QB Alex Hornibrook rebounds — again — to help Wisconsin move to 11-0

MADISON — The messages in the group text started flying soon after Wisconsin and Michigan took to the field at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. As has been the case so often this season — a season, mind you, that included 10 wins and zero losses for the fifth-ranked Badgers entering the day — many of them were negative and directed toward sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Things hit a crescendo midway through the third quarter when Hornibrook tossed his 12th interception in the last eight games, this one turning into a field goal that allowed Michigan to take a 10-7 lead.

“What is he doing throwing that,” the message read. “HORRIBLE.”

“He should be (done),” wrote another.

“Yeah, can’t hurt to try (someone else),” the first responded.

Coach Paul Chryst didn’t try someone else. Instead, as he has done all season, he trusted that Hornibrook would bounce back and find a way, which is exactly what he did.

On the ensuing drive, Hornibrook dropped a deep ball right on the money to wide receiver A.J. Taylor for a 51-yard gain on third-and-13. Three plays later, he hit Taylor again, this one a precision strike for a 24-yard touchdown on third-and-16 to give Wisconsin the lead — one it would not relinquish in a 24-10 victory to move to 11-0 on the year.

Thirteen minutes in real time after calling for Hornibrook to be replaced came this message in the group chat:

“Leave him in.”

This is what Hornibrook does to fans, who at times want to rip their hair out and at other times are left with their mouth agape following a surgical strike from the lefty. It just doesn’t make sense.

Nor does his ability to shrug off the mistakes that rile those people up. You could see the interception he threw Saturday coming from a mile away. It is, to be fair, what he’s done consistently this season. But while people in their seats at the stadium, on their couches at home and on their bar stools around the country were freaking out, Hornibrook, like he always does, calmly jogged to the sideline as if nothing had happened.

“I think you guys (media and fans) get more stressed out about them than I do,” said Hornibrook, who is now 18-2 as a starter and avenged one of those losses with Saturday’s victory. “Just figure out what went wrong, figure out how to fix it and not even think about it anymore.”

Last year, when asked what he liked so much about Hornibrook to have him replace Bart Houston in the starting lineup three games into the season, coach Paul Chryst mentioned the fact that he knew what he was going to get out of him all the time. That who he was in practice was the same guy he was going to get on the field. That’s proven to hold true this year when adversity has hit. And it’s not just Chryst that recognizes it.

“I don’t see a difference,” said Taylor, who has caught four of Hornibrook’s 18 touchdowns this year. “He’s the same guy.”

Your teammates having confidence in you is great. Having confidence in yourself is even better. Any quarterback worth his salt is brimming with it, and you can count Hornibrook among them. It’s unwavering even with the insults thrown at him on social media and the slightly veiled ones said in his direction by various media members. It’s why, with Wisconsin’s playoff hopes on the line, he was able to somehow flip a switch and jump-start an offense that had been lifeless for 40 minutes.

“I guess it’s a pretty big deal,” Hornibrook later said of the interceptions. “But we kind of fight back through it. Sometimes adversity helps us play even harder and better. We were able to do that today.”

The two passes he completed on the drive to take the lead are, right now, the two most important in the season. Heck, they may be the two most important in recent Wisconsin history depending on how this year plays out. That they came immediately after what seemed like a back-breaking mistake that potentially could have cost Wisconsin what feels like a once in a generation opportunity to compete for a national title can not be lost or forgotten.

“He threw an interception, so what? He forgot about it, came back and made those big time passes down the field,” wide receiver Kendric Pryor said. “It’s great knowing your quarterback can do that. We all trust him.”

That trust may never extend to all Wisconsin fans and it really doesn’t matter. All the griping in group texts, on Twitter and anywhere else people gather to complain is irrelevant to those involved.

“He’s a resilient kid,” left tackle Michael Deiter said of Hornibrook. “He’s done that before and he’s always bounced back and made big plays. And he did. He answered huge.”

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.

Preview: (5) Wisconsin vs (24) Michigan

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (10-0, 7-0) vs the No. 24 Michigan Wolverines (8-2, 5-2)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: FOX with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt in the booth, and Jenny Taft on the sideline.

The last time: Michigan’s defense smothered Wisconsin and the Wolverines did just enough on offense to get a 14-7 win last October.

The series: Michigan leads 50-14-2

The line: Wisconsin -7

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

S D’Cota Dixon (leg)
C Tyler Biadasz (leg)

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
LB Chris Orr (leg)

Season:

WR Quintez Cephus (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Keeping that dream alive

Wisconsin has already made history with its first ever 10-0 start, but the Badgers have much bigger goals in their sights. And the only way to achieve those is to find a way to beat Michigan. A win would give them another marquee victory to add to their College Football Playoff resume and legitimize them in the eyes of those that believe their success to this point is simply a result of a less than impressive schedule.

2) Taking care of the rock

Turnovers and winning are rare bedfellows, but they have been for Wisconsin this year. Only Illinois has coughed up the ball more in the Big Ten than the Badgers, and yet they’ve found ways to overcome, largely because of a defense that has been remarkable in “sudden” change situations. But it’s not a sustainable formula, meaning quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12 interceptions) and running back Jonathan Taylor (four lost fumbles) need to be more vigilant with the ball if Wisconsin is to stay perfect.

3) Force him to beat you

Michigan has caught fire since getting whipped by Penn State last month, winning its last three games by an average of 23 points. Much of that success was the result of a strong running game that put up more than 300 yards again Rutgers and Minnesota. That’s allowed quarterback Brandon Peters to be a game manager instead of having to win games with his arm. But Wisconsin stops the run better than any team in the country, and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said this week they have to make Michigan one-dimensional and see if the redshirt freshman making his third career start can beat them.

4) We meet again

Wisconsin’s offensive line got whipped the last time these two teams saw each other in October 2016. The Wolverines limited the Badgers to just 2.5 yards per carry and harassed Hornibrook into three interceptions. More than a year later, that Michigan defensive line is still just as a good, but it will see an offensive line that has grown immensely since then. Wisconsin has the second-best rushing attack in the Big Ten and topped 200 yards in every game but two this season. If the Badgers offense is to have success, they’ll need to neutralize Michigan’s talented front.

5) The atmosphere

When Camp Randall Stadium is full and rocking, it can be as tough a place as any in the country for the visiting team. That’s unlikely to be the case on Saturday, at least initially. The normally late arriving student section, combined with an 11 a.m. start and ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting from the other side of campus, will surely lead to plenty of empty seats to start the game. The crowd should be a huge advantage for Wisconsin, but it may not be that way until sometime later in the first half.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin will honor 13 seniors who will be playing their final games at Camp Randall Stadium. The class is already the winningest in school history with 42 victories.

Alex Hornibrook’s passing efficiency mark of 155.6 is the best by a Wisconsin quarterback since Russell Wilson in 2011.

Wisconsin’s defense is allowing just 247.6 yards per game, tops in the country and the best mark since Alabama gave up an average of 183.6 yards during the 2011 season.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Michigan 17 (10-0 on the season, 7-3 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Michigan 17 (10-0 on the season, 6-4 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Michigan 9 (10-0 on the season, 6-4 against the spread)

Wisconsin Football Roundtable: Nov. 17, 2017

On this week’s Wisconsin Football Roundtable, our former Badgers — Anthony Davis, Matt Bernstein and Gabe Carimi — give their takes of the Badgers win over Iowa, their spot in the College Football Playoff, facing Michigan and more.

No. 5 Wisconsin vs No. 24 Michigan preview

MADISON — Every week for Wisconsin the games begin getting bigger. Last week, they faced a ranked team for the first time all season. The result was a 38-14 throttling of the visiting No. 20 Iowa Hawkeyes.

That win vaulted the Badgers up three spots to No. 5 in the most recent College Football Playoff Rankings. Iowa was knocked out of the rankings after their loss, but that opened up the door for this week’s opponent, Michigan, to come in at No. 24.

Wisconsin enters the matchup with a 10-0 (7-0 Big Ten) record, their best start to a season in program history. Michigan comes in at 8-2 (5-2) with losses to Michigan State and Penn State this season.

Battle of strengths:
Both of these teams do the same things well. Wisconsin and Michigan follow the same winning formula. Play outstanding defense and run the ball effectively.

The Badgers and Wolverines both are in the top four in fewest yards allowed per play in the country. Wisconsin is second at 4.1 yards per play, and Michigan is fourth at 4.3 yards per play. Both teams also follow the old-school Big Ten saying of ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ when it comes to the opponents rushing attack. Wisconsin allows 2.8 yards per carry, good enough for fourth in the country. Michigan is 14th in that category, allowing 3.3 yards per carry.

On the opposite side of the ball, both squads average over 200 yards per game on the ground. Wisconsin is led by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor who has had five games of over 150 yards this season.

Michigan has employed a couple of different running backs at times this season. Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, and Ty Isaac are all over the 500-yard mark for the year. Isaac has missed the past two games for Michigan and is listed as questionable for the matchup with the Badgers. That trio all averages 5.5 yards per carry or better. Higdon has been the most productive of the three, with 854 yards and 10 touchdowns on 129 carries. Higdon and Evans recently were named Big Ten Co-Offensive Players of the Week for the team’s week 10 win over Minnesota where the two combined for 391 rushing yards and four scores on 29 carries.

For Wisconsin, they’ve leaned on Taylor’s production all season long. He currently leads the Big Ten in rushing with 1,525 yards and 12 touchdowns.

How the game will be won:
While the teams have very similar formulas, each has done something better than the other. As of late the biggest difference has been that Michigan has taken care of the ball better than the Badgers have. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Peters has started each of the last three games for Michigan. He hasn’t been tasked with leading his team to victory through the air, but rather been asked to not make mistakes and complete play action passes when called upon. He has thrown for only 325 yards in his three starts on 27-of-45 passing, but he’s yet to throw an interception while tossing five touchdowns.

Wisconsin’s biggest issue as a team has been taking care of the football. Last week against Iowa they were able to overcome four turnovers thanks to an excellent defensive performance. Teams cannot consistently hand over the football and expect to win the way Wisconsin did last week. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown at least one interception in each of Wisconsin’s seven Big Ten games this season. If there was ever a week where the Badgers would like him to be better about taking care of the ball, it’s this one.

Weather:
Kickoff at Camp Randall is predicted to be 38 degrees with a 45% chance of precipitation. The temperature is supposed to remain the same all afternoon long, however the chance of precipitation decreases as the day goes on.

How to watch:
The game will be televised nationally on FOX. Kickoff is at 11am and coverage begins at 10:30am. Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (color), and Jenny Taft (sideline) are on the call.

Prediction:
This game looks like an old-fashioned Big Ten football game that warms the hearts of the old-school fan. Strong defense and running game keeps the game under four hours and Wisconsin continues their perfect season with a 17-14 win after trailing in the fourth quarter for the first time this 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.

Wide receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing not currently with Wisconsin

MADISON — Wide receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing are not currently with Wisconsin’s football team, head coach Paul Chryst announced Thursday morning.

Peavy played in four games this season, totaling five catches for 55 yards and three rushing attempts for seven yards. He last played in week five against Northwestern. He had been appearing on the injury report handed out by Wisconsin with a right leg injury beginning in week six. Thursday, we was absent from the list.

Rushing injured his left leg in the preseason and has not appeared in a single game this season. He was taken off the injury report Thursday as well.

“For different reasons both are not with the team right now,” Chryst said Thursday. “Certainly different reasons. There’s a lot going on in these guy’s lives. All that matters is that they’re doing alright. It was kind of decided for both to kind of help them navigate everything to take some time away.”

Peavy is a fifth year senior and Rushing is in his fourth year at the program. Since Rushing has not appeared in a game this season, redshirting is a possibility.

“This is his fourth year and he’s going to graduate this year, but we haven’t had those discussions,” Chryst said about Rushing.

Bo Ryan talks Wisconsin and the Hall of Fame

MADISON — Former Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame  this week in Kansas City.

Despite watching a lot of basketball, and golfing even more, Ryan took a few minutes out of his morning to talk with the Joe & Ebo Show on some of his favorite career memories, what he’s seen from the Badgers and the honor of getting into the Hall of Fame.

Take a listen below to hear from the all-time winningest coach in Wisconsin men’s basketball history:

College Football Playoff rankings: Week 3

Wisconsin is slowly moving its way up the College Football Playoff rankings but the Badgers are still on the outside looking in as we enter the second to last weekend of the regular season.

The selection committee unveiled the third week of the rankings Tuesday night and Wisconsin came in at No. 5, up three spots from the previous rankings. It still leaves the Badgers behind two one-loss teams — Oklahoma and Clemson — with just three games left, including the Big Ten title game, before the playoff pairings are set.

Helping Wisconsin’s resume are the two wins over ranked teams — Iowa was No. 20 last week, while Northwestern comes in at No. 23 this week. The Badgers can add to their quality wins with this Saturday’s game against No. 22 Michigan and whichever team comes out of the East Division — whether it’s No. 9 Ohio State, No. 10 Penn State or No. 17 Michigan State.

Here’s a full look at this week’s rankings:

1) Alabama
2) Clemson
3) Miami
4) Oklahoma
5) Wisconsin
6) Auburn
7) Georgia
8) Notre Dame
9) Ohio State
10) Penn State
11) USC
12) TCU
13) Oklahoma State
14) Washington State
15) UCF
16) Mississippi State
17) Michigan State
18) Washington
19) NC State
20) LSU
21) Memphis
22) Stanford
23) Northwestern
24) Michigan
25) Boise State