The whole Wisconsin football program is at a crossroads

Wisconsin football has to make sure this season doesn’t go off the rails.

The Wisconsin football program is a very delicate one. I don’t want to overreact too much to what just happened against Michigan last weekend, but it’s difficult not to. What we saw in that 38-13 blowout probably validated a lot of peoples’ fears about this team.

For the first time in a long time, Wisconsin football fans are watching their Badgers with a different feeling in their guts.

We all know what the perception is about Wisconsin. The way they recruit isn’t conducive to long-term success in college football. Programs that recruit the way Wisconsin does, according to rankings anyway, don’t sustain success like Wisconsin does. The style of play the Badgers bring to the field every week is difficult to dominate with in today’s game. And the quarterback play is something the Badgers win in spite of more often than not.

Somehow, the Badgers have overcome all of those things and looked like they were trending in the right direction. Big-time recruits like Logan Brown and Graham Mertz are currently committed to Wisconsin. The Badgers beat Michigan and Miami last year and were less than a touchdown against Ohio State away from competing for a national championship in the College Football Playoff.

Now, the Badgers are staring at a scenario where another slip up means they could miss the Big Ten Championship entirely. Getting to 10 wins is going to be tough and there’s not much beyond a weak upcoming trio of opponents that offers hope. Salvaging this season means more to the program than just this season. I’m willing to go as far as saying it’ll help determine how the next handful of years will go in Madison.

Saying Wisconsin is a “delicate” program sounds harsh, but I think it’s fitting. The players and coaches are as tough as they come. That’s all evident and I don’t know if anybody can question it. But how the program reacts to a down year is what worries me most.

The momentum on the recruiting trail and in the public’s eye about where Wisconsin stands as a true contender in college football is at risk of being wiped completely away. There is still a strong culture within the program with great coaches and players. But sometimes you need more than that. We could argue all day and night about whether Alabama deserved a spot in the Playoff last year, but they got in because of their name and the fact that everybody recognizes that program is truly great, even with some slip-ups. You can’t come close to saying that about Wisconsin with how the Badgers have performed this season.

There’s a lot of talent coming back to next year’s team. Jonathan Taylor is back, the entire group of receivers returns yet again, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Zack Baun, Scott Nelson, and a ton of young cornerbacks will be back too. There’s still going to be a good team fielded in Madison. The question is, is it good enough to compete for a Big Ten Championship?

It’s been far too long since Wisconsin was a legitimate contender in the Big Ten. Even last year the Badgers didn’t fully convince everybody. They certainly aren’t contenders right now. If the season continues to follow the trend its on, it’ll be hard to justify them being contenders next year too.

Bucking this trend is the biggest challenge Paul Chryst has faced in his tenure as head coach. If he can’t turn things around now, I don’t know when that turn around comes.

The Badgers need to rebound like never before and have their best showing of the season against Illinois. Three tough road games still remain that will test this team. Without a strong win this Saturday, hopes of winning those games dwindles even more than it already has.