At long last, the drought is over.
The trap game to end all trap games was finally conquered Saturday by the Wisconsin Badgers, as they marched into the Mystical Realm of Evanston and emerged victorious for the first time since 1999.
It was a huge win for Wisconsin that marked the end of a brutal portion of its schedule. The victory moved the Badgers to 7-2 on the season and 4-2 in conference play, and they now control their own destiny in the Big Ten West, thanks to Nebraska’s loss to Ohio State later that night.
All that remains in the way of a trip to Indianapolis is games against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota, with only the matchup against the Boilermakers coming on the road. In a season where the prevailing expectation for the Badgers was to finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-5 or 8-4 due to their incredibly difficult schedule, the fact that they are staring down the barrel of a 10-2 regular-season record and a division title is absolutely remarkable.
Not only that, but Wisconsin is still in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff as well. If the Badgers win out and then also win the Big Ten Championship Game — presumably against Michigan or Ohio State — it seems very likely that they would earn a spot in college football’s final four. It would make them the first two-loss team included in the College Football Playoff in its brief history. However, enough teams have lost around them, they would be a conference champion in this hypothetical scenario and they have endured one of the toughest schedules in the entire country. It’s hard to imagine that the committee would pick an 11-1 team that didn’t win its conference over an 11-2 Big Ten champion Wisconsin.
Of course, that’s the best-case scenario for the Badgers and there is a lot of football left to be played. Though even if they win their remaining three regular-season contests and then lose the Big Ten Championship Game — ideally by a score closer than 59-0 — they would almost certainly still earn a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, likely either the Rose Bowl or the Orange Bowl.
To get to this point, Wisconsin first had to exorcise its Ryan Field demons this past Saturday.
For whatever reason, Northwestern has given the Badgers fits in recent years. Before Saturday, the Wildcats had won six of the team’s 10 meetings since the turn of the millennium. That includes all four games played in the Mystical Realm of Evanston, where up is down, left is right, logic is thrown out the window and chaos reigns supreme. And then there was last year’s fiasco in Madison, where Northwestern escaped with a 13-7 win after a Jazz Peavy touchdown was overturned when the officials determined that he hadn’t secured the ball for a catch, apparently.
The Badgers finally got it done against the Wildcats, even though it wasn’t the prettiest at times.
Wisconsin dominated the first half, yet only took a 10-7 lead into the locker room. The defense surrendered a late touchdown drive and UW squandered a chance to respond with points when Paul Chryst decided to go for his degree at the Bret Bielema School of Clock Management.
Though at halftime it felt like the Badgers might be in for another bizarre loss at Ryan Field, they were able to hold on for the win.
Now comes the easy portion of their schedule. Obviously nothing is ever a guarantee in college football in November, especially with the coaching staff’s fixation on deploying both Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston at random points in the game, but Wisconsin’s chances of finishing the regular season on a five-game winning streak are high.
Heading into the season, it really wasn’t that hard to envision a worst-case scenario where the Badgers could’ve been entering this stretch just fighting to reach bowl eligibility. Instead, they sit in the driver’s seat in the race for the Big Ten West and still have an outside shot at a spot in the College Football Playoff. Make sure to take a moment and realize how amazing that is.