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Wisconsin football: what, uh, needs to happen the rest of the season for it to be good?

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Can the Badgers still make the Big Ten Championship game? Plus an update on the COVID-19 situation for the football team.

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

As we sit here in the middle of the second straight Saturday where the Wisconsin Badgers haven’t played due to the COVID-19 outbreak that has sidelined dozens of players and staff it is natural to look to the future and potentially happier times. Wisconsin announced Saturday morning that players had returned to “limited conditioning activities” on Friday and planned to do so again on Saturday.

They also noted that active cases are down to 14 (nine players and five staff): “Over the last four days of testing, one student-athlete and one staff member have recorded positive tests for COVID-19. The football program currently has 14 active COVID-19 cases, nine student-athletes and five staff members. Five of those positive results have come in the last seven days. UW Athletics will continue to monitor the testing results closely to determine the football program’s activities moving forward.”

They will give another update on Monday and if the numbers keep going down there is a chance that next weekend’s game against Michigan could be played.

Starting QB Graham Mertz, who was reportedly one of the players who tested positive for the virus, posted this to his Instagram on Saturday, heavily implying that he is back and ready to play.

So, let’s say that the Badgers have gotten their outbreak under control and are able to play next weekend. The games against Nebraska and Purdue are both canceled and will not be made up, can Wisconsin still make the Big Ten Title game? Can they still make a bowl? What about eligibility? Let’s try and answer those questions as easily as possible here!

  • First of all, in terms of eligibility, this year doesn’t “count” for any of the players. There are no game limits for freshmen and, depending on what the team and players decide, seniors could even come back next year. It remains to be seen what the Badgers will do in regards to this as for winter/spring sports that were canceled last year they did not offer the extra year to any of their graduating seniors across any sports.
  • Can they still make a bowl? Sure can! There are no bowl eligibility requirements this year so, uh, technically everyone is eligible. Good news for Nebraska!
  • Now...the B1G Title game. There ARE eligibility rules for this one and that makes the fact that the Badgers appear to be getting their outbreak under control so important. Here are the B1G tiebreaker rules from the conference’s website:

A team must play at least six games to be considered for participation in the championship game. However, if the average number of conference games played by all teams falls below six, with the average rounded up/down at .50 (i.e. 6.50 or greater would round up to 7, 6.49 or less would round down to 6), then teams must play no less than two fewer conference games than the average number of conference games played by all teams (i.e. four games played if the conference average is six) to be considered.

The Badgers had eight games scheduled at the beginning of the season and have canceled two. My advanced statistical analysis tells me that they can not miss another game if they want to be eligible for the B1G Title game.

But, other teams in the conference have been playing these last two weeks and will have more games played then the Badgers. What happens if the Badgers are 5-1 and Northwestern is 7-1? Who goes to Indy? We, again, turn to the B1G tiebreaker rules: “If two (or more) teams have the same number of conference losses but a different number of conference wins, head-to-head results will take precedence over winning percentage, as long as the two (or more) teams meet minimum number of games language noted above.”

So, if the Badgers are going to lose a game, it would be best to do it to a team from the East.

Important Minnesota-only note: “The team or teams with the best winning percentage in all conference games and both championship game participants will earn at least a share of the division championship.:

There a whole bunch of other tiebreaker scenarios that are listed by the Big Ten but what it boils down to is: Wisconsin should win all of their division games they have left (Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern) and they’ll be in pretty good shape if they split their crossover games against Indiana and Michigan.