As we approach the Wisconsin Badgers’ third conference game on Saturday, UW has the potential to reach its second straight Big Ten championship game at season’s end.
Wisconsin (5–0, 2–0 Big Ten) is currently the only ranked team in the Big Ten West and is firmly holding onto first place at 2–0 in conference play. The Badgers’ remaining opponents have a combined overall record of 19–14, and their conference records fail in comparison at 4–11.
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Wisconsin a sizable advantage in each of its remaining games. Wisconsin’s FPI Matchup Percentage ratings are as follows: Purdue (3–2, 1–1) 94.5%; Maryland (3–2, 1–1) 94.9%; Illinois (2–3, 0–2) 97.4%; Indiana (3–2, 0–2) 83.5%; Iowa (4–2, 1–2) 86.5%; No. 17 Michigan (4–1, 1–1) 81%; and Minnesota (3–2, 0–2) 88%.
ESPN’s FPI gives Wisconsin the advantage in all remaining games with good reason, as the Badgers have outscored their opponents 201–71 this season and have only surrendered 21 second-half points. Nebraska crossed paydirt in the third quarter this past weekend, marking the first time an opposing team has done so on Wisconsin this season. Northwestern scored 14 against Wisconsin in the fourth quarter two weekends ago in a 33–24 Badgers win.
Wisconsin is led offensively by true freshman Jonathan Taylor, who leads the Big Ten with 767 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns and an average of 153.4 yards per game.
Taylor recorded a career-high 249 rushing yards and two touchdowns this past weekend at Nebraska to earn Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week honors. Taylor collected both awards for the second time in his brief collegiate career.
Defensively, Wisconsin is third in the Big Ten in both scoring defense (14.2 points per game) and total defense (273.8 yards per game).
Wisconsin has been staunch as well when the pressure is on, allowing opponents to convert on only 30.6 percent of their third-down conversions, fourth in the Big Ten. The Badgers are also tough in the red zone, ranking second in the conference by allowing opponents to score on only 66.7 percent of their attempts inside UW’s 20-yard line.
More broadly, Wisconsin has allowed opponents to score 10 times in 15 chances (five touchdowns, five field goals), forcing one missed field goal, two interceptions, one turnover on downs, and one other attempt.
Senior linebacker Garret Dooley has been one of the leading individual forces for the Badgers’ defense, spending quite a bit of time in the offensive backfield. Dooley is third in the Big Ten with 4.5 sacks (three solo, three assisted) and is third in tackles for loss with 7.5 (five solo, five assist).
Senior safety Natrell Jamerson and junior linebacker T.J. Edwards are tied with a slew of others to lead the conference in interceptions with two apiece.
Provided Wisconsin is able to run the table in its regular-season slate, it would punch a ticket to the program’s fifth Big Ten championship game appearance in the game’s seven years of existence. The Badgers currently lead the conference in appearances with four and are tied with Michigan State for the most championship game wins (two). Wisconsin represented the Leaders division in two of three seasons and the West in two of seasons.
The Badgers could also very likely participate in a rematch of the 2016 championship, provided No. 3 Penn State (6–0, 3–0) can make it back to the game as well. However, the Nittany Lions have a rough stretch coming up in the following three weeks, as they host Michigan and then travel on back-to-back weekends to Ohio State and then Michigan State. The FPI has Penn State favored against the two teams that call Michigan home, but gives Ohio State a 76 percent advantage in their matchup on Oct. 28.
Ohio State is favored in all of its remaining games, while Michigan State is only favored in four of its remaining seven games, after beating the Wolverines this past weekend.
Against the three front-runners in the East, Wisconsin is 1–2 in the championship game, having only defeated Michigan State in the game’s first playing in 2011. Wisconsin was defeated 59–0 by eventual NCAA champion Ohio State in 2014 and lost 38–31 in last year’s affair against Penn State.
However, Wisconsin seems to be only getting better year after year under Paul Chryst. The Badgers finished 2015 at 10–3 (6–2 Big Ten) and won the Holiday Bowl. They finished 11–3 (7–2) in 2016 and won the Cotton Bowl. Now, they’re off to an undefeated start to 2017.
Dating back to 2016, Wisconsin has won eight straight regular-season Big Ten games. It doesn’t look like the Badgers will be ending that streak in the near future.