CBS says 2017 was best team in Wisconsin Football history

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 02: The Wisconsin Badgers take the field before playing against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 02: The Wisconsin Badgers take the field before playing against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

CBS made a list of every Big Ten team’s best team in history. Picking for Wisconsin football must have been a tough choice.

Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports put together a list of the very best team’s in Big Ten history, by program. Wisconsin football was on the list (obviously, as a member of the Big Ten) but the team mentioned is very interesting.

Fornelli chose the 2017 team as the best in Wisconsin’s history. This is where we must get into the fine details. Is Fornelli talking about the best team, or the best season? If he’s listing the best seasons for each program, then I believe he is right on with the 13-1 Badgers from a year ago. However, there is a debate to be had if he is listing the best teams. The 2011 Badgers, who only went 11-3 and lost the Rose Bowl, is the biggest challenger in this regard.

The title of Fornelli’s piece says, “College football’s greatest teams: The best season from every Big Ten program,” which doesn’t answer much. If anything it makes it more difficult to tell. But there’s a subheading that reads, “A look at the best teams in the history of the 14 schools in the Big Ten.” With that, we’ll assume he’s talking about the best teams in history. So the debate is on.

We’ll break down the argument for you by stating the cases for both teams, and ultimately decide if Fornelli was right or not.

The case for the 2017 Badgers

Here’s what Fornelli says about the 2017 team.

"Last year’s Wisconsin team is the only team in program history to win 13 games in a single season. Its only loss of the season came in a thrilling Big Ten Championship against Ohio State, and it’s 13 wins came by an average of 21.8 points. It had an offense and defense that could both be described as suffocating, and while there have been plenty of excellent Wisconsin teams in history, this may have been the most complete."

The biggest point to be made is about the win total. The most in Badger history was achieved by the 2017 team with 13. The best team doesn’t always win the most, but that’s the point of the game after all, isn’t it?

The other thing the 2017 team has over the 2011 team is the defense. Wisconsin finished second in total defense last year only behind national champion Alabama. The 2017 team was also third in scoring defense. The 2011 defense was great too, but finished 15th in total defense and 13th in scoring defense.

Neither team was stacked to the brim with stars, but the numbers for the 2017 team speak for themselves. The defensive unit last year was more than just good, it was exceptional. Even by Wisconsin standards.

The case for the 2011 Badgers

Wisconsin Football - Nick Toon
COLUMBUS, OH – OCTOBER 10: Wide receiver Nick Toon #1 of the Wisconsin Badgers (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

Where the 2011 team fell behind on defense it more than made up for on offense. Led by Russell Wilson and Montee Ball‘s record-setting seasons, the Badgers were one of the best offenses in the country. The Badgers averaged 44.1 points per game, good for 6th nationally. The 2017 team finished 28th in that stat with 33.8 points per game. Not bad, but still significantly less than the 2011 team.

It’s hard to argue Wilson, with his 33 passing touchdowns to only four interceptions, wasn’t better than Alex Hornibrook last year. And Jonathan Taylor’s 2017 was special, but Ball had an even better year. He ran for over 1,900 yards, just like Taylor, but found the end zone 38 times on the ground to Taylor’s 13. The rushing attack also had the help of James White in the backfield, plus Wilson’s mobility from the quarterback position.

Related Story: Throwback Thursday Tribute: Russell Wilson

The 2017 team had some awesome receivers that Badger fans can’t wait to see in action next year, but the 2011 receiving core was led by some all-time greats. Jared Abbrederis and Nick Toon both had over 900 yards receiving that year and combined for 18 touchdown catches.

The Verdict

After careful consideration, the 2011 team has to be the best in Wisconsin football history. This is a classic case of offense vs. defense. And a great offense usually beats a great defense.

The 2011 offense would have been better than any unit the 2017 defense faced. It would have likely held together pretty well, but the 2011 team would have found a way to break the game open. Averaging over 44 points per game is no joke.

And while the 2011 defense wasn’t a good as 2017’s, it still was one of the better units in the country and would have taken advantage of Wisconsin’s limited attack. Hornibrook was too turnover prone, and Taylor simply didn’t have as much help as he could have.

Next: Big Ten Power Rankings

Which team do you think was the best in Wisconsin football history?