After their victory over Northwestern and the loss by Nebraska to Ohio State last week, the 7-2 Wisconsin Badgers now control their own destiny in the B1G West for the remainder of the 2016 season. The Badgers, who are ranked No. 7 in both polls, plus are also ranked seventh in the Playoff Rankings, can make it to the B1G Championship Game by winning their last three games of the season versus Illinois (home), Purdue (away) and Minnesota (home).
Wisconsin has been led by their defense all season, especially with the play of their talented group of linebackers. The linebacker play has been stellar all season, even with the loss of inside linebacker Jack Cichy for the season due to a torn pectoral muscle and injuries which have affected both T.J. Watt (shoulder) and Vince Biegel (foot) at outside linebacker.
The Badgers are currently ranked 11th in total defense, fifth in rushing defense and tied for third in scoring defense.
The offense is still a work in progress, especially with Alex Hornibrook, who has six touchdown passes versus seven interceptions for 1,040 yards and Bart Houston, who has three touchdown passes versus three picks for 680 yards, sharing snaps at quarterback, but the ground game is steadily getting better.
In the last four games against Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern, the Badgers have averaged 204.3 yards per game. Corey Clement (805 yards rushing and seven touchdowns) has led the way, as he has averaged 121.5 yards per game in the last four weeks.
The running game has also been bolstered by solid contributions by Dare Ogunbowale (350 yards and two touchdowns) and Bradrick Shaw (227 and two touchdowns).
Wide receiver Jazz Peavy has also been very instrumental in helping out the success of the running game, via the jet sweep and reverse plays, as he has rushed for 175 yards for the season, which included a 46-yard score last week against Northwestern.
Peavy also has 31 receptions for 481 and three touchdowns. Tight end Troy Fumagalli also has 31 catches for 381 yards and a score. Wide receiver Robert Wheelwright has 28 receptions for 388 and one touchdown.
The kicking game of Wisconsin has been a little uneven. The Badgers were very solid at the beginning of the season with Rafael Gaglianone as their placekicker, as he connected on seven field goals in eight attempts. But after a back injury ended Gaglianone’s season, the kicking duties have gone to Andrew Endicott.
Endicott has been a bit inconsistent, as he has made eight out of 13 field goal attempts, plus missed a key extra point in overtime versus Nebraska that fortunately didn’t turn out to hurt the Badgers. The good news is that Endicott has a big leg, plus head coach Paul Chryst shows a lot of confidence in him and is not afraid to give him opportunities in the kicking game.
The punting game was also inconsistent earlier in the season, but lately freshman punter Andrew Lotti has been very good, especially in pinning back opponents inside their own 20.
With the Badgers now being ranked No. 7 in the Playoff Rankings and with a solid chance of playing in the B1G Championship Game, I wanted to get the take of NFL scout Chris Landry about whether the Badgers had a chance to be in the the college playoff if they were able to beat either Michigan or Ohio State for the B1G Championship.
I was able to talk with Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show this past Wednesday.
Before I talked with Landry, he talked with Duemig about the college playoff possibilities.
“I see five teams who control their destiny,” Landry said. “That is, if they win out they are in. They would be Michigan and Ohio State, who will play each other. The winner is going to be in. Alabama, Clemson and Washington are the others. If they win out, they are in.
“There is nothing anyone else can do to jump them in my mind. But when we have a loss by one of those teams, that will open the door for some other possibilities who could jump in.”
When I talked to Landry, I asked if Wisconsin was fortunate enough to defeat either Michigan or Ohio State in the B1G Championship Game, whether they would be in the college playoff.
“As I mentioned about Wisconsin, that if they win out and win the Big Ten title, then no, there are not absolutely in, but are in position,” Landry said. “Now if they do knock off Michigan or Ohio State, then yes [it would be good], but would it absolutely put them over Louisville?
“I would probably think so and would vote [that way]. But you don’t know definitely, which is why I put the five teams where I did who control their destiny, as opposed to teams like Wisconsin, Louisville and Auburn needing a little bit of help.”
But it’s first things first for the Badgers. Step No. 1 is taking care of Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. After that, the Badgers have to take care of business on the road at Purdue and then finish off the season in Madtown in the Paul Bunyan Axe game versus Minnesota.
If the Badgers win all three of those games, then they are in the B1G title game. And no matter who they play in that championship game, it will be a monumental task to get a victory.
But if the Badgers were fortunate enough to win the Big Ten title, like Landry, I would think that would be enough to get them into the Final Four of the college football playoff.