The Wisconsin Badgers enter the unique 2020 season with a real chance to be a College Football Playoff contender. Wisconsin may not have the talent that traditional playoff contenders Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State have, but the Badgers do have a schedule that could play in their favor.
Wisconsin has been the most successful program in the Big Ten over the course of Paul Chryst's time as head coach, with the notable exception of Ohio State, but the program is still looking to win its first Big Ten title under Chryst. Wisconsin has played for the Big Ten championship three times under Chryst, which suggests that playing for the conference championship has become the norm for Wisconsin. But this year could see Wisconsin do so with something more significant on the line: a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Three Reasons Why Wisconsin Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2020
1. Badgers are the most reliable team in Big Ten West
Wisconsin has been the gold model of consistency in the Big Ten West Division since the conference moved to this division format. Wisconsin's six appearances in the Big Ten Championship Game leads the conference (one ahead of Ohio State), including four appearances as West champion in the last six seasons. Wisconsin will have a decent chance to get to this year's conference title game without a loss on its schedule this fall if the current schedule remains unchanged. If Wisconsin maneuvers its schedule without a loss heading to the Big Ten Championship Game, then the Badgers will force their way into the playoff conversation.
2. Experienced defense is one of Big Ten's best
Wisconsin has developed a pretty solid reputation for having one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, and that trend will continue with one of the most experienced defenses in 2020. Wisconsin returns nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, including linebacker Jack Sanborn and free safety Eric Burrell. Outside of Minnesota, Wisconsin won't face too many offenses known for lighting up the scoreboard either.
3. Key division games in Madison
Unless the Big Ten completely scraps this year's conference schedule and starts fresh, Wisconsin gets some good games at home in Camp Randal Stadium. The biggest of those games will likely be the rivalry game with Minnesota, which will actually be played in October instead of the regular-season finale. Wisconsin also gets Illinois at home in a revenge situation after being upset by the Illini last season.
Three Reasons Why Wisconsin Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2020
1. A lack of go-to receivers could lead to void of big plays
Wisconsin is much more well-known for its ability to run the football, but Wisconsin's success through the air has come into play from time to time. The Badgers do have a talented tight end in Jake Ferguson, but the depth at the receiver position is not Wisconsin's strength. And having to replace the production of Quintez Cephus will not be easy. Danny Davis III is Wisconsin's leading wide receiver returning from last year after hauling in 30 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown last fall.
2. The Big Ten West is getting better
Wisconsin may still be the top program in the division, but the competition in the Big Ten West appears to be improving. Minnesota rocketed toward the top of the division last season, and Illinois used an upset of the Badgers to help fuel a run to a bowl game. Purdue and Northwestern had disappointing seasons and anticipate being better this season, and Iowa is always worthy of being in the mix. Meanwhile, Nebraska could be a wild card factor as well.
3. Can the Badgers crack the Buckeyes (or tame the Nittany Lions?)
Barring any additional crossover games added to Wisconsin's schedule by the Big Ten, there are two noticeable omissions from the Badgers' slate. The odds are probably pretty good that Wisconsin's final hurdle to a Big Ten title, and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff, will be Ohio State. The Badgers gave Ohio State some trouble in last year's conference championship game before Ohio State stormed back and sent Wisconsin home as runner-up. Ohio State is loaded once again and enters the season as the clear favorite in the conference. And if Ohio State doesn't take the East, Penn State could be the next in line. Wisconsin may match up better with the Nittany Lions than the Buckeyes, but the Badgers will still likely be considered an underdog against either team if that matchup becomes reality.
Wisconsin has a schedule that could easily see the Badgers nudging their way into the playoff conversation. If Wisconsin can get out of Ann Arbor with a victory in September, the chances Wisconsin can run the table will greatly improve. The offense may not be particularly flashy, but the defense should be stable enough to put Wisconsin in positions to win every game on its schedule as it currently is structured. Ultimately, Wisconsin is going to have to win the Big Ten championship, which has not happened since 2012. Toppling Ohio State for the Big Ten crown remains a difficult task for Wisconsin and may prove to be too much to overcome to get into the playoff for the first time.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, and Like him on Facebook.