After the gut-wrenching loss to Brigham Young University, it’s easy to see how one could assume that the Badger’s season was over just as quickly as it began. A third-week loss to an unranked, non-conference opponent is not what usually comes to mind when thinking of a potential playoff season. But despite the numerous people outside Camp Randall loudly auctioning off the rest of their season tickets last week, it’s not time to give up on the Badgers yet.
Losing is certainly not the optimal road to where the team and fans hoped this season would end up. Yet Wisconsin, if they were to make it to the playoff this season, would certainly not be alone in having a shocking loss on their record. Surprisingly enough, there is a clear precedent of power five teams with one significant blemish on their record still winning over the playoff selection committee.
Both No. 1 Clemson and No. 3 Georgia entered last year’s playoff with losses to teams that, on paper, they should’ve wiped the floor with. In a week five match up against the 2-2 Iowa State Cyclones, Oklahoma suffered an embarrassing away-loss that had the potential to ruin their playoff hopes. Similarly, Clemson fell short of defeating an unranked Syracuse in week seven — Syracuse was just 3-3 at the time.
Clemson and Georgia fought their way back into playoff contention by winning. Most importantly, they won convincingly. Both teams went undefeated for the rest of their seasons, including a combined total of five wins against Top 25 opponents. With solid wins to back up the strength of their respective rosters, both teams were able to overcome their mid-season sore spots.
Perhaps the best example of why the Badgers still control their own destiny is one that came at the expense of the Badgers themselves. During the inaugural playoff season in 2014, a promising Ohio State team was stunned at home by Virginia Tech. Everyone remembers the loss, but ultimately that year in college football was marked by the Buckeye’s comeback. The Ohio State was able to claw their way back by going undefeated for their season. Their pre-playoff season was capped by a 59–0 victory over the Badgers that propelled the Buckeyes to the playoff and, ultimately, a national title.
While bringing up this bitter memory may not seem comforting, it shows that the Badger’s path to the playoff is still right in front of them. It won’t be easy by any means, but it never was going to be in the first place. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin must win every regular season game with conviction, then they have to bring it to an undefeated Big 10 East champion in Indianapolis.
This is no doubt a tall order for a team that hasn’t looked its best in the opening four weeks. However, if Wisconsin is able to cap a one-loss season with a win over a strong Eastern champion, it will be extremely difficult for the selection committee to deny them a chance to compete for a national title.