The silver lining of the rare cloud dangling over Monroe Street is that the problems in Wisconsin Badgers circles are sexy problems, elite-program problems, big-boy problems. Issues 98.6 percent of the FBS would give their left nipple to find staring up at them.
But, see, when you get invited to have the run of the penthouse, you inevitably wind up getting judged relative to the rest of the schmoes at the party. And at some point, amidst the small talk, the question gets asked:
Oh, really? And who have YOU beaten?
Now, the dance card isn’t a problem yet, per se. But there’s more than enough juice to wonder if it certainly could be, down the road, given that all the Badgers (2-0) do is win handily, and all the Associated Press Top 25 voters do in response is nudge them a little lower down the charts — from No. 9 in the preseason to No. 10 in the run-up to Week 3.
Soooo much unrealistic confidence after only 2 games. And no respect for Wisconsin at all? https://t.co/z8FsOxTn7z
— Jakob Katz (@KatzInHatz10) September 10, 2017
@MikeAndMike why don’t you ask Herbstreit about that Wisconsin schedule probably the worst in football overrated
— Bob Kulick/bigal (@robert_kulick) September 13, 2017
My problem with Wisconsin being so highly ranked is that they have a terribly easy schedule this season. They’re a bit overrated!
— Kage (@kylemeyer44) September 6, 2017
Yeah, but here’s the thing: None of this necessarily is the fault of coach Paul Chryst. Or athletic director Barry Alvarez. They didn’t know that Nebraska (1-1) would try to play two weeks without a defense; or that BYU (1-2) would try to go three weeks without an offense; or that Northwestern (1-1) would decide to take this newfound “basketball school” thing a little too literally.
Among the AP Top 10, only Washington has had a kinder strength of schedule (SOS ranking: 143) than Wisconsin (SOS ranking: 138) after two weeks, according to statnik Jeff Sagarin. So the best thing about the Badgers slate also is the worst, at least from a perception standpoint — and polls are still very much a perception game.
Provo, Utah, where Wisconsin plays Saturday afternoon, is perceived as a tough place to play. But BYU also goes into the weekend ranked 117th nationally in points per play (0.121; Wisconsin is 17th at .581) against FBS competition. Which means the Cougars are either playing a pretty fair game of possum right now or Bucky’s going to have a whale of a time playing keep-away with the rock for three-and-a-half hours.
The Badgers need a convincing win, or they need the Cougars — and Utah State and Florida Atlantic, now that you mention it — to do some convincing on a national or provincial level later. Wisconsin doesn’t play a team away from home all season that’s currently ranked among the Sagarin top 40, and only the Cornhuskers (No. 41) and Minnesota (48) come close. If you’re looking for marquee wins, name-brand wins, there’s Iowa (33) at home on Nov. 11 and Michigan (13) at home on Nov. 18. And a lot of take-care-of-business dates in the interim.
Alas, if the goal is the College Football Playoff, and that’s the going rate in the penthouse now, take-care-of-business wins don’t carry a lot of stick. Even if you despise everything Urban Meyer stands for, he grasps this concept remarkably well, which is why when the Buckeyes do find themselves with a foot strategically poised on somebody’s throat, the only recourse is to keep twisting until the screams force the voters in Tallahassee and Los Angeles to stop whatever they’re doing and take notice.
The perception nationally is that the Badgers are a good team with a schedule full of pillow fights. The only way to lick that perception is to stash a bunch of tire chains in the pillow cases and start swinging for the fences. Otherwise, nothing changes, no matter how much you politely politick.
“I do [take it personally],” Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli told the Big Ten Network this week when asked about the polls. “We always want to be that one step better. Instead of being that 10-win or 11-win team, we really want to step it up and be the best team we can. The great thing is, a lot of guys already have that chip on their shoulder. They come in, every day, ready to work and they really expect to be at the top.”
Chips are good.
Tire chains are sooooooooooooooooo much better.
Wisconsin is overrated. U think they beat FSU on a neutral field. Big 10 is hiding them.
— MondeNightSports (@MonDeNighT) September 10, 2017
2017 Wisconsin Badgers, meet the 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes. We’re starting to get the sinking feeling that you’re going to have a hell of a lot to talk about.