Wisconsin moved up four spots in the latest College Football Playoff rankings to No. 8. If the season ended today, that would almost surely mean a trip to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2012. But the season does not end today. Not for the Badgers, at least.
By virtue of winning their fourth Big Ten West title in six seasons, coach Paul Chryst’s team will play one more game — the conference championship game this Saturday against No. 1 and unbeaten Ohio State.
While the game provides a huge opportunity to win their first Big Ten championship in seven years, it also leaves open the very real possibility of a third loss and a likely fall in the playoff rankings. Why does that matter? Well, because the Buckeyes are assured of a spot in the playoff, the Rose Bowl would then choose from the next highest-ranked* Big Ten team.
*There is language in the Rose Bowl’s contract that makes it so they are not forced to pick the highest-ranked team:
“If the next-highest ranked team is in a ‘cluster’ of teams, meaning there is another team or teams from the same conference ranked within several spots of each other, the Tournament of Roses will select the team from that cluster that will result in the best possible matchup for the Rose Bowl Game.”
It’s noted later in the selection procedures part that it is the “strong preference” of the Rose Bowl, Pac-12 and Big Ten Conferences to have the the highest-ranked team a part of the game.
Wisconsin’s biggest competition for the Rose Bowl is Penn State, which is No. 10 in the CFP rankings. The Nittany Lions finished at 10-2 and second in the Big Ten East behind Ohio State. Their two losses came against Minnesota and the Buckeyes.
A close loss to Ohio State on Saturday would seemingly keep the Badgers ahead in the rankings, but if they get blown out for a second time this year by the Buckeyes, their hopes of spending New Year’s in Pasadena could be in trouble.
Obviously, Wisconsin could make all this talk irrelevant by going out and pulling off the monster upset at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Here’s a look at the latest bowl projections:
ESPN.com: Gator Bowl, vs Tennessee/Kentucky
The Athletic: Cotton Bowl, vs Memphis
CBSSports.com: Rose Bowl, vs Oregon
AthlonSports.com: Cotton Bowl, vs Memphis
CollegeFootballNews.com: Cotton Bowl, vs Boise State
USA Today: Citrus Bowl, vs Auburn
247Sports: Outback Bowl, vs Tennessee
WatchStadium.com: Cotton Bowl, vs Memphis