Wisconsin the last hope for the Big Ten’s playoff hopes

A week after seeing Iowa dismantle Ohio State and Penn State suffered yet another fourth quarter struggle to Michigan State, the lone quest still trekking for a berth in the College Football Playoff is that of Wisconsin.

Well, Wisconsin left no doubt that they will be the team to beat – and quite possibly ruin their season – in the Big Ten Championship game. The Badgers grinded out a 38-14 win over the Hawkeyes Saturday to lock their place in the conference title game.

Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor continues his late-season run at the Heisman trophy with a 157-yard performance in the win over Iowa Saturday. In nine games this season, the 214-pound freshman has rushed for 1,368 yards and 12 touchdowns. In fact, there have only been three games this season where Taylor failed to top the century mark. Taylor has been one of the reasons Wisconsin is setting at a school record 10 wins.

While having a lock for the Big Ten title game, the Badgers can’t afford to have any setbacks. Despite being the lone Power 5 school – outside of Alabama – to have an undefeated record, the Badgers didn’t quite fell the love from the College Football Playoff committee in last Tuesday’s polls, being pegged at No.8. However, that ranking was released prior to No.1 Georgia falling to No.10 Auburn, so there is a strong possibility that Wisconsin could become one of the final four teams once the polls are released Tuesday.

Who could crash the party?

Wisconsin dominated the Big Ten-West. Penn State seemingly appeared to the team most analysts penciled in to make an appearance in not just the Big Ten title game, but possibly the College Football Playoff. Amazing what two weeks can do.

The Nittany Lions suffered back-to-back losses to the Buckeyes and Michigan State to destroy all hopes of making the conference title game. It now appears to be a two-team race to be the Badger’s opponent between Ohio State and Michigan. Yes, you read that right.

If the Wolverines manage to win-out, to include a win over the Buckeyes, which would be the first time since 2011, Michigan would be slated to play in Indianapolis. However, outside of the iconic rivalry tilt with the Buckeyes on Nov.25, the Wolverines will face the Badgers Saturday. Michigan received some help from the Buckeyes Saturday as OSU stomped the Spartans 48-3. With that win, Michigan could have the ability to jump Ohio State in a head-to-head tiebreaker if they win the matchup in two weeks.

The most likely candidate to play the Badgers however, is in fact the Buckeyes. Now, a win wouldn’t do anything but strengthen their chances for a New Year’s Day bowl game, but it would be a building block for the Buckeyes entering the 2018 season. Sitting at No.12 as of the second CFB ranking, there is really no argument to be made about OSU making the final four if they in fact upset Wisconsin.

Gophers thump Nebraska

After struggling in nearly every facet of the game last week against Michigan, the Gophers offense and more importantly, Demry Croft, woke up. Exploding for 54 points Minnesota trounced the Nebraska Cornhuskers 54-21.

The Gophers did much of their damage from the ground, racking up 409 yards rushing. Croft was the team’s leading rusher with 10 carries for 183 yards and three scores, one of those being from 73 yards out.

It was a revival for Croft Saturday afternoon. For the first time since taking over as the starter, he completed more than 50 percent of his passes (9-for-15) and didn’t register a turnover. His 183 yards on the ground was not just a season-high for the sophomore, but a career-high as a Gopher. We have been waiting for the game where the zone-read attack was going to flourish with Croft at the helm after seeing glimpses of what could be a promising attack since he took over as the signal caller.

Rodney Smith, who started the game with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown recorded 134 yards on 24 carries. Croft was not the only Gopher to set a career mark. Smith registered a career-high 279 all-purpose yards in the win. Kobe McCrary returned from a neck injury suffered against the Wolverines for a 93 yard performance. He also had a 43-yard score to put the Gophers up 54-21 in the fourth quarter.

Defensively, the Gophers were dialed in, allowing just 69 yards rushing on 33 carries by five different ball carriers. The Cornhuskers were able to generate a bit of momentum through the air, as quarterbacks Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien combined for 311 yards passing.

The Gophers will play a red-hot Northwestern team on the road Saturday before finishing the season with a home contest against Wisconsin.

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Joshua Zimmer
Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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