Wisconsin Football: Can Paul Chryst get the Badgers over the hump?

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 07: Head coach Paul Chryst of the Wisconsin Badgers reacts after a play in the Big Ten Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 07, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 07: Head coach Paul Chryst of the Wisconsin Badgers reacts after a play in the Big Ten Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 07, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

The Wisconsin football team has once again laid an egg against a ranked opponent, losing to 12th ranked Notre Dame on national television 41-13. Paul Chryst and company actually led this game early in the fourth quarter before the wheels fell all the way off and ended up embarrassing themselves.

This marks the Badgers’ 7th straight loss against a ranked opponent dating back to 2019. It wasn’t long ago Wisconsin was being talked about as a program knocking on the door of the college football playoffs discussion- that now seems like a distant memory.

For head coach Paul Chryst, the loss drops his record against ranked teams to 10-16 since taking over in 2015. Which for the most part is right in line with the records of Barry Alvarez and Brett Bielema.

Wisconsin has been a model of consistency due to knowing who they are as a program, which you could argue is one of the most important parts of the process. Wisconsin protects the football and controls the clock with their run game – all while playing physical attacking defense. This model has proved to be successful, so I’m inclined to say their identity isn’t the problem – it’s a lack of fresh ideas.

One cannot criticize the success of the program without first acknowledging that Paul Chryst got the Wisconsin football team to the Big Ten championship three times in a four-year stretch (2016, 2017, 2019) – although they didn’t register a win in any of the three. In fact, Wisconsin hasn’t won a Big Ten championship since 2012. This is in large part due to their inability to finish big games.

Failure to close out Big Ten Championship games

  • In 2016 the Badgers blew a 21 point lead to Penn State before getting outscored 24 to 3 in the second half and ultimately losing 38-31.
  • In 2017 the Badgers had the ball in Ohio State territory with under a minute and a half remaining. The Badgers were essentially driving for a chance to secure a spot in the college football playoff. However, the drive ended in an interception and the Badgers would fall to Ohio State 27-21.
  • In 2019 the Badgers took a 21-7 lead into halftime against Ohio State. Coming out of half Ohio State would score 27 unanswered en route to a 34-21 win over Wisconsin.

The difference in the program’s perception on a national stage is Wisconsin’s inability to close out the big games. They always seem to win the games they’re supposed to, but rarely find themselves winning a game in which they’re matched up against a top-tier program. Consistently falling short against these programs is what’s kept Wisconsin from being more than what they’ve been the last three decades – really good.

Fans should be ecstatic that Wisconsin has consistently been a top 25 program year in and year out, but can you blame them for wanting more?

Setting realistic expectations

At a certain point, you have to come to the realization that a program like Wisconsin simply isn’t going to be a contender for the college football playoffs every year. It is however more realistic to expect Wisconsin to be a contender to win the Big Ten West most seasons and make an appearance in the Big Ten championship – which is no small feat.

The Wisconsin football program is currently recruiting at a much higher level than we’ve seen in recent memory. It’s also well documented that Wisconsin has routinely gotten more out of their recruits than almost any other program in the country relative to their recruiting rankings. And while I can admit that recruiting rankings are an imperfect science, it’s hard to argue with the facts – they’re fighting on an uneven playing field. Since the conception of the college football playoffs, only 5 programs have made an appearance more than once (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame. Of those five programs, none of them have a 7-year recruiting class ranking worse than the 12th. For reference, Wisconsin is recruiting at its highest level in program history – lands at 33rd.

If things break right, I do feel as though it’s possible the program could be in a position to compete for a chance to push for the college football playoff once a recruiting cycle. If everything breaks right and the team executes at the level they’re able to, it’s not inconceivable they could have a 2017-like outcome.

Wisconsin to some degree is what it is as a program. It’s fair to want more but until proven otherwise, Wisconsin just isn’t in the class of the top tier programs in college football – they’re on the outside looking in.


Paul Chryst is the right man for the job (right now), he’s Wisconsin-born and raised and has maintained – if not elevated the program during his time as head coach. He’s a two-time Big Ten coach of the year (2016, 2017), get the Badgers to the Big Ten championship 3 times, and has done an excellent job recruiting in recent years. Fans are going to need to become slightly more realistic in their expectations or they’ll never be happy with the on-field result.

Paul Chryst is going to have to take a serious look at bringing in some new offensive concepts because as it stands the current offense lacks imagination or the pre-snap motion we became accustomed to seeing. Simply put, this offense needs a make-over and it might require bringing in some new ideas that come from outside the Wisconsin football program.

Both Paul Chryst and Jim Leonhard are great coaches and are committed to getting this program over the hump. I have confidence in this group should they add an equally effective offensive mind to the coaching staff. Until then, Wisconsin football is going to be status quo.

The hump needs to be redefined because I’m not sure they can ever be a program that’s fighting for a college football playoff spot each year (unless it expands). The hump should be viewed as pushing for and hopefully making the playoff once every few seasons. Which is an incredible accomplishment. And that hump is one I believe Paul Chryst is capable of getting them over.