9-0 Badgers not fretting over CFP
The undefeated Badgers may face a harsh Playoff reality.
MADISON, Wis. — As he met with reporters last week, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard gave his blunt take on the College Football Playoff picture and Wisconsin’s best path to be one of the four teams left standing in the first week of December.
What did Leonhard think of unbeaten Wisconsin opening at No. 9?
“The biggest thing is it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “You have to continue to take care of your business. That is what we push to these guys every week.
“Having success, the beauty about that is it makes every game bigger. You’ve just got to handle business and in the end see where everything plays out.”
Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) took care of business Nov. 4 by dominating the final 40-plus minutes in a 45-17 victory against Indiana.
Although turnovers and penalties have hampered the offense too often and the Badgers struggled to put away Purdue and Illinois, Paul Chryst’s team has played well enough to avoid being upset.
Ohio State and Penn State, which entered the weekend No. 6 and No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings, were not good enough to do the same.
Ohio State, a 21-point favorite over host Iowa, turned the ball over four times and surrendered 243 rushing yards and 487 total yards in a 55-24 loss.
Penn State, a 10-point favorite at Michigan State, surrendered 400 passing yards and a last-second field goal in a 27-24 loss.
As a result, Wisconsin could jump the Buckeyes (7-2, 5-1) and the Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-1) in the rankings (released after Sports Weekly went to press).
On Nov. 5, two days ahead of the next playoff rankings, the Badgers led all Big Ten teams in the latest media and coaches Top 25 polls. Wisconsin moved up one spot to No. 3 in the Amway Coaches Poll, but dropped to No. 6 in the Associated Press media poll.
Ohio State dropped from No. 3 to No. 11 in both polls. Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa also filled slots below the Badgers in the polls.
Leonhard cautioned that college football can be a volatile sport.
“College football is crazy,” he said. “Things happen every week. Somebody’s getting beat. You’ve just got to focus your guys so you’re not one of those teams.”
So how will the losses by the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions affect Wisconsin’s chances to fin- ish in the top four and qualify for the Playoff?
Remember that this week will mark only the second of six rankings. The final release is set for Dec. 3.
One argument is that the losses, particularly Ohio State’s, will hurt Wisconsin’s chances. The logic is that the Badgers needed to finish the regular season unbeaten and then beat a highly ranked Ohio State team in the Big Ten title game Dec. 3.
Michigan State (7-2, 5-1), No. 24 in the first rankings, now is in control of the Big Ten East race.
“I thought coming into today Wisconsin needed to run the table and beat a highly ranked, one-loss team in the Big Ten title game,” ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer said during halftime of the Southern California-Arizona game. “Now that can’t happen. The Big Ten needs chaos to happen. ... The Big Ten, they need a lot of help if they’re going to make it.”
The counter-argument is that a victory against Iowa (6-3, 3-3), which just demolished Ohio State, would be impressive.
Michigan (7-2, 4-2) isn’t going to win the Big Ten East, but a Wisconsin victory against the Wolverines, too, would still carry some weight with the committee. And what if the Wolverines knock off Ohio State in the teams’ regular-season finale?
Remember that the 2015 Iowa team opened at No. 9 in the rankings but entered the Big Ten title game No. 4.
Only a loss to No. 5 Michigan State kept the Hawkeyes out of the Playoff.
“You have to push through that and understand you’ve got to get better,” Leonhard said. “Every game is bigger than the next one, and it doesn’t matter what the competition is. You get one opportunity on Saturday to get it done, and you’ve just got to continue to find ways to win.”
Leonhard was asked about the possibility that an unbeaten Wisconsin team could finish outside the top four.
“The biggest thing is we can’t change that,” he said. “We don’t have a voice in that room that you can say: ‘Look what we’ve done.’ They’re going to hash that out. As a team, you win. Go undefeated, and let them fight about it. You’ve just got to handle your business week in and week out.”
Safety Joe Ferguson, raising the ball, is congratulated by his Wisconsin teammates after making one of his two interceptions in the victory against Indiana.