Mondays with Rasty: Chaos in Week 10 could help Badgers

Clement dashes toward the end zone in Wisconsin's blowout victory over Illinois. 

Image By: Jessi Schoville

While most of the college football landscape descended into sheer chaos this past weekend, the Badgers held serve at home in convincing fashion.

A Wisconsin football team beating an Illinois team coached by Lovie Smith isn’t exactly uncharted territory. But UW fans haven’t experienced many low-stress wins over clearly inferior opponents due to the team’s meat grinder of a schedule. The Badgers ran the ball at will, neither Alex Hornibrook nor Bart Houston made any colossal mistakes and the defense remained stout in a 48-3 drubbing of the Fighting Illini.

It was a very solid victory for the Badgers, but what transpired across the country surely grabbed the attention of Wisconsin fans (and all other college football fans for that matter).

Three top-five teams—No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington-—all fell victim to November college football chaos on Saturday, opening the door to a myriad of possibilities in the College Football Playoff discussion. A nightmarish scenario could be awaiting the CFP committee at the end of the regular season, with Wisconsin possibly playing a starring role.

Of Saturday’s upsets, obviously Michigan’s loss is the one that could have the most direct effect on Wisconsin. Naturally, it was Kirk Ferentz, the college football coach equivalent of a stamp collection, and the Hawkeyes that took down Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines. There could be no other way.

While the loss was obviously a setback for Michigan, it still controls its own destiny to the Big Ten Championship Game. However, if the Wolverines fall to Ohio State in Columbus, Iowa’s win has created the opportunity for Penn State to win the Big Ten East. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes need the Nittany Lions to lose to either Rutgers or Michigan State to have any shot at a trip to Indianapolis.

Thanks to this past weekend’s chaos, the Badgers’ chances of winning the Big Ten shot up from 15.7 percent to 36.4 percent, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). As of now, FPI has Wisconsin as the slight favorite to capture the conference crown.

The reason for this is fairly simple: The Badgers only need to beat Purdue and Minnesota to win the Big Ten West, games in which they’re the clear favorite. Meanwhile, Penn State will be heavily favored against both the Scarlet Knights and the Spartans and FPI favors Ohio State against Michigan. Therefore, Wisconsin-Penn State is the likeliest matchup in the Big Ten Championship Game, a game where the Badgers would be the favorite.

So what does this all mean for Wisconsin’s College Football Playoff hopes? It could actually end up being significant.

If Wisconsin were to beat either Michigan or Ohio State in a rematch in Indianapolis, the Badgers would almost certainly earn a spot in the playoff, no questions asked. An 11-2 Wisconsin team that won the Big Ten title after enduring one of the toughest schedules in all of college football and then redeeming one of those two losses would have to be in. However, there is a chance that wouldn’t be the case if they were to beat Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

One hypothetical scenario: Alabama wins out to go 14-0 with an SEC title, Clemson wins out to go 13-1 with an ACC title, Washington wins out to go 13-1 with a Pac-12 title, Wisconsin wins out and beats Penn State to go 11-2 with a Big Ten title and Ohio State sits at 11-1 but with no division title.

In the aforementioned scenario, I think it’s clear that Alabama and Clemson would both be locks, while the committee would have to decide to fill the final two spots between Washington, Wisconsin and Ohio State. My guess would be Washington gets in and the decision ultimately comes down to the Badgers and the Buckeyes for the right to get steamrolled by Alabama.

So who gets the call? My prediction would be Wisconsin, but I say that with almost no confidence at all. The committee seems to place a pretty heavy emphasis on conference titles, but we only have two years of data to work with and this would be a tough test of that standard.

Wisconsin’s résumé would be an 11-2 record, a Big Ten title, wins over LSU, Nebraska and Penn State and seven-point losses to Ohio State and Michigan. Ohio State’s résumé would be an 11-1 record, wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan but no division title. It would boil down to the Buckeyes having the edge in quality wins and the head-to-head against Wisconsin, while the Badgers would have a Big Ten title to their advantage.

Would style points matter? Wisconsin got a glimpse firsthand of what a blowout victory can do to a team’s playoff résumé in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game, where Ohio State won 59-0 on its way to a national title. So the margin of victory might matter in each team’s final games.

Of course, this is just one hypothetical scenario for the College Football Playoff. There are countless others, many that include Wisconsin and many that don’t. The Badgers could get stunned by Minnesota or lose to Penn State in Indianapolis and render the whole thing moot for Wisconsin fans. There’s still a ton of games left to be played, and nothing is guaranteed in college football, especially in November.

That said, it looks like the College Football Playoff might be embroiled in controversy this year, and the Badgers could be at the center of it all.

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