Over the past two weeks I’ve been bullish about the Wisconsin Badgers making the College Football Playoffs. The most recent rankings were released on Tuesday night and I’ve officially switched from “bullish” to “extremely bearish.” Unlike past weeks, a feasible path to the playoffs does not exist for the Badgers. Here’s why:
As expected, the Alabama Crimson Tide are #1 in the most recent playoff rankings. Alabama is a lock to make the playoffs, even if they lose the SEC Title game this Saturday, which they won’t. The Ohio State Buckeyes are right behind them at #2. Ohio State is also a lock for the playoffs because the will not play in the Big Ten Championship game, and thus don’t have an opportunity to lose again. This leaves two spots that are theoretically up for grabs.
The #3 Clemson Tigers play the #23 Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday night for the ACC Title. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Tigers have an 83.9% chance of winning. On Friday night the #4 Washington Huskies will square off against the #8 Colorado Buffaloes for the Pac-12 crown. ESPN gives Washington a 71.7% probability of winning this game. The odds of both Clemson and Washington winning is 60.2%, meaning there 39.8% chance one of them will lose. This not horrible news if you are the #5 team and you hoping to sneak into the top 4. However, it is horrible news if you are the #6 team.
The Michigan Wolverines are the #5 team in the country and will be idle until the bowl season. The Badgers are right behind them at #6, which presents a huge problem for UW because the committee obviously believes Michigan is the better team. This means the Badgers need to throttle #7 Penn State in the Big Ten Championship game to have any hope of leapfrogging the Wolverines. But even if that happens, the Badgers also need Clemson or Washington to lose. And even if Clemson or Washington lose, and Wisconsin beats Penn State 59-0, the committee still might rank UW behind Michigan. That said, being left out of the playoffs is not the worst outcome.
If by some miracle the Badgers make the playoffs they’ll likely play Alabama. As we saw in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the Badgers have a shaky offense. Conversely, the Crimson Tide did not allow a touchdown during the entire month of November. This hypothetical matchup could get very, very ugly for the Badgers. The ideal alternative is that the Badgers beat Penn State in the Big Ten Title Game, advance to the Rose Bowl, and the win the Rose Bowl. Call me crazy, but I would be perfectly happy getting snubbed by the playoff committee and capping one of the finest seasons in Badgers history with a victory in Pasadena.
Though I enjoy writing about scenarios that could lead to a Badgers playoff berth, I get much more enjoyment watching their suffocating defense stymie opponents. With the playoffs pretty much out of the picture all that’s really left to think about is this Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game versus Penn State. It’s hard to imagine a better consolation prize.