By Seth Gruen–
(CBS) Last weekend, I was watching college football with a friend who grew up in the Chicago area but went to Texas. So naturally, he thinks it’s his post-graduate obligation to hate on the city’s college football conference and beat his Big 12 chest.
We flipped to the Wisconsin-Michigan State game, still in the first quarter when he said: “I can’t get up for a Wisconsin game. I don’t feel like they’re a team that can score 30.”
The fact that the Badgers ended up winning the game 30-6 is hardly the point. Nor is the upshot that the SEC and Big 12 games my buddy loves to watch often are low-scoring, defensive slugfests.
Simply, it seems, that no one ever can get behind Wisconsin, even the most loyal of Big Ten fans. Relative to the rest of the college football world, Wisconsin is solid program, but it’s always overshadowed.
Wisconsin is a less accomplished little brother to conference bluebloods Ohio State and Michigan. Even Michigan State, courtesy of its recent success under Mark Dantonio, is generally more celebrated.
Wisconsin is Eli to Peyton Manning or Donnie to Mark Wahlberg.
The program is still accomplished but always seems to be measured against the successes of the other aforementioned, championship-laden programs. It may not be fair or even logical.
But the fact is the Badgers’ season might be defined over the next two weeks against such programs.
On Saturday, Wisconsin plays at No. 4 Michigan. A bye week then allows extra time to prepare for No. 2 Ohio State, which plays at Camp Randall on Oct. 15. This week, the Badgers are a 10.5-point underdog, indicative of how the public perceives the program. This is despite the fact that Michigan allowed 21 first-quarter points to Colorado at home on Sept. 17.
But point spreads are less about the reality of a team’s ability and more about how bookmakers think the public perceives the teams in question. We’ve already answered that question as far as Wisconsin is concerned.
For the Badgers, their College Football Playoff bid will hinge on how the team fares over the next two games. Win one, and their hopes are still alive.
A one-loss Big Ten champion, giving the conference’s collective surge in the rankings, should get into the sports tournament of four.
And maybe then Wisconsin, at least for a season, will be recognized as an equal among its peers.
1. Ohio State (3-0) — It’s a glorified scrimmage against Rutgers at home.
2. Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) — The Badgers have won more big games than any team in the conference.
3. Michigan (4-0, 1-0) — The Wolverines could obviously move up depending on this week’s result against the Badgers.
4. Nebraska (4-0, 1-0) — The Huskers should continue to feast against Illinois.
5. Michigan State (2-1, 0-1) — I can’t remember the last time the Spartans looked as bad as they did last week.
6. Minnesota (3-0) — We’ll find out a little about the Gophers this week at Penn State.
7. Maryland (3-0) — The Terrapins arguable have the easiest first four games of any team, with Purdue this week.
8. Iowa (3-1, 1-0) — The Hawkeyes will need to string together wins to erase the memory of the North Dakota State loss.
9. Indiana (2-1) — The Hoosiers are almost certain to fall with three straight games against ranked opponents.
10. Penn State (2-2, 0-1) — Apparently James Franklin isn’t on the hot seat.
11. Purdue (2-1) — I’m not a believer.
12. Illinois (1-2) — It’s Lovie Smith’s Big Ten debut.
13. Northwestern (1-3, 0-1) — It’s hard to see where the Wildcats get five more wins to become bowl eligible.
14. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) — Why bother going to Columbus?
Seth Gruen is columnist for CBSChicago.com, focusing on college sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.