Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 8:35 AM
Wisconsin has a great team this year. But, there's a very real chance they'll get locked out of the BCS championship game because they don't have the same math as the likely SEC and Big 12 champions. If they don't get help from elsewhere, the only way the Badgers can get into the big game is to earn massive style points in Big Ten play. Michigan State is the toughest team they're destined to face this year...so those style points have to come TONIGHT in a nationally televised road game on ESPN.
Why might the Badgers be shut out of the BCS?
They currently trail both LSU and Alabama from the SEC in the BCS standings. The winner of the head-to-head meeting between those teams is assured of a spot if they run the table...and may have such a strong strength of schedule that they'll make the top two even with a loss somewhere else. Given the nature of the SEC at the moment...you currently have to assume that the winner of LSU-Alabama is going to be one of the two BCS teams.
They currently trail both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State from the Big 12 in the BCS standings. The winner of that head-to-head meeting is also in line for a spot in the big game. Now, upsets have been a bit more common with OU in recent years than the eventual SEC champion. And, Okie State is far from a sure thing to run the table until that Oklahoma game. But...each side will be substantial favorites until they play each other. If form holds, Wisconsin's in the Rose Bowl again complaining about the championship process!
Of course, talented Michigan State could put an end to all that talk tonight with a win over Wiscy. That happened last year at this time when the Spartans won 34-24 as three-point underdogs. MSU won even more impressively than the final score makes it sound too.
MICHIGAN STATE 34, WISCONSIN 24
Total Yardage: Wisconsin 292, Michigan State 447
Rushing Yardage: Wisconsin 165, Michigan State 178
Passing Stats: Wisconsin 11-25-0-127, Michigan State 20-29-2-269
Turnovers: Wisconsin 0, Michigan State 3
Third Downs: Wisconsin 27%, Michigan State 50%
Yards-Per-Play: Wisconsin 5.2, Michigan State 6.2
If not for the turnover category, this would have been a blowout. MSU won total yardage by more than 150 yards. Wisconsin usually squashes opponents in the ground game...yet it was MSU that won rushing yardage here. Third down conversions were very one-sided for the hosts. And, that yards-per-play number for Michigan State was extremely impressive considering the caliber of defense they were facing.
Considering this Michigan State team would ultimately get annihilated by Alabama in a New Year's Day bowl...you can see why the BCS process gives such respect to the SEC...and not very much to the Big Ten. Given that boxscore...would you have liked Wisconsin to beat Alabama last year? Alabama didn't even win the SEC West, let alone the whole SEC.
It took pollsters and computer programmers way too long to account for this in their ranking process. But, now, the burden is on the Big Ten to prove they belong. The best team in the conference is no longer the best team in the nation...which was their de facto spot for far too many years.
So, Wisconsin has some work to do tonight. There are several indicators though that suggest the story could be much different this time around.
Wisconsin has upgraded at quarterback, with Russell Wilson being in position to do A LOT better than 11-25-0-127 in the air. If he's moving the ball more effectively, that will also improve the numbers in third down conversions and yards-per-play too. How would last year's Wisconsin team have done vs. last year's Alabama team if Wilson had been their quarterback? That's a very interesting question. We'd still take Alabama straight up...but you can at least have a debate about the issue.
Wisconsin is in much better form this year than they were at the same time last year. It's important to remember that Wisconsin closed really well after the MSU loss. Entering the game, they were two weeks away from an ugly 20-19 home win over unimpressive Arizona State...and not far removed from a lethargic 27-14 win over horrible San Jose State. Wisconsin was a 38-point favorite over San Jose, and couldn't even come within 10 points of the spread offensively on the scoreboard. Wisconsin didn't become WISCONSIN in 2010 until the second half of the season. They were still working out the kinks and becoming a true team at the time Michigan State bullied them in East Lansing.
Michigan State is currently coming off two physical WARS with Ohio State and Michigan. The Spartans won both games...but they were certainly draining. The 10-7 Ohio State battle was a defensive slugfest. Frankly, the Michigan game was that way too much of the afternoon...with things getting chippy probably during the pre-game breakfast and going downhill from there. Last year Michigan State had a virtual scrimmage the week before Wisconsin when they faced Northern Colorado. This season, it's Wisconsin playing the virtual scrimmages every week because they've so badly outclassed their 2011 competition.
It's not reasonable to expect a replay of last year. And, Vegas isn't expecting one either. That's why the line is Wisconsin -7 instead of Wisconsin -3. As handicappers, you have to decide if a proper adjustment has been made...not only from the Vegas line but from the actual reality that happened on the field.
Can the Badgers turn last year's result around and win by ten? Can they do better than that because they have a fresh new quarterback facing a worn down opposing defense (note that Michigan State's foul play last week will have them shorthanded this week too). Or...has a schedule full of cupcakes created illusions about Wisconsin that are about to be exposed big time in front of a national TV audience?
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Washington at Stanford
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