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.

Xavier 80, Wisconsin 70; Last shots

MADISON – The Wisconsin Badgers fell to the University of Xavier 80-70 on the hardwood Thursday night. Wisconsin got tremendous efforts out of Ethan Happ and Brad Davison, but it wasn’t enough to overcome 25 points from Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett.

Here are 16 last shots for the 16 minutes played by Wisconsin guard Brevin Pritzl against Xavier Thursday night:

1. Bluiett knocked down a pair of three-pointers late to seal the game for the Musketeers. That came after Wisconsin had fought back from down as many as seven in the second half.

2. Bluiett was quiet most of the night. He finished with 25 points, but 12 of them came in the final 2:25 of the game. Guard J.P. Macura also had a strong night for Xavier, finishing with 20 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He added in eight rebounds and four assists as well.

3. Xavier was the more experienced team on Thursday night, and that showed down the stretch as they outscored Wisconsin 16-4 over the last 2:55 of the game. Bluiett was huge in that stretch for the Musketeers, as he had 12 of the 16 points. Outside of that stretch, Wisconsin did a relatively good job containing him, but he was too much in the end.

4. Bluiett is a player that has played in many big moments over the course of his four seasons at Xavier. The fact of the matter was that outside of Happ, no one for Wisconsin has that type of experience. That hurt the Badgers, but tonight is a tremendous teaching moment for the young team.

5. Davison kept Wisconsin alive in the first half against Xavier. He played 13 minutes and the Badgers outscored Xavier by 13 points. Entering the game his career-high was eight points. He had 11 in the first half alone.

6. The biggest stretch for Wisconsin in the first half came in the final 4:29 of the half when Happ subbed out after picking up his second foul. Wisconsin was trailing 32-23. The closed out the half on an 11-2 run to tie the game at 34 heading into the break. Davison had six points and a pair of steals in that stretch.

7. Davison did more than just create for Wisconsin offensively. He’s shown early on that he is the type of player that doesn’t mind doing the dirty work that most athletes his age don’t like to do. Against Xavier he was extremely disruptive on the defensive end of the court. In the first half alone he had four steals and a charge drawn while only committing one foul. He makes several plays at that end that typically aren’t made in college basketball, let alone by a freshman.

8. “If you have been around Brad Davison you understand these are the type of games he flourishes in. He likes being physical, he likes getting on the floor. He made a lot of good things happen,” head coach Greg Gard said following the game. “Maybe I should’ve played Brad even more.”

9. However long Davison is at Wisconsin, he is going to be lamented by fans of opposing teams, but he will be absolutely adored by Badger fans. The best comparison to make for him might be former Ohio State guard Aaron Craft. Craft played for the Buckeyes from 2010-2014 and was an incredibly pesky defender and general annoyance to the opposition. Davison is exactly that, but with a better offensive game.

10. Zach Heilprin said all of the above in a simple five-word tweet during the game.

11. The second half was not as productive for Davison, however. He only was able to score a single point.

12. He finished with 28 minutes played on the night, taking many of Pritzl’s minutes. Pritzl wasn’t the only starter to play under 20 minutes, as Andy Van Vliet had a tough night for the Badgers. He finished with one point and one rebound in 11 minutes. Pritzl did have 13 points, but struggled defensively against Xavier’s Macura.

13. Happ had another strong game on the offensive end as he finished with a team-high 21 points to go along with eight assists and four rebounds.

14. This was the first game this season where Happ wasn’t consistently double-teamed. It did happen at times, but it was not done throughout the game by XU’s defense. When the double-teams did come he did an excellent job passing out of them, as he has consistenly this season.

15. In the second half, he did break the 1,000 point mark on a driving layup. Quite an accomplishment for Wisconsin’s leader.

16. Wisconsin travels to Kansas City for the 2017 Hall of Fame Classic on Monday night. They take on No. 25 Baylor. Tip-off is at 8pm.

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.

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.

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.

Zone CFB Power Rankings: Week 10

MADISON — With the race for the four spots in the College Football Playoff heating up, here at The Zone we thought it would be a good idea to put together our top 10 on a weekly basis moving forward. The playoff committee is made up of 13 members who vote each week on the teams that will be finding themselves playing in the semi-finals. Our committee works the same way, except it is only three members. The teams have been voted on by myself, Zach Heilprin, and Ebo Thoreson.

The point system works the same way as the AP Top 25 does, but scaled to 10 teams instead of 25. For example, a first-place vote garners 10 points, and a tenth-place vote is worth one point.

1. Georgia (30 points) 9-0
Georgia still has arguably the best win of anyone in the country by beating Notre Dame in South Bend earlier this year. Thanks to that they’ve got the best resume. They get a slight edge over Alabama on the strength of that win.

2. Alabama (27 points) 9-0
The Crimson Tide have had a relatively weak schedule to this point, with the meat of it starting with their victory over LSU this week. If they continue to play like they are the rest of the regular season they will top Georgia, but I’m not ready to put them at number one quite yet.

3. Notre Dame (22 points) 8-1
The Fighting Irish got another win in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. Since losing to Georgia they’ve won every game by double-digits and that includes wins of 20+ over Michigan State, Southern Cal, and North Carolina State. Their game this week has the biggest playoff implications, as they head to Miami to take on the Hurricanes.

4. Clemson (20 points) 8-1
The Tigers beat a very good North Carolina State team this week on the road. Adding that win to their already impressive victories over Auburn and Virginia Tech looks great, but it’s hard to get over the loss to Syracuse.

5. Oklahoma (19 points) 8-1
The Sooners didn’t play much defense but beat a very good Oklahoma State team yesterday afternoon. On the other hand, their win over Ohio State looks a little bit weaker due to Iowa thrashing the Buckeyes this week.

6. (tie) Miami (14 points) 8-0  
Miami finally got a win over a quality opponent this week after knocking off Virginia Tech this week. They’ll be tested this upcoming weekend as Notre Dame comes to town for a de facto elimination game.

7. (tie) Wisconsin (14 points) 9-0
The Badgers earned some style points by beating Indiana 45-17 this week, and they needed them. Their playoff chances may have taken a hit with Ohio State’s loss, however. Wisconsin needed a potential Big Ten Championship game win over the Buckeyes to look as good as possible.

8. Texas Christian (10 points) 8-1
The Horned Frogs won again this weekend over Texas. Things get bigger for them this week as they play travel to Oklahoma to take on the Sooners. Those two teams are the last hope for the Big 12 to reach the playoff.

9. Washington (five points) 8-1
No one is talking about the Huskies since their loss to Arizona State a few weeks back, but they could make some noise with matchups against Stanford, Washington State, and potentially USC in the Pac-12 Championship. They’re a real dark horse to make the playoffs.

10. Auburn (four points) 7-2
The Tigers are the SEC team that no one is talking about. Their road to the playoff is a real muddy one having already lost twice, but they’ll get a shot at Georgia this upcoming weekend before taking on Alabama in the Iron Bowl in two weeks. If they somehow win both of those and the SEC Championship, we could have our first two loss playoff team.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor takes home fifth Freshman of the Week honor

MADISON — University of Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for week 10 of the season. Taylor helped the Badgers to a 45-17 victory on the road against the Indiana Hoosiers with 29 carries for 183 yards and a touchdown.

This is the fifth time that Taylor has taken home the award on the season, and the fourth time in the last five weeks. His 183 yards against Indiana gave him his sixth game this season where he has topped the 100-yard mark. Taylor is the Big Ten leader in both rushing yards and touchdowns.

Taylor is now tied for the third-most Big Ten Freshman of the Week in the history of the award. Former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg won the award five times in 2013. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett holds the record for most times honored as the Big Ten Freshman of the Week. He was honored seven times in 2014.

Wisconsin is unbeaten through nine games for the first time since the 2004 season. They have also won all six of their Big Ten games. They entered the game with Indiana ranked ninth in the country according to the College Football Playoff Top 25.

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.

Badgers not focused on their ranking

MADISON — The first edition of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s top 25 is set to be released on Tuesday evening, and the Wisconsin Badgers don’t seem to care an ounce. The Badgers are currently unbeaten, having won all eight of their games this fall. That does not guarantee them anything in the committee’s eyes, however.

Wisconsin has been chastised nationally, and rightfully so, for having a relatively weak schedule this season. The Badgers have yet to play a team ranked in the top 25 by either the Associated Press or Coaches Poll. They lack a signature win on their resume and that’s not something that can realistically change until they head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship in December.

Until then, they’re keeping their eyes on the week to week grind of the season, and not paying any attention to where anyone has them slotted right now.

“I definitely won’t see it, I will ignore it,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said of the rankings release special on ESPN Tuesday night. “It’s not like it’s a conscious thing to make sure that I don’t see it, it’s just not something that right now I’m worried about. We have Indiana this week. I know that’s a plain answer but that’s the way you stay successful.”

Deiter is correct in this thinking. Often times when things go wrong for teams the problem can be traced back to reading their own press clippings. The Badgers are trying their best to make sure that they don’t fall victim to that.

“I think that we have a group of guys that are not really going to get caught up in all the playoff noise and stuff like that. It’s not time yet, we have Indiana,” Deiter said.

He added that the time to worry about the playoff picture would be after the Big Ten Championship game in December, the only time the rankings actually matter.

What matters for the Badgers is continuing to win every game on their schedule, even if the majority of them are against lesser opponents.

Saying that the rankings are ignored can be easy to do, following through with that can be more difficult. It’s human nature to check what others think of you. It’s very difficult to not care, especially as a competitive athlete. This team truly believes they’re blocking out the outside noise.

“Yesterday I saw one of the basketball players on campus and he asked me what we were ranked,” defensive end Alec James said. “I told him I didn’t know. I remembered seeing it early in the morning but it’s not something that I pay attention to.”

“I think it’s something more for you guys,” linebacker T.J. Edwards told the media Monday. “Around here we’re just focused on what’s going on next week. All we can think about is Indiana, to be honest with you.”

It’s safe to say that Edwards won’t be watching at 6PM (CT) Tuesday to find out where the Badgers are placed by the committee.

“I didn’t even know there was a show, to be honest with you. I thought it was just something that kind of came out.”