It does not matter which division you put them in, as the Wisconsin Badgers just have a knack for playing for the Big Ten championship game. In the four years the Big Ten has held an organized championship game, Wisconsin will be making their third appearance in Indianapolis this week. Perhaps it is time to respect Wisconsin as one of the top programs in the conference - if we have not done so already.
When the Big Ten expanded to 12 teams and opened the doors to a conference championship, many were quick to suggest the game would be dominated on a regular basis by Ohio State and Michigan. Perhaps this will be true over a longer period of time, but Michigan has yet to play in the game and Ohio State is making just its second appearance in part due to one year of a postseason ban. The Buckeyes came up short in their first Big Ten championship game trip a season ago, losing to Michigan State. Now, without quarterback J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes must find a way to slow down a red-hot Wisconsin running game, with their own Heisman candidate running back Melvin Gordon leading the devastating charge.
For Wisconsin, this is an opportunity to proclaim once more to be the team to beat in the Big Ten. Though the Badgers have seen plenty of success in the Big Ten over the last few years, the state of the Big Ten continues to be measured on a national scale based heavily on the status of Ohio State and Michigan. Wisconsin had a chance to change that slightly with a season-opening game against LSU, but the Badgers saw that win in Houston slip away in the second half. Now is a time for some redemption with a third Big Ten title in four years.
As it turns out, Wisconsin is being shown some respect heading to the Big Ten Championship Game. Not only have the Badgers climbed the rankings enough to hang just outside the top ten in the major polls, but Wisconsin has been tabbed the betting favorite heading to the Big Ten title game. The injury to J.T. Barrett carries some influence in that betting line for sure, but Wisconsin will issue no apologies for that situation.
Winning an outright championship was a rarity in the Big Ten until the introduction of the Big Ten championship game. No school other than Ohio State or Michigan has ever won three outright conference championships in a four-year span. Minnesota did it when the Big Ten was known as the Western Conference with just nine members (Michigan State had not joined the conference yet and Chicago was in its final days as a conference member). If it happened before the Allies claimed victory in World War II, it does not count for much in today’s game. Perhaps the Badgers are looking to establish dominance in the new era of the conference.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)