I don’t think people realize it but 2017 is the most Big Ten year in quite a while. Recently we’ve had years with multiple teams losing only one or two games and usually to each other. Now we’re back in the good old days when suddenly everyone’s got at least one or two losses and a lot of them from unexpected teams.
No one expected Michigan State to be taken out by Northwestern, let alone Iowa taking down not one but two top ten teams. Of course, no one expected the Hawkeyes to absolutely manhandle Ohio State that way either. So now what was perceived as Big Ten’s best two chances to make the College Football Playoffs in Penn State and Ohio State now both have two losses.
But what about Wisconsin?
To be honest, no one really likes to talk about the Big Ten West because it’s not very good. Only Wisconsin and Northwestern having winning conference records and Iowa joining them with overall winning records. When people talk about powerhouse Big Ten teams, they usually aren’t referring to this division.
However, Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team without a loss and currently occupying the number eight spot in the playoff rankings. Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State are lurking in the background at spots 12, 13, 14 but can they catapult themselves back into the race? Michigan State and Ohio State still have to play each other so one of them is for sure out. Penn State has a cakewalk left so not really any chance to impress the playoff committee.
What it boils down to is that as it stands right now, Wisconsin is currently the best chance has to make the College Football Playoffs.
But can they get there?
In terms of getting to the Big Ten Championship, that’s almost a lock. Technically the Badgers only need to win one out of the remaining three games to get to Indianapolis but if only one game is won, this whole thing is probably moot.
Here’s the problem with Wisconsin: the Badgers have beaten no one.
Iowa comes to visit this Saturday and it will be the first ranked team that Wisconsin plays all season, possibly the only ranked team. That’s going to be Wisconsin’s biggest issue. Even if Michigan crawls back into the rankings somehow, the Wolverines are not going to crack the top 20. As of this moment, Wisconsin’s marquee win is Northwestern which will most likely be replaced by a home win against Iowa.
Presumably, the Badgers will make it to the Big Ten Championship but in what shape is their opponent going to be? No one is really quite sure of what to make of the three most likely opponents in Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State. Best case scenario is a 10-2 Michigan State that’s going to have wins over what will now be a devalued Ohio State and Penn State. Will a win over the Big Ten East Champion really carry a ton of weight?
The committee has already shown that undefeated records don’t mean much if you don’t beat anyone. That’s no more obvious than when you take note that there are three teams in the top ten, ahead of Wisconsin, with one loss. There are actually three teams in the top 25 with three losses right now. Three losses!
Right now… I don’t think Wisconsin can make it in and that means the Big Ten is going to get shut out for the first time.
Be honest with yourself for just a moment. Picture Wisconsin in your mind on a neutral field. Now imagine the Badgers playing against Georgia. Or Notre Dame. Or Oklahoma. How many teams in the top ten or even 15 can you look at and go “Yeah, Wisconsin will rough them up.” I personally would say none of them. The Badgers don’t really seem to have that desire or ability to crush those who stand in their path like say a TCU or Oklahoma. Wisconsin is solid but not fantastic.
And to go to the playoffs, let alone win, solid isn’t enough.