College Football Playoff Notebook: The Curious Case of Undefeated Wisconsin

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2017

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) warms up before an NCAA college football game against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Perfection should be enough, right? If every result is positive, common sense suggests a reward should wait at the finish line.

The latest concern about the College Football Playoff is Wisconsin potentially being omitted from the final four-team field despite a 13-0 record. And with the Badgers checking in at No. 8 in the selection committee's most recent Top 25, the commotion will be amplified.

But that notion puts far too much faith in perfection everywhere except the Wisconsin locker room. We have a long, long way to go before this discussion is urgent. The Badgers are simply one piece of an elaborate 10-team puzzle.

Have we not learned to expect the opposite of perfection?

Wisconsinwhich should not be faulted for having zero control of the Big Ten crossover scheduleis preparing for a pair of challenging clashes with No. 20 Iowa and Michigan over the next two weeks. Iowa just smashed Ohio State, and Michigan boasts the nation's third-ranked defense.

There's no guarantee the Badgers escape unscathed. And if they don't, worries about a disrespected undefeated team vanish.

Let's say Jonathan Taylor and Co. protect home field, improve to 11-0 and close the regular season with a road victory over Minnesota. Wisconsin still needs to survive the Big Ten title game, where one of Ohio State, Michigan State or Penn State are expected to wait.

MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 21:  Jonathan Taylor #23 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs for yards during a game against the Maryland Terrapins at Camp Randall Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin.  Wisconsin defeated Maryland 38-13.  (Photo by Stacy Rev
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

As embarrassing as the loss at Iowa was, the Buckeyes likely would be favored at a neutral site. Michigan State could contain Taylor and force quarterback Alex Hornibrook to propel Wisconsin, which is a risky thought. Penn State knocked off the Badgers in the conference title game last season.

Perhaps it happens, though. What if Wisconsin achieves an unblemished 13-0 record and is in position to reach the playoff? Are we supposed to expect perfection from most everyone else between now and then?

In order, Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson, Oklahoma, TCU and Miami are ranked higher than the No. 8 Badgers. But in Week 11 alone, one of Oklahoma and TCU will be eliminated from playoff contention. If Notre Dame loses at Miami, the Irish will be gone. Plus, Georgia travels to No. 10 Auburn, while Alabama hosts No. 16 Mississippi State and Clemson takes on Florida State.

Two teams above Wisconsin are guaranteed to lose Saturday, narrowing the field of teams it needs to leap from four to two.

Looking further ahead, Notre Dame has to play at Stanford. Clemson and Miami are likely to meet in the ACC title game. Oklahoma and TCU could have a rematch in the Big 12 title game. Auburn, the sneaky outsider, has to play Alabama. A lot must go perfectly elsewhere for the Badgers not to benefit.

So, what's the doomsday scenario for Wisconsin? Two of Notre Dame/Miami, Clemson and Oklahoma win out, while Alabama and Georgia meet as 12-0 teams with the SEC championship at stake. Only then could the Badgers be left out.

But that's putting a whole lot of faith into nationwide perfection. Every year, college football reminds us how improbable that is.

We still have four weekends of meaningful action on the slate. There's too much time remaining for every program to stay perfect. Wisconsin will either be a part of the chaos or benefit from it.


Impact of the Showdown in Miami

DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 29:  Head coach Mark Richt of the Miami Hurricanes watches on against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 29, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On Saturday night, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 7 Miami will square off in South Florida. The Fighting Irish are currently three-point favorites, according to OddsShark.

Given Notre Dame's excellent form, the opening line seems about right. Running back Josh Adams is a second-tier Heisman Trophy contender, and the offense just shredded Wake Forest for 710 yards despite Adams leaving the game early. 

Miami presents a significant challenge for that explosive attack because of a talented and aggressive front seven. Manny Diaz's unit leads the country with 8.75 tackles for loss per game and is ranked fifth with an average of 3.5 sacks.

This showdown will be won in the trenches. But the significance of the outcome varies for the Irish and Hurricanes.

Even though Notre Dame's only other loss is to now-No. 1 Georgia, a second shortcoming would doom Brian Kelly's squad. The selection committee is required to consider league championships when looking at comparable teams, and the Irish cannot win a conference title due to its independent status.

Miami, on the other hand, enjoys a slim margin for error because it's almost certainly headed to the ACC title game. The Hurricanes can't officially clinch a spot with a victory in Week 11, but a Virginia loss would do the trick.

As long as Mark Richt's club doesn't falter against Virginia and Pitt, the 'Canes could upend Clemson, bounce the reigning national champions and join the top-four discussion.

Neither school can solidify itself as a playoff team in Week 11, but only Notre Dame runs the risk of ensuring it won't be.


The First Big 12 Title Game

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 01:  Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Five programs remain in the chase for the Big 12 title game, but only two schools can reach the College Football Playoff.

The latter number will dwindle to one Saturday night.

Oklahoma will host TCU in a battle between 8-1 teams for what is basically a de facto national quarterfinal. Unfortunately for the winner, it won't necessarily eliminate the loser from the remaining schedule because of the conference title game.

Four weekends from now, that clash could feature a rematch between the Sooners and Horned Frogs. Beating a top-10 team once is challenging; doing it twice within a 28-day stretch is a huge task, especially given the dueling strengths of OU and TCU.

Baker Mayfield leads the nation's most prolific offense. The Sooners are averaging 608.2 yards and 45.0 points, which ranks No. 1 and No. 3 in the country, respectively. Conversely, the Horned Frogs have stood out as the nation's sixth-best defense.

It isn't difficult to imagine Mayfield besting TCU once before Gary Patterson gets the best of Oklahoma, or vice versa.

Whichever team celebrates in Norman will have demanded the selection committee's attention with a marquee win. But it's unwise to get overly excited about the result.

In all likelihood, the loser will have an opportunity for redemption on Dec. 2. And exacting that revenge in Arlington would prevent the Big 12 from enjoying the College Football Playoff.


Don't Forget About Washington

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 04:  Punt returner Dante Pettis #8 of the Washington Huskies celebrates after retuning a punt for a touchdown against the Oregon Ducks at Husky Stadium on November 4, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. The return for a touchdown was the n
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Although the introduction focused on Wisconsin, Washington easily could have been mentioned alongside the Badgers. The only difference is that the Huskies dropped a game in October.

Both programs have a limited number of marquee wins and are criticized for weak schedules. Yet at 8-1, they're in prime position to benefit from any chaos involving higher-ranked teams.

Washington heads to Stanford this Friday before hosting Utah and No. 19 Washington State to end the campaign. Assuming USC knocks off Utah and UCLA, the Dawgs could topple the Pac-12 title game and finish the year with a trio of Top 25 wins.

Just like Wisconsin, descriptions of the schedule would turn from "weak" to "respectable" rather quickly.

Yes, while a one-loss conference champion from the ACC or Big 12 or an 11-1 Notre Dame squad the committee views as a non-comparable team may hold a slight edge on Washington, a reasonable sequence of results would put the Dawgs in position to steal the final slot for the four-team tournament.

Future scenarios only matter if a given team keeps winning. Should Chris Petersen's club fall this week, it'll no longer be in the playoff picture anyway.

But until the second loss actually happens, we need to consider Washington a contender.


Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR