The Badgers’ path to a potential championship

David Koier, Courier Staff

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It is tough sometimes to be a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers football program. There are years like 1998 or 1999 where the Badgers win back to back Big Ten Championships and go on to win back to back Rose Bowls.

Then, there are years like 2018 where a week three loss to BYU at home derails thoughts of competing in the College Football Playoff and their season is over before even gaining any momentum. And finally, there are seasons like 2017 where the team wins 12 games for the first time in program history, takes the No. 4 spot in the playoff rankings heading into the Big Ten Championship and loses a close game to Ohio State to shatter those playoff dreams once again.

While none of these seasons saw a championship, they still have one thing in common: none of them were really awful seasons. At the end of the day, the Badgers still made bowl appearances at the end of the season. In fact, the Badgers hold the fifth longest active streak for consecutive bowl games. Wisconsin has made 17 straight bowl games and right now, they are on track to making their 18th.

The No. 6 ranked Badgers are even making a case to once again be in contention for that coveted College Football Playoff. At 6-0, they are No. 1 in the nation in yards per game allowed (173.7), points allowed (29) and points per game allowed (4.8). The Wisconsin defense has scored more touchdowns and have the eighth most points per game scored (42.5).

If that doesn’t convince you, just look at how dominant Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin’s junior running back, is. Taylor ranks third in the nation in total rushing (825 yards) and leads the nation in rushing TDs (14), total touchdowns (18) and total points (108). He also has four receiving touchdowns accompanied by 136 yards.

In the past at this point in the season, rival doubters would throw their “Wisconsin hasn’t played anyone relevant” comments in fans’ faces. The critics have been silent so far as Wisconsin proved they can topple some top teams. Wisconsin has beaten teams such as last year’s Big Ten West Champion Northwestern with a decisive 24-15 victory at Camp Randall. This past Saturday, the Badgers toppled a Michigan State team who had been ranked earlier in the season 38-0. The most decisive victory, however, is when the underdog Badgers defended their home turf against the favorites to win the Big Ten Michigan Wolverines in a 35-14 massacre.

While these few victories and stats paint a picture of domination, there are still six more games left, the majority of which are not going to be cake walks. Let’s take a look at who the Badgers have left on their schedule and how they may fare against their Big Ten opponents.

Illinois (Oct. 19): As much as I hate to get cocky and think of any game as an easy win, this game is about to be that type of game. The Fighting Illini produce only 337.5 yards per game this season, good for third lowest in the Big Ten. Going up against the No. 1 defense in the nation won’t be easy, especially when the team was only able to produce 20 points in their 49-20 loss last season. The Badgers go 7-0 after traveling to Champaign this weekend.

Ohio State (Oct. 26): When I mentioned earlier that the rest of the season wasn’t going to be a cake walk, this is what I was talking about. Ohio State has always been the kryptonite to Wisconsin’s Superman. The Badgers haven’t beaten Ohio State since Wisconsin upset then-ranked No. 1 OSU 31-18. From 2011 on it’s been all Buckeyes. In fact, the Buckeyes are 59-18-5 against Wisconsin all-time. This season the team, led by the power duo of J.K. Dobbins and Justin Fields, are 6-0 with decisive victories over Michigan State and Nebraska. It’ll be a tough battle in Columbus as two dominant defenses will duke it out for what will be a preview for the Big Ten Championship game.

Iowa (Nov. 9): Iowa, while only 4-2 this season, usually picks up some big wins late in the season. The Hawkeyes haven’t put up above average statistics this season, but their two losses were close matchups with Michigan and Penn State. However, with the game being held at Camp Randall in Madison, it looks like Wisconsin should be able to take this one.

Nebraska (Nov. 16): Like Iowa, Nebraska isn’t a bad team. The historic program just hasn’t been able to produce consistently in the past few years. After losing handsomely to Minnesota last week and being steamrolled by Ohio State two weeks prior, it doesn’t look like Nebraska is destined to win against the best defense in the nation.

Purdue (Nov. 23): Purdue isn’t looking like the competing program of old. The Boilermakers currently sit at 2-4 overall and 1-2 in conference. With this game taking place at senior day in Madison, the either undefeated or one-loss (depending on how Ohio State goes) Badgers will be pushed hard by their seniors to make sure their last game in Madison is a huge W.

Minnesota (Nov. 30): The Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. On Nov. 24, 2018, Wisconsin’s 5,495 day (15 year) streak of not losing to the Minnesota Golden Gophers came to an end. The Gophers took the Axe. This year’s matchup sends the game to Minneapolis, and the currently ranked No. 20 Gophers aren’t looking to relinquish the Axe any time soon. With this the final game of the regular season, if the Badgers are still undefeated or have one loss, the Playoff contenders are going to look to clean house and take the Big Ten West.

The only team that really poses a threat to Wisconsin making the playoff happens to be the one team that has kept them out of it all these years, the Ohio State Buckeyes. However, if the Badgers only loss in the regular season is the top four ranked Buckeyes, they still should stay top 10 and in contention for the Playoff. As long as they can beat Ohio State to win the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers are shoo-ins for the Playoff.

All Wisconsin fans can do now is sit back and enjoy what may be one of the most dominant college football defenses in recent years wreak havoc.

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