Badgers football: Wild weekend gives 7th-ranked Wisconsin even more hope of College Football Playoff spot
As Iowa kicker Keith Duncan was finishing off the fifth upset of a top-10 team during college football’s wild Saturday, the path for the University of Wisconsin to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff became more viable than ever.
His 33-yard boot on the final play of the game sent the Hawkeyes to a victory over third-ranked Michigan, just hours after No. 2 Clemson and No. 4 Washington also suffered their first loss of the season. It was the first time in more than 31 years that the Nos. 2-4 teams all lost on the same day.
“It can’t hurt,” UW outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “I don’t think it could hurt when other teams are losing that are ahead of us.”
Following a 48-3 win over Illinois, the Badgers remained at No. 7 in the third edition of the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night — behind Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson, Louisville and Washington — but consider how the landscape has changed for UW from a few days ago.
Penn State arguably now has the best odds of winning the Big Ten East Division if Ohio State beats Michigan in Columbus next week. The Wolverines may be without starting quarterback Wilton Speight following a report that he broke his collarbone at Iowa on Saturday, which makes that scenario all the more likely.
The Nittany Lions, while currently ranked No. 8, could be an easier match-up than Ohio State or Michigan would provide for UW, which only needs to defeat Purdue on Saturday and Minnesota next week to win the Big Ten West division.
Washington’s loss helps more directly, as the Huskies needed to lose a game for the two-loss Badgers to have a shot at finishing higher in the rankings.
“Even if those teams won, we know that if we take care of what we have to take care of, we can be in a good situation,” UW running back Dare Ogunbowale said. “We’ve been doing a good job and Coach (Paul) Chryst has been doing a good job of making sure that we stay focused week to week and being in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future.”
Of course, there are still no guarantees of a coveted playoff spot if UW wins its next three games and becomes the Big Ten champions.
If Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State all win out but Penn State becomes the Big Ten East winner, the committee’s decision for the fourth and final playoff spot could come down to the UW-Penn State winner versus Washington or a one-loss Louisville team that is currently set to miss out on the ACC Championship game.
Louisville and Washington, at No. 5 and 6 respectively, remain higher in the rankings at the moment, but an extra win in the Big Ten Championship game against a top-10 opponent could convince the committee to jump the Badgers or Nittany Lions ahead of the Cardinals or Huskies.
“The way I’m viewing it is, we win out the rest of the season, we get to a Big Ten Championship and we know we’re going to play another great opponent,” UW wide receiver Jazz Peavy said. “We win that game and then hopefully that opens the door for the playoffs for us, but, I mean, for now we’re focused on one week at a time.”
Plenty of other scenarios could still play out if UW continues to win.
Michigan still controls its path to the Big Ten title game, and a surprising Penn State loss to either Rutgers or Michigan State over the next two weeks could put Ohio State back in the mix.
If Louisville and Washington lose a second game, it could erase any doubt of whether the Badgers will earn a playoff spot by winning the conference championship.
Right now, that’s all UW can do — keep winning and see what happens.
“Control what you can control,” UW cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “I can’t control what the 12 committee members decide who’s ranked such and such this week. The biggest thing is, right now, the goal is to win this week, win Minnesota week and hopefully that puts us in a position to go to Indianapolis. That’s the goal as of right now. The rest of it, as far as if we do make it to the College Football Playoff, will take care of itself.”