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Around CFB: Big Ten playoff hopes rest on unchallenged Wisconsin

November 6, 2017
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Let this sink in: Every Big Ten football team except one already has at least two losses.

Conventional wisdom would say that every Big Ten football team except one has been eliminated from legitimate consideration for the College Football Playoff.

Unless there is a repeat of the crazy 2007 season (in which a plague of late November losses enabled two-loss LSU to play for — and win — the national championship) only one Big Ten team still has a chance to reach the playoff.

That team is… Wisconsin?

Not meaning to belittle the unbeaten Badgers’ accomplishment, but Wisconsin’s list of opponents is rather underwhelming. The Badgers have not beaten a ranked team. In fact, they’ve only beaten two teams with winning records — Florida Atlantic (6-3) and Northwestern (6-3).

Sure, Wisconsin has talent. Sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook is a good passer. Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor is a Heisman contender.

Sure, Wisconsin has talent. Sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook is a good passer. Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor is a Heisman contender. Tight end Troy Fumagalli is productive. Junior guard Beau Benzschawel is the next off Wisconsin’s assembly line of NFL-caliber offensive linemen.

But a lot of teams would be unbeaten against Wisconsin’s schedule.

The Badgers know this, but they don’t care.

“The biggest thing is it doesn’t really matter,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said after a win over Indiana on Saturday. “You have to continue to take care of your business. That is what we push to these guys every week. Having success, the beauty about that is it makes every game bigger. You’ve just got to handle business and, in the end, see where everything plays out.”

The Badgers definitely have bigger games looming. Their next two opponents — Iowa and Michigan — are their two best opponents. Then if they win the Big Ten West Division as expected they would advance to the conference championship game to face either Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State or even Michigan again.

All those teams currently have two losses. No one will be surprised if Wisconsin eventually does, too.

Heisman leaders

Here are the weekly Heisman ratings based on how I’d vote if the ballot was due this week:

1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma, QB: Sure, he has a spoiled-frat-boy kind of vibe about him. But he’s also got a come-through-in-the-clutch vibe, too. He passed for 598 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for another touchdown in last week’s 62-52 Bedlam victory over Oklahoma State. Mayfield is now second in the nation in passing. He’s thrown for 3,226 yards, has completed 71.7 percent of his attempts and has 28 touchdown passes.

2. Bryce Love, Stanford, RB: The good news is Love had yet another 50-yard run in last week’s 24-21 loss to Washington State. He’s had at least one run that covered 50-plus yards in every game. The bad news is Love had only 69 total rushing yards in the loss to Wazzou. Love still leads the nation in rushing with an average of 182 yards per game. However, his 1,456-yard total is now second in the nation to San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny.

Though Tate was virtually inactive in September, he’s been arguably the nation’s most exciting player since he was elevated into the starting quarterback role in Tucson.

3. Khalil Tate, Arizona, QB: Though Tate was virtually inactive in September, he’s been arguably the nation’s most exciting player since he was elevated into the starting quarterback role in Tucson. In five games as the Wildcats’ starter, he’s rushed for 1,001 yards and nine touchdowns. On the season, Tate has thrown for 930 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 1,087. Coach Rich Rodriguez appears to have found the best quarterback for his system since Pat White at West Virginia.

4. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin, RB: The Badger freshman exploded for 183 rushing yards and a touchdown in last week’s 45-17 victory over Indiana. That was the fourth time he’s exceeded 180 rushing yards. He’s third in the nation with 1,368 total rushing yards and has scored 12 touchdowns.

5. Dante Pettis, Washington, WR: Why not? Pettis is having a solid season as a receiver and a spectacular one as a punt returner. He’s caught 49 passes for 571 yards and seven touchdowns thus far. As a punt returner, he’s averaged 21.6 yards on 19 returns and has brought four back for touchdowns. That’s twice the number of anyone else in the country. Not that it should matter, but Pettis has set an NCAA career record with nine punt returns for touchdowns.

Predicted College Football Playoff participants

1. Georgia: The gap between Alabama and Georgia may not be as significant as some believe. Also, Georgia has the resume’.

2. Alabama: The biggest threat to the unbeaten Tide is mounting injuries on its defense.

3. Notre Dame: Last week star running back Josh Adams managed just 22 rushing yards, yet the Irish still posted 48 points in a win over better-than-you-think Wake Forest.

4. Clemson: Some will argue Oklahoma belongs here. I’ll take Clemson based on the Tigers’ top-15 defense. OU’s defense is horrendous.

Perhaps Ohio State’s huge loss to Iowa shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Iowa did win in overtime over Iowa State and lost on the last play to Penn State.

Week Ten notes

• Perhaps Ohio State’s huge loss to Iowa shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Iowa did win in overtime over Iowa State and lost on the last play to Penn State. Conversely, Ohio State had already allowed more than 30 points twice this season and was stepping into a trap game on the road after an emotional come-from-behind win over Penn State the previous week.

• A late targeting penalty gave Oklahoma State a great chance to pull out a Bedlam victory over Oklahoma. But Oklahoma State managed just two yards on the next four downs. The Cowboys gained 661 yards of total offense, but couldn’t manage more than two yards when it counted most. That tells me the Cowboys’ problem with OU is mental. They don’t think they can beat the Sooners.

• Following such an emotional loss, Oklahoma State might be ripe for an upset when they travel to face Iowa State. If the Cyclones do pull it off, they will have beaten OU, TCU and the Cowboys and still won’t be assured a spot in the Big 12 championship game.

• Maybe it’s time to start taking Miami really seriously. The unbeaten Hurricanes were somewhat dismissed because of a questionable schedule. However, a dominant 28-10 victory over No. 13 Virginia Tech should change how Miami is perceived. If the Hurricanes can upset Notre Dame this week, they have to be viewed as legitimate national championship contenders.

• It’s not out of the question that a two-loss team — or even two two-loss teams — could get into the College Football Playoff. Should that be interpreted as more parity in college football? Or does it mean there’s just a lot of mediocre teams?

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Around CFB: Big Ten playoff hopes rest on unchallenged Wisconsin

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