Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, November 8, 2017
If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten title with a 13-0 record, will it make the College Football Playoff? It?s one of the hottest questions on the college grid landscape.
The Badgers are a glistening 9-0, off to their best start since 2004. But they came in just No. 8 in the most recent CFP rankings, behind four one-loss teams and a fellow unbeaten (No. 7 Miami).
As was the case last week, the top four looks like this: No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 Clemson.
Anyway the Badgers can crash the Top Four?
Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez recently said he would be surprised if an unbeaten team from a Power Five conference that won its league title was left out of the four-team playoff, which is in its fourth season.
"I think that would be very difficult to do,? Alvarez told ESPN. "There's no part of me that says if you go undefeated as a Power Five and win your conference championship, and you're not going to be in the final four? I don't see that. That would shock me.
"If you look back at last year, that Washington team's schedule was not that strong. That was discussed, but they were one of the four."
While Alvarez, who served on the College Football Playoff committee for three years, would be surprised if a Wisconsin team with a perfect record and Big Ten title on its resume was left out, others wouldn't be.
First, know this: Just because a team is unbeaten and a league champ, that doesn?t mean it?s one of the four best teams in the nation. Remember: The marching order of the playoff committee is to find the four best teams. What defines ?best?? Many things.
Chief among those is strength-of-schedule. And, frankly, the Badgers? haven?t played a daunting slate.
According to Sagarin, Wisconsin?s strength-of-schedule to-date ranks 68th in the nation. That is the lowest among the Top 12 teams in the most recent CFP rankings.
"They had the lowest strength of schedule," committee chair Kirby Hocutt said Tuesday. "We do not look at one specific strength of schedule metric. We look at a number of strength of schedule metrics, but consistently over the course of all of those metrics we looked at, Wisconsin had the lowest strength of schedule among the 25 teams ranked this week."
The Badgers have played just one team ranked in the current CFB Playoff poll: No. 25 Northwestern, which UW beat by 11. And seven of the nine teams on Wisconsin?s slate at this moment don?t have a winning record.
The Badgers figure to get a bump down the stretch, beginning with the next two weeks when they play host to Iowa and then Michigan. The Hawkeyes are on the rise coming off a huge victory vs. Ohio State. Iowa is No. 20 in the current rankings. And the Wolverines should be 8-2 when they come to Madison.
A win vs. Iowa would clinch the Big Ten West for Wisconsin, setting up a Big Ten title game vs. a likely 10-2 Michigan State or Ohio State squad. And it sure wouldn?t hurt if Wisconsin won-out in impressive fashion.
No doubt, the cause for the Badgers would be helped if there is some chaos ahead of them. And, if there is one thing we typically can count on from college football-it?s chaos.
No. 1 Georgia plays at Auburn this Saturday, while No. 6 TCU is at No. 5 Oklahoma. And No. 3 Notre Dame plays at No. 7 Miami. So, this weekend alone will include attrition among teams ranked ahead of Wisconsin.
Now, here?s when things get interesting for the Big Ten. What if Wisconsin loses down the stretch? Would a one-loss Big Ten champ Badger team make the playoff? Difficult to see that. Would a two-loss Big Ten champ-MSU or OSU-get a bid? Difficult to see that, too. But, who knows?
Bottom line: Sit tight. It?s gonna be a fun ride to the finish for a Wisconsin team that has a lot on the line this month for itself … and the Big Ten.