This past weekend was one to forget for many University of Wisconsin football fans. The Badgers fell short to Minnesota in a heartbreaking loss, snapping a seven-game winning streak. The defeat not only lost the Badgers a berth to the Big Ten Championship game but has shaken up the potential bowl games Wisconsin could play in.
The Badgers lost all possibility of playing in the Rose Bowl following the loss to Minnesota, as they would have needed a win in the Big Ten title game. The team will have to settle for a less glamorous bowl game this year, though they could still find themselves playing on New Year’s Day.
With the Rose Bowl out of the question, the Badgers’ most likely destination is the Outback Bowl Jan. 1 in Tampa Bay. It’s not the exact outcome UW fans were looking for this year, but it’s not a terrible destination for a Badger team that started the season 1-3.
The Outback Bowl is a Big Ten vs. SEC tie-in, meaning the Badgers’ most likely opponent will be either Arkansas or Kentucky. Both of these teams would be a close, tough matchup for Wisconsin, with Arkansas sitting at 8-4 and Kentucky at 9-3.
Arkansas is coming off a comfortable win against Missouri last week and a near win against currently ranked No. 2 Alabama the week before. On the other hand, Kentucky is on a three-game win streak where each game was won with relative ease.
Arkansas would be the team Wisconsin wants to play as they are letting up 160 rushing yards per game (No. 70 in FBS), compared to Kentucky’s stout front seven that has only allowed 113 rushing yards per game (No. 15 in FBS). Wisconsin is a run-first team and would much rather face a team that has a hard time stopping the running game. Braelon Allen and his offensive line would be able to dominate in the trenches against Arkansas, a team struggling against the run.
Wisconsin does best when Graham Mertz is not forced to pass the ball and the run game can carry the offense. As seen in the Minnesota game, where for the first time Mertz had to throw over 30 times and the offense clearly struggled, only putting up six points with Mertz completing a mere 55% of his attempts. In a matchup against Kentucky, a team with a more stout run defense would look to force the Badgers into a passing offense, one that could lead to a similar outcome as seen in the Minnesota game.
Playing good defense and establishing the run game has been the key to Wisconsin’s success later in the season. With the Badgers’ top 20 running attack and one of the best defenses in the country, they will have the advantage if they play against a weakened run defense. Either way, the Badgers would have a tough matchup facing either SEC opponent in the Outback Bowl.
While it is less likely of a possibility, another destination would be the Las Vegas Bowl for UW. The Badgers would most likely go against Arizona State, due to the Big Ten vs. Pac-12 tie-in. This would be a rematch and revenge game for the Badgers, as they last faced the Sun Devils in a losing effort in 2013.
On paper, the 8-4 Arizona State would be an easier matchup for the Badgers than the SEC matchup that would take place at the Outback Bowl. If the Badgers were to face off against Arizona State in Las Vegas, it could lead to a nice taste of revenge to end the season.
Finally, there is a slight but unlikely chance the Badgers appear in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl for the second consecutive year. Without appearing on New Year’s Day, or even in the warm weather of Vegas, this seems to be the least glamorous of options for the Badgers.
They would most likely face-off with Clemson due to the ACC vs. SEC/Big Ten tie-in. Clemson is coming off a disappointing season by their standards but has finished strong and is looking for a final achievement to cap off the year. This would be a hard-fought game between two teams, both trying to deny each other the satisfaction of ending the season with a bowl victory.
Regardless of where the Badgers land, the team will look to win its bowl game for a second consecutive year after a win against Wake Forest in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl last season. Without a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Badgers and their fans will have to wait and see what bowl game they end up in.
The bowl game selection for Wisconsin will be announced Sunday.