After Wisconsin had throttled Michigan 35-14—It was not as close, as they say, as the score indicated. The Badgers led 35-0 with two minutes left in the third quarter.—I sent this text to some fellow Badgers:
``National championship in New Orleans on Jan. 13. Save the date!’’
This was my failed attempt at being whimsical. The Badgers in the national championship game? My friends don’t joke about things like that. Billy accused me of over-indulging in adult beverages too early in the day.
When we were students, you see, you could pencil in the Badgers for another 4-7 tractor pull. You would tuck the pint of cheap booze into the small of your back and walk into Camp Randall. For the 1 p.m. kickoff. (Which, younger-generation people, is the best starting time of all. Allows time for the morning tailgate, Happy Hour and dinner at dinnertime.)
In the most memorable thing that happened in my four years (exactly 16 wins!), a guy from our dorm (Ogg Hall. Seriously.) hit Woody Hayes in the calf with a bagel from Section KK in the upper deck. Can’t say I approve. But it was pretty amazing. Best completion by Wisconsin all season. Woody turned around. Scratched his head. And then went back to watching Rex Kern and Jim Stillwagon annihilate John Jardine’s Badgers.
But the truth is, by my count (as Rankman would say), we are down to 10 teams that are seriously in the national championship hunt. (You can add a handful more if you feel like buying a lottery ticket.)
But here’s who I would include:
Big 12: Oklahoma and Texas
Big Ten: Ohio State and Wisconsin
Independent: Notre Dame
SEC: Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia
The Pac-12 (as usual) has nobody. If you want to reach, there are ways Cal or Oregon might tiptoe into the picture. But seriously? No. Way.
Others who theoretically could play their way in include Penn State, Florida and Iowa. (Apologies if I have left out your longshot.) And Boise State is in the hunt to be this year’s foot-stomping ``why not us?” UCF, which just had its hopes crushed where the Allegheny meets the Monongahela to form the Ohio.
But based on what the above mentioned Top 10 have done and/or who they are, I would tell you to get extremely long odds if you think the Final Four will include anyone outside that group.
So you see, Billy, the Badgers are in that team photo.
You can narrow that group even further.
Barring sabotage or pilot error, Clemson is in, courtesy of playing in the ACC, the nearest thing in the Power Five to the Group of Five.
The SEC, courtesy of head-to-head meetings, will whittle its candidates down to one or two. Most likely, Alabama and Georgia. But LSU and Auburn certainly look capable.
A one-loss Notre Dame, which proved its worthiness in that competitive 23-17 loss at Georgia, would be lurking, depending on what others do.
So would a one-loss Texas after that thriller vs. LSU. But since only one Big 12 candidate will be around at the end, Oklahoma is your best bet.
And while at this point, the Big Ten is likely to rally behind Ohio State, the Badgers will have an opportunity or two to weigh in on that. Wisconsin travels to Columbus on Oct. 26 and could meet again in the Big Ten championship game.
Yes, all of this assumes all kinds of things. (And as Prof. Luicci told me long ago, ``When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.’’ Or something like that.)
But this is college football. A month into the season, many people assume, with good logic, that Clemson and Alabama will meet in the Championship Game Presented by Waffle House for the fourth time in five years. Speaking of assumptions, someone at TMG had Michigan ranked No. 1 in the nation until Saturday. Now, based on Big Ten wins, the Wolverines wouldn’t even be No. 2 in the Great Lakes State. Ypsilanti!
So, with all that assuming, here’s what’s left: Alabama (which has played in all five College Football Playoffs), Clemson (four out of five), Oklahoma (three), Ohio State (two), Georgia (one) and Notre Dame (one).
In other words, Round Up the Usual Suspects.
Who can crack that nut?
If you’re looking for a fresh face, it’s Bucky Badger.
Here’s why Wisconsin is a solid plyoff candidate even if you discount the rout of under-achieving Michigan: Even in an RPO world and a world where the Heisman Trophy is weighted heavily toward quarterbacks, it’s good to have a big-time running back.
In Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin has that. The guy has rushed for 440 yards and seven touchdowns in three games. On Saturday, when he torched Michigan for 203, he looked like Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump.
It’s also always good to have a big-time defense. And Wisconsin, which pitched a shutout until 2:08 remained in the third quarter of its third game, certainly seems to have that.
Ohio State, which punished Miami of Ohio 76-5 after the RedHawks had the audacity to open a 5-0 lead in the Horseshoe on Saturday, will have a lot to say about that.
And there undoubtedly will be other perils in the Big Ten, which does the best job of whacking its playoff candidates east of the Pac-12.
But let the record show that if any school in America is going to be a first-time CFP participant, Wisconsin is your best bet.
So save the doggone date, Billy. The world is our oyster. At Felix’s.