The 2021 Wisconsin Badgers may have multiple paths to reach the College Football Playoff

·3 min read

It isn’t often you hear the Wisconsin Badgers in the same sentence as the College Football Playoff.

The team has come close a few times—most notably the 2017 season when a victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship would have pushed the Badgers to 12-0 and slotted them into the playoff.

But that will always be the path for Wisconsin to make the cut: winning the Big Ten West, avoiding multiple losses during the regular season and defeating Ohio State in the championship game.

This year, however, there may be another way for the Badgers to get it done.

CBSSports’ Tom Fornelli went through the college football schedule last week and noted which games will have the biggest impact on the College Football Playoff race.

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For Fornelli, Wisconsin’s Week 4 contest at Soldier Field against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is the game to bookmark. The Badgers and Fighting Irish were supposed to square off at Lambeau Field last season, though COVID-19-related scheduling changes canceled the game.

Related: Report: Wisconsin’s Lambeau Field contest with Notre Dame has been rescheduled

Here’s what he had to say about the contest, as well as about the Badgers’ CFP chances:

This is the biggest game of a week that doesn’t have many headliner matchups. I don’t think many people expect the Irish to be as good this season as they were last year, but it’s still Notre Dame, and this is a marquee matchup against one of the Big Ten’s best. It’s the kind of win the Irish need on their résumé.

And we shouldn’t dismiss Wisconsin. The Badgers are a favorite in the Big Ten’s West Division, and if they won the division, a win in this game would boost their résumé. Think about it, if the Badgers reach Indianapolis and beat Ohio State, they’re probably going to the CFP. But if they lose closely to Ohio State, and it’s their only loss with a win over the Irish on the résumé? They’ll have a case.

So this year, now that Wisconsin plays a college football power in Notre Dame as one of their out-of-conference games, there may be two paths for them to make the playoff.

  • Option No. 1: Win the Big Ten West, enter the postseason with one loss, defeat Ohio State, Penn State or whoever in the Big Ten Championship

  • Option No. 2: Go undefeated during the regular season (including a victory against Notre Dame), lose a close one in the Big Ten Championship

Option No. 2 isn’t a sure bet, as a lot will ride on what happens to other teams across the country. But during any other year, out-of-conference games don’t carry much weight for postseason ranking.

With Notre Dame on the schedule, the Badgers have a real chance to prove themselves to the CFP committee and enter the discussion usually dominated by Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Florida and Notre Dame.

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PFF sees Wisconsin as the second-best team in the Big Ten West this season