. The Badgers aren’t going to get beaten by their schedule.
Can other teams jump the Badgers?
There’s definitely a non-zero chance this can happen. There’s a top 10 battle this week between Oklahoma and West Virginia in Morgantown on Saturday night. As a one-loss team, West Virginia can add a quality win to their resume and possibly break through the firewall. If Oklahoma wins, they get a top 10 victory, and the Dec. 3 bedlam versus Oklahoma State might give them a second. Scheduling plus momentum might get them over the top.
Washington is a less likely threat. Arizona State is likely going to come down to their Friday night game against Arizona to get a bowl game, and Washington State has to deal with a trip to Boulder before they get to the Apple Cup. If Washington moves up, it’s likely going to be on the back of another upset.
That said, recent history has put the Big 12 in the same esteem as the Pac-12 seems to be this year. As such, it might be me just worrying, but there is a case out there the Badgers get jumped.
The five teams that will most directly help Wisconsin with a win
Houston: The early season darlings for fans that love FBS chaos hit a road apple when they lost to Navy in Annapolis. While they are unranked, the game against Louisville this Thursday might be their real bowl game. It’s in Houston, in prime time. Louisville has Kentucky before the season ends and has been sleepwalking at times this year. The upset can be pulled.
Ohio State: Not to say that the Badgers would be directly be hurt rankings wise if Michigan finally wins one against the Buckeyes. The Badgers offensive line has jelled, and they gave the Wolverines all they could handle in Ann Arbor. With Penn State likely to win out and having a defense with some give to it, the Buckeyes winning the rivalry game could give the Badgers a better shot at what they want, and with Speights’ injury the odds have improved.
LSU: Yes, Texas A&M is a different team without Trevor Knight and might fall out of the Top 25 completely if not for SEC policy to schedule cupcakes before the final week of the regular season (A&M plays UT-San Antonio). It doesn’t take into effect the hurricane-forced rescheduling of LSU and Florida. The Tigers end their season battling two ranked teams. They’re currently hovering around the top 15. Wisconsin might have a top ten victory at the end of the season.
Oklahoma State: If you’re looking for the Big 12 Champion to root for, you have to go to Stillwater. If they win the Bedlam game against Oklahoma, they’ll hold wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma — which is good. They’ll also hold a loss, however referee-assisted it may be, in Central Michigan. That’s better.
Washington State: Wake Forest has a defense that is game enough to at least momentarily slow down Clemson, but the offense does not have the horses to hang on when a star gets untracked. As such, we talk the Apple Cup here. Washington State gets Washington in Pullman on Black Friday. If Washington wins, odds are they get the winner of Colorado vs. Utah. A second loss eliminates Washington from the race. Winning out might get them back in.
So what does this mean?
There are plenty of permutations as to how the final rankings for the playoffs will go. While the Badgers need to win out, the situation being basically Alabama and everyone else right now definitely helps a team like Wisconsin if they can win the conference championship. Ohio State is good enough to win a spot without winning a conference championship. The interesting question hanging in the air is would Louisville, with one-loss and a much weaker schedule, have enough on the resume to hold off a two-loss Wisconsin?
You and I have an answer, but would the suits agree?