The Wisconsin Badgers have won back-to-back Big Ten titles, and after getting off on the wrong foot this season, a three-peat appears to be a long shot.
Or is it?
The Badgers surprised many with their performance last week at Nebraska, nearly pulling off the upset as two-touchdown underdogs. While a 0-1 start in Big Ten play isn’t ideal, it doesn’t dash the BCS bowl hopes of Wisconsin.
Don’t count out the Badgers just yet—there is a blueprint for Wisconsin winning the Big Ten title for a third straight year.
Take advantage of the schedule
With eight conference games on the slate, Wisconsin avoids playing three teams from the BIG. This season, those three teams are Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern.
While it may be realistic to believe the Badgers would take at least two of these games, Northwestern is an improved team (5-0, ranked in AP poll for first time since 2008) and Iowa has a history of giving Wisconsin fits (3-6 in last nine meetings). And of course, Michigan poses a dangerous threat with Denard Robinson running rampant.
Aside from who Wisconsin doesn’t have to face, it has a favorable schedule, with the benefit of playing Ohio State and Michigan State at Camp Randall Stadium. Its remaining contests on the road—Purdue, Indiana and Penn State—are all very winnable games.
Assuming the Badgers can take care of Illinois and Minnesota at home, split the games against the Buckeyes and Spartans and win two of their remaining three road games—none of these expectations are asking too much—Wisconsin at most loses three conference games.
With Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for postseason play, that ought to be enough to earn a flight to Indianapolis on Dec. 1.
Spread the wealth in the backfield
Whoever is at fault for the offensive line’s woes this season—whether the players or the coaches—the play of the offensive line is reminiscent of pee wee football.
Maybe it doesn’t matter who Wisconsin throws in the backfield, but how can one find out if the only back who gets a chance to carry the rock is Montee Ball?
Ball’s numbers don’t exactly warrant the 30 carries a game he has been receiving. The senior is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry and nearly has 100 more touches than backup James White.
Not only should White be getting more looks, but so should the electrifying freshman, Melvin Gordon. Gordon is averaging 11.3 yards a rush on just 12 carries. It couldn’t hurt to at least give Ball’s backups more opportunities to see if a change of pace in the running game is just what the doctor ordered.
It appears Bret Bielema has finally come to this realization (via Madison.com).
No slip-ups from the defense
The Badgers are a disappointing 3-2 this season, but both of their losses have come by a mere three points.
In games against Oregon State and Utah State, the only reason Wisconsin had a prayer of winning was because of the stellar play of the defense. The Badgers’ defense ranks 35th in the nation in points allowed (20.2), and quite frankly, that number should be lower for a few reasons.
There have been a few instances where gaffes in the secondary lead to a big play. Also, the Wisconsin offense has stalled in the second half of games this season, leading to a fatigued defensive unit.
The Badgers have lost the possession battle in three of their five games, which is unheard of from a Wisconsin team.
Experience, leadership and two of the best linebackers in the nation in Chris Borland and Mike Taylor will continue to give Wisconsin a chance to win every game. For a defense that was expected to be a weakness heading into the season, it might just be the main reason the Badgers reach a BCS bowl.
Make halftime adjustments
Perhaps the reason the defense has given up 65 of its 101 points allowed in the second half is because of a lack of halftime adjustments.
The Badgers have seen leads slip away against Northern Iowa, UTEP and Nebraska this season, as the coaching staff seems to divert from what was working in the second half and fails to alter the game plan based on what happened in the first half of play.
It could be bad coaching; it could be poor execution by the personnel on the field. But either way, the coaches need to get the right message across to their players, as the Badgers seem to play too conservatively and disoriented in the second half when taking a lead into the break.
No target on their backs
Coming into the season ranked No. 12 in the AP poll, many pegged Wisconsin as favorites to compete for a BCS bowl along with the Big Ten Championship.
With two early losses, those expectations have diminished, but is it warranted?
Sure, the Badgers are no longer contenders for a BCS National Championship Game appearance, but a Big Ten title is still a strong possibility. Keep in mind that, as it stands now, Wisconsin has lost to the No. 14 and No. 21 teams in the country—on the road.
There is still local pressure to succeed, but the national burden is gone, in part to the Badgers’ slow start and in part to the BIG having a down year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for a team with a freshman quarterback.
A team that lost against two quality opponents on the road, Wisconsin only has one remaining game against a current ranked opponent—at home against No. 12 Ohio State.
Maybe things aren’t all that bad in Badgerland.