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Today is Wednesday, Nov. 16, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Less of a guarantee for playoff spot
Wisconsin’s path to the College Football Playoff is a little more uncertain in the wake of the updated rankings being released on Tuesday that found the Badgers still at No. 7 despite all the upheaval in front of them this past weekend.
No one thought Wisconsin would jump Clemson or Michigan after those teams suffered the first losses of the season, but many felt the Badgers would go ahead of Washington, who fell for the first time this year, losing by double digits at home to USC. That didn’t happen. The Huskies fell, but only to No. 6, staying in front of Wisconsin.
Don't overlook the importance of Washington remaining above Wisconsin. If they both win their conferences, could be fighting for 4th spot.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 16, 2016
The fact that Washington fell to a three-loss USC squad and dropped just two spots has to be concerning for Wisconsin. Even if the Badgers win out — this week against Purdue, at home against Minnesota, and then the Big Ten title game — it doesn’t guarantee them a spot in the playoff if the Huskies take the Pac-12 title without suffering another loss.
And that will be difficult for Wisconsin fans to stomach, mostly because of strength of schedule. It could be said that the Badgers have played one of the most difficult schedule in the country, and their only two losses have come by seven points against No. 2 and No. 3 teams (Ohio State and Michigan) in the nation. Washington’s schedule is putrid when compared to the Badgers, coming in at No. 63 in the country, according to Jeff Sagarin’s numbers, while Wisconsin sits at No. 11.
Washington ahead of Wisconsin? Huskies have 1 Top 25 win. So much for strength of schedule
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) November 16, 2016
The more concerning aspect, though, is the admiration that the playoff committee has for a number of Pac-12 teams. Utah, which Washington beat, is at No. 12. USC is just one spot behind them. And there is an opportunity for the Huskies to get a win over No. 22 Washington State in the season finale, and then potentially No. 10 Colorado in the conference title game.
Obviously, this doesn’t change anything for the players. This week is all about Purdue. But for fans, the anxiety has to be rising as the potential for winning the Big Ten title and not making the playoff is certainly more possible now than it was before Tuesday night.
Plenty of work to do
The offseason buzz around the Wisconsin basketball team lost a bit of its zeal on Tuesday night, as the No. 9 Badgers went into Creighton and got outplayed in the No. 22 Bluejays’ 75-67 win in Omaha. Creighton is a good team, but not the great one that coach Greg Gard and his squad made them look.
Gard: "I liked our effort but the execution looked like Nov. 15. We had some un-Wisconsinlike possessions."
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) November 16, 2016
What the loss tells us, or should tell us, is that this isn’t two years ago. That was the last Wisconsin team to start a year in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 following an offseason of high praise. That group was coming off a trip to the Final Four, included two future first-round picks and a bevy of other talented players that all complimented each other. That is not the group that Gard has right now.
It’s easy to forget that without two Bronson Koenig 3-pointers, including one at the buzzer to upset Xavier, the Badgers would have been eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament last March. That wouldn’t have taken away what Gard and the team accomplished after former coach Bo Ryan abruptly retired and the team started 9-9, but it certainly would have put a different spin on things than the one we all heard and read after Wisconsin came up just short in the Sweet 16 to Notre Dame.
This is a team that was still in the midst of growing at the end of last year and remains there. Just because it started the season at No. 9 didn’t make it some juggernaut that was untouchable. Wisconsin can’t win games by throwing up 39 3-pointers, 25 of them in the first half, shooting just five free throws and turning the ball over 16 times. That’s not how Gard or his staff envisions them getting to where everyone thinks they can be by the time March rolls around.
"We'll learn a lot from this game."#Badgers
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) November 16, 2016
The loss is far from earth-shattering. Wisconsin was only a two-point favorite over Creighton, which has quite the home court advantage in Omaha. But it should be the proverbial wake-up call for anyone that thought this group would just cruise through the season largely unchallenged like the 2014-’15 team did.
This is the 2016-’17 version, and the Badgers have work to do.
Running back depth coming around
Wisconsin has had some impressive running back rooms over the last 25 years, especially in the last six or so. In 2010, the combination of John Clay, Montee Ball and James White almost became the first trio in school history to each run for 1,000 yards in a season.
Two years later, Ball, White and Melvin Gordon rolled over teams together, and then it was White, Gordon and Corey Clement doing it in 2013. And while no one is trying to compare the Badgers trio this year — Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Bradrick Shaw — to those all-time great groups, this one is starting to show its teeth.
Coach Chryst on Bradrick Shaw: "He's been continuing to work. When he gets opportunities, he's done well with them. It's important to him."
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 14, 2016
Clement has rushed for 928 yards this season, while Ogunbowale is at 453 and Shaw is sitting at 307 with two games left. It’s likely that the trio can run for 2,000 yards combined, which is not something you could say five games into the year when they were averaging just 160 yards per game. But since that loss to Michigan, the Badgers are up to 235 yards per game on the ground. Along with the offensive line, that has a lot to do with the patience of Clement, the big runs from Ogunbowale and the steadiness of Shaw.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst has said he’s going to need everyone down the stretch, and it appears that’s going to be the case at running back, a place they’ve found depth where the wasn’t any last year.
When you think of Chryst, master motivator isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. He is, admittedly, a tad dry in news conferences and rarely gives a memorable quote. It’s not that he can’t, it’s just that he’s a different guy when the camera or recorders come on.
So it came as a bit of surprise to hear Chryst, in Wisconsin’s video recap released Tuesday night, deliver a heck of a line just before his team took the field against Illinois last week.
“Five days this pack has been hunting,” Chryst told his guys. “Today is the kill. Let’s go eat.”
Dim the lights.
Turn up the sound.
Inside Badger Gameday: Illinoishttps://t.co/CvRnKjFAnT
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 16, 2016
Is it a line that will stick with you for a lifetime? Probably not. But it’s a vast improvement over what cameras have caught coming out of the locker room before games this season, most of it being some variation of go out and have some fun — at least of the G-rated variety.
But this was a good, clean line that had some bite to it and players responded.
- Iowa must guard against a letdown this week when they play Illinois
- Mike Riley: Honoring Sam Foltz will bring back ‘great memories and sad memories’
- Michigan State’s young players will learn from the loss to Kentucky
- How Washington can keep the Big Ten from getting two playoff spots
- Why Michigan is still at No. 3 in the CFP despite losing to Iowa