Playoff to beef up Badgers' schedules?

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
11:35
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There are several undeniable truths about Wisconsin football: great running backs, massive offensive linemen, great "Jump Around" tradition, flimsy nonconference schedules.

Like it or not, Wisconsin's weak non-league slates are part of the program's narrative. They're well known around the Big Ten. Other teams' fans complain about it. And quite a few Badger fans also have voiced their displeasure to me in recent seasons.

The Badgers have played just two non-league opponents from major conferences -- Arizona State and Oregon State -- during the regular season in the past four years. They've only left Camp Randall Stadium three times in the past three seasons, visiting UNLV and Hawaii and taking on Northern Illinois at Chicago's Soldier Field. While other Big Ten teams are gradually upgrading their schedules, Wisconsin hasn't made the shift.

But it could be coming soon, thanks to the upcoming playoff and the importance of schedule strength in making the field of four.

From the Wisconsin State Journal:
"If you want to be a player [in the national championship equation] and strength of schedule is going to be a part of it, then you really have to consider [a different approach]," UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said.

Hallelujah.

Schedule strength is expected to be a huge part of the selection committee's process for determining the playoff participants. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has been a major proponent of schedule strength, as have many of the league's athletic directors.

Alvarez appears ready to join them.
Alvarez disclosed this week that there were recent discussions, orchestrated by ESPN, about matching the Badgers against defending national champion and Southeastern Conference power Alabama at a neutral site.
Alvarez, who handled scheduling when he coached the Badgers from 1990 to '05, said Bielema countered with an offer to play a home-and-home series with the Crimson Tide -- no specific years were discussed -- but that Alabama coach Nick Saban declined.

If true, that's too bad. Alabama broke the SEC mold and actually ventured to Big Ten territory for a game last year at Penn State. A Wisconsin-Bama home-and-home would be a win for college football.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema, who understands the importance of showcasing his program on big stages, tweeted last week that he'd like to add Notre Dame to Wisconsin's future schedules, especially since Notre Dame and Michigan are taking a break in 2018 and 2019. While playing Notre Dame doesn't mean what it used to -- perhaps why both Michigan and Michigan State are taking breaks in their series with the Irish in coming years -- it would represent an upgrade for Wisconsin. The Big Ten-Pac-12 scheduling partnership is set to begin in 2017, so if Wisconsin added a series with Notre Dame, it would play two marquee opponents in those years.

Alvarez stopped short of advocating a philosophical change in scheduling, telling the State Journal, "You go undefeated in our league, you're going to be in the top four in the country."

He's probably right, but it's very tough to run the table. Plus, a 1-loss Wisconsin team that wins the Big Ten and boasts a strong nonconference profile could also make the playoff field.

Wisconsin's weak schedules could have kept it out of a playoff in recent years, including in 2010, when the Badgers finished No. 5 in the final BCS standings because of their weak computer numbers, which related to who they played.

While beefing up the non-league slate has its risks, it also has its rewards come playoff time. It's good to hear Alvarez is warming up to the idea.

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