At this point in the college football season, the contenders and the pretenders have started to separate themselves. Per the norm, there has been a number of major upsets, and conference battles that have shuffled many teams around in the rankings. It is also at the point of the season where television pundits have beaten the topic of the playoff rankings to a pulp, even before the first rankings were released.
If you are a Badger fan, many of the experts have an unhealthy obsession over the Badgers’ weak schedule. In fact, despite being one of four remaining undefeated teams, and holding the number four spot in both major polls, the Badgers were left out of the playoff rankings after their first release on Tuesday, coming in at No. 9. Disclaimer: this is the right move and is justifiable by the committee at this point in the season. Many people will get upset over the fact that Wisconsin will be left out of the rankings, but in the wise words of Aaron Rodgers, Badger fans need to “R-E-L-A-X.” The reality is that until the last week of the season the rankings are essentially meaningless, and if the Badgers continue to win they will get their chance at the playoffs.
First, for any chance of a playoff bid for the Badgers, they need to be undefeated. In going undefeated, and winning the Big Ten, the Badgers would have notable wins over Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan and the Big Ten East champion (likely a top-five Ohio State or Penn State team). Say what you will about their schedule, and not being challenged, but the reality is that there is zero chance that the committee does not select an undefeated Big Ten champion for a playoff spot.
Additionally, the Badgers would not have a loss. Despite, playing a “tougher” schedule, teams like Clemson and TCU have inexcusable losses on their resume, and it would be tough to forget this and justify jumping them over an undefeated Badger team.
Another criticism placed upon the Badgers is their lack of “style points” in victories. This argument relies on the fact that because a team is highly ranked, it can just roll out the helmets and expect their opponent to roll over. However, this is not true, and major upsets happen every weekend in college football. In addition, it is important to remember that Bret Bielema is not walking through that door anytime soon, and the days of dropping 70 points on Purdue and Indiana for no reason are gone.
This argument also relies on the fact that a coach should be looking to run up the score to impress voters. If we know anything about Paul Chryst, it is that style points are the last thing on his mind during a game. With Chryst in charge, the Badgers focus on improving every week and playing their best football by the end of the year. From the way he approaches the game, Chryst sees that the Badger defense will keep them in every game, and therefore, he does not need his offense to be world beaters.
This is evident in his conservative play calling, which helps his young offense minimize mistakes. Although, it is interesting to consider whether he keeps the play calling vanilla to hide some of their more explosive plays for their upcoming opponents. If I were to bet, Chryst has more plays up his sleeve, similar to the Michael Dieter touchdown, that he has not needed to break out, but is saving for the right moment in a key game.
Many experts will argue that the Badgers do not deserve a playoff bid even if they go undefeated because of their underwhelming schedule. However, going undefeated in the Big Ten should not be discredited, and in doing so the Badgers would have significant wins over Northwestern, Michigan, Iowa and a highly ranked Big Ten East team. With this in mind, their resume will not nearly be as bad as the talking heads are currently saying. Due to the mindset instilled by Paul Chryst, Badger players are looking to play their best football in November, when it matters, regardless of how the games look along the way. If you asked anyone around the program, they would likely agree with the legendary quote of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, “just win baby.” With that said, if the Badgers continue to win, there is no way they get left out of the college football playoff.