With most teams a third of the way through their season already, it’s time for a reality check. How much of what we’ve seen so far can we really trust to hold up?
It’s safe to assume, for example, that the early malaise at LSU isn’t going to be lifting anytime soon. But what about the equally sobering starts at USC and Oregon? At Notre Dame? On the better end of that conversation, the narrative tends to break between two categories, the proven commodities — your Bamas and Buckeyes — and the pleasant surprises.
Then there’s Wisconsin, the only team to date that qualifies as both.
In defiance of every preseason forecast, the Badgers have emerged as the most upwardly mobile outfit in the country, vaulting from outside of the polls altogether on opening day all the way to No. 8 following upset wins over LSU and Michigan State, the latter coming in a thorough, 30-6 romp on the road. Put those triumphs together, and it also makes the Badgers arguably the most accomplished outfit through the first four weeks. They’re the first Big Ten team to vanquish two Top-10 opponents in September since 1999, and the first from any conference to do it after opening the season unranked since 2000.
So if somehow you (and pretty much only you) had Wisconsin down this summer as the surprise 4-0 hit of the early season, congratulations: The Badgers are for real. Enjoy your winnings, or your smug sense of superiority, or whatever your unique foresight has yielded. Now for the real question: Are you willing to go double or nothing that they can extend the surge?
If so, again, you’re on your own — not because people haven’t been paying attention, or don’t respect what Wisconsin has done so far, but because the October schedule makes the September slog look like a mere preliminary heat. This week: The degree of difficulty maxes out at No. 4 Michigan, where the Badgers are listed as 10.5-point underdogs. Say they shock the world again in Ann Arbor — great! Next up is a home date with No. 2 Ohio State on the other side of a bye.