Before the hate mail hits my inbox like Mike Tyson hit Alan in The Hangover, I'd like to say the following: This isn't to suggest Wisconsin will cakewalk into the national championship game in January.
This article will outline how things could shake out in 2010 for the title game picture, so take a breath, feel a little adventurous, and be willing to make a few jumps with me here.
Looking at the teams ahead of the Badgers after Week 1 in the polls (No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Boise State, No. 4 TCU, No. 5 Texas, No. 6 Nebraska, No. 7 Oregon, No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Iowa, and No. 10 Oklahoma), Wisconsin would surely have some work to do to get to at least the No. 2 spot currently held by fellow Big Ten team Ohio State.
So why exactly am I optimistic that the dominoes can fall in Bucky's favor this season?
Let's first take a look at the highlights of their schedule.
Not including out of conference (because their only legitimate OOC opponent is ASU), the Badgers have a two- or three-game season.
If they beat Ohio State at Camp Randall and can win on the road in Iowa, the Badgers will likely go undefeated.
Going undefeated in the Big Ten usually means a national championship game appearance.
Well, let's look further into this before making that leap.
For the Badgers to leap nine spots to No. 2, a lot will have to happen aside from them going undefeated.
For starters, teams that are ahead of them will need to lose. Common sense, I hope.
The Badgers can help their own hand with a few of the teams ahead of them. If the team can beat Ohio State, that would likely be a matchup of teams ranked No. 2 and Wisconsin at 8/9ish.
The Badgers would gain at least one spot in the rankings, moving up to No. 7/8.
Later in the year, beating Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State would also be worthy of moving up a few spots, especially considering the roll the team would have to be on to have beaten all four tough games on their schedule, and also factoring the losses that inevitably shake up the top five/10.
So, let's make some predictions here.
Wisconsin will likely be ranked No. 10 going into next week against Austin Peay.
If Ohio State loses between now and their game, that would shuffle the top 10 and likely see the Badgers climb the polls a bit more.
Same applies to Iowa.
I don't believe Boise State will make it an entire season undefeated after the many issues I saw in their game against Virginia Tech, so I'm pulling them out of my December/January top five.
Projected Top 10 in November (assuming Badgers are undefeated)
3. Boise State
6. Ohio State
10. TCU (After a projected Week 7 loss against BYU, the polls won't be so kind, and they won't be able to climb up, facing only a No. 20-ranked Utah the rest of the season.)
**Note: This list assumes the following: The Badgers have beaten OSU, Iowa, and Minnesota. It also assumes Ohio State has beaten Miami and Minnesota but lost to Wisconsin.
Looking at this projected Top 10 AP poll, Wisconsin would be in fourth place with four weeks to play.
To make room for Wisconsin in the top two, I've projected some reasonable losses. Ohio State can be beaten, especially coming into Camp Randall to face a potent Badgers offense, and an unbeaten team at that. Add in the crowd noise and anything can happen in enemy territory.
Iowa, as well, has fallen to Wisconsin but maintains its current ranking, pulling back with a quality win over Michigan State.
With all that said, it's reasonable to assume Wisconsin can climb one to two spots per week, as they did, in my projected AP poll for the week of November 6th's games.
For the Badgers to get into BCS title game range, some magic would have to happen, though.
I don't see Boise State making it the whole season undefeated, as their last-effort win was sketchy over Virginia Tech. The team coasted and nearly got burned. Not giving 100 percent 100 percent of the time will eventually catch up with you.
I could see them running into a very athletic Oregon State team and not playing their best, with Oregon State making a few key plays to seal the win.
If we figure those changes in, it could very well be Alabama at No. 1, Texas at No. 2, and Wisconsin sitting at three.
Texas, playing Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M in three of its last four weeks, could very well be looking at a damning loss down the stretch, causing the Longhorns to fall late in the year.
If Oregon State were to beat Texas, Alabama and Wisconsin would likely be No. 1 and 2 respectively.
Assuming, again, that the Badgers come out of conference play unscathed and make it through the out of conference games without a loss, the Badgers would be a lock to get in the BCS championship game.
So, would Alabama and Wisconsin be an even match?
Alabama would be the favorite—although I doubt you needed my help in reaching that conclusion—against a very hot Badgers team led by a power runner in John Clay and an efficient passer in senior quarterback Scott Tolzien.
Alabama's defense, even if you're talking to Tide head coach Nick Saban about it, isn't what it was last year.
Missing key pieces from last year, the Tide would have a tough time with likely Heisman winner (if the scenario were to play out this way) John Clay.
Also a mismatch no matter where he is, tight end Lance Kendricks would provide options other than Nick Toon in the passing game for Tolzien.
Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram would be a deadly combination for the Badgers to face in the title game, but the veteran defensive line should be up to the task. Juniors J.J. Watt and Patrick Butrym (although not exactly Terrence "Mount" Cody of Alabama's 2009 stud D-line) anchor the line for the Badgers, making it very difficult for opponents' running games to get going.
As for quarterback play, the Badgers would face a cerebral leader of the Tide in Greg McElroy, who hasn't lost as a starting quarterback since eighth grade. He's 30-0 combining his games played with Alabama and his senior year of high school.
Aside from that, he's shown an aptitude to rally his team and a dedication to be the best payer on the field.
The Badgers counter with Tolzien, and while he's not the mental master of football that McElroy is, he brings intangibles to the field, like his leadership and his timing. Often knowing where his man will be before he's even broken off his route, Tolzien will throw to where the receiver will be, not just where he *is*.
This game wouldn't be determined by quarterback play, though.
It would, without a doubt, be decided by the play of both running backs, Clay and Ingram, as well as their backups (Montee Ball and James White for the Badgers, Richardson for Alabama).
Can Wisconsin's offensive line behemoths open enough lanes for Clay and Co. to run down Alabama in the national championship game?
They star a group of corn-fed blockers—Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Peter Konz, Bill Nagy, and Josh Oglesby—who will be determined to do two things: Keep Tolzien from harm and open holes for Clay.
Can the Badgers' premier offensive line pave the way to a win against Alabama?
It remains to be seen, but we'll just have to wait until January.