Wisconsin has been the dominant team in the Big 10 West since the conference split into two divisions in 2011. Originally named the Leaders Division, the West has seen the Badgers play in the Championship Game in three of four years.
Along with Nebraska, the Badgers were expected to be one of the top two in the division and while they currently sit in second place, the Iowa Hawkeyes have surprised many by holding a mid-season division lead with an unbeaten record.
The Badgers dropped a 10-6 contest against the Hawkeyes at Camp Randall two weekends ago to set the team back in their hunt for a Big 10 title. They went to Lincoln the following week and took care of business against a Nebraska team that’s stunned everyone with a 2-4 start in Mike Riley‘s first season with the program.
Quarterback Joel Stave has been inconsistent since taking over as the primary passer for the Badgers in 2012. Replicating Russell Wilson‘s production was certainly considered to be a tall order, and though Stave has been good enough to win games, he’s mistake prone and is known for making bad decisions.
He made a crucial error early in the game against Purdue that set up the Boilermakers’ only touchdown of the game. He threw a pass off of his back foot towards the end zone and it was intercepted by Leroy Clark. Aside from that miscue, Stave was outstanding on the afternoon, completing 30 of 39 for 322 yards.
The Badgers struggled to get a ground game going, but capitalized near the goal line by tallying three rising touchdowns between Alec Ingold and Dare Ogunbowale.
Wisconsin may be playing well enough to win another western division title, but it seems unlikely that they can beat Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State in the title game. Penn State is also contending with a 5-1 record, but expect them to be on the outside looking in with games remaining against the top three, two of which are on the road.
Each of the aforementioned teams in the east have had their struggles in the early half of the season, but they’re unquestionably the most talented and balanced teams in the conference. Michigan has had offensive problems, but their defense is the top group in the Big 10, and possibly the entire nation. With inconstant play at quarterback and running back, expect the Badgers to fall short again this season.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten Football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.