There are a few big pillars to the Big Ten’s foundation, and one of them is the strength of some of college football’s longest-standing and biggest rivalry games. Some may even call it the conference of trophy games.
Seemingly every game in the league has something on the line. Wisconsin has such games with Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska already.
But, one team that may be budding as a new rival is that of the Northwestern Wildcats.
It seems silly on the surface, given Wisconsin’s national stature and Northwestern’s inability to win division, let alone Big Ten championships since it last did in 1994. But, there is something more to this series than the perceived national stature of the programs.
Northwestern endured a 13-game losing streak, but broke that in 1985. Ever since then, the two teams have been on even footing on the field, splitting the next 26 matchups to the tune of an even 13-13 record.
But, just being even in the record books doesn’t answer the question of rivalry or not.
This is more of a question of how rivalries get started and how they are maintained. For Northwestern and Wisconsin, the game has become about two physical, tough-minded and academically like-minded schools going toe-to-toe on the gridiron.
According to Badger247, players on the UW side of things know exactly what they are in store for when the two sides meet.
“They’re tough and they’re physical,” senior tight end Troy Fumagalli said. “They try and match our intensity. They come out and hit you.
“They’re not afraid.”
Northwestern’s Justin Jackson echoed the same comments when asked about the series with the Badgers going in to the 2016 season, telling me that this game means more because they know and respect what the Badgers are about.
“I think it’s just the culture of our two teams,” Jackson said. “Tough, hard-nosed, scrappy. You know, not always looked at how we should be. So, every single time we come to play against each other we already know what type of game it is going to be. We already know we are going to have to fight to the last second.”
Both programs respect one another, but they also know that there is something more than just another game when they get together too.
“There is always a little extra in Northwestern week,” junior left tackle Michael Deiter said to Badger247. “It sort of does fell like a rivalry. It’s a Big Ten West game and every game there is super important.
Sometimes familiarity breeds rivalries. That certainly seems to be the case here.
But, before we go there for sure, we also need to remember that just a few years of like-minded football programs going at it doesn’t a rivalry really make.
We’ve asked this question in the past when the Badgers and Michigan State had their slugfests in the earlier part of this decade.
Now look at the state of the two programs? Wisconsin continues to battle for Big Ten championships and Michigan State is seemingly battling to maintain mediocrity just two seasons removed from a College Football Playoff berth.
As for the Badgers and Wildcats? Wisconsin is the Big Ten’s perennial West division leader, while Northwestern has hopes of contending and never has reached Indianapolis. So, why would the two even be considered rivals?
Well, when games are competitive, both teams win ones they shouldn’t and the wins define seasons, you can start to see why the players see these games on a heightened level.
Perhaps it will take Northwestern upending Wisconsin at the top of the West division heap to solidify this as a rivalry. But, for now, it is hard to argue that this isn’t the most competitive and challenging West division foe for the Badgers.
Will that once again be the case in Madison this weekend? After all, Northwestern snapped a 4-game losing streak in Madison during its last trip and strange things have happened in this series as of late.
It’s that stuff that makes competitive matchups in to true rivalries and the Big Ten would be better off with rivalries growing organically thanks to divisional play.
What do the analytics say about the Badgers 2nd half schedule?
Yes, the loss to Michigan has everyone reeling and plenty of people questioning if the Wisconsin Badgers will ever truly become a national contender.
It’s been one step forward and two giant steps backwards every time the path has been there for the Badgers to date. But, the bitter loss to Michigan is in the rearview mirror and it also was the end of the first half of the Badgers schedule.
So, we thought it would be a good idea to see how some of the computers believe the second half of the schedule looks for the Cardinal and White.
Will the Badgers run the table and get to 10 wins again? Is there disappointment ahead?
Answers vary depending on the models used, but let’s explore how analytics see things going for Paul Chryst’s crew.
Unsurprisingly, the analytics tell us that the Badgers are going to have one big game and a whole lot of control towards a potential 10-win season still in the mix.
According to ESPN’s FPI index, Wisconsin will be favored in all but one game the remainder of the season. That one game of course is the trip to Happy Valley to take on Penn State. The FPI index gives the Badgers a 20 percent chance to win that game.
However, they do give the Badgers better odds against most of the rest of the schedule. It starts with a 95 percent chance at winning the Homecoming matchup with Illinois this weekend.
Wisconsin is also favored to win by 80 percent or more in two other games — Rutgers (97.6) and Minnesota (82.9). The Rutgers result is expected given how little resistance the Scarlet Knights have given to other teams at the bottom of the Big Ten pecking order so far this season.
As for the other games, perhaps the toughest to figure out on the schedule will surprise you. That’s because the FPI believes Purdue will be the biggest challenge outside of the Penn State game. Wisconsin has just a 58.2 chance of winning that game.
That leaves Northwestern in two weeks, and the FPI believes the Badgers have a 62.9 percent chance to win that game in Evanston. With the Wildcats finally getting on a win at Ryan Field last weekend, it will be interesting to see how this contest tracks after this upcoming weekend.
So, if all things hold out ESPN’s FPI see’s the Badgers at 9-3 to end the regular season and still winning the Big Ten West division championship. However, their projections have UW closer to 8-4 and that would likely mean a third loss inside the conference and if that is the case it could be an interesting race in the West division.
ESPN’s rating system is just one of many, so what do the others have to say?
College Football Analytics believes a lot of the same things as ESPN does, but they give the Badgers a good chance of finishing 9-3 overall. To be exact, they put UW’s probability of winning 9 games at 64.4 percent.
Perhaps the most interesting projection comes in the Penn State game, where they give the Badgers much better odds of pulling that game off. Currently, UW is given a win probability of 42.4 precent in that game and a score of 40.2 to 32.9.
Like the FPI, this model has the Badgers winning every other game on its schedule and doing so handily over Illinois, Rutgers and Minnesota. It also believes UW’s biggest toss-up game will be against Purdue, where the Badgers are just a 51 percent favorite to win that game.
But, it’s always good to get a third set of data to work with. That comes from the S&P+ system and not shockingly, they too have the Badgers finishing 9-3 on the season.
But, like the CFB Analytics numbers and unlike the FPI, they believe this game is going to be much closer than expected. The S&P+ system believes it will be less than a touchdown difference in the game.
This model also sees the game at Purdue as the biggest toss up on the UW schedule, with the Badgers given a 57 percent chance of winning and only an expected winning margin of 3.2 points.
So, as you can see there is a lot of agreement amongst the analytics side of the college football world.
It’s hard to disagree with their thoughts given the relative softness of the Badgers overall schedule in the second half of the season.
Badgers win big battle for 2019 LB Spencer Lytle
The 2019 Wisconsin Badgers football recruiting class already has hit new heights. But, there was one key piece to the puzzle the coaching staff was waiting on — its top of the board linebacker.
On Saturday, UW got the answer it was looking for as three-star linebacker Spencer Lytle committed to the Badgers over his other finalist, Clemson.
Lytle was the No. 1 outside linebacker on the Badgers board and the biggest missing piece to the puzzle for this recruiting class. While the three-star rating may not blow you away, make no mistake, Lytle was one of the most sought-after players at his position in the country.
It is easy to see why when you put on the tape, and equally so when you see his numbers on paper. Lytle had 77 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and nine additional hurries for Servite High School in Anaheim last season.
He held offers from 40-plus programs, most of which reads like a who’s who of national contenders on an annual basis. In the end, it came down to Wisconsin and Clemson, with few really knowing where Lytle was leaning.
The Badgers got their biggest target at outside linebacker and alongside in-state product Leo Chenal, appear done with recruiting the overall linebacker position for the 2019 class.
UW’s class now has 13 verbal commits and Lytle’s pledge pushed the Badgers near the top 25 in the national team rankings. Currently, Wisconsin sits No. 26 in the 247Sports composite rankings. The Badgers jumped seven spots with this announcement on Saturday.
Lytle was able to keep his recruitment tight-lipped and same with his commitment choice. Few knew what was really going to happen when he announced earlier on Saturday, but it went the Badgers way.
Wisconsin also continues to make small inroads in recruiting one of the biggest states for talent in the country — California. Lytle’s commitment means back-to-back seasons with a prospect from the state, as Alexander Smith signed in the 2018 class and will likely redshirt this upcoming season.
Equally important, Lytle is attending one of the top high school programs in the country this year in St. John Bosco. They are the preseason No. 1 team in the country and consistently put out high-level FBS players.
While Lytle will only be there for one season, he could be a good foot in the door for UW at the school.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Lytle fits in at Wisconsin, because after this season things will be wide open on one side of the outside linebacker spot as Andrew Van Ginkel will graduate.
Badgers get commitment No. 9 for 2019 class
UW gets commitment No. 9 for 2019 recruiting class, as North Carolina athlete becomes second from the state to pledge to the Badgers
This isn’t your average Wisconsin Badgers football recruiting cycle to say the least. While the class usually takes shape over the summer prior to the senior year, UW has had some really early success in the 2019 recruiting cycle.
It’s a pattern that continued on Friday afternoon as 3-star athlete Marcus Graham committed to the Badgers. He gave his verbal pledge after a two-day visit to the UW campus.
Thankful 🙏🙏 pic.twitter.com/EcL52mwODt
— Marcus Graham (@TheMGraham) April 6, 2018
He is rated as the No. 34 ranked dual threat quarterback in the country and the No. 54 overall prospect in the state of North Carolina per the 247Sports composite rankings.
The Badgers were the first Power 5 school to offer Graham and following the visit he jumped on the offer he received. Other offers came from the likes of East Carolina, Air Force, Old Dominion and a few others.
Graham played quarterback this past season, and according to Badger247 he put up some huge numbers. He completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,270 yards and 16 touchdowns to just one interception. He also rushed for 858 yards and 15 scores, averaging better than eight yards per carry. Graham added 13 receptions for 265 yards and four touchdowns at wide receiver.
Wisconsin’s ability to scout and be confident in its offers paid dividends here, as other schools like North Carolina, Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Wake Forest all were showing interest but none had given out an offer yet.
So, what is Wisconsin getting?
First off, Graham is a versatile athlete and at 6-0, 175 pounds could wind up at wide receiver or in the secondary. It will take some transition due to his play of quarterback in high school, but that will not be his position in college to say the least.
Graham also fits the mold of what the Badgers are looking for out of their skill position players on the outside. He’s got plenty of speed to burn and he’s got a lot of natural movement to his game. Things come naturally to him, and instinct is hard to teach.
It appears Graham will also be someone who could be an early enrollee for the Badgers, which may be to his ultimate benefit given his position isn’t totally set in stone just yet.
Overall, this is the type of below-the-radar prospect that Paul Chryst and his staff have been really good at evaluating and prioritizing. They have also seemed to work out well once in the Cardinal and White.
Van Vliet announces choice to transfer from Badgers
The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program will have one less senior on its roster for the 2018-19 season than it did entering the offseason.
On Tuesday night, reserve forward Andy Van Vliet announced his decision to transfer for his final season of eligibility via his Twitter account.
On to the next chapter. Thank you Wisconsin! pic.twitter.com/8va1wO6gKD
— Andy van Vliet (@andyvanvliet) March 13, 2018
Van Vliet’s new destination wasn’t made clear, but it appears he will seek out opportunities within D1 basketball going forward.
The Badgers will not restrict where he moves and appear ready to assist in whatever is needed with this move according to a statement from head coach Greg Gard.
“We thank Andy for what he did for our program over the last three seasons and we wish him the best moving forward,” Gard said. “We will help him in any way we can as he looks for a new school to continue his career.”
The 6-11 forward came to the Badgers as a three-point sharp shooter and the hope was his height and shooting ability would give UW an advantage in stretching other forwards beyond the three-point line.
Van Vliet appeared in 31 games over two seasons at Wisconsin. The Antwerp, Belgium, native averaged 3.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 17 games in 2017-18, notching career highs of 18 points and eight rebounds vs. South Carolina State.
He entered this season as a starter and that South Carolina State opener gave plenty of hope for him to be a big contributor for the team. Instead, Van Vliet’s defense became a liability that his inconsistent shooting couldn’t overcome.
Ultimately, his playing time began to dwindle and he was seated deep on the bench for most of the 2017-18 season.
His departure leaves another open scholarship for the Badgers, which will be interesting to see how they fill.
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