Wisconsin’s players have said all week that they are ready for the challenge of their first road game this season. They have noted how they’ll be prepared for BYU’s physical defensive front seven, for the altitude of Provo, Utah — nearly a mile high — and for a rowdy crowd of more than 63,000 people.
Now, it’s almost time to put up or shut up. And based on the manner in which BYU historically has excelled against Power 5 conference teams, this is not a game in which the Badgers can afford to underperform. If they do, their College Football Playoff hopes could vanish in a flash.
BYU has been one of the most consistent non-Power 5 conference teams in college football. The Cougars have reached a bowl game in 12 consecutive seasons, which is tied for the ninth-longest streak in the FBS. Among non-Power 5 teams, that mark is second only to Boise State’s 15 straight bowl appearances.
Since 2007, BYU has defeated a Power 5 conference school in every regular season. The list is long and includes Arizona (twice), Michigan State, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Texas (twice), Virginia, Cal, Georgia Tech (twice), Washington State, Ole Miss, Oregon State, Washington (twice), Oklahoma and UCLA. Last season alone, the Cougars downed three programs from Power 5 conferences.
In other words, BYU won’t be intimidated just because Wisconsin enters the game as a top-10 team.
I asked Wisconsin left tackle Michael Deiter why he believed the Badgers were prepared for such a test at this stage. He said the team has solid leaders who are good at remaining calm when things go off the rails. He noted something was bound to go astray on the road. And if Wisconsin wasn’t fully prepared, he said it could be a wake-up call they don’t want to feel.
Wisconsin has played in some tough environments over the years, but the Badgers’ last two true nonconference road games took place in 2012 and 2013. And neither turned out particularly well.
In 2012, Wisconsin ventured to Corvallis to play Oregon State and laid an egg in a 10-7 loss. That performance prompted former Badgers coach Bret Bielema to fire offensive line coach Mike Markuson the next day. The defeat snapped Wisconsin’s 33-game nonconference winning streak, which was the second longest in the country at the time. Wisconsin finished with 207 total yards of offense, which represented the team’s lowest output in five years.
The 2013 Badgers didn’t fare much better. Wisconsin lost 32-30 at Arizona State after referees bungled the final sequence when quarterback Joel Stave took a knee to set up a field goal. Officials didn’t set the ball back down in time for the Badgers to get off another snap, leading to one of the most controversial losses in recent college football history.
If the Badgers finally put together a full four-quarter game Saturday in Provo, they won’t have to worry about suffering a similar fate. If they can’t gather themselves in a tough road atmosphere, they could become just another Power 5 conference casualty notched on BYU’s belt.