David Stluka / UW Athletics
Vince Biegel (47) and Leo Musso (19) celebrate Saturday’s win over Minnesota, led by quarterback Bart Houston (13).
The Wisconsin Badgers wrapped up their regular season on Nov. 26 with a post-Thanksgiving Day 31-17 come-from-behind-victory at home over Minnesota — leaving fans with plenty to be grateful for regardless of what the next few weeks bring.
If you’ve paid even a little attention to college football, you know that the 10-2 Badgers won the Big Ten West and will play 10-2 Big Ten East champion Penn State in the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 3. This will be Wisconsin’s fourth appearance in the title game in the past six years — the most by any other team in the conference, by the way — and they’ve won it twice.
You also know that UW, No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings as of Nov. 30, could secure a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff with a victory over the Nittany Lions.
How did Wisconsin, unranked at the start of this season when the Badgers beat No. 5 LSU at Lambeau Field on Sept. 3, end up in the national title hunt with the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Washington? Let me count the ways:
• The Badgers overcame a daunting schedule. They played five top 10 teams and beat three of them (LSU, No. 7 Nebraska and No. 8 Michigan State). Wisconsin lost the other two by a total of 10 points (Ohio State, in double-overtime, and Michigan).
• Head coach Paul Chryst didn’t commit at quarterback. By rotating senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook, Chryst kept both players in full-on readiness mode all season and played each of them as needed.
• Pressure? What pressure? Last year at this time, the Badgers were coming off a productive but not entirely remarkable 9-3 regular season, and we all were waiting to find out in which ho-hum bowl game they would play. (It was the Holiday Bowl, and they beat USC.) This year, preseason expectations were high, but arguably no more so than usual. Three months later, Wisconsin is in the national championship conversation and bringing a six-game winning streak into Indy.
If UW’s defense, which held the Gophers to 60 yards in the second half and forced four interceptions, can pick up against Penn State where it left off against Minnesota, the Badgers will help keep Madison’s mind off politics for the next few weeks.