At the beginning of the season, ranked No. 12 in the preseason AP Poll with a year under the belt of quarterback Graham Mertz, Wisconsin fans had visions of a playoff berth.
While the season started in disappointing fashion with a 16-10 loss to Penn State and a win against Eastern Michigan and a bye week haven’t built back up that excitement, don’t let your hope die. Keep the faith.
Penn State’s start to the season has propelled the Nittany Lions to No. 6 and a top-10 win by Iowa over Iowa State has the Badgers with an outside glimmer of College Football Playoff hope. Let’s get wild.
The Path to the College Football Playoff
Wisconsin wins out (obviously)
Wisconsin’s path to the playoff obviously requires Wisconsin to win out. The Badgers have three ranked teams on the schedule in No. 12 Notre Dame, No. 19 Michigan and No. 5 Iowa, along with Illinois, Army, Purdue, Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Wisconsin obviously needs to win the rest of its games for a shot at the playoff. A two-loss Big Ten West team isn’t making the playoff. But that’s very do-able.
Notre Dame has looked shaky in three wins so far, Michigan and Iowa have to come to Camp Randall and the Badgers are better than the rest of their opponents, though the Big Ten slate is never an easy one.
There’s a lot of season left, and a lot of time to wipe away 14 spots from the team’s current ranking, assuming the CFP Selection Committee’s views of the Badgers are similar to those of the AP voters. The first CFP rankings come out on Nov. 2.
On Nov. 2, the Badgers will hope to be coming off a top-10 win over Iowa, with a chance to re-insert themselves into the CFP conversation. Here’s how we get there:
Iowa wins every game but Wisconsin (and maybe Penn State)
Wisconsin’s only real chance for a regular season top-10 win is a home game against Iowa on Halloween weekend. By that point, Iowa will have played No. 6 Penn State, so one of the teams will drop a few spots, but it’s not likely that one loss to the Nittany Lions would send the Hawkeyes spiraling down the rankings more than four or five spots.
The Hawkeyes do need to win the rest of their games, however, as they don’t play any other ranked teams the rest of the year. A 7-0 or 6-1 Hawkeyes team at Camp Randall is a big win, and one that could see Wisconsin claim a spot in the top 10 spots of the rankings, provided the Badgers see out wins against No. 12 Notre Dame, No. 19 Michigan, Illinois, Army and Purdue.
Penn State wins out until the Big Ten Championship Game (or loses once to Iowa)
Penn State’s grind-it-out win against a disappointing Wisconsin team in the season opener and a defeat of ranked Auburn last week propelled the Nittany Lions up the AP rankings to No. 6.
The Nittany Lions face an extremely difficult Big Ten schedule coming up, with No. 5 Iowa on Oct. 9, No. 10 Ohio State on Oct. 30, No. 19 Michigan on Nov. 13 and No. 20 Michigan State on Nov. 27. All but Michigan are on the road.
An undefeated Penn State goes into the Big Ten College Football game No. 5 in the country at worst, as Penn State faces Iowa on Oct. 9. Avenging their season-opening loss over Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game would put the Badgers in position to crash the College Football Playoff party.
However, that’s a big ask of Penn State. That’s a lot of big road games to win, whereas Iowa just has the two ranked matchups, with one at home and the other being Wisconsin.
If you don’t have faith in Penn State going into Columbus and getting a win at the Shoe, or beating both Michigan squads, start cheering for the Hawkeyes.
If you believe in Penn State, the best path for Wisconsin is for the Nittany Lions to win out.
Potentially: Ohio State wins out and faces Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game
Ohio State, despite not being as dominant as usual through three weeks, will likely still play a big factor in the Big Ten season.
The Buckeyes currently sit 10th in the AP Poll, and could make a move up the rankings with a couple of big wins. I wouldn’t count the Badgers out if they won the rest of their games and finally conquered Goliath, a Buckeyes team that has beaten Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game three times, twice in heart-breaking fashion and once in a good old fashioned Buckeye beatdown.
A one-loss Wisconsin team with wins over Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State has a chance to make the playoff. There’s the possibility that two SEC teams get in, one being the conference champion and the other being a one-loss team, but that has only been the case once since the CFP’s introduction.
A one-loss Big Ten champion has always made the playoff with the exception of 2018-19, when Notre Dame got in as an undefeated independent. Wisconsin can dash those hopes this weekend with a win.