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Bowl projections: What’s in store for Wisconsin?

Maybe the playoff?

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

A few months back, we took a way-too-early look at Wisconsin’s 2016 bowl prospects. It was the bye week, prime real estate for idle speculation, as the Badgers had just come off a loss to Michigan and it felt like it was going to be a nice, if slightly more respectable than expected, season.

Now, the Badgers find themselves in Indianapolis, playing for a Big Ten championship against an Ohio State, a Michigan, a Penn State team looking to cap a magical season of its own. Regardless of outcome, Wisconsin will be a-bowlin’ soon, and probably somewhere pretty fun. With the announcement of their postseason landing spot just days away, we examine the options:

College Football Playoff

Where: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Georgia Dome, Atlanta); Tostitos Playstation (man, that sounds so weird) Fiesta Bowl (University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.)

When: Dec. 31, 2016

How the Badgers get there: Beat Penn State + prayer. Lots of prayer.

Hole. Lee. crap. The fact that we’re even talking about this is amazing. It would be glorious to win the Big Ten and make the playoff for so many reasons (not the least of which is the ability to give a nice single-finger salute to those who said it was easier to make the playoff with a school down south).

Wisconsin v Michigan State
Nope, not that one.
Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

But there is much that must happen in order for that to occur. With Ohio State poised to become the first playoff participant that did not win its conference, there is one less seat at the table and inherent bias against two Big Ten teams (see, e.g., the AP dropping the Badgers down a slot despite their win) in the dance.

The Badgers have much to recommend them. They sit sixth in the current playoff rankings, have a great strength of schedule, and they have the chance for a quality win against Penn State (though not quite as quality a win as it would have been against Ohio State or Michigan).

Michigan v Ohio State
Thanks, Captain Completion.
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

But it may not be enough. With one-loss Washington and Clemson ahead of them, the Badgers are also rooting for championship-game carnage (fans should pull out their Colorado and Virginia Tech gear this weekend—#GoBuffaHokes). It’s even possible that a two-loss Oklahoma (or Oklahoma State) could jump the Badgers if the committee decides that it just does not want two Big Ten teams dancing.

The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual

Where: Pasadena, Calif. (Rose Bowl Stadium)

When: Jan. 2, 2017

How the Badgers Get There: Just win, baby.

The Rose Bowl takes the Big Ten champion unless the champ gets selected for the -playoff. If the Badgers win and miss out on the playoff, they are off to Pasadena for what has to be the world’s most awesome consolation prize this side of the Oscars.

It is also possible the Badgers could back into the Rose with a loss if the committee takes the Nittany Lions as a second playoff team. That scenario strikes me as extraordinarily unlikely, unless Michigan is hit with extra-secret sanctions this week. Man, that would be swell.

Capital One Orange Bowl

Where: Miami, Fla. (Hard Rock Stadium)

When: Dec. 30, 2016

How the Badgers Get There: Lose to Penn State. PSU or Michigan gets selected for the playoff.

The Big Ten bowl selection procedures read like the masterpiece of some literary demon summoned to take the joy out of the world with a single pdf, and they are particularly dense as they pertain to the Orange Bowl and the Citrus. To wit:

1. When not hosting a semifinal, the Orange Bowl will select the highest-ranked team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame to face an ACC team.

2. The Big Ten Champion cannot play in the Orange Bowl.

3. If a Big Ten team is not selected by the Orange Bowl, the Citrus Bowl will submit a request for a Big Ten team.

One road to Miami is if Ohio State and Penn State are selected for the playoff and Michigan gets selected for the Rose. A three-loss Wisconsin team would likely still be ranked above the next possible Big Ten or SEC teams (Auburn, Florida, Nebraska), unless the Gators beat Alabama (lolz) or the Badgers lose badly in Indy.

Another possibility is if Clemson and Washington (and possibly Oklahoma) all lose and the playoff committee selects Michigan for the playoff over the Big Ten champion. In that scenario, Penn State slots into the Rose Bowl, opening the door for the Badgers.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

When: Jan. 2, 2017

Where: Jerry’s World (AT&T Stadium), Arlington, Texas

How the Badgers Get There: Lose to Penn State, but look good doing it.

The Cotton Bowl is almost assuredly going to be home to the Group of Five representative (which all signs point to being the Western Michigan Boatrowers Broncos) and whomever else is assigned by the committee.

The road to the Cotton goes like this (I think):

  • Lose to Penn State. Preferably in a non-blow-out-maybe-hosed-by-the-referees sort of way. Everyone else playing in championship games this week takes care of business.
  • Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington make the playoff.
  • Penn State goes to the Rose and plays the next bet Pac-12 team, say, Colorado or USC.
  • Michigan goes to the Orange and plays Louisville/Florida State.
  • The Oklahoma/Oklahoma State winner plays Auburn (or Florida, if they knock off ‘Bama in the SEC championship game) in the Sugar.

That scenario puts a three-loss Wisconsin in a pool with a few other three-loss teams: Colorado/USC, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State, Auburn/Florida, Florida State. A close loss to Penn State would probably leave the Badgers ranked around No. 10, likely making them the highest-ranked of the bunch and the favorite for the last New Year’s Six bowl slot.

Random Fact: the first Cotton Bowl saw Marquette play Texas Christian back in 1937. As will no doubt be of great solace to Owen Riese and many others, Marquette lost, 16-6.

Something Else

When: Around the New Year.

Where: Somewhere in Florida, probably.

How the Badgers Get There: Lose to Penn State, probably getting the doors blown off in the process and/or chaos in the bowl selection process.

It’s likely the Badgers are going to a New Year’s Six bowl regardless of Saturday’s outcome, but it is definitely not guaranteed. The worst case scenario finds Ohio State in the playoff, Penn State in the Rose, Michigan in the Orange, someone like Colorado/Oklahoma State/Florida State in the Cotton, with the Badgers outside looking in.

It’s funny, this “worst-case” scenario feels a lot like the best-case scenario at the start of the year. It would give Wisconsin the chance to get to 11 wins in a very winnable bowl against a team like Florida or Tennessee.

So manage your expectations, kidlets. Regardless of the next two to three games, we Badgers fans are already playing with house money (#gimmemoregimmegimme). All that’s left is to sit back and enjoy the ride.