The college football season is objectively more exciting than its NFL counterpart.
In the college game, every single week can make, or break, your team’s season. 130 teams compete every year for just a few, coveted premier bowl slots, which means even a single loss can derail any school’s chance at glory. Whether it’s an 11 a.m early-season matchup against a weak, non-conference opponent, or a week-12 battle with your top-ranked rival, they all count the same.
So when the No. 6 ranked Wisconsin Badgers lost a nail-biter at home to the BYU Cougars last Saturday at Camp Randall, Badger fans had every reason to be upset.
It seemed like the season was over before it had even begun. This was supposed to be the year; the year it all came together. The year the Badgers took their game to the next level and could really start competing with the Ohio State’s and Alabama’s of the world.
DOWN GOES NO. 6 WISCONSIN! pic.twitter.com/Ooo2oSwR8f
— ESPN (@espn) September 15, 2018
Calm down Badger nation. The loss was a good thing.
Seriously. Bear with me here.
Ever since the creation of the four-team college football playoff system in the 2014-15 season, losses have started to matter less and less for schools in the Power Five. Now, a single loss (especially one early on in the season) has virtually no effect on a team when it comes to the playoff committee’s discussion in December.
Don’t believe me?
There have been 16 playoff berths awarded in the four years since the current playoff format was implemented. Twelve of those 16 berths were given to a team that had at least one loss during the regular season.
Out of those twelve losses, 8 came against unranked opponents. And out of those 8 losses to unranked opponents, 5 occurred at home.*
Kind of hard to believe right? It’s true. Gone are the days of a loss eliminating a Power Five team from title contention. Instead, it’s all about conference champions, with the playoff committee making a clear effort each year thus far (sans 2017-18) to include four of the five Power Five conferences in their selection.
In fact, the playoff committee has never left out a Power Five conference champion with only a single loss on their regular season schedule.
So in the wise words of Aaron Rodgers….
Now let’s get back to the part about the loss actually being a good thing for the Badgers. Before Saturday, Wisconsin had won 28 straight games against teams outside of the Big Ten East. It was almost like the team was stuck in a rut.
They won the games they were supposed to win, and lost the games they were supposed to lose. It’s not far-fetched to say the program had grown content in their role as kings of the Big Ten West, perennially losing to the ‘bigger’ schools.
The loss to BYU has the potential to change everything.
From now on it’s go-time for the Badgers. There’s no more room for error, and the players know it. After the game on Saturday senior safety and captain D’Cota Dixon made it clear that the loss would motivate them as his team entered the Big Ten regular season.
“The hardest part is seeing the guys’ faces after and trying to accept the loss,” Dixon said. “But it will be fuel. We will make this fuel. I promise you that.”
I find similarities in this Wisconsin team with the 2014-15 Ohio State Buckeyes. In week two of 2014 the Buckeyes lost at home by two touchdowns to an unranked Virginia Tech team. The loss was a wake-up call for the talented squad, who would go on to take care of business the rest of the way, winning games at No. 7 Michigan State and against No. 11 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.
The first time they cracked the top four in the college football playoff rankings was on Dec. 7: the final ranking of the year.
Oh, by the way, after sneaking into the playoff that year, Ohio State would go on to beat No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon en route to the first national championship of the current playoff era.
So while the loss last Saturday hurt for Badger Nation, it’s time now more than ever to get behind your team. With trips to top-ten programs Michigan and Penn State already on the schedule and a potential top-ten showdown in the Big Ten Championship game in December, there’s plenty of opportunities for the Badgers to build their resume and still make the college football playoff.
The season isn’t over folks; far from it.
It’s just getting started.
*This isn’t just SEC bias either. In fact, the five teams (Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon) that combined for these eight losses hail from four of the five Power Five conferences, excluding the SEC.