There are a few big pillars to the Big Ten’s foundation, and one of them is the strength of some of college football’s longest-standing and biggest rivalry games. Some may even call it the conference of trophy games.
Seemingly every game in the league has something on the line. Wisconsin has such games with Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska already.
But, one team that may be budding as a new rival is that of the Northwestern Wildcats.
It seems silly on the surface, given Wisconsin’s national stature and Northwestern’s inability to win division, let alone Big Ten championships since it last did in 1994. But, there is something more to this series than the perceived national stature of the programs.
Northwestern endured a 13-game losing streak, but broke that in 1985. Ever since then, the two teams have been on even footing on the field, splitting the next 26 matchups to the tune of an even 13-13 record.
But, just being even in the record books doesn’t answer the question of rivalry or not.
This is more of a question of how rivalries get started and how they are maintained. For Northwestern and Wisconsin, the game has become about two physical, tough-minded and academically like-minded schools going toe-to-toe on the gridiron.
According to Badger247, players on the UW side of things know exactly what they are in store for when the two sides meet.
“They’re tough and they’re physical,” senior tight end Troy Fumagalli said. “They try and match our intensity. They come out and hit you.
“They’re not afraid.”
Northwestern’s Justin Jackson echoed the same comments when asked about the series with the Badgers going in to the 2016 season, telling me that this game means more because they know and respect what the Badgers are about.
“I think it’s just the culture of our two teams,” Jackson said. “Tough, hard-nosed, scrappy. You know, not always looked at how we should be. So, every single time we come to play against each other we already know what type of game it is going to be. We already know we are going to have to fight to the last second.”
Both programs respect one another, but they also know that there is something more than just another game when they get together too.
“There is always a little extra in Northwestern week,” junior left tackle Michael Deiter said to Badger247. “It sort of does fell like a rivalry. It’s a Big Ten West game and every game there is super important.
Sometimes familiarity breeds rivalries. That certainly seems to be the case here.
But, before we go there for sure, we also need to remember that just a few years of like-minded football programs going at it doesn’t a rivalry really make.
We’ve asked this question in the past when the Badgers and Michigan State had their slugfests in the earlier part of this decade.
Now look at the state of the two programs? Wisconsin continues to battle for Big Ten championships and Michigan State is seemingly battling to maintain mediocrity just two seasons removed from a College Football Playoff berth.
As for the Badgers and Wildcats? Wisconsin is the Big Ten’s perennial West division leader, while Northwestern has hopes of contending and never has reached Indianapolis. So, why would the two even be considered rivals?
Well, when games are competitive, both teams win ones they shouldn’t and the wins define seasons, you can start to see why the players see these games on a heightened level.
Perhaps it will take Northwestern upending Wisconsin at the top of the West division heap to solidify this as a rivalry. But, for now, it is hard to argue that this isn’t the most competitive and challenging West division foe for the Badgers.
Will that once again be the case in Madison this weekend? After all, Northwestern snapped a 4-game losing streak in Madison during its last trip and strange things have happened in this series as of late.
It’s that stuff that makes competitive matchups in to true rivalries and the Big Ten would be better off with rivalries growing organically thanks to divisional play.
Badgers hockey picked 3rd in preseason poll
Yes, it is nearly time for college hockey to get back on the ice.
On Monday, the Big Ten offices released the preseason coaches poll and All-Big Ten players for the 2019-20 season. The Wisconsin Badgers were picked third in the conference, behind Penn State and Notre Dame.
Considering Penn State returns 20 letterwinners from their Big Ten tournament championship team, that pick wasn’t all that shocking.
Wisconsin was also well represented on the individual level. Sophomore defenseman K’Andre Miller was one of just two unanimous picks on the first-team All-Big Ten list.
He was the only Badgers player on the first team, but incoming freshman Cole Caufield was picked as an honorable mention player without even putting on the Wisconsin sweater.
After a few years of struggles, the Badgers have gotten back on track with top level recruits that are sticking around longer and that could make for an interesting season for this program.
Wisconsin finished last season 14-18-5 and 9-10-5 (B1G) and will look to get back to being a NCAA tournament team at a minimum this season.
2019-20 Preseason All-Big Ten Hockey Teams
As selected by Big Ten coaches
Tanner Laczynski, F, Ohio State
Evan Barratt, F, Penn State
Alex Limoges, F, Penn State
Wyatt Kalynuk, D, Wisconsin
K’ANDRE MILLER, D, WISCONSIN
CALE MORRIS, G, NOTRE DAME
Will Lockwood, F, Michigan
Mitchell Lewandowski, F, Michigan State
Sammy Walker, F, Minnesota
Dennis Cesana, D, Michigan State
Cole Hults, D, Penn State
Tommy Nappier, G, Ohio State
Patrick Khodorenko, F, Michigan State
Cal Burke, F, Notre Dame
Cole Caufield, F, Wisconsin
Cam York, D, Michigan
Jerad Rosburg, D, Michigan State
Kris Myllari, D, Penn State
Hayden Lavigne, G, Michigan
Unanimous selections in ALL CAPS
2019-20 BIG TEN PRESEASON POLL
- Penn State
- Notre Dame
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
What do the analytics say about the Badgers 2nd half schedule?
Yes, the loss to Michigan has everyone reeling and plenty of people questioning if the Wisconsin Badgers will ever truly become a national contender.
It’s been one step forward and two giant steps backwards every time the path has been there for the Badgers to date. But, the bitter loss to Michigan is in the rearview mirror and it also was the end of the first half of the Badgers schedule.
So, we thought it would be a good idea to see how some of the computers believe the second half of the schedule looks for the Cardinal and White.
Will the Badgers run the table and get to 10 wins again? Is there disappointment ahead?
Answers vary depending on the models used, but let’s explore how analytics see things going for Paul Chryst’s crew.
Unsurprisingly, the analytics tell us that the Badgers are going to have one big game and a whole lot of control towards a potential 10-win season still in the mix.
According to ESPN’s FPI index, Wisconsin will be favored in all but one game the remainder of the season. That one game of course is the trip to Happy Valley to take on Penn State. The FPI index gives the Badgers a 20 percent chance to win that game.
However, they do give the Badgers better odds against most of the rest of the schedule. It starts with a 95 percent chance at winning the Homecoming matchup with Illinois this weekend.
Wisconsin is also favored to win by 80 percent or more in two other games — Rutgers (97.6) and Minnesota (82.9). The Rutgers result is expected given how little resistance the Scarlet Knights have given to other teams at the bottom of the Big Ten pecking order so far this season.
As for the other games, perhaps the toughest to figure out on the schedule will surprise you. That’s because the FPI believes Purdue will be the biggest challenge outside of the Penn State game. Wisconsin has just a 58.2 chance of winning that game.
That leaves Northwestern in two weeks, and the FPI believes the Badgers have a 62.9 percent chance to win that game in Evanston. With the Wildcats finally getting on a win at Ryan Field last weekend, it will be interesting to see how this contest tracks after this upcoming weekend.
So, if all things hold out ESPN’s FPI see’s the Badgers at 9-3 to end the regular season and still winning the Big Ten West division championship. However, their projections have UW closer to 8-4 and that would likely mean a third loss inside the conference and if that is the case it could be an interesting race in the West division.
ESPN’s rating system is just one of many, so what do the others have to say?
College Football Analytics believes a lot of the same things as ESPN does, but they give the Badgers a good chance of finishing 9-3 overall. To be exact, they put UW’s probability of winning 9 games at 64.4 percent.
Perhaps the most interesting projection comes in the Penn State game, where they give the Badgers much better odds of pulling that game off. Currently, UW is given a win probability of 42.4 precent in that game and a score of 40.2 to 32.9.
Like the FPI, this model has the Badgers winning every other game on its schedule and doing so handily over Illinois, Rutgers and Minnesota. It also believes UW’s biggest toss-up game will be against Purdue, where the Badgers are just a 51 percent favorite to win that game.
But, it’s always good to get a third set of data to work with. That comes from the S&P+ system and not shockingly, they too have the Badgers finishing 9-3 on the season.
But, like the CFB Analytics numbers and unlike the FPI, they believe this game is going to be much closer than expected. The S&P+ system believes it will be less than a touchdown difference in the game.
This model also sees the game at Purdue as the biggest toss up on the UW schedule, with the Badgers given a 57 percent chance of winning and only an expected winning margin of 3.2 points.
So, as you can see there is a lot of agreement amongst the analytics side of the college football world.
It’s hard to disagree with their thoughts given the relative softness of the Badgers overall schedule in the second half of the season.
Pair of Big Ten players named to PFF mid-season All-American team
It hasn’t been a banner year for the Big Ten, with it seeming more and more like the days of the big two and little 10 (12 today). So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that All-American honors are few and far between.
But, it was near barren for the Big Ten when Pro Football Focus gave out its mid-season All-American honors. Just two players — both on offense — made the cut from the conference.
Ohio State wide receiver K.J. Hill and Wisconsin right guard Beau Benzschawel were both named to the offensive All-American team.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor was named honorable mention. So was OSU defensive tackle Dre’mont Jones on the other side of the ball.
What makes Pro Football Focus’ lists so different are the fact that they are based on analyzing actual play from every player in college football throughout the season.
It means, actual play on the field dictates getting on this list and not reputation or PR.
Benzschawel is the second-highest rated guard in the country according to PFF, as they say this about his performance at the midway mark:
Benzschawel is close behind [Terrone] Prescod, grading at 81.1 as a run-blocker, good for sixth among guards while allowing only three pressures on 151 snaps in pass protection.
Much like Benzschawel, Hill is also the second highest rated player at his position. Hill trails only Colorado’s superstar receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. and has a grade of 90.9 on the season.
According to PFF, “Hill has been incredibly efficient as well, catching 85.1% of his targets while averaging 8.2 yards after the catch per reception.”
It will be interesting to see how thing shake out in the second half of the season and if players like Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary or many other of the Badgers offensive lineman grade out better.
Good, Bad, Ugly: The tale of Buckeyes, Badgers and Illini in Week 3
There is no two ways about it — Week 3 was the Big Ten’s collective worst nightmare.
Just take a look at the final scores from the weekend:
So, on a Saturday in which contenders were dropping like flies, how do we make sense of what took place?
Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Week 3 around the Big Ten.
On a weekend that saw so much carnage from Big Ten teams, there is no doubt that Ohio State’s big win over TCU is the good of the weekend. It wasn’t just that the pickings were slim either, the Buckeyes put on a show in the win over the Horned Frogs at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
With the eyes of most of the college football world on them, OSU came up big. They punched hard first, going up 10-0 and then took a big punch from TCU for a pair of touchdowns, the last of which was a school-record 93-yard run by Darius Anderson for the 14-10 lead early in the second quarter.
Let’s not forget there were two defensive touchdowns (albeit one shouldn’t have counted after further review that never happened on the field), including a “fat guy” TD by Dre’mont Jones.
Lost in some of the craziness was the fact that Dwayne Haskins showed out in a big way. He was 24 of 38 for a crazy 344 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Haskins also had a rushing touchdown to cap off all the offensive scoring for his team.
Sure, the defense gave up 511 yards, but it seemed more a byproduct of TCU’s offensive style than anything worrisome about the Buckeyes defense. After all, they forced three total turnovers, had three sacks and seven tackles for loss on the day.
It was a shot across the bow of the rest of the elite in college football and arguable the most dangerous the Buckeyes have looked on both sides of the ball in awhile.
There’s no where to go here other than to head to Madison, Wis. where the Badgers came in to their contest against BYU with a 41-game home non-conference win streak.
By the time the mid-afternoon matchup was over, the Badgers streak was also over and it wasn’t a fluke. The visiting Cougars took a page out of the Wisconsin playbook and simply out-muscled the Badgers on both sides of the ball.
UW’s normally potent run game averaged just 4.7 yards per carry. Its defense allowed 191 yards to BYU on the ground. That pretty much sums up the shock that happened inside Camp Randall.
For the first time in over 15 years, a non-conference opponent came in to Camp Randall, outplayed and finally beat the Badgers. We’ll see if this is a wake up call or the start of a snowball effect that can’t be stopped.
Having rival Iowa on the road and at night should certainly get the Badgers attention this coming week.
Sure, we could’ve gone with Northwestern getting blown out by a MAC opponent at home. There was also Rutgers’ piss-poor day at Kansas and Temple working over Maryland. But, those were all blowouts and there was just one loss that hurt more than any other…Illinois.
For just over 57 minutes, this week felt different for Illini fans…until South Florida’s Darnell Salomon hauled in a 50-yard touchdown from Blake Barnett with 2:24 to play.
That was just a downright brutal blow to a program that could’ve used the win in the worst way. Illinois got an early touchdown from running back Mike Epstein and then four field goals (three of which were over 40 yards) for a 19-7 lead late in the third quarter.
Then the fourth quarter happened and you could just feel the game slipping away. Just over three minutes after the last of Illinois last field goal, it was Salomon who broke through with a 14-yard touchdown catch to make it a 5-point game. Add in a field goal midway through the quarter and a 19-7 lead was whittled down to 19-17.
But, the Illini really only have themselves to blame. After all, they squandered four drives that were in USF territory and couldn’t get in the end zone. The Illini also couldn’t score a single point in the final quarter, and that’s usually not a good thing.
The play in the final stanza was particularly brutal, as USF’s defense held the Illini to just 94 total yards and forced them to go 2-of-7 on third downs. That’s how you lose a game you should’ve taken care of.
If there was a silver lining in the ugly way this loss happened, it was that MJ Rivers’ debut at quarterback was a success. He was 20 of 29 passing for 168 yards. While he didn’t get in to the end zone through the air, Rivers also didn’t turn the ball over while passing either. That’s a positive step lost in the brutal way this loss took place.
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