Same old plan for Wisconsin, same old result

MADISON – For Wisconsin, everything is about blocking out noise from the outside and sticking to their plan. While it has many twists, and turns along the way, the plan hasn’t failed the Badgers to this point, and it didn’t Saturday when the Michigan Wolverines visited Camp Randall, either.

The Badgers have been a team that hasn’t always looked superior to their opponents, even though they have been the better team each and every week on the field. They’ve dealt with slow starts and costly turnovers but found a way to overcome them with strong second halves and outstanding defense.

That’s exactly what they did against Michigan. The Wolverines came in and thoroughly outplayed Wisconsin in the first half. They had 169 yards in the first half compared to only 99 for Wisconsin. The Wolverines fell victim to either bad luck, or carelessness with the football, depending on your viewpoint.

In the second quarter, Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters threw a fade to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones in the left corner of the north end zone on second down. The play was called incomplete on the field. Moments later, the replay booth signaled down for a second look at the play. Upon further review, the call was upheld, forcing Michigan to try things again on third-and-goal from the five. Whether or not the replay officials got the call correct is subject for debate.

On the next play, Peters scrambled to his left, tucked the ball and attempted to reach the end zone himself. Wisconsin linebacker Leon Jacobs not only made sure that Peters wasn’t going to reach the end zone, but that Michigan had blown their chance at putting points on the board. He knocked the ball out of the signal-callers’ hands, and defensive back Derrick Tindal fell on the ball at Wisconsin’s own one-yard-line.

To that point, Wisconsin had been unable to generate any offensive momentum, and Michigan had just moved the 35 yards down the field on three plays.

Michigan was able to continue their momentum on the next drive offensively with a seven-play, 84-yard touchdown drive after they forced Wisconsin to punt thanks to a replay going in their favor after a Danny Davis catch on third-and-14 was overturned.

After that touchdown, Wisconsin was content to go in to halftime with a 7-7 tie. After the break, they looked like an entirely different team. This has been the recipe for the Badgers all season. Stay afloat in the first half, and dominate in the second half.

“I just think it’s starting to get a better feel for your opponent, I think that’s part of it,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said after the win. “I think we just gain confidence as games go on. You get a better feel for what the team you’re going against is doing defensively. I think we’re doing a good job of gaining confidence as the game goes by.”

The kicker against Michigan was that they weren’t dominant from the start of the third quarter. Wisconsin opened up with back-to-back three-and-outs. On the third possession of the half quarterback Alex Hornibrook fired a pass across the middle of the field that was picked off by Michigan’s Devin Bush deep inside of Wisconsin territory.

Wisconsin has played eight Big Ten games and there have been two constants about them, they have won them all, and Hornibrook has thrown at least one interception in each of them. This was the first bad mistake he made on the day, and it came at a critical time.

Luckily for the Badgers, their defense continued to do what they have done all season, stand up in a tough situation. After Michigan took over at Wisconsin’s 29-yard-line, they were only able to gain eight yards before kicker Quinn Nordin nailed a 39-yard field goal.

While it wasn’t the ideal scenario, it went down as a win for the Badgers. It was at that moment the momentum seemed to flip, and things clicked for Hornibrook.

“I was really proud of the stop that the defense made,” head coach Paul Chryst said after the game.

When Wisconsin got the ball back, they trailed 10-7. This was their first deficit in the second half of a game since trailing Northwestern 10-7 to start the third quarter in their Big Ten opener, on September 30.

That lead for the Wolverines lasted for a whopping 3:05 on the game clock. Hornibrook masterfully constructed a seven-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that culminated on a 24-yard touchdown to A.J. Taylor. Throughout the drive Hornibrook made throws he hadn’t previously on the day, including a 51-yard bomb to Taylor on third-and-13.

“We’re resilient, for two-and-a-half quarters it wasn’t going our way,” Deiter said. “We were stalled and we weren’t doing a whole lot but I just think we kept battling and made plays go later in the game.”

Those were moments Hornibrook needed to step up, and he did. He continued the momentum from that drive when Wisconsin got the ball back after forcing another three-and-out. The Badgers went 61 yards over five plays and scored again on a Kendric Pryor 32-yard end around to grasp control of the game and led 21-10.

“Quarterbacks they have the most pressure on the team,” Pryor said about Hornibrook. “They get praised when they’re good and anytime they do something wrong, they’re always the first ones to get blamed when something goes wrong. With him, just forgetting he threw the interception. So what, he forgot about it, came back and made those big time passes down the field. It’s great when your quarterback can do that because we all just trust in him. Trust what he sees and we just play off of him.”

Wisconsin’s defense continued to turn up the heat, only allowing one first down by Michigan’s offense the rest of the afternoon. The Wolverines gained 23 yards of offense in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. A true testament to Wisconsin’s defense.

After taking the lead, Wisconsin never turned back, and they haven’t all season.

Path to the playoffs for the CFP top 10

MADISON – When the College Football Playoff Committee released their newest rankings on Tuesday night the Wisconsin Badgers got good news. They moved up from eighth to fifth after their 38-14 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Part of the reason the Badgers were able to make the three-spot jump was due to three matchups between teams in the top 10 last weekend. The then No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs were defeated at then No. 10 Auburn 40-17, then No. 3 Notre Dame was dominated in Miami 41-8, and then No. 5 Oklahoma pounded then No. 6 TCU 38-20.

The result of those games had a major influence on how the newest rankings looked. Auburn, Georgia, and Notre Dame fall directly behind the Badgers, clearing the way for Wisconsin to control their own destiny.

While Wisconsin will still have rooting interests to grab the highest seed possible, the fact of the matter is that thanks to last weekend, there is little to no chance that Wisconsin will be left out of the College Football Playoff if they finish the season with a perfect 13-0 record and are Big Ten Champions.

There are a number of different scenarios that could play out, and more chaos certainly could consume the college football world as the regular season winds down. It’s hard to completely eliminate teams, but common thought is that any team currently below No. 9 Ohio State has a best-case scenario of a New Year’s Six Bowl.

Since Wisconsin essentially controls their own destiny, there isn’t as much of a clear rooting guide like last week. Instead, here’s a look at the potential playoff path for the top 10 teams including Wisconsin.

1. Alabama – The Crimson Tide are completely in control of their own destiny being one of the three Power-5 teams still unbeaten, along with Wisconsin and Miami. Looking at their upcoming schedule they play an FCS school this week in Mercer, and then close out the regular season against Auburn. In college football, it’s always ill-advised to assume anything, but an Alabama loss to Mercer would be one of, if not the biggest, upsets in the history of college football. For the sake of this writing, that game is going to considered an Alabama win. They’ll then take on Auburn in the Iron Bowl to close out the regular season. A win against the Tigers would put them in the SEC Championship game to take on Georgia. If they lose to Auburn, the Tigers would advance and play for the conference against Georgia and things would get very interesting. Would a single loss be enough to knock the Crimson Tide out of the playoff? This writer isn’t so sure. It might take two losses to eliminate them completely from the playoff picture. A win against Mercer would cement that Alabama would head into the bowl season with no more than one loss, and all but clinch their place in the semi-finals.

VERDICT: Winning against Mercer likely clinches their place in the playoffs, beating Auburn definitely does. A one-loss Alabama would not be left out.

2. Clemson – The Tigers have one of the more impressive resumes in college football, with wins over Auburn, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and Louisville. The Tigers aren’t perfect, however, as they lost on the road to Syracuse, a team currently below .500. The committee placing them at No. 2 this week sets them up in a great position moving forward. They control their own destiny, and depending on the rest of the landscape, could sneak in with two losses. Moving forward, they face FCS foe The Citadel this weekend before taking on South Carolina in the final week of the regular season. They’ll then square off with Miami in the ACC Championship game.

VERDICT: Winning out gives Clemson a berth in the playoffs, losing the ACC Championship game to Miami in a close game may not knock them out, either.

3. Miami – The Hurricanes just put on one of the more impressive performances of the season, thoroughly dominating Notre Dame for 60 minutes last Saturday. That vaulted them up from No. 7 to No. 3, and deservedly so. Miami had played a relatively weak schedule prior to their matchup with Virginia Tech two weeks ago, but in their first two matchup ups with ranked opponents they’ve outscored them 69-18 in back-to-back weeks. They should be able to defeat Virginia and Pitt to head into the ACC Championship game 11-0.

VERDICT: If Miami wins out and beats Clemson in the ACC Championship they’re a lock, as they should be. If they lose to Clemson things get interesting, but the ACC could potentially have two teams make the playoffs in that scenario.

4. Oklahoma – The Sooners have somehow flown under the radar. In the past two weekends, they’ve defeated Oklahoma State and TCU by double-digits and have the leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman Trophy. They also boast a double-digit win on the road against Ohio State this season. Baker Mayfield has been outstanding, and the offensive side of the ball is one of the most explosive in the country. Sure, the defense leaves something to be desired, but their resume is stronger than given credit for.

VERDICT: Win the Big 12 and they’re in. If they lose a game things get really dicey for the Sooners, but their head-to-head win over Ohio State could loom large at the end of the season.

5. Wisconsin – The Badgers aren’t given much credit for navigating their schedule flawlessly thus far. They’ve lined up every Saturday and defeated their opponent. It hurts them that their opponents haven’t been great to date, but going unbeaten is a challenge, nonetheless. Their dominating victory of Iowa last week definitely helped their cause, and doing something similar to Michigan this weekend would help as well. Their path is very cut and dry. Win the Big Ten and they’re in.

VERDICT: Finish 13-0 as Big Ten Champions and they’re in the playoffs, no matter what else happens. If they lose one of their three remaining games they’re out due to their schedule strength.

6. Auburn – Auburn is the highest ranked two-loss team, and deservedly so. Their losses come on the road to Clemson and at LSU. On the flip side, they’ve looked dominant in nearly all of their wins. That includes last weekend’s 40-17 thrashing of then No. 1 Georgia. Looking ahead, they finish the regular season with Louisiana-Monroe and the Iron Bowl against Alabama. If they win those two games it will place them in a rematch with Georgia for the SEC Championship.

VERDICT: If Auburn wins their final two regular season games and beats Georgia in the SEC Championship game they’ll have one of the most impressive four week stretches in recent memory and will likely become the first team to reach the playoffs with two losses.

7. Georgia – Georgia has looked dominant all-season long. They had one of the best wins in the country by defeating Notre Dame in South Bend in September and had won the rest of their games by double-digits. The Bulldogs deserved to be the No. 1 team in the country until Auburn hosted them and took them to the woodshed last weekend. While the loss was bad, it doesn’t totally eliminate them from the playoffs. They’ve already clinched the SEC East and will play for the SEC Championship against the Iron Bowl winner. It’s vital that they take care of business against Kentucky and Georgia Tech in impressive fashion first, however.

VERDICT: If Georgia wins the SEC Championship game, they will likely find themselves in. Their hope should be that it’s a rematch against Auburn and they can avenge the beat-down they were just served. One bad loss shouldn’t wipe away a full season of dominance.

8. Notre Dame – The Irish are quite the longshot to reach the playoffs this season after getting crushed by Miami last weekend. While, like Georgia, that bad loss shouldn’t wipe away a season full of impressive wins, it does make things extremely complicated for them to reach the playoffs. To close out the year Notre Dame hosts Navy and then travels to Palo Alto to take on Stanford in the final week of the season. Having two losses and no 13th data point in the form of a conference championship game really makes this tough to envision Notre Dame playing in anything but a New Year’s Six Bowl.

VERDICT: Using the word eliminated seems a little strong for this writer, but Notre Dame reaching the playoffs would likely require two losses by Georgia, Miami losing their final three games, and potentially some other chaos while the Irish win out.

9. Ohio State – No team ranked below No. 9 in the third edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings has made the playoffs. The Buckeyes are lucky to be ranked as high as they are two weeks after losing by 31 on the road to an unranked Iowa team. If they win their final two games against Illinois and Michigan they’ll be squaring off with Wisconsin for the Big Ten Championship game. Winning that would be nice, but Ohio State would still need a lot of things to fall their way, as they wouldn’t be the team with the most impressive two-loss resume.

VERDICT: For Ohio State to make the playoffs they need to look like the best team in the country over the final three weeks, and have a major upset happen elsewhere. Even if Clemson, Miami, Georgia, or Alabama all lose in the final three weeks, as long as they’re not blown out, there is no reason the Buckeyes should jump them.

10. Penn State – The Nittany Lions close out the top 10, and it’s awfully difficult to envision them making the playoffs. They’re all but locked out of the Big Ten Championship game due to their losses against Ohio State and Michigan State. They close the season against Nebraska and Maryland, and neither of those wins will do enough to vault them over any other teams in the top 10.

VERDICT: This writer cannot foresee a scenario in which Penn State makes the playoffs. It was previously stated in this writing that using the word eliminated seemed a little strong. The Nittany Lions are in fact eliminated. If anything, they could get jumped by a team outside the top 10.

Leon Jacobs wins Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week

MADISON — Wisconsin linebacker Leon Jacobs was honored as the Co-Defensive Player of the Week for the Big Ten for his performance against Iowa in week 11. Jacobs finished the game with four tackles, a sack, and two fumble recoveries, one of which was returned 21 yards for a touchdown.

Defensively, Wisconsin only allowed 66 total yards of offense to the Hawkeyes in their 38-14 victory. Iowa did not score a touchdown offensively, as both their scores came on interceptions returned for touchdowns by defensive back Josh Jackson. Jackson shared the honor with Jacobs this week.

The 66 yards allowed was the fewest that Wisconsin has ever allowed to a Big Ten opponent in program history.

This is the second time that Jacobs has earned the honor, the first coming in week seven after Wisconsin beat Purdue 17-9.

Jacobs also set a school record by appearing in his 55th game on Saturday against Iowa.

Jonathan Taylor wins sixth Big Ten Freshman of the Week

MADISON — Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor has been honored as the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Week for the sixth time this season. Taylor ran for 157 yards on 29 carries against Iowa in Wisconsin’s 38-14 win in week 11. He also added in one catch for 14 yards.

Taylor has now topped the 100-yard mark in seven of his 10 career games at Wisconsin. The three games in which he failed to do so came against Utah State when he had 87 yards on nine carries, against Northwestern, and at Illinois when he missed the second half due to an ankle injury.

In those five of his seven games of over 100 yards he’s also surpassed the 150-yard mark.

Taylor is among the country’s best in numerous rushing stats. He currently sits at 1,525 yards on the season on 219 carries. Both of those marks are among the top 10 in the country and lead the Big Ten. Taylor trails only Stanford’s Bryce Love and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny in rushing yards nationally.

On Saturday Taylor became the 10th running back in Wisconsin history to surpass 1,500 yards in a single season.

Wisconsin’s victory over Iowa moved them to 10-0 for the first time in program history. The Badgers also clinched at least a share of the Big Ten West with the win, guaranteeing themselves an appearance in the Big Ten Championship.

Winning the award six times ties Taylor for second-most in Big Ten history with Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase in 2010. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett holds the record for most Freshman of the Week honors with seven in the 2014 season. With two games remaining, Taylor will have the opportunity to tie or pass him.

Wisconsin’s defense makes dominant statement

MADISON – Complete, total, absolute domination.

That’s the most accurate way to describe the defensive effort given by Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Badgers held Iowa to just 66 total yards of offense on the day, with all 14 of their points coming via Josh Jackson interceptions returned for touchdowns. In fact, Jackson’s 95 yards of return yardage was 29 yards more than the Hawkeyes were able to muster offensively on the day.

“That’s not bad, we’ll take it,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said after the game when learning of the yardage his unit allowed against Iowa.

Last week against the vaunted Ohio State Buckeyes, Iowa was dominant offensively. They totaled 487 yards of total offense, threw for five touchdowns, and ran for another en route to putting up 55 points.

The Badgers were able to create pressure all afternoon long, getting to Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley four times and creating three turnovers, including a Leon Jacobs 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Wisconsin turned up the heat on defense unlike they, or anyone else, has all season. This was a statement game for the Badgers, and their defense stepped up and made a loud one.

“There are still a couple things we’ve got to clean up,” defensive lineman Alec James said. “As far as the whole year, that was probably the most complete game we played as a defense.”

Twice in the 2017 season has an FBS offense been held to 66 or fewer yards. Those instances occurred when TCU held lowly Kansas to 21 total yards, and the same Ohio State defense that was torched by Iowa last week was able to hold Maryland to 66 yards.

“For sure so far this season,” linebacker Ryan Connelly said after the game when asked if it felt like the most dominant performance he’s been a part of. “We were pretty confident in everything we were doing and we didn’t think they were going to be able to move it on us.”

Connelly finished with nine tackles, a sack, a quarterback hurry, and a forced fumble on the day. He was just one of a few Badgers that was at the top of their game.

“They can take it how they want it,” defensive back Derrick Tindal said on whether or not the win over 20th ranked Iowa was a statement to the country by the Badgers. “We’re just going out here and playing our football. Having fun, enjoying the game while we can. At the end of the day if we keep winning, they’re going to have to notice us soon.”

It will certainly be hard for the country to miss the statement Wisconsin’s defense put forth Saturday.

Badgers top South Carolina State 85-50; Last shots

MADISON — The University of Wisconsin Men’s Basketball team opened up the 2017-18 regular season with a 85-50 win over visiting South Carolina State University Friday night at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin was led by Ethan Happ with 20 points and 11 rebounds on the evening. South Carolina State’s Donte Wright finished with a team-high 13 points for the Bulldogs.

This was the first meaningful game for a group of relatively new Badgers. There were definitely nerves early, but the experience of Happ showed throughout the night leading Wisconsin to the win.

Here are 13 last shots for guard D’Mitrik Trice’s 13 points:

1. Happ showed more against South Carolina State than he did in the entire preseason slate. At times in the exhibition matchups it looked as if he was taking a step back, hoping to help his teammates grow. Friday night he was able to enforce his will at the offensive end early and often, scoring 12 points in the first half. He finished with a double-double, totaling 20 points and 11 rebounds.

2. The one thing Happ did struggle with on the night was shooting from the charity stripe. He shot four-of-nine from the foul line. As a team, Wisconsin finished 11-18 on free throws, but a respectable seven-of-nine removing Happ from the equation. That’s a number the Badgers can live with against South Carolina State, but it’s something that could come back and haunt them against a more talented team.

3. While Happ led the team with 20 points, he was one of four Badgers that reached double-figures. Andy Van Vliet had a terrific game in his first game as a starter, finishing with 18 points. Guards Brevin Pritzl and Trice finished with 17 and 13 points, respectively. Both of them were three-of-six from three-point land.

4. Van Vliet was a key factor in stretching South Carolina State’s defense. The Bulldogs primarily played a zone defense, which is something Wisconsin had not seen in the previous two exhibitions against Northern Iowa and UW-Stout. Van Vliet was able to expose openings in it as a three-point shooter, going four-of-five from beyond the arc. He also hit back-to-back threes as part of a 10-0 run that stretched Wisconsin’s lead to 22 with 7:23 remaining, essentially putting the game out of reach.

5. “It feels good to have a game like that,” Van Vliet told the media after the game. “Obviously, there is still stuff to work about, coach has been on me too for defensive reasons and I know I have to work on that and be more aggressive. I feel good about tonight and finally being on the floor.”

6. Pritzl, like Happ and Van Vliet, reached double-figures in scoring in the first half. His smooth shooting stroke is something that should be much more prevalent this season than it was last year for Wisconsin. He knocked down six of the 10 shots he took and was two-of-two from the free throw stripe.

7. “Ethan has got on me about taking shots,” Pritzl said after the game. “I’m a good shooter so I’ve kind of listened to him a little more. I’ve got to be a little more aggressive.”

8. If Pritzl can continue to shoot as well from behind the arc as he did Friday, the Badgers will want him to be even more aggressive with his shot selection.

9. Freshmen Kobe King and Brad Davison both made their collegiate debuts against South Carolina State and they looked like freshmen. That’s not a slight to either of them, as they both played solid games, however it was evident there was nervousness for both during the game. King finished with six points on three-of-six shooting to go along with three rebounds and an assist. Davison had five points on one-of-three from the floor. He added in two assists and a pair of steals as well.

10. There will be nights throughout the season where one of, if not both, the freshmen will explode and reach double-figures in scoring for Wisconsin. There will also be nights like Friday for them. Developing talent takes time, but it’s something that will be worth it in the end with both the young guards.

11. Davison is going to be a player that Wisconsin fans love as long as he is on campus. He’s also going to be a pain in the neck for fans of the other 13 Big Ten schools. He’s a very scrappy defender that will pester opponents. Davison isn’t afraid to take a charge or dive for a loose ball. There will be a time in his career at Wisconsin when the reason the Badgers win a game is thanks to his hustle.

12. “I will say this, thank god we don’t have to beat Wisconsin to win our conference,” South Carolina State head coach Murray Garvin said after the game. The Bulldogs were overmatched Friday night by the Badgers, but they certainly did not lie down for them. Garvin was proud of the way his team fought Friday night and he had every reason to feel that way. In the end, Wisconsin’s talent won out.

13. Wisconsin is in action next Sunday afternoon from the Kohl Center against Yale. Tip-off is at 4pm.

The Wisconsin football fan’s cheering guide

The second College Football Playoff rankings of the season were released on Tuesday night and the University of Wisconsin was ranked eighth, one spot higher than in the initial poll the previous week.

A common viewpoint is that if the Badgers win the remaining games on their schedule on the way to winning the Big Ten they’ll finish as one of the top four teams when the final rankings are released. That very well may be true at the end of the day, but there is certainly no guarantee that the Badgers are promised a spot in the College Football Playoff if they’re 13-0 due to their strength of schedule.

Luckily for Wisconsin, things don’t matter right now, the only thing that matters is how the rankings look at the end of the season. Wisconsin might need some help to reach the top four even if they win all their games.

Let’s take a look at who Wisconsin fans should be closely watching and cheering for this weekend outside of the Badgers.

There are three games involving top 10 teams this weekend, No. 1 Georgia travels to No. 10 Auburn, No. 3 Notre Dame heads south to take on No. 7 Miami and No. 5 Oklahoma squares off with No. 6 TCU.

Let’s start with the matchup between Georgia and Auburn. The Bulldogs are 9-0 this year, and boast college football’s best win, a 20-19 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend. This weekend marks the biggest test since that September night in Indiana for UGA. Auburn is the highest ranked two-loss team in the country. Their losses have come to Clemson, who is No. 4, and LSU, who is currently ranked No. 24.

Wisconsin fans should be cheering for absolute chaos in the SEC, which would mean a two-loss champion. Auburn controls their own destiny despite having two losses. They need to win the remainder of their games to reach the SEC Championship, which would include wins over both Georgia this week and Alabama down the line in the Iron Bowl. If that happens the Tigers would then face Georgia in a rematch for the SEC Title. The winner of that game would have at least one loss, potentially two, and would eliminate the possibility of the SEC having two teams reach the semi-finals.

Moving a little further south, Miami is hosting Notre Dame in the biggest game between these two rivals since 1990. That was when No. 2 Miami lost in South Bend to No. 6 Notre Dame. The Irish are currently the highest ranked one-loss team. Their blemish is the loss to Georgia in September, but they do have wins over No. 11 USC, at No. 12 Michigan State, and No. 23 North Carolina State. Notre Dame has won all of those games by 20+ points, and all eight of their wins are by double-digits.

Miami, just like Wisconsin, is unbeaten this season, but hasn’t had a very strong schedule, either. The Hurricanes did get a quality win this past weekend, beating Virginia Tech 28-10 at home. That was enough for Miami to jump over Wisconsin in the rankings.

Badger fans should be cheering against Notre Dame the rest of the season, no matter who they’re playing. If Notre Dame continues to impress and wins out, they’ll likely make the semi-finals due to the strength of their wins. Notre Dame winning out would certainly eliminate one more Power 5 conference from the race. Badger fans aren’t alone in cheering against Notre Dame, as fans of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 all should be hoping to see the Irish falter and open up another spot in the top four. The SEC is still cheering for Notre Dame, however because the stronger Notre Dame looks, the better chance they have of getting two teams in at the end of the year.

The final matchup of top 10 teams this week is between Oklahoma and TCU. The Sooners are coming off a big win on the road at Oklahoma State. They also hold one of the more impressive wins of the season, a blowout victory over Ohio State in Columbus. TCU, like Oklahoma, has a win in Stillwater against the Cowboys and a loss against Iowa State.

Badger fans don’t necessarily need to care about who wins this game. However, they should be hoping that after this week the two teams continue to win and face in the Big 12 Championship Game later this season. At that point, Wisconsin would become big fans of whichever team loses this weekend. That would create another two-loss Power 5 champion.

Out west, there isn’t a big game this weekend, but the Badgers should be cheering for Southern Cal to continue to win their way into the Pac-12 Championship Game against Washington. If the Trojans beat the Huskies in that game, it would create yet another two-loss Power 5 champion.

Another big game on the slate this weekend takes place in Columbus, Oh. The No. 13 Buckeyes play host to No. 12 Michigan State. The winner likely heads to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship to represent the Big Ten East. While neither team has an overly impressive resume right now, Wisconsin needs the winner of this game to look as good as possible between now and a potential matchup in December.

At the end of the day, none of this matters if Wisconsin drops a game. That would more than likely eliminate them. It also may not matter, as a perfect 13-0 season might be enough to get the Badgers into the College Football Playoff regardless.

Badgers top UW-Stout 85-56 in exhibition finale

The University of Wisconsin won their third and final exhibition matchup Sunday evening against in-state foe UW-Stout 85-56. The Badgers swept through the preseason, defeating Missouri in a closed scrimmage, as well as Northern Iowa and UW-Stout at the Kohl Center.

Wisconsin was led by freshmen guards Brad Davison and Kobe King on the night. They scored 13 and 17 points, respectively. The Badgers finished with four players in double-figures as Andy Van Vliet and Khalil Iverson both finished with 11 points.

Here are nine last shots for the nine three-pointers made by Wisconsin Sunday evening.

1. It was difficult to learn much about the Badgers on Sunday in their matchup against UW-Stout. When the talent gap is as large as it is between a division one and a division three program, some things will be difficult to figure out for those watching.

2. One of the things that has been evident for Wisconsin no matter who the opposition is that King and Davison will be key cogs for the Badgers this year despite their inexperience. Davison got the start in place of an injured D’Mitrik Trice who missed the exhibition with an ankle injury. Both the talented freshman were able to handle the point guard responsibilities at different points throughout the night.

3. “For me, playing point was something new, I haven’t really done too much,” King said. “This morning me, Brad [Davison], Khalil [Iverson], sat down with coach Gard, ran through some things. Overall it was pretty fun, but I’m excited to have [Trice] back.”

4. Understandably the two can’t wait for the games to count for real, as they start to on Friday night when the Badgers host South Carolina State.

5. “We’ve put in a lot of work since we’ve been here over the summer. Especially with the foreign tour we had extra practices. I think it’s something that we’re very well prepared for and I know we’re all looking forward to it,” King said.

6. Defensively Wisconsin wasn’t as impressive early on as there were against Northern Iowa in their previous exhibition. They seemed to be giving UW-Stout a few more open looks than the Panthers were able to find on Wednesday night.

7. The most surprising number from Sunday evening might have been zero, as in the number of official shot attempts for forward Ethan Happ. He finished the night with two points, both coming from the free throw stripe. It was clear that UW-Stout’s plan was to double Happ immediately once the ball was given to him in the post. He did add in four rebounds and three assists in his 22 minutes on the floor.

8. Happ looked comfortable passing out of the post when he was forced to, however it was extremely odd to see the team’s best player not attempt a shot. The production from Davison and King certainly helped to offset the lack of offense from Happ.

9. Obviously, things can change quickly, and not too much stock should be taken in an exhibition, but it must be comforting for the team to see that King has been able to consistently create offense for himself. He can provide an instant spark and find many ways to put points on the board. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him average double-figures in scoring during the season.

Wisconsin tops Northern Iowa 69-38 in exhibition

MADISON | The Wisconsin Badgers opened the home portion of their preseason schedule on Wednesday night with a 69-38 victory over the University of Northern Iowa in an exhibition matchup. Wisconsin got a strong effort out freshman Kobe King, who was the game’s high scorer with 15 points.

The Badgers only return one starter from the 2016-17 season in forward Ethan Happ. Happ got off to a slow start in the first half, but finished with nine points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes on the night. As a team, Wisconsin was not very sharp early, failing to score for nearly the first three minutes of the game. They trailed 10-2 at the 13:20 mark of the first half.

After that it was all Badgers as they were able to pull away against the inferior Panthers, cruising to the 69-38 win.

Here are 15 last shots for King’s 15 points on the evening.

1. Wisconsin trotted out a starting lineup of D’Mitrik Price, Brevin Pritzl, Khalil Iverson, Andy Van Vliet, and Happ. Of those five, only Happ was a regular starter last year for the Badgers.

2. “I think it’s meshing together nicely, but it’s definitely taking time and it’s going to take some more time,” Happ said of the new starting lineup. “Especially having certain guys in at certain moments of the game. We’ve been really fortunate with the trip overseas and then to have the scrimmage against Missouri and now this. The more reps we get as a team, that’s going to help us a lot.”

3. Early on, it looked as if the Badgers hadn’t played together much yet, which is mostly true. While the team did play exhibition games in Australia and New Zealand over the summer along with a closed exhibition against Missouri last week, they’re still feeling each other out.

4. Wisconsin went nearly the first three minutes without a bucket. Happ started the scoring for them at the 17:01 mark to cut the early Northern Iowa lead to two points. UNI then scored the next six to make it 10-2 at the 13:20 mark of the first half. McCloud had all 10 of those points for the Panthers. He didn’t score again the rest of the night.

5. After the slow start, Wisconsin got things rolling once King and fellow freshman Brad Davison checked in. The two guards book-ended a 17-0 run for the Badgers. The run started with five straight points from King and ended with a Davison three-pointer. It was evident that they provided a much-needed spark off the bench for Wisconsin.

6. “We settled down, we were nervous,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said about his team’s slow start. “I could tell by looking at Van Vliet, Iverson, and Pritzl on the bench before the starting lineups, you could tell they had the look like ‘I’m starting my first game in the Kohl Center.’ They all admitted that they were a little nervous, and rightfully so. This is a big step for them to do that.”

7. With the starting lineup being 80% new compared to last season, there’s a chance that it becomes a fluid situation. If King continues to give Wisconsin the same effort and production that he gave on Wednesday night, it will be awfully tough to have him continue to come off the bench on a regular basis. He might be better off in the starting lineup at points this season.

8. Wisconsin went 10-of-24 from behind the arc against UNI. They used eight different players to knock down those 10 three-pointers, including Happ. Happ had not attempted a three-pointer last season, but attempted two Wednesday night, knocking one down from straight away early in the second half.

9. “He’s worked at it, but I know he understands that his game isn’t attached to his ability to shoot threes,” Gard said about Happ’s game from deep. “I don’t know if I have anything up my sleeve for him to run for him for a three yet. Maybe he’ll try and talk me into it.“

10. Iverson and Aleem Ford were the two Badgers to hit multiple threes against UNI. They both shot two-of-four from behind the arc.

11. Defensively, Wisconsin really locked down in the second half. The half began with Wisconsin leading 35-18. Northern Iowa scored the first seven points of the half in the first two minutes. They didn’t hit another field goal until there was 3:43 left to play. Over that stretch they missed 17 consecutive shots, only scoring three points on free throws. Wisconsin stretched their lead from 10 points to 32 points in that time.

12. The Badgers did play good defense over that stretch, but Northern Iowa did miss shots that a typical team found on Wisconsin’s schedule would normally make. If you’re a Panthers fan, it was an especially tough half of basketball to watch.

13. One area where the Badgers thrived was creating points off turnovers. They forced 16 turnovers on the night, turning them into 25 points. Conversely, the Badgers turned the ball over 11 times, but UNI was only able to score six points off those miscues.

14. Wisconsin will be in action next on Sunday when they host UW-Stout in their third and final exhibition of the preseason.

15. The regular season beings for Wisconsin on November 10, when they host South Carolina State University at the Kohl Center.

Losing not an option for Badgers’ playoff hopes

MADISON | Winning football games, at any level is not an easy task. If it were, the college football landscape would see far more unbeaten squads than the eight unblemished teams currently in the FBS. Wisconsin beat Maryland 38-13 Saturday afternoon, making them 7-0 for the first time since the 2004 season.

What Wisconsin has done through their first seven games deserves to be recognized, even if they were supposed to win all of their games thus far. The Badgers have played a schedule in which they should be unbeaten through their first seven games. While it would be great to see them tested more frequently, that’s not the case this season.

That being said, in today’s college football world upsets happen frequently. This year alone, Clemson, Washington, Washington State, Louisiana State, and so many more have suffered upsets they deemed unthinkable to teams that were far inferior to them in terms of talent. That type of slip up hasn’t happened to the Badgers, and they deserve credit for that.

Their win over Maryland Saturday afternoon was another case of the Badgers taking care of business as they have every time they’ve stepped on the field this fall. They haven’t always been overly impressive in their wins, but they haven’t needed to be, and that’s not something that is going to change.

Wisconsin’s goal, while it won’t be uttered publicly by any player or coach at this moment in time, should be to make the College Football Playoff. If they continue to win, they’ll find themselves there no matter how they look doing it.

With that being said, there is no room for error for the Badgers. The positive to playing a relatively light schedule is that every game should be a win, the downside to that is if there is a loss on the schedule, the dreams of finishing in the top four almost completely vanish.

The playoff committee certainly won’t keep an unbeaten champion of the Big Ten out of the top four in December. They absolutely would keep a one-loss Wisconsin out of it, and they would be just in doing so.

Wisconsin cannot afford to lose any games simply because they do not possess the opportunity to secure a signature win before the Big Ten Championship game. In that game, which the Badgers are a near lock to make, they’ll likely face either Ohio State or Penn State. A win over either of those programs would solidify Wisconsin as a team that belongs in the playoff, especially if no one has knocked them off to date. If they previously have a loss, they might not be attractive enough to the committee to take over a one loss team with a better resume from the SEC, Pac-12, ACC, or Big 12. Especially if one of the other teams in consideration played a more challenging regular season slate.

It doesn’t matter how Wisconsin looks while winning. They don’t need to accumulate style points. Wins are the only thing Wisconsin needs to accumulate, 13 of them to be exact. If they do, they’ll find themselves playing in a semi-final game on January 1, 2018 in either Pasadena, CA or New Orleans, LA. If they find themselves with less than 13 wins on December 6 they’ll be watching someone else play in the semi-finals.