The Badgers may be only six games in, but Wisconsin is heading into a make or break week if they want to go to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game and amazingly it's something not a lot of fans I've talked to are even thinking about.
I say it's about time we start looking at the bigger picture for the season. Every goal for Wisconsin except an undefeated season is still in their grasp and a win on Saturday is hugely important to achieving the rest of the goals.
In fact I hate to tell you this, but this is the biggest game of the season for Bret Bielema and Co.
Why? Well, with Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten Championship game it really doesn't matter what happens with those two teams. We could win or lose those games and it have very little effect on the bigger goal in front of this team – winning a Big Ten championship.
Don't get me wrong I'm not saying winning those games aren't important, because they can be in terms of keeping momentum rolling, but in the grand scheme of the season inside the Leaders Division they aren't the most important of the season.
It's games against Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue that matter the most. Getting a leg up on the competition in terms of tiebreakers is huge and after a win over the Illini the Badgers are 1/3 of their way to holding tiebreakers over all three of them.
However, most (including myself) see Purdue as a massive challenger to Wisconsin for that spot in Indy on December 1st. Whoever wins this game gets a massive leg up on the competition not only in terms of a head to head tie breaker, but also in the division.
A win by Wisconsin and they'll be 2-0 against the Leaders Division and 2-1 overall in conference play. More importantly it means that Purdue will be 0-2 and essentially three games back.
That is huge, especially when you take a look at remaining schedules for all three teams.
Let's start with Purdue who has a remaining schedule of vs. Wisconsin, @ Ohio State, @ Minnesota, vs. Penn State, @ Iowa, @ Illinois, and the home finale for the Old Oaken Bucket vs. Indiana.
A loss to Wisconsin could well be coupled with another division loss the next week at Ohio State and that would put them at 0-3 to start their conference season and already holding 2 losses inside the division, basically forcing the Boilermakers to win out.
As for Illinois who is 0-2 in the conference and the division every game from here on out basically needs to be a win with a schedule that looks like this: @ Michigan, vs. Indiana, @ Ohio State, vs. Minnesota, vs. Purdue, @ Northwestern.
The Illini could well be facing an 0-3 start after a bye this week and a road trip to Michigan in week 8. That would be disastrous to their chances of climbing back into the race as well, especially with remaining road trips to Ohio State and Land of Lincoln foe Northwestern. A loss to Ohio State would mean 3 in division losses for the Illini and effectively put them out of the race, hoping Purdue and Wisconsin find ways to lose 3 or 4 games in-division respectively.
Indiana, well, despite an 0-2 start to their Big Ten season they are playing better football and haven't taken a loss at all inside the division so amazingly they sit in a position to have a major effect on the Big Ten race going forward.
Their schedule looks like this: vs. Ohio State, @ Navy, @ Illinois, vs. Iowa, vs. Wisconsin, @ Penn State, @ Purdue. So it's all in front of the Hoosiers, but should they (and it's most likely they will) lose to Ohio State and Illinois their season, in terms of the Big Ten Championship game, is over. The critical game for them is at Illinois. A win against the Illini and momentum could be built towards making waves in the conference races.
So, having looked at all the rest of the Leaders Division foes that are eligible to compete in the championship game it should be quite clear for all Badgers fans to see the huge importance of this game on Saturday. A win by the Badgers and they really put the rest of the division behind the eight ball. A loss and once again they'll need to find a way to possibly get some help or make sure they pull off wins against Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State.
Badger fans need to start focusing more on the big picture of what the goals are for any season – win the division, play for the Big Ten championship, and go to the Rose Bowl. On Saturday the biggest step towards the first goal could be taken with a win over Purdue and that should be something to get excited about for the game in Ross-Aide Stadium.