The Badgers depart the non-conference season with three wins, one loss. In the loss, Wisconsin's play was so inexplicably poor to warrant practical exclusion from analysis. The three wins are of primary concern.
In four non-conference games, three against teams that were supposed to be overmatched, the Badgers have yet to play the kind of game that leaves viewers marveling at how good a team they just witnessed perform. Wisconsin players and coaches have said it again and again—this team has yet to play a complete game; yet to put it together for four quarters.
More alarmingly, the Badgers best game was its first, against West Virginia, a team that was supposed to be a top flight opponent but has struggled and now sits at 1-3. The Mountaineers lost two weeks ago to Cincinnati and were clobbered over the weekend by Maryland.
Since the opener the Badgers have overcome patches of poor play in wins versus Akron and North Carolina, and, of course, had the dreadful performance against UNLV, a team that may be far better than they have yet been given credit for.
Wisconsin has looked absolutely brilliant at times, for instance, every time Anthony Davis or Lee Evans touches the football. More specifically, for instance, the play-action, 44-yard touchdown pass from Jim Sorgi to Evans against North Carolina was a thing of beauty. But Wisconsin has been far from perfect far too often at this juncture in a season.
With the Big Ten season beginning this week, the scary thing is that the Badgers have seemingly regressed since the opener in Morgantown. The offense has been frequently exceptional but highly inconsistent, and, yes, positively horrid in one game. The defense has improved and has made some huge plays, such as the goal line stand against Akron, but has frequently been gashed on long pass plays and on draws and traps right at the heart of the defense. The special teams kick coverage has been putrid of late, though the kicking game is modestly improved.
Wisconsin does not need to blow teams out in order to play well, but the glaring mistakes and inconsistencies are worrying heading into the Big Ten season.
If there is a silver lining, it is that the Badgers first Big Ten opponent, Illinois, is in more mind-boggling straits than Wisconsin. Illini quarterback Jon Beutjer has thrown for 1,137 yards in four games, yet Illinois is 1-3, having lost three contest by a combined 17 points. The Illini just could not make enough plays to pull out wins against Missouri and California and a 6-3 loss to UCLA was their UNLV-game, a mind-numbingly sloppy affair that included four Illinois turnovers.
Still, Illinois won the Big Ten title just two seasons ago and Beutjer torched Wisconsin last year. The Badgers will need to play their best game to avoid a flop in Champaign. And lest anyone forgets, Wisconsin won only two conference games last season.
I still think this Wisconsin team will contend for the Big Ten title in the end, but that team has yet to show up.