Badgers playing down ... again.

Column: RICK SOLEM
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The college football season sort of starts tonight and this weekend.

There are some interesting storylines heading in, but what is rarely interesting about college football is the first few weeks.

The 23rd-ranked Wisconsin Badgers – new coach, quarterback questions, replacing Montee Ball – open the season against … wait for it … UMass. Hooray! The Badgers are 45-point favorites. 

The week after, they play Tennessee Tech. 

What’s the point?

College football does this all the time so high-ranked teams in the national title hunt don’t lose, because, as we know, one loss pretty much does in your season.

Perhaps it will be a little different next season with a four-team playoff, but doubtful. Teams wanting to end the season top-ranked won’t risk a national title by scheduling an actual nonconference game. 

College Football Rankings

It certainly didn’t prove anything last year when a 12th-ranked Wisconsin team squeaked by Northern Iowa 26-21, lost to Oregon St. 10-7, slipped by Utah St. 16-14 and then beat up on UTEP 37-26 – though it was 23-19 Wisconsin with under 5 minutes to go in the game.

One could argue the Oregon St. game last year was a tough matchup, but nobody knew the Beavers were going to be good, having been 3-9 the season before. The Badgers went into that game looking for a blowout, like the rest of its nonconference schedule.

Wisconsin also went into that matchup with a 33-game nonconference win streak (regular season, of course). Gee, I wonder why?

So, here we are again, college football about to kickoff and Wisconsin plays two games that won’t help them move up the ranks, and probably will do more harm than good, like last year.

At least they play an Arizona St. team that’s “receiving votes” in the polls the third game of the season, before heading into the Big 10.

Scheduling patsies to start the season begs the question whether or not it actually helps your team.

From high school to the pros, only incredibly disciplined and elite teams tend not to play down to their competition.

Playing nobody’s doesn't make a team any better. There's nothing to overcome. There's nothing to look forward to but letdown.

It also makes it hard for college athletes to get “up” for the game, if they're not the underdog. Is Wisconsin excited for Umass?

But this is the national title for the Minutemen and Tennessee St. as laughable as that sounds. But just look at the rest of their schedules.

Tennessee Tech schedule

UMass schedule 

Sure, it helps you ease into the season, like an old man getting into a warm bath, but Wisconsin isn’t Alabama – they’re not No. 1 in the polls and not moving up with blowouts over these two teams.

Then again, Alabama isn’t easing into a warm bath. It plays a Virginia Tech team that’s getting votes in the polls this week and the No. 6 team in the nation next week (Texas A&M).

But few teams do this and the Badgers 33-game nonconference win streak was proof of that.

At least things are changing beginning next year. Wisconsin opens with LSU in 2014 and 2016 and Alabama in 2015. They do still play Western Illinois in the second game of 2014 and Miami of Ohio in 2015, but, who knows, maybe those teams will be national powers. Maybe?  

When college football finally goes to a legitimate playoff, where one loss during the regular season doesn’t spell doom for its chances to win a title, maybe I’ll be more interested.

That was Wisconsin two years ago with Russell Wilson at the helm, before a Hail Mary touchdown by Michigan St. ended a national title chance with a 37-31 loss. Yes, Wisconsin went on to lose to Ohio St. 33-29 the next week, but players lose that ‘it’ factor once they know there’s no chance of a national title.

If Michigan St. doesn’t complete that Hail Mary back in 2011, Wisconsin most likely plays without the letdown the next week. But instead, they lost, there's no chance to win it all, so what's the point on playing ... or watching?

But, whatever, there’s no sense looking back. Only ahead, three weeks ahead when the Badgers head to Arizona St. and then host Purdue in the Big 10 opener Sept. 21.

I'll be watching preseason NFL tonight, not North Carolina at sixth-ranked South Carolina or (24) USC at Hawaii. 

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