What’s the highest the University of Wisconsin Badgers have ever been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25? The answer is No. 1, in 1952.
After last week’s merciless beating of Nebraska, Wisconsin has a legitimate reason to believe that it will be ranked as the top team in the nation before the BCS title game.
I’m not referring to Heisman hopeful quarterback Russell Wilson, who cannot be stopped. I’m not even referring to the Badgers’ merciless ground game — led by running back Montee Ball — that has been grinding down opponents all season along with RussellManiaXVI.
No, the big reason the Badgers are a legitimate shot to reach No. 1 is their schedule — aside from the fact that this team is insanely good.
There are no such things as easy games in football, or at least that’s what everyone likes to say. But the Badgers seem to have a better draw for a schedule than in recent years, as Wisconsin buried its first (and maybe only) real test this past Saturday.
Wisconsin’s three remaining opponents at home are a combined 7-7. Add that to a Camp Randall crowd, and the Badgers seem to have an opportunity to put up video game numbers against their remaining foes at home.
On the road, the Badgers still must play back-to-back at East Lansing, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio, two places that have not been kind to Wisconsin in recent memory.
Michigan State is still a dangerous team. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is still a dangerous quarterback, backed up by a Spartan defense that allows the second-fewest points per game in the nation.
But Wisconsin will be hungry for revenge. Any animosity that arose from Michigan State’s BCS snub will be decided under the lights in East Lansing. Wisconsin will look to avenge its only regular season loss last season and most likely come out determined to prove that it truly was, and still is, the better team. Although the Badgers received a poor hand in being scheduled to play the Spartans away from home for the second consecutive year, look for Wisconsin to beat Michigan State on the road for the first time since 2002.
Wisconsin will also look to win at Ohio State, where the team has been winless since 2004. Head Coach Bret Bielema is very competitive and loves to embrace a challenge. Bielema will most likely be determined to earn his first win at the Horseshoe, and combined with Ohio State’s eligibility struggles, these factors will be decisive in Wisconsin laying a beat-down.
From there, Wisconsin will face two of the bottom dwellers in the conference, as the Badgers will welcome Purdue to Madison and then travel to play Minnesota on the road. No offense to either of these programs, but as it stands right now, Wisconsin should hang over 50 points on both.
The final two games of the season have the Badgers facing (as of now) a ranked Illinois team in Champaign, Ill., and concluding the season at home against Penn State. Right now, I’ll hold off on saying anything about these games. The conference season is long, so you never know how dangerous either of these teams will be.
As it stands now, the Badgers sit at No. 4 in the AP Top 25 poll. The three teams that are ranked above Wisconsin must face some large tests to remain undefeated this season. While the Badgers have one true ranked foe left to face (Illinois), LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma all have tough roads to travel if they hope to finish the season undefeated.
Examining the three schools ranked ahead of the Badgers, there’s a possibility the No. 1 team in the nation could call Madison home for the first time in over 50 years.
LSU: The nightmares of the Southeastern Conference. Not only do the Tigers play more AP Top 25 teams than the Badgers (four), the Tigers must travel to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5 to battle No. 2 Alabama. The other tough contests for LSU will be against Arkansas, Auburn and this weekend against Florida. Besides the matchup against Alabama, LSU faces all of its ranked opponents in the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium.
Alabama: Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are poised for another championship run, as the team has already beaten three opponents in the Top 25 (Penn State, Arkansas and Florida). Besides having the enormous advantage of playing LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium, they also don’t face another ranked opponent until the end of the season at Auburn. Of the three teams ahead of the Badgers, the Tide seems to have the easiest path to an undefeated season, though playing LSU will be no small feat.
Oklahoma: The Sooners, led by quarterback Landry Jones and wide receiver Ryan Broyles, face No. 11 Texas in the Red River Rivalry at Dallas this weekend. It gets no easier for the Sooners this season, as Oklahoma faces four more Top 25 teams, three away from Norman, Okla. It all culminates Dec. 3, when Oklahoma travels to Stillwater to battle the No. 6 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
When LSU and Alabama play each other, one has to lose. There’s a jump for Wisconsin up one spot. Oklahoma has to beat Texas and Oklahoma State. Somehow, I doubt that happens. Jump another spot. Alabama plays in the SEC, where any team can be upset on any day. Jump another spot.
So there you have it. Simply based on strength of schedule, the Badgers have what appears to be the easiest path remaining to an undefeated season. If the Badgers take care of their own business, it is almost guaranteed that the Badgers will be a lock in the number one spot heading into January.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be watching SEC football for the rest of the weekend.
Nick is a senior majoring in English and history. Think Wisconsin should be number one right now? Is Nick underestimating the strength of the Big Ten? Let him know at [email protected]